Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blog posts I liked this week

Your righteous moment of the day - a graceful lesson in manners from a young person on social media

Mixed race America : “As a share of the total population, mixed-race Americans are still a tiny minority, just 2.9 percent, or about nine million people.” – only if you have a very restricted definition of what mixed race means – only in your parents generation?

Toffeedom has crossed the pond & is infiltrating American political discourse - Toff

Wellcome Film of the Month: Maternity (1932)

Yet more on the significance of significance

A sad story about love

Unfortunate coincidence

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying -
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.
Dorothy Parker

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Medicine to weariness

A 20-year study of old people in south-west France suggests a link between the use of popular sleeping pills & dementia. Diazepam & Temazepam are specifically name-checked in The Times report of the paper from Harvard which is published in today’s BMJ.

I feel I may have had a lucky escape.

I took my very first Temazepam almost 30 years ago (admittedly while I was still well under the age of 65, so not in any sense matching the population studied for this report).

It was my first night in hospital before a small exploratory operation. The Night Sister – an impressively statuesque but friendly woman, clearly proud to wear her old fashioned navy blue uniform &white lace cap - came round to introduce herself, ask if we had any problems & if we needed ‘anything to help with sleep.’

I asked for a hot water bottle.

You would think I had made an indecent remark.

But, recovering herself, Sister explained that they could not use hot water bottles in hospital because of safety concerns - something I could understand when I thought about it. So I accepted a Temazepam instead & was rather impressed to find that I did not feel obviously hungover in the morning.

Several years later – when suffering from the long-term after effects of (a different) hospital-acquired pneumonia & sleep problems were causing difficulty because dealing with them by just getting up later in the morning was not an option – I went back to Temazepam, but found that within a couple of weeks the hangover effect was definitely there.

So I stopped.

I still find a hot water bottle an invaluable aid to nodding off.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Unfortunate beginning

Oh dear.

The fat sun stalls by the phone masts.

Not exactly an entry for the Bulwer-Lytton prize, but definitely not a sentence designed to make me want to spend any of my precious time reading the whole novel.

Zadie Smith: N-W
The Bulwer-Lytton prize
Related post
A challenge to philosophy

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Andy Williams

Andy Williams has died aged 84.

A discussion on late night radio provided further confirmation of that well-known fact that your vote for ‘the best song ever’ depends crucially upon your age – you tend, especially where love is concerned, to vote for something which belongs to your most formative years.

So there is just no contest over his best song. It just has to be Moon River (& Audrey Hepburn)

Wasps (not rugby)

I was wondering if it is unusual to see wasps flying in September; after a ‘summer’ in which we have seen few if any; but two of them were causing a problem on the bus yesterday, then one made a direct line for me sitting by the fountains this lunchtime.

research reveals that it is not unusual; although a helpful note from Blackpool council explains the nests usually start to come to an end in August, a useful set of data from Wasp Watch (sadly discontinued in 2010) shows that September sightings are not at all rare, it is the lowlevel of activity in July & August which isunusual

Related post

Depends on adolescence

Today is Google’s 14th birthday. I can’t decide whether that is surprising because it is younger than I thought (however did we manage without it?) or disconcerting because it is so much older – (where has all that time gone?)

I hope that this does not mark the beginning of a long period of communication only in grunts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Winners & losers

I recently made a rather waspish comment about Paul Deighton, lately Chief Executive of LOCOG, but after reading a long interview with him in The Times of 15 September I became more of a fan.

First because he prefers to describe himself as lucky, rather than successful, (not an attitude one readily associates with a multi-millionaire beneficiary of the Goldman Sachs flotation), who believes that rich people should spend less time worrying about how they are perceived & concentrate instead on thinking about how they can make a contribution. Doubtless however he recognises the force in Gary Player’s remark about the relationship between the time & effort put into practising & the amount of luck which comes ones way.

Secondly he is not a subscriber to the belief in the automatic superiority of the private sector. After [7 years] sitting in the middle of the ‘massive public-private joint venture’ which was the Olympics he is clear that the best resources may lie in either – there is no clear superiority – but what is clear is the need to have good people leading at the top of each individual venture.

And thirdly, both banking & the Olympics have taught him the overwhelming importance of teamwork, collaboration (rather than winner-take-all competition, red in tooth & claw): “If you can make that happen then the energy & power you unleash is extraordinary".

And that G4S debacle? Turned out to be a blessing. The public loved the military. The situation played to their strength of going in quickly, for them it was just business as usual, not business unusual as it seemed to an organisation like LOCOG.

I turned to the Minutes of Evidence for his appearance before the Select Committee, which took place 4 days before the Times interview was published, & only two days after the Paralympics closing ceremony, in the glow of all-round congratulations for a job well done.

The Committee made some attempts to gain an admission that the G4S problem should have been recognised earlier, but on this occasion failed to make headway with a man these political & diplomatic skills.

He slipped in a reminder to the Committee that the ultimate contractual responsibility for a safe & secure Games lies with the Government since ‘nobody but the state can really guarantee to provide safety and security’, as well as reference to the fact that LOCOG had managed to hire 70,000 volunteers, seven times as many as the security guards for which G4S had the contract, during the same period. Nevertheless he was careful to mitigate the case against the contractor, who didn’t give up despite the difficult position in which they found themselves, & indeed by the time of the Paralympics were meeting virtually all their obligations (a fact which has not had much publicity): “The thing I would say specifically about G4S … is that they created a special unit to deliver this project, because this project is unusual in its size and temporary nature. Their inability to get this bit right doesn’t necessarily reflect on the capability across their standard operating business

If only he can negotiate the shoals of Westminster & Whitehall to help restore confidence & pride in a much battered civil service, that will be contribution indeed. It will be a very hard job, without that card which trumps all argument – commitment to a fixed, unalterably removal date, on which the events being planned for must take place at (almost) whatever the cost.

Olympics Security: Uncorrected Transcript Of Oral Evidence
Related posts
Increasing the demand for Christmas
Looks like carelessness

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Olden days

BBC Radio 4’s Archive on 4 this week looked at the quality of political debate in this country over the last half century, using as its main source the Any Questions programme archive.

The most memorable moments for me were the pieces used to illustrate the kind of thing that panel members used to feel free to say.

Thus we heard Viscount Monckton explain why he would refuse to accept an African as a son-in-law: he was not, of course, a racist – he would happily accept an educated man as a dinner guest in his home, invite him for a drink at his Club, or introduce him to his golf club - but marriage is about culture, & mixing could not be made to work.

We heard a discussion on whether it should become mandatory for an Any Questions panel to include at least two women, and ‘Just because it’s funny’, a selection of answers to a member of the public who wished to know at what age an unmarried woman becomes a spinster.

It is easy to laugh now, perhaps, but diferent when you think that this was the world in which I grew up & these recordings were made just around the time I was leaving home to enter the grown up world.

BBC Radio 4: Debate of Our Times
Any Questions
Related posts
Don’t be a bluestocking

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oh my Patrick & Patricia

If you are not allowed to call someone a pleb, should you be allowed to call anyone Pat?

Pat is the shortened form of the noble Roman Patrician, adopted as a still popular first name for boys, & a now less fashionable one for girls.

By distinguishing some as the patricians among us, you are, by implication, designating the others as plebs. So you should stop doing so.

On the other hand you might claim that Pat itself is an insult, since it is a shortened form of the word Patrician which was applied to members of a sect founded by Patricius (the teacher of Symmachus the Marcionite) in the 4th century, who taught that the flesh was created by the Devil rather than God.

BBC: Andrew Mitchell row
Related post
Evidence based law

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Signifying woman

Caitlin Moran has proposed a 5-year moratorium on ‘people having any opinions about any women, ever.’ Women – feminists in particular – should lead the way in this endeavour.

This partly on the grounds that ‘When a woman makes a hash of it … she’s a cultural signifier’, whereas a man just does it as himself.

If only such a thing were possible. But at least the caravan moves on – we do not any longer, for example, have to respond to invitations to comment upon the extraordinary fact that a woman has been promoted into any job which will actually put her into a position of authority over men as ‘first woman’ this that or the other.

And the moratorium most definitely extends to having no opinion, ever, about the clothes which a woman choose.

Related post
Monstrous regiment

Not so wooden hearts

Rock’n’Roll was supposed to hold no interest for Grammar School children of the 1950s; we must not be exposed to the kind of mayhem wrought by Teddy Boys, & we certainly must not have our maidenly gaze exposed to the suggestive gyrations of that man Presley.

But then along came GI Blues & Wooden Heart. Our kindly, & still young enough to be slightly subversive, music teacher decided that Muss I Denn, a traditional folk song, would be a very appropriate choice for the school choir to sing, in the original German, on Speech Day.

Muss i denn

Muss i' denn, muss i' denn
Zum Städtele hinaus
Städtele hinaus
Und du mein Schatz bleibst hier
Wenn i' komm, wenn i' komm
Wenn i' wieder, wieder komm
Wieder, wieder komm
Kehr i' ein mein Schatz bei dir
Kann i' auch nicht immer bei dir sein
Hab' i' doch mei' Freud' an dir
Wenn i' komm, wenn i' komm
Wenn i' wieder, wieder komm
Wieder, wieder komm
Kehr' i' ein mein Schatz bei dir

Weine nicht, weine nicht
Wenn i' weiter wandern muss
Weiter wandern muss
Als wär' alle Lieb' vorbei
Gibt es auch, gibt es auch
Der Mädele so viel
Mädele so viel
Lieber Schatz i' bleib dir treu
Denk nicht gleich wenn i die andern seh'
Wär' meine Liebe vorbei
Gibt es auch, gibt es auch
Der Mädele so viel
Mädele so viel
Lieber Schatz i bleib dir treu

Über's Jahr, über's Jahr
Sind die Träubele erst reif
Träubele erst reif
Stell i' hier mich wieder ein
Wenn i' dann, wenn i' dann
Dein Schätzele noch bin
Schätzele noch bin
So soll die Hochzeit sein
Und ein Jahr geht ja so schnell vorbei
und bis dahin bin i' dein
Wenn i' dann, wenn i' dann
Dein Schätzele noch bin
Schätzele noch bin
So soll die Hochzeit sein

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Zimbabwean update

Jenny Cuffe reported from Zimbabwe for Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent last Saturday 15 September.

The economy has picked up, politically things are calmer, & many of those who had moved to Britain have (willingly or unwillingly) returned. Optimism flavoured with qualms & feelings of trepidation about what the furure might hold

From one returnee who, despite his qualifications, found that working double shifts in care homes was the only course open to him as a way of earning enough to remit home to keep his family going during the worst days, we learned of a shameful new meaning for the initials BBC: British Bum Cleaner

BBC Radio 4: FOOC 15 September
Related post
Zimbabwean migrants

Friday, September 21, 2012


A beneficiary of the Goldman Sachs flotation in 1999 is said to have received a windfall of £95 million – in truth not very much, compared to an oligarch or IT billionaire.

Even a millionaire needs more than a mere £1 million to qualify for that description these days, since you need assets of $30 million to earn the title of multi-millionaire. At least according to a report from an organisation called WealthInsight.

There are 4,220 such plutocrats living in London (more than in the whole of France, even before the recent flight of those reluctant to pay ever higher taxes).

Greater Manchester has a mere 170 – enough to put them second on the list of richest places in Britain, although there are probably even more if you draw the boundary to include the footballer-dense areas of Cheshire.

But still they are not as glamorous as those who, once upon a time, really were milllionaires even though they had a measly single million to their name.

They don't make them like Lord & Lady Docker any more

Guardian: Millionaire map

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tuck your top in?

The editor of Tatler magazine gave readers of last Saturday’s Times ca800 words of advice on the new rules of going topless – disappointingly, addressed to women readers only, so no rules for men in supermarkets.

But then the rules are clearly not addressed to the likes of us, rather to those whose holidays in the sun may be spent in a private house somewhere in southern Europe, or on a private yacht.

My favourite reads:
Always defer to your hostess/most senior member of the party. Tops off is a bit like Tuck In, you need to be given the green light.

It’s a good job that Kate Reardon is not a member of the current government or there would be another outbreak of derisory comments about Toffeedom.

Tuck In???? Is that what you do when going to bed, or after you have been given permission to start eating your dinner (sorry, supper)

Related posts
Proper modesty
Padded bikinis
Top class
When books are not enough

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Daily pictorial

The Times has a new[ish] picture editor – Sue Connolly (who took over from Paul Sanders). I only spotted this change because she was given a name check for a persuasive analysis, in last Saturday’s paper, of where those Peeping Tom pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge were taken.

I wonder if those wrap-around pictorial covers – which I think started with the breathtaking juxtaposition of the Canaletto with a photographic panorama of the Jubilee procession along the Thames, but was most notably continued - & copied by most other newspapers - for every day of the Olympics – were her idea. These no doubt played a large part in the spectacular increase in circulation - about half the total 2 million extra papers sold during the Olympic Games were copies of The Times or The Sunday Times, we are told.

The covers continued throughout the Paralympics too, though it was noticeably only a normal, single sheet double-page spread, rather than the double folded sheet, on higher quality paper supported by advertising from the sponsors, which we got for the Olympics ‘proper’.

Which makes all the more admirable the decision of Justin King to sponsor the Paralympics, a decision which was regarded by many as a gamble when it was made, well before the public revealed the strength & size of their support.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Write van men

Here is a nice song & video of Archie at work

18 September 1912

I am reproducing here an entry from RH Tawney’s Commonplace Book which was written exactly 100 years ago today. It is one of the longer entries in the book, & the division into paragraphs is mine, to make it easier to read on a screen.

18 September 1912. I am inclined to think that a great deal of thought & discussion which goes by the name of sociology has very little value so far as the improvement of human life is concerned, not because it is untrue, not because the problems with which it deals are unimportant, but because information – of a more or less speculative character, about the probable consequences & tendencies of human arrangements is, by itself, not very likely to make those arrangements better. What is needed for the improvement of society is not so much that men should have profound information as to the possible result of their actions, but that they should have a keen sense of right & wrong, that they should realise that the conceptions of ‘right & wrong’ apply to all relations of life, including those where their application is most inconvenient, such as those of business, & that they should act on their knowledge.

More knowledge we’ll certainly need. But what we need still more is the disposition to act on the knowledge which we possess; & I am disposed to complain with regard to sociologists generally that they concentrate attention on remote consequences instead of on immediate duties, that they substitute inexpediency for sin & social welfare for conscience, & that then the world instead of feeling that it is a miserable sinner, flying from the city of Destruction, escapes its responsibilities today by speculating n the probabilities of the future.

Now I do not complain of all this intellectual activity being applied to tracing out social actions & reactions. What I do want to drive home is that our conduct in particular cases is, & must always be, very largely independent of it, & that therefore the first step towards an improvement in social life is to judge our social conduct by strict moral standards. I venture to say – though it sounds heresy – that there are certain sorts of behaviour which we know to be right, & certain others which we know to be wrong. Let us act on what we know.

We know it to be wrong for one man to live as though the effects of his actions upon his neighbours did not concern him. We know it to be wrong for one man to deceive another in order that thereby he may obtain pecuniary advantage. We know it to be wrong for one man to take advantage of the weakness of another in order to wring out of him terms to which he would not submit if he were a free agent.

This knowledge is, I would urge, the common property of the Christian nations. If it is asked, on what it is based, I answer that it is based on the experience of life in all the principal nations of Western Europe, & that its validity is shown by the fact that when these propositions are stated in general form, nobody in practice would venture to deny them. Not only so, nobody, in practice, would think it necessary to appeal to the consequences of neglecting them in order to prove their validity, though it is, I suppose, on the consequences of neglecting them that their validity ultimately rests.

Very well then – what is the task of the sociologist? It is [I] submit to show how these universally accepted principles may be applied to particular sets of social conditions. It is in fact analogous to the business of a jurist. A jurist builds up the body of laws, by bringing new cases, as they arise, under some of the general principles of his science. A sociologist ought to build up his science by bringing new economic cases under some of the rules of conduct generally accepted by civilised men. This does not appear to me to be done at the present time. What is happening is that there is great activity in investigation both inductive & deductive ( - to use bad words - ). But that the new facts are largely useless so far as conduct is concerned, because they are not grouped under established principles by [which] most men admit their conduct should be controlled.

Let me take one or two examples: What were the reasons for the abolition of slavery? (I have no special knowledge on this point & must look it up) They were, I suppose, that a body of opinion which arose which held that the employment of one man by another as a tool was immoral, & that this body of opinion became sufficiently powerful to convert the majority of persons, who had never realised that slavery implied this, & those who, if they realised it, had never made in their minds the connection between this fact & any accepted principle of morality, in such a way as to reveal to them that the fact & the principle were inconsistent.

The reason for the abolition of slavery was certainly not that after calculation the advocates of the change arrived at the conclusion that its abolition was more profitable than its maintenance. They acted as they did because they believed slavery to be wrong, & believing it to be wrong determined to get rid of it irrespective of whether the result would diminish or increase – it actually increased – the productive capacity of the slave or the profits of the quondam slave-owner.

Now let us turn from this example to another. Everyone at the present day knows a large number of persons are paid wages which makes it extremely difficult to live virtuous lives. They are tempted to neglect their duties to their families because it’s so hopeless to discharge them, or to be mean for fear of neglecting them, or to be quite casual because they will not be mean, according to their temperament. In practice the vices of slave labour tend to appear among them. They feel they are treated unjustly: they have no prospects; & the employer tries to make up for the absence of other incentives by close supervision. We are, in fact, as I am inclined to say, faced with a problem analogous to, though different from, that which confronted the Abolitionists.

How far is it possible for us to approach it in the same spirit?

RH Tawney’s Commonplace Book ed & intro JM Winter DM Joslin CUP1972
£2 UK $6.50 USA!!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

RH Tawney's Commonplace Book

Another piece of library serendipity brought me a real reading treat last week.

I had checked the catalogue, hoping to be able to renew my acquaintance with The Acquisitive Society. No luck, but there was a title I had not come across before: RH Tawney’s Commonplace Book.

Tawney was still a revered figure when I was an undergraduate – his Religion & the Rise of Capitalism (which is still in the library catalogue) was on the reading list we were sent before we arrived for our first term. I read it on my knee in between answering calls to the small switchboard of the insurance company where I was working (for £25 a month) that summer.

For those reasons alone, & as an inveterate keeper of commonplace books myself, I had to read this.

In truth I probably wouldn’t call this a commonplace book; the editors themselves also refer to it as a diary, but it is no mere record of engagements or events of the day - if it were mine I should probably have labelled it Notes & Jottings.

It was written between April 1912 & December 1914, which fact no doubt keeps it in the library for its relevance to local history, if for no other reason. Tawney was then living & working in Manchester, as a tutor for the Workers Educational Association. The last entry was written just before he reported for duty as a private in the British army, having reconciled his decision to do so with his religious & political beliefs: the place of a committed Christian, who worked & studied at the forefront of the social issues of the time, was, during war, at the front among the men in the ranks.

In these notes to his 32-year-old self one can see clearly the outline of the arguments, & ideas for the programme of research he would need to undertake to develop them in his major works.

I was especially struck by the number of times he makes comparison between the position of a slave & that of the contemporary (mainly industrial) working man. It comes as something of a shock to realise that, at the time he was writing, the West Indian slaves had been fully emancipated less than three-quarters of a century earlier – no time at all, really, if you think that the same distance of time from today would be, for us, the time of the gathering clouds of WWII.

There are other resonances with the issues we face today – not least his concern to ensure that economics should always include reference to the ethical dilemmas thrown up by the way we organise the production of wealth. For example, his response to an article by Alfred Marshall, which asserted that no good substitute could be found for the risk-taking entrepreneur, was that yes, ‘we shall probably for a century or so have to put up with political jobbery & ineptitude which at present is limited by the fact that large spheres of national life lie outside politics altogether’, but that ‘English people will not accept efficiency as a substitute for liberty’ – reflecting his view that, as employer, the industrial capitalist was little better than the slave owner. One wonders if, although we have undoubtedly experienced the political jobbery, he would think that today we are actually further along the road to that freedom.

Tawney also reports the working class contempt for middle & upper class attempts to regulate their lifestyle (for example by changes to the licencing laws) in order that they ‘may work better.’ He also discusses the idea of well-being, maintaining that poverty itself is not the issue – in the C16th a man might be extremely poor but have more control over his own work, & anticipates the finding of modern medical researchers that lack of such control is bad for your health: “to the mass of the people poverty means that the conditions of your work, & therefore of your life, are settled by someone else.”

And, he says, the university has a moral duty to make intellectual discipline accessible to all, neither relaxing standards for anyone who is ‘well to do or socially influential’ nor denying access to anyone ‘merely because they are poor or uncouth or socially incompetent.’

Later, considering what moral principles should underlie the organisation of the economy, he puts first that we should abandon the denial of moral responsibility which argues that a man cannot be blamed for the results of any action in business, provided those actions were compatible with the law.

And he worries about how to allocate the fruits of economic progress between worker, employer & consumer: Why should the employer get the advantage of labour saving machinery rather than the employee? & How would a public body resolve the same problem?

There is also one intriguing assertion which is new to me: the property of the Crown & of the monasteries was, in England, distribute among the middle classes at a fairly early date, giving them an incomparable advantage in terms of economic power. “In Germany a parliamentary government (of a kind) followed hard on the heels of absolute monarchy … hence the property of the former was never distributed & remains for the nation” I wonder if this (if true) explains, for example, the relative lack of obsession with owner occupation.

Infed: Richard Henry Tawney, fellowship and adult education
CUP: R. H. Tawney's Commonplace Book
Related posts
Commonplace books
Firing time’s arrow
Bede & false monasteries
House prices
The N-word then & now
18 September 1912

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Life protracted

Another extract from The Vanity Of Human Wishes, Samuel Johnson’s long imitation of Juvenal’s Satire X. Something to think about as we contemplate our relentlessly extending longevity.

Enlarge my Life with Multitude of Days,
In Health, in Sickness, thus the Suppliant prays;
Hides from himself his State, and shuns to know,
That Life protracted is protracted Woe.
Time hovers o'er, impatient to destroy,
And shuts up all the Passages of Joy:
In vain their Gifts the bounteous Seasons pour,
The Fruit autumnal, and the Vernal Flower,
With listless Eyes the Dotard views the Store,
He views, and wonders that they please no more;
Now pall the tasteless Meats, and joyless Wines,
And Luxury with Sighs her Slave resigns.
Samuel Johnson

Related posts
More to life than sport
The price of an education

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday post

Computers off again today – or at least connection to the internet was patchy The error messages said you might nonetheless be able to call up recent or regular sites – not a lot of help on a public system where the workstations are cleaned & rebooted at the end of each individual session.

Oddly, I was able to get through to Google Reader, but not Blogger.

Friday, September 14, 2012

23 years later

“It is a depressing and chastening fact that mine is the ninth official report covering crowd safety and control at football grounds. After eight previous reports and three editions of the Green Guide, it seems astounding that 95 people could die from overcrowding before the very eyes of those controlling the event.”

Who knows what would have been Lord Justice Taylor’s response to yet another report, this time on the extent of the cover-up of some of the facts of what happened at Hillsborough, & in its aftermath.

Lord Taylor’s report, while leaving no doubt that the contemptuous attitudes towards football fans which was used by those in authority to justify the lack of care & attention to the state of grounds caused him personal distress, recognised too the scourge that match days had become for those who had no interest in the game but merely had the misfortune to live or have their businesses near to a ground, or were just trying to travel on the same train which was carrying supporters to the game; a scourge.

Add to that the politics of the 1980s, & Neil Kinnock’s 1985 Labour Party Conference attack on the far left, and principally Liverpool City Council, for causing "grotesque chaos", & the widespread, lack sympathy for the 23-years of persistence of the families of those who died becomes, historically, easier to comprehend. Even though mere mention of this is today considered 'distasteful'

But - & this is the important point – even given all that – those feelings were unforgivable.

Even if (some) fans had behaved exactly as the smearers claimed.

We abolished the death penalty for murder twenty years before Hillsborough.

Disgusting, bad or antisocial behaviour does not justify indifference to whether people live or die, does not allow you to tell yourself that even dangerous grounds are too good for people like that.

And it certainly does not justify callous behaviour towards relatives, disrespectful treatment of all those who died, & cowardly lying once you suddenly realise that, after the worst has happened.

But instead of having an orgy of self-congratulation about the fact that now we feel bad about it, we should be asking ourselves who are those whose plight we are ignoring today.

[PDF] The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster 15 April 1989: Inquiry By The Rt Hon Lord Justice Taylor
[PDF] The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Personal abbreviation

I was recently transcribing some passages from a book directly on to my lap top – cut & paste just not an option, and however good it will be when the day come when all is available at the click of a mouse or squeeze of finger, there is something about copying it for yourself that alters the way you remember & interpret it, even appreciate the language.

Since the passages were relatively lengthy I found myself slipping back into the habits of abbreviation which I developed in the long days spent in archives & libraries copying out all source materials by hand.

This made me realise, once again, that there is an inbuilt human urge to abbreviate; it is not a novel disease of teenage txtrs.

Funnily enough, although the abbreviations never interfered with the fluency of my reading of my own hand-written notes, when typed the result is botheration & bewilderment, as if I were deciphering the runes.

What I need is some kind of hybrid spell/grammar checker crossed with that part of speech recognition software which will automatically tailor the expansions to my own idiosyncratic contractions.

In the meantime, for my own amusement, as an exercise in memory & with the thought that as memory fades a crib may come in useful, I have been jotting down some of these, as I rummage around the synapses

nec.      necessary
wh       which
w        with
prob    probably
P        probability
T       the
→     implies or [leads] to or causes
F       Fenian
tog     together
la       local authority
pop    population
hhld    household
v        very
cttee   committee
econ   econom(y)ic(s)
soc     social or society
∑       total
yr(s)   year(s); Your(s)
m       married
b        born
C      century

Related posts
Short comms
The association between football & soccer

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Democratic loops

The Opposition are calling for a full independent inquiry into the row over the marking of this years GCSE English exams.

The inquiry will be into the actions of OFQUAL, who forced a late change in the grade boundaries.

But hang on a minute – isn’t OFQUAL itself supposed to be independent?

In the ‘About Us’ section of their website they say ‘We’re not directly controlled by the government but report to parliament’. Hmm – not sure what that means.

But in a press release announcing the appointment of a new Chair they describe themselves as ‘the independent regulator of qualifications, examinations and assessments’ – & that the appointment of Chair is subject to Privy Council approval

The House of Commons Select Committee on Education has already begun hearings on the matter.

If we are not careful we could be getting ourselves into an infinite loop here

Ofqual announces new Chair
Ofqual board
BBC: Stephen Twigg on GCSEs: 'We need a full inquiry'
Privy Council Office
House of Commons:Education Committee explores grading of this year's GCSE English exams
Fortran: DO-loop
Related posts
Who governs
Independent government

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Things you didn't know you need

Primark have ‘Touch Screen Gloves’ for sale. The ones I noticed were the knitted,  cheap (but surprisingly good quality) kind in either black or dark grey.

The greyish-white tips of thumb & index finger mark them out as different from the ordinary workaday kind, which surprises me because I had assumed that touch screens must be sensitive only to direct human warmth.

I shall have to find time to sit down with a wet towel round my head & an appropriate dictionary to read the explanation of touch screen mechanism given here before I can decide whether it is worth investing in a pair

On second thoughts, that would be to put far too low a price on the value of my time: the quickest & most efficient way to find out would be just to buy a pair, wear them & see.

It pleases me be reminded yet again of the way that human ingenuity & organisation work to meet such novel needs.

Related post
A touch sensitive

The spider & the flies

We have had only one housefly this year, which got in through the bathroom window when we had that brief early ‘summer’ – nor any last year either, now that I come to think about it.

A vague concern began to grow over the past week however – tiny, transparent flies, the sort that float like motes, started to appear. Is this a sign of something gently rotting, unspotted, somewhere in the house?

Well the rot, if rot it be, is everywhere, & not just the result of a slapdash approach to housekeeping.

My neighbours invited me to share their wonder at a spiders web busily being spun in the gap between their shed & clothes post. They had carefully removed one from the same spot the day before, relocated to the shrubbery over the other side of the wall – but here it was again.

Although still rudimentary, there for such a short time, it had already snared a rich crop of these same small flies – I had to put my glasses on to be sure that they were not, in fact, eggs

Monday, September 10, 2012

Not again

There are those who would (as Radio 4's Reunion reminded us the other week) still argue that Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax might have worked – might even have proved popular – if it had been phased in slowly as originally advised. Instead everything got done in one fell swoop & the result was rioting in the streets.

It is hard not to fear that the new Universal (welfare) Credit will also bring trauma in its wake; at one fell swoop the rules which govern entitlement will change, a complex new computer system will be introduced, payments will be made only monthly instead of fortnightly & all applications will have to be made on line.

Scant details are available of how claimants who do not have their own computer will make & manage their claim – the DWP website promises, rather vaguely, that claimants who cannot access the internet or use a computer will be helped maybe in a high street outlet or via a telephone service. Yesterday, on the BBC radio news, a spokesman was suggesting that ‘volunteers’ who have their own laptops could visit claimants in their homes to help them out – one assumes they have thought through the implications for online security, & have checked that these generous volunteers will not need to be CRB checked before visiting vulnerable people in their own homes.

And there is to be a pilot test of the scheme, a whole six months before the system goes national. This time some of the poorest areas of Greater Manchester are to take Scotland’s place as guinea pigs.

Well maybe the whole scheme will work like a dream, the user interface will be simple, intuitive & foolproof, even for those who left school without a certificate to attest that they had reached the required levels of literacy & numeracy. If it doesn’t maybe some savvy internet guru will come up with a whizzy visual app for smartphone or tablet that will help.

Those who have expressed worries about the ability of claimants to cope with the move to monthly payment have been met with vague promises on training in how to manage a budget – with  emphasis of course on the special expertise needed to balance priorities on a very tight cashflow

As if all these changes were not enough there will be only one payee per household, who will be expected to allocate spending  between those for whom they are intended. One wonders who will decide who counts as a member of each household, whether DWP have come up with their own rules to apply or whether claimants will have the option to nominate the person they think best able to manage that responsibility.

All this treads on the very delicate ground of financial arrangements within families. Even where both partners have well-paid jobs, each may prefer to keep some of their finances entirely private. At the other end of the spectrum there is the woman I knew whose husband refused to pay her poll tax: ‘It’s your tax, you’ll have to find a way to pay it.’

We shall just have to keep our fingers crossed that the all will go well, & it does not end up having to be abandoned & replaced, at very great expense, which we simply no longer have the money to finance

BBC Radio 4 Reunion: Poll tax
Early roll out of Universal Credit to go live in Manchester and Cheshire

Sunday, September 09, 2012

More to life than sport

What a pleasure it was to find that mens sana in corpore sano is much more than a rather pompously delivered justification for making us play hockey every Wednesday afternoon in winter - letting us off only on those days when the groundman was unable to clear the snow from the surface of the pitch

It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body.
Ask for a brave soul that lacks the fear of death,
which places the length of life ultimate among nature's blessings,
which is able to bear whatever kind of sufferings,
does not know anger, lusts for nothing and believes
the hardships and savage labors of Hercules better than
the satisfactions, feasts, and feather bed of an Eastern king.
I will reveal what you are able to give yourself;
For certain, the one footpath of a tranquil life lies through virtue.
tr Peter Green

Latin version:

orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem,
qui spatium uitae extremum inter munera ponat
naturae, qui ferre queat quoscumque labores,
nesciat irasci, cupiat nihil et potiores
Herculis aerumnas credat saeuosque labores
et uenere et cenis et pluma Sardanapalli.
monstro quod ipse tibi possis dare; semita certe
tranquillae per uirtutem patet unica uitae.
Juvenal Satire X

Might come in useful one day

My father, who was very good at making things, used to keep shedloads of junk; moving house required two furniture vans, one (much smaller than the pantechnicon) to transport his tools, spare parts, pieces of wood & metal which would come in handy one day.

Of course this wasn’t junk.

Table lamps were very popular items of home furnishing in those days. Father turned the bases on his lathe & fitted the electrics, mother made the shades – pleated silk was particularly popular.

One day after he was invited in to admire the newly-completed lamp adorning the living room he asked Mummy: Do you remember that piece of wood you threw in the dustbin?

It was now of course the base of the new lamp.

It is a good thing that no housekeeping molecular biologist ever came up with a plan for getting rid of the junk in the human genome. While we admire & congratulate them for all the work that has brought us to the stage of understanding that most of our DNA does serve a vital purpose, we hope they will spare us from lofty reminders that ‘junk DNA’ is a phrase they no longer use.

Especially those of us who, with no scientific qualifications to speak of, maintained all along that it could not be junk. Nature may be profligate, but that is not the same as carelessly wasteful. Why go to all the effort of continually dividing & accurately copying mere clutter?

One of the most exciting things about the latest finding, that our genome contains c4 million switches which activate the mere 20,000 protein-coding genes provides a whole new set of questions to answer – the more we know, the more we know we don’t know.

One that I should like to ask is – are they simple binary, on/off switches, or do they function like taps, or dials turning up the volume?

And who (or what) turns the switches on or off, up or down, & makes sure that they are operating in the right order & combinations?


Saturday, September 08, 2012


I was walking past the books for sale trolley when my eye was caught by a massive tome called Who Owns Whom 2011/11

Intrigued & surprised I took a look – can anyone be owned by someone? Can the word whom be applied to a non-human? Turns out to be about company ownership – I suppose a company may be a person in the legal sense? I know a university can be, at least for the purposes of national accounts.

Curiosity satisfied, my eye then fell on another interesting looking hardback – Stefan Collini’s Absent Minds, about the history of intellectuals in Britain. Since the English middle class mistrust of intellectuals had so recently been in my mind I could not resist, fell off the wagon, & bought it.

I am loving the elegance of the writing, the humour, rigour & delicate reproofs to scholars who do not come up to his standards of accuracy or reliability.
In the introduction he touched on another topic I was thinking about recently- judging a book by its cover:
'Any book about [English] intellectuals will be assumed to be short – should properly belong ‘in the company of treatises on snark-hunting or gazetteers of snakes in Iceland [sic]
It will already be evident, however, that the present volume is far from short’

It also a truly weighty tome – only 540 pages but printed on high quality paper it is practically a 5lb bag of potatoes. That fact in itself might have put me off buying it had I spotted it on the trolley on  any other day.

But  the sheer physical quality ofthis volume gives the immeasurable bonus of allowing it to lie open flat, does not need me to hold it up to be able to read.

Which also allows me the guilty indulgence of making my own (discreet) annotations. I was brought up to believe that writing in books was wicked, but changed my mind after discovering the joy of finding the marks of previous owners in second hand books which passed to my ownership, though I still think it a heinous crime to write in library books, or any book which does not belong to me.

And all for the bargain price of only 40p.

I am still trying to figure out what to make of the fact that Who Owns Whom, at £2, would have set me back five times as much.

Related posts

Friday, September 07, 2012

Discovering the old

I have just had the great pleasure of ‘discovering’ Tove Jansson, having picked up a copy of her Art in Nature, a collection of short stories available in English for the first time this year. The publishers, Sort of Books, acknowledge the assistance of a grant from the Finnish Literature Exchange. The book was printd in Italy – a real international co-operation.

I cannot recall having heard her name before – I was probably too old for her Moomin books when they first appeared in English. But now I have a whole backlist to look forward to.

Related post

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Increasing the demand for Christmas

Something must have really upset Times Business editor Ian King before he sat down to write yesterday’s comment column, which was full of captious & cavilsome remarks about Vince Cable, Patricia Hewitt, Stephen Byers & Maria Eagle.

But adulatory about Paul Deighton’s ‘unalloyed successes’ as the man in charge of logistics & finance for the Olympics, despite the fact that, as reported in another section of the paper, he will face some awkward moments next week when explaining to the Public Accounts Committee the fiasco over the ill-managed GS4 security contracts.

But King saves his most disobliging comments for Susanna Camusso, head of the Italian union CGIL.

His complaint centres on his apparent belief that the Italian system of making 13 monthly payments a year of salaries & pensions means that the workers get 8½% more than a UK employee who receives only 12 payments.

As someone who has, sometimes, more than half seriously, been fond of advocating that we adopt the same system in this country I must defend my understanding of what this really means.

Salaried employees are usually offered an annual sum in return for their contracted services; custom & practice (&, maybe, the law) dictate that this be paid in 12 equal instalments, commonly towards the end of each calendar month, with no adjustments made for the actual number of days in that month.

In Italy the total annual sum is divided into 13 equal instalments; these are disbursed just one per month from January to November, with a double instalment in December. The purpose being to help with the expenses of Christmas.

This can be seen as a kindness, a way of helping employees, especially in the days before plastic credit became easy to come by, a kind of mandatory Christmas Club of the kind offered by many organisations (including major supermarkets) & presumably safer than that once offered by Farepak

Alternatively it can be seen as a compulsory, interest free loan to the employer.

Susanna Camusso’s proposal, that this years 13th payment be tax free, in order to boost consumer expenditure, seems on the face of it no more unreasonable than other wheezes, such as a temporary reduction in the rate of VAT


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Where's the joy?

Kate Smurthwaite makes some interesting points in her article in Huffington Post about l’affaire Assange. Helps to change the narrative.

Related posts

Tuesday, September 04, 2012


It was a news report about the Olympic Hunger Event which introduced me to the word ‘stunting’, as used to describe a form of permanent impairment brought about by seriously deficient diet during early childhood – an extreme form of what we used to call ‘failure to thrive’

Listening to this suddenly clarified a thought which has been hovering around in my mind for some time.

All the advice we get concerning diet, & often other aspects of ‘life style’, all the scientific studies which provide the evidence to back this up, always find that the things that are bad for us are most likely to be typical elements of the life style of the poor, even though, maybe even only a few years ago, they were regarded as available only to the more privileged sections of society.

Take red meat. Right until the end of the C19th the poor were lucky to get the occasional dish of very fatty bacon, apart from roasted oxen on the occasional high day or holiday. Even in my childhood we did not eat meat every day, partly on grounds of economy, partly because it was thought we needed protein from a variety of sources.

But now meat, in the form of burgers or other fast foods, is ubiquitous, cheap & comes with chips, it is seen to offer the poor only a guarantee of a shorter life.

At primary school we suffered the annual school medical exam which involved standing, stripped to your knickers & vest, while the doctor checked that you were developing healthily with no signs of rickets or other deficiency. Both parent & child let out a sigh of relief as he delivered his verdict: ‘You’re doing a good job there, Mother’. Her children were growing up straight & strong on a diet which provided plenty of protein & vitamins.

Thinness to the point of emaciation is now the domain of the well-off who can somehow extract all the nutrients they need from fruit & lettuce leaves.

Obesity, once the mark of the well-fed alderman, is now the disease of poverty in the midst of affluence.

The same goes for childbearing. Once most dangerous to those over 30, it is now most definitely not advised for any woman under 20 – all the evidence shows that it is associated with poor outcomes for mother, child, or both. But the main danger of early childbirth today comes from the damage it does to the mother’s future financial prospects.

It is comforting to many to think that the poor can be made better (in every sense) by learning to eat drink & do the right things, but is it really plausible to think that, for example, meat or age at childbirth can somehow have such very different effects on health in rich & poor.

Or is it possible that the poor tend to be poor because they tend to be in less good health (however defined)  from the moment of their conception.

Related posts

Monday, September 03, 2012

Intelligent but please not clever

In a revealing column in Saturday’s Times Gaby Hinsliff lays bare the modern middle class parent’s deepest anxiety – the intelligence of their children.

Interestingly she does not once use the word clever, although the headline writer makes good that deficit. Probably the horror of having a child who grows up to be too clever by half still lurks

This fear drives parents to tuck away their own intelligence & ability to question & grab at anything which promises to give their children the edge – well we all now know, post Olympics, the theory of constant marginal improvement. So, no matter how dodgy the science behind the claims its fish oil, superfoods (organic of course), brain training, music lessons, feeding on demand, Kumon maths all round. Any one of these may provide the critical factor which will make the crucial difference between an Oxbridge degree & having to settle for something less.

Let us hope though that their own parental intelligences have, finally, rejected the junk science that persuaded many such anxious parents that the spectre of autism hovered over the head of their precious baby as the MMR vaccine went in

Related post

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The shame of it

Nature selects the longest way,
And winds about in tortuous grooves;
A thousand years the oaks decay;
The wrinkled glacier hardly moves.

But here the whetted fangs of change
Daily devour the old demesne—
The busy farm, the quiet grange,
The wayside inn, the village green.

In gaudy yellow brick and red,
With rooting pipes, like creepers rank,
The shoddy terraces o’erspread
Meadow, and garth, and daisied bank.

With shelves for rooms the houses crowd,
Like draughty cupboards in a row—
Ice-chests when wintry winds are loud,
Ovens when summer breezes blow.

Roused by the fee’d policeman’s knock,
And sad that day should come again,
Under the stars the workmen flock
In haste to reach the workmen’s train.

For here dwell those who must fulfil
Dull tasks in uncongenial spheres,
Who toil through dread of coming ill,
And not with hope of happier years—

The lowly folk who scarcely dare
Conceive themselves perhaps misplaced,
Whose prize for unremitting care
Is only not to be disgraced.

John Davidson
[PDF]John Davidson 1857-1909

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Hairy coconuts

Christopher Martin-Jenkins, writing in The Times about the resignation of captain Andrew Strauss &the continuing absence (maybe) of Kevin Pietersen, speculates about which batsmen from the ‘reserve crop’ may  best be able to cope with Sri Lankan spin during this year’s winter tour. The piece ends, mystifyingly, as follows:

‘Miller has already come up with one coconut in Jonny Bairstow. He has more ECB corn to earn now.’

My comment is not about possible mixing of metaphors, but the use of the word ‘coconut’.

I assume that Martin-Jenkins had in mind the coconut shy at an old fashioned funfair, which offered as prizes the then much-valued nut in its dry, hairy form. But ,given that a professional footballer has recently been fined £45,000 for calling another footballer a ‘choc ice’, a description deemed to be racist, & given that ‘coconut’ is used, by some, in the same sense of ‘black on the outside, white on the inside’, & that we are all patting ourselves on the back for being so enlightenedly inclusive in the wake of the Olympics, the word might have been avoided or removed.

Not that any racist slur could be inferred in this case – Bairstow is white – but it could be taken as an unkind reference to his ginger hair.

Elder writers are allowed twelve mixed metaphors per thousand words no matter how immiscible or risible - Esquire July 1992

Related post