Monday, April 30, 2007
But you cant spread your work out, as you can with books, papers, statistical tables across the top of a desk. Nor can you mark the relevant bits by laying the book down flat, festooned with torn off bits of paper or marked with red felt tip, or scribbles of 'Rubbish!'
Finding your way back on the computer, to what you belatedly realise was an interesting or vital page is not easy. Even if you had noted the brain boggling string of symbols which is the url, all too often it comes up Not Found, or has been edited to remove the precise point for which you are searching
At least with a laptop you can look down, you dont get a crick with your necks unaccustomed position while you stare at a vertical screen
But it is still like trying to work with one hand covering one eye, with an empty cardboard tube from a toilet roll clasped to the other, just to restrict the visual field
For the avoidance of doubt, the male embraces the female
Which is such a delightful way of putting it
Or perhaps they have finally got round to doing what JS Mill moved in 1867, that man should become person
Because it may be your money, but its not your cash
If your money is in the bank then its just a pattern of electrons on a hard disc. A microscopic speck in a complex world wide web of debts, credits, obligations, promises
If it were your cash it would be upstairs under the mattress, or weighing down your handbag, or spoiling the line of your jacket
Cash is physical, tangible, real
Cash has to be manufactured out of real paper & metal. That costs money
It takes up space, has to be stored somewhere. Space costs
It needs security, wherever it is - vault, Group4 van, supermarket till, even in a cash machine. That costs
It needs to be physically counted, by hand, every time it changes hands. That costs too
Somebody, somewhere, is paying for it somehow
Sunday, April 29, 2007
The reason I coudnt find it directly on Google was that I was misremembering a name. I was mixing it up with the Mary Jane who did not like rice pudding
This poem, by Anna Maria Pratt, is about Mary Anne, a doll whose name is given as the, mortifyingly mistaken, answer to the question What is six times nine?
A Mortifying Mistake
I studied my tables over and over
And backward and forward too
But I couldn't remember six times nine
And I didn't know what to do
'Til my sister told me to play with my doll
And not to bother my head
"If you call her 'Fifty-four' for awhile
You'll learn it by heart', she said.
So I took my favorite, Mary Anne,
Though I thought 'twas a dreadful shame
To give such a perfectly lovely child
Such a perfectly horrible name,
And I called her my little Fifty-four
A hundred times 'til I knew
The answer of six times nineAs well as the answer of two times two.
Next day, Elizabeth Wigglesworth,
Who always acted so proud
Said, "Six times nine is fifty-two,
And I nearly laughed out loud
But I wished I hadn't when teacher said,
"Now Dorothy, tell if you can."
For I thought of my doll and sakes alive!
I answered, "Mary Anne!"
One thing leads to another & I found myself remembering my grandfather
If I did or said anything foolish in his presence he would shake his head, cluck his tongue & say "Eeh! Youre a right Mary Ellen, you are"
When I was told that the headmistress of the school I was going to teach at was called Sister Mary Ellen, I thought, She can't be
But she was. I dont know if that made me more or less nervous of meeting her
Saturday, April 28, 2007
I had always thought that the word commonplace must be a cuddly version of miscellaneous file - a place to keep, to hold in common, all those personally meaningful bits & pieces which otherwise resist classification
Mine used to be in a variety of notebooks & included cartoons, pictures & clippings of interesting bits of graphics from newspapers & magazines, as well as quotations, comments & musings
After my right arm went funny I moved to keeping it as a Word document - functional but not so pretty or idiosyncratic
I am working on turning this into a commonplace blog
Sometimes making a collage of pieces from the old one
He merely observed that, among his samples of early C19th Belgians, weight tends to increase in proportion to the square of the height, once they were fully grown
He also failed to recognise that newer generations might be growing taller. He attributed to natural shrinkage the entire difference in height between 40 & 80 year olds
Tony Blair aide, as reported by Ian Rankin in The Times, 27 April 2007
Doesnt that sum up all you need to know about them?
Friday, April 27, 2007
Smokers like me are a burden too
And people who injure themselves or others through the sheer stupidity of their driving
And all those sportsmen who injure themselves in pursuit of their allegedly healthy activities
And mothers of IVF twins
And people who live on lettuce & lemon juice
And people who demand fabulously expensive drugs to eke out their miserable existence for another few months
In fact the opposite is true
The NHS, by gobbling up going on 10% of our gross income, is a burden on us
And brings out the nosy, carping, interfering, censorious, misanthropic busybody in us all
Related post: Not so funny anymore
Thursday, April 26, 2007
But I have changed my opinion, especially since I started reading him in The Times
He had a very nice piece on the Attorney General this week. Containing a phrase which is headed for my commonplace book
"when political power has tried to jostle justice"
True, its aim is genetic: to control as completely as possible the genetic makeup of the resulting life form
But putting the genetic material together is (relatively) the easy bit
The trick is to put it into an environment which enables development to start & then proceed to viability
Related post: Genes & process
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Im very glad Im not the one who has to get the sums right to make sure they stay upright
There are plenty gracing the Manchester skyline right now
During the second great hurricane to hit England in recent years - '90 or '91 - I was working in an office on the 17th floor. The winds began really to pick up around mid-day & I observed the operator of a crane on the adjacent building site begin to make his cautious descent
I dont know why he was up there in the first place - the winds had been forecast. No Michael Fish moment there
I soon had to leave my office. I had been trying not to look, but my eyes kept being pulled towards the window. Like watching a car crash in slow motion
But he did make it down safely
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
Sunday, April 22, 2007
I am also supposed to understand why, in some cases, such parts have been retrieved from the laboratory & given a 'decent burial'
Why then would it be thought peculiar of me to ask that significant parts of my body, which were surgically removed over 20 years ago, be reunited & disposed of together with the rest of me when I die?
Does anyone want to join with me in a campaign to fight for my human right to decide whether the NHS should callously have decided to chuck my bits into the incinerator or pickled them in glass jars to be gawped at by generations of medical students?
Saturday, April 21, 2007
I first noticed this when I tried their vanilla & maple smoothie. I had acquired a particular taste for vanilla flavoured milky drinks when it was my favourite among the supercharged nutritional drinks I was given in hospital last year. The first taste of the M&S version made me splutter - rather than a slightly sweet creaminess I got distinctly sour. Examination of the label revealed that apple juice was an unexpected ingredient. I have since acquired the taste however
This week I suddenly noticed that the diet version of their lemon & lime fizzy water costs 15p less than the full strength version, which seems rather a lot for the difference between the price of sugar & saccharine. I normally avoid, on principle, anything which carries the rubric diet, or lite, or (ugh) lo-fat but I was intrigued enough to compare labels
Apart from the fact that the diet version tells you the country of origin of the lemons & limes, there are only 2 real differences between the 2 versions. The artificial sweetener is the same. So the price differential is down to the use of bog-standard carbonated water rather than mineral water, & the addition of apple juice to the full strength version
Friday, April 20, 2007
We in the western world all have complicated connections - even the old fashioned Janet & John nuclear family
Dad goes out to work, but his employment depends on an intricate network of economic activity & on his ability to negotiate [with] those networks
Mum stays at home, washes, cooks, cleans & looks after the children. But even that depends upon intricate systems of water, electricity & food supply, shops, schools & transport
Some connections are remote - the oil for electricity generation, aluminium for the kettle or car &, increasingly, the food supply chain - fresh green beans from Zambia rather than just copper, dried cocoa or coffee beans
And these links are ever changing, some in ways of which we are not particularly conscious - we neither know nor care much where our electricity is coming from. Some changes impinge & require us to make decisions; for example, should I abandon Sainsburys & start to shop at that new Tescos which is nearer to home? And before that, should I have abandoned the corner shop & the local butcher?
Sometimes these links get horribly tangled up, so knotted as to disrupt the communications between them. Then we need to sort them out - either by carefully tracing & unpicking the individual threads or, more drastically, by chopping off the strands on either side & throwing the knot away
Iraq has become one such horrible tangle for our governments & way of life, involving religion, Israel, oil, weapons, democracy & the dispersion of population & refugees
It is not however possible to predict what we will be left with when we have disentangled the knot, however carefully we try to proceed. Which threads will be left still joined together? Which links will be severed? And which still knotted?
Not any more, I suspect
But it distresses me - genuinely - that some members of this administration still do not seem to have grasped that there is a real, though subtle, difference between Tony & Prime Minister. Between Gordon & Chancellor of the Exchequer. And between David or John or whoever it is this month & Home Secretary
An Act of Parliament says that "the Home Secretary shall or may or must ....
And that means every Home Secretary to come, in perpetuity, until Parliament decides otherwise
Whether they are called John, or David, Tarquin, Mohamed, Mary Jane or Cruella
Many people now use theirs to travel to hospital appointments. Gives them back a bit of dignity & independence, not having to rely on someone else to drive them (surprising numbers of clinic appointments come with an instruction not to drive oneself). Another benefit is, presumably, less pressure on scarce hospital parking spaces
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Even that mad old bat sitting opposite might have been around since databases were invented. She might even be familiar with the particular database you are discussing. The one on which you are working as a consultant to a Government agency
Are YOUR ears burning?
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Why are young children both especially sensitive to social trends & such difficult creatures to con?
I became especially aware of this soon after the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Diana. At that time I was myself fairly cynical about royalty & astonished by the excitement generated by the wedding among young 20 or 30 something adults; I expected that the excitement would die down soon after the big day
I knew that something special was going on when I saw a tv news report of Dianas 'introduction' to the people of Wales; commentators were astonished by the crowd reactions to the Princess, who should have been dutifully walking a couple of paces behind her husband - was indeed doing so - but who was attracting far the greater clamour & attention, not least from small children who might have been bewildered but who were clearly experiencing magic
We all know what happened over the ensuing years
The next time I remember noticing this phenomenon - apart from a few short lived fads - was at the time of the Beckham wedding. This much derided event I saw only in a smudgy Daily Mirror front page photo when I went into the newsagents; my own reaction was that, rather than something grown up & vulgar, this was just children playing dressing up, clattering round in mummys high heels, hilariously made up, wrapped in a mish mash of floaty scarves, organdie dresses & feather boas
A few days later I was astonished to witness two 10 year old boys searching the WH Smith shelves of womens interest magazines for a copy of whichever celebrity magazine was carrying the official wedding photos. I bet that that was the first & last time in their lives they went to buy anything like that. But something was going on, as has been clearly proved by Beckhams later career trajectory. The man is special
Teletubbies were greeted by various howls of adult protest, just around the time that my next door neighbours had their first child. The first conversations I ever consciously heard floating over the garden fence with him were repetitions of 'eh oh' - before he was even a year old I think. I thought this must have been his - very gentle - mothers way of warning him of danger, of telling him 'no' or of expressing sympathy when he fell over. It was some months before I realised that this had become an almost universal magic toddler language
A later example was Im a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here - the series with the pneumatic Jordan & ex-royal correspondent Jenny Bond. This astonished many with the size of audience it attracted - I certainly did not see it myself. But just walking along the street one day I overheard a very earnest 5-year old boy in conversation with an older woman who, I would guess from the tone was an acquaintance or neighbour he had just run into; he was explaining, very solemnly, that he liked both Kerry & Jenny but hoped that Kerry would win
All these examples are in one sense trivial, examples of dumbing down, but at the same time important examples of our modern culture. Children are very good at just ignoring adult preoccupations, very good at getting engrossed in their own obsessions - skipping is what you have to do this week, bowling hoops the next, then spinning tops. So does the absorption, the attraction to the magic of adult popular culture really tell us anything about, signal the real importance of, otherwise trivial social trends?
10/04/07 Page 1 of 2
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I saw this in one of Ted Porters books - in a footnote, as far as I remember, so obviously added at a late stage. It said that an English High Court judge was to decide the question of how a computer should, or could, recognise when it had reached the number next to 0.
Greatly intrigued by this. My first ever stand-up shouting row with my husband was about the nature of zero. He said it didnt exist, was just a limit which could never be reached. I said you could pass through it if you travelled along the number line, ergo it must exist.
So I actually researched the outcome of the case. Disappointingly, it never happened. The small company which was hoping to bring the action had failed & so had no money for legal fees
Monday, April 16, 2007
While there I noticed a very nice pair of trousers. As I was picking them off the rail I simultaneously noticed that they were size 8, but that they also looked as if they would fit me. Although my eye is pretty reliable in this respect, I checked by holding them up against me, paying particular attention to the waistline.
It might have been a bit of a squeeze, but only a bit.
And that is ridiculous.
I have always been slim, if not actually thin, & I certainly have no problem with my appetite. I have no truck with modern eating fads & have never been on a diet in my life.
In the 1950s it was quite usual for clothes to be home made. The ground floor of John Lewis in Oxford Street, & of most other department stores, was given over almost completely to bolts of cloth, paper patterns, sewing machines & haberdashery (lovely word).
I made all my own clothes from the age of 14 onwards so I really am sure that I was a size 14.
Misses, that is, in the world of paper patterns. Womens sizes were designed for the fuller, deeper figure.
A size 14 was designed to fit 34-24-36 (or possibly 34-26-36). That is bust, waist, hips, in inches. We used to think it was very odd of the Americans to designate that same size as a 12 - were they trying to delude themselves that they were thinner than English girls?
I have stayed the much same size ever since, albeit with a thicker waist. The clothes in the shops have got larger.
But if I have magically reduced to a size 8, that at least half explains the mystery of size 0.
All Utopias end up as repressive regimes. How do you deal with those who cannot or will not agree with your vision of the Good Society?
Ah! Vee haf vays! (cultural reference to the caricature German in war films of the 1940s & 1950s)
Sunday, April 15, 2007
A person is a process, not a fixed object. Thinking that you can change a human being by changing their DNA is like thinking that you can reorganise a library just by changing the catalogue
Or - to put it another way - thinking that you can fully describe a human being by transcribing their genome is like thinking you can fully describe a phone system with a telephone directory. It’s the connections between phones & the contents of the messages between them which are important. And just when you think you are getting to grips with the system, someone invents the mobile phone & increases the complexity manyfold
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Police investigations, HSE investigations, public enquiries, court cases, criminal trials -
All take aeons to investigate events which took perhaps only moments in real time
Why should this be so? Just the difference between looking from the outside & looking from the inside? Looking backwards rather than forwards - ex post rather than ex ante? The need to look at an event from many different angles, even from 360°? Or - which amounts to the same thing - the need to take account of many peoples views & weigh the primacy of eg victims family versus society or established law?
What does the length of enquiry v time of incident tell us about time in the philosophical sense?
Friday, April 13, 2007
Martin Samuel wrote an interesting piece about English football supporters in the Times the other day. Coincidentally I was just exploring the possibilities of Google Docs as a home for stuff backed up on floppies from my expired laptop. So I thought, why not see if the Blog transfer bit works for me. And it does.
Why are some football crowds so scary & others not?
With the spread of car ownership I dont think too many fans travel by train these days, but in the 70s & 80s this was a real problem. I remember travelling to London from Leeds with a crowd of Sunderland supporters going to the Cup Final - very unpleasant.
Then there was the Alcohol on Trains Act. On 2 successive Saturdays I saw elderly frail people collapse in queues at Euston - not because of any violence but because we were kept waiting, standing in line, for a long time until a policeman was available to check the crowds for signs of bottles & cans
In 1986 I travelled to Manchester on August Bank Holiday Monday, leaving a very rainy Notting Hill Carnival in the afternoon & arriving at Manchester Piccadilly station around 7pm. It was like something out one of those scary angst ridden modern alienation films - deserted except for a few policemen with barking Alsatians. There had been a football match, though the fans had either left or not arrived yet
Later, when hooliganism had receded as a problem, I travelled in to Manchester one sunny Sunday noon. As I walked down to Piccadilly Gardens I could see a large crowd of obvious football supporters spilling all over the pavement outside the large pub there
It seemed too far to walk all the way round the other 3 sides of the square & there were no signs of trouble - the crowd was noisy but there was no swaying or movement - so I decided that there would be no problem in just threading my way through the crowd. The moment I got in there I had one of those moments - I think I may just have made an awful mistake - no real reason, just the testosterone & the feeling This could go off at any moment.
Again in the 90s there have been many European matches in Manchester. It has been noticeable that the fans of the continental teams do not walk round in such large groups & do not, for some reason, exude such threat. The nearest I saw to that was when an Israeli team were playing United & there were lots of very excited & noisy young men in the centre of town, but for some reason no local fans felt compelled to gather & menace Come on if youre hard enough
In 2003 there was a European Cup Final in Manchester between 2 Italian teams. The city was absolutely packed. It helped that the weather was fine & sunny but not too hot. I would not have gone if I had realised the match was on. But it turned out to be a lovely day. Building on the experience of the Commonwealth Games the whole atmosphere was welcoming - there were lots of signs directing people how to get to the ground, entertainment was laid on in all the big public spaces, fans were lining up to have their photo taken with policemen in helmets, all the shops (incl M&S) were selling Italian newspapers … a wonderful carnival spirit. My only complaint was that there was almost nowhere to sit & rest my back for a few moments
British football fans seem to think that they are not causing any trouble so long as they are not actually fighting or attacking one another. They seem to think that walking around in large groups, making lots of noise, shouting at women, making no attempt to make room for other people on the pavement, showing off unnecessary amounts of bare skin, beer gut & man boobs & getting drunk, simply constitutes good fun. And, despite their claims to the contrary, Scottish fans are no better than English
Postscript: I was in Manchester again last Tuesday. I soon realised that a match must be coming soon, because there were small groups of fans wandering around. But they seemed somehow subdued & I assumed that the match must not be taking place until Wednesday. When I saw yellow jacketed police on guard in St Peters Square, & then 3 tactical support units parked in Piccadilly Gardens, I realised that somehow we had slipped back towards the old days, in the minds of the authorities at least.
The media response to the astonishing score line also seems to me unusually subdued - as if the commentators dont quite know what to make of it. Lets hope we can recover a happier spirit soon
Thursday, April 12, 2007
It was also common practice for children to take a formal afternoon nap at school. Infant schools (ages 5&6) were generally completely separate from junior schools (ages 7-11). At my infant school we were each issued with a rush mat on which we had to lie quietly on the floor after school dinner; often you did actually go to sleep. I think that children who went home for dinner (does anyone do that these days?) were expected to rest at home before returning to school
If I cut a circular (w)hole in the centre of a square sheet of paper, is the circle the hole, or is it the piece of paper I have cut away?
If the hole is the circle, then the circle is defined by the paper which surrounds it.
If both the hole & the cutaway piece of paper are a circle, then the circle is defined equally by itself & by its surroundings
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
One came via astronomy, when its practitioners realised that the best estimate of any measured astronomical quantity was given by the average of all available measurements. This had the added advantage that they didnt have to argue any more about whose measurements were best.
In this sense the average represents the true value of what we are trying to measure.
The social statisticians of the C19th were more interested in the variability of the human condition. But how do you measure variability?
It seems obvious that you need a fixed point from which to measure the individual differences. And it turns out that all sorts of useful mathematical results follow if you choose the average as that fixed point.
Nobody suggests that the average man represents some kind of truth, that a man ought to be 1.75m with a BMI of 22.5, an IQ of 100 & earnings of £25,000 a year.
Medicine however can seem confused about this. Does scientific medicine involve assuming that averages represent truth - the gold standard of treatment? Or, if not, how do the standards of science apply to those pesky & infinitely variable things called patients?
The Sumerians would have been dissatisfied with an explanation that smoking caused the death of a patient from lung cancer. OK, so smoking causes lung cancer, but why him, why now?
Just because Aristotle claimed that no systematic knowledge of them is possible, does that mean doctors are condemned to treat individuals forever as mere exemplars of a class?
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
This is premised on a naïve confusion between finance (or money) & real resources: you cant eat, live in, or wear, money, though in a steady state system the accumulated promises which are represented by banknotes or other financial instruments gives you command over these real resources.
Because, especially because, money does not equal real resources, there are myriad ways in which these promises can be reneged upon - for example the young, the workers, the salaried & employed can consent to runaway inflation. In the end the old, the infirm, the dependent, must trust the able bodied to support them, whether this is directly, through the family, or indirectly through the state or through a charitable organisation.
Tracing, or mapping, on whom these obligations fall, provides one method of defining whether a society is a democracy or something else
God doesnt think hes a doctor
But now we are darn near tithing our gross income to the NHS, the medical profession has taken on the mantle of a church as well. And a very Presbyterian one at that.
Bad health is all our fault, for we are all sinners. If we lived properly, according to the rules of this religion, we would not be such a burden.
But hang on. Does that mean we wouldnt need doctors anymore?
Anyway, as Donne said It adds to the affliction that relapses are (and for the most part justly) judged to be self-inflicted
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Now discrimination is a sin.
And only men can be discriminating - against women
We women do not discriminate against men, we are far too nice
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
But does anyone use bastard as a term of abuse for a woman?
Both boys & girls could be bastards in the legal sense. But I guess that, under a system of primogeniture, bastardy is worse for a boy child than it is for a girl
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
But in one astonishing decade the British Parliament removed much of the legislation which reinforced whatever social or personal motivations there might be for conventional marriage.
I think Larkin was wrong. Sexual intercourse began in 1967, when intimate relations began to be legislatively decoupled from marriage.
Consider the following:
1967 Abortion Act
1967 Sexual Offences Act
1969 Family Law Reform Act - removed legal difficulties for illegitimate children; marriage at 18 possible without parental consent
1973 Report of the Population Panel - free contraceptive advice & prescriptions as of right, regardless of marital status
1973 Matrimonial Causes Act - easier divorce
1973 Guardianship Act - mother shared guardianship rights of legitimate children
1974 Finer Report on One Parent Families - improved income support
1975 Sex Discrimination Act
What with the recent headline divorce settlements, one does begin to wonder whats in it for a man
Monday, April 02, 2007
Undoubtedly one factor would have been the fear of getting left on the shelf (dreadful phrase). Their generation would have been all too familiar with the twin phenomena of elderly maiden aunts & spinster schoolteachers. Stalwarts, every one of them.
There were so many spinsters because the natural shortage of men of marriageable age (relative to women) had been multiplied many times by the carnage of World War I. The mothers of daughters born in the 30s & 40s were thus particularly fearful that their daughters might not be quick enough off the mark & so might be condemned to spinsterhood & childlessness.
There might also have been a feeling that World War II had had the same effect on the male/female ratio as had WWI. Not so, & not least because of the grisly fact that bombing civilians causes just as many female casualties.
And so girls growing up in the 1950s especially would have been bombarded with advice & warnings. Dont be a bluestocking, they would say, men dont like clever women. No one will want you if youre too clever
Postscript: Virginia Nicholsons Singled Out, being read as R4 Book of the Week 20 August 2007, explores the lives of post WW1 spinsters