Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What is life?

A sexually transmitted disease

With a 100% mortality rate

It is strange how we, in this country anyway, increasingly talk as if death were optional. As if the alternative to dying of lung cancer from smoking were not dying at all. Tests of the value of new medical procedures measure mortality & newspapers talk about numbers of deaths prevented rather than numbers of deaths postponed

But look at the mortality figures & you will see that the death of anyone under 50 has indeed become a pretty rare event. And therefore news

This explains why, on at least 2 occasions last year Radio 5 Live carried, as items of national headline news, the deaths of children which did not involve murder, paedophilia or abduction. One child choked to death on a piece of apple, the other drowned in a river on a family day out

The death rate for children under a year old now runs at about 1 in 200. If you survive your first year your chance of dying wont be so high again until your late 50s

Friday, February 23, 2007

Oh no! Not that man again

I really am determined that this is the last time I will write about Tony Blair. Now we know he is a racist, root, branch & core

I heard him explain, in that exasperated tone of his, that these recent shootings have just been affecting "a particualr small community" & that he "doesnt agree that these have anything to say about the state of British society today"

Its "them", you know, a "community", "ethnics". Not us

Why not just say "Oh well. They're black. What else do you expect?"

I prescribe a course of reading ER Braithwaite to understand how this "lack of role models" has a lot to say about the state of British society

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The enemy

Wouldnt it be nice if we really could save time?

Its a slow Wednesday today. Not much I really HAVE to do. Ill just put a couple of hours in the bank for next Monday, when things will be really hectic

When we talk about the length of a journey, are we talking about the time taken or the distance covered? Or are we indifferent, taking these to be freely interchangeable?

Transport schemes are usually appraised by reference to how much time the new motorway etc will save. Some of the knottier conceptual problems of this approach might in fact disappear if the appraisal concentrated on the extra distance gained

I heard somewhere that man has, over his entire history, spent about the same overall, constant proportion of his time in travelling. I wonder if this is true for women too? The latest UK figures show that the average woman travels only 3/4 as far as the average man (6,300 v 8,200 miles a year). But does she spend less time doing this, or does she just travel more slowly?

Years ago, during the Thatcher recession of the 1980s, there was a youth unemployment scheme called YOPS which paid participants a flat £23 a week. As someone charged with making comparisons of the relative earnings of males & females I was shocked to find that the difference in earnings appeared even among these 16 year-olds. But how? Turned out the the only extra you could claim was for essential travel to work. So girls either worked closer to home or were more likely to get free lifts. Or boys were more likely to make false claims

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

10 things to do with old newspapers

In my youth we never used simply to throw newspapers into the bin. Nor did we 'recycle' them. Newsprint was a valuable commodity for which we had many alternative re-uses

1 Childbirth The most extraordinary was during labour. One well known baby book recommended that you keep old newspapers handy in case you went into labour unexpectedly before help was at hand. Newsprint would provide a good temporary undersheet to keep the mess off your bedsheets or flooring. It had the great advantage of being sterile. I wonder if this is still true. Did it have something to do with the lead in the ink, I wonder? The mind boggles

2 Loo paper. Cut into squares, make a hole in the top left hand corners, loop through a piece of string & hang on a handy nail. Actually the Radio Times or another magazine was better, because less absorbent. A bit different to how we think today

3 Fish & chips

4 Firelighting. Tear a sheet of newpaper into quarters. Roll each piece diagonally as tightly as you can. Keep in a jar beside the fire or gas cooker & use as an alternative to matches. Fold whole sheets of newspaper into tight cubes tu use as an alternative to small logs for the fire. Scrumple up pieces of newspaper to use as kindling for the fire

5 Wrap up your rubbish. No black bin bags in those days. Wrap wet, dirty or smelly rubbish in layers of newsprint before placing in the bin

6 Temporary floor mats. Especially useful as doormats for wet shoes or temporary covering for just-mopped floors. Dont use on light coloured lino - the newsprint rubs off on the floor

7 Drying shoes. Stuff wet shoes with scrumpled newspaper. This will absorb the moisture & help the shoes keep their shape. It is also a good idea to scrumple some newspaper into the bottom of your wellies while they are not being worn - stops creepy crawlies from getting in & hiding in the toes

8 Apples. Wrap each apple carefully in a piece of newspaper for winter storage. For best results store on slatted wooden shelves. Or pack carefully into cardboard boxes. Store in a cool place

9 Cleaning windows. Glass will really sparkle if polished off (after washing) with scrumpled newspaper

10 Childrens artwork. Paintings can look very good on newsprint - think Cubist. As can potato prints. Or fold a sheet of paper into 4. Cut little holes along the creases & wavy edges along the free sides. Unfold - a doily! make papier mache bowls or dolls heads


These days of course we have better things to do with our newspapers, once read. We leave them once a fortnight outside the house in a blue plastic bag. nice men come with a big lorry, empty the bags & carry the newspaper away. They pack all the newspapers onto a big ship & carry them half way round the world. This is a good & virtuous thing to do. We call it recycling

And virtue is rewarded. The richest woman in China earned her money by knowing what to do with all these old newpapers once they got there

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Take me to your leader

Am I the only person to feel outraged by Tony Blairs recent tv interview in which he said it had been an honour to lead 'them' - ie the British people?

What an arrogant, condescending & patronising tone. Them is always what you say when you want to put them over there, in a different category from Us

It also displays an alarming failure to understand the difference between government, country, parliament & people

The Prime Minister leads the government, in the sense that he is primus inter pares. To do so he needs the confidence & support of Parliament, the elected representatives of the people, who delegate to him the responsibilty for running the executive branch of Government. If he needs new laws to be able to carry out these duties he must ask Parliament to pass them. If he needs money, he must ask Parliament to Vote it for him

He is not the Leader of the House of Commons

It is up to his Party to decide if he is their leader or not

The People have no say in any of this, in the strict sense that they do not vote for him. They vote for their local MP. They may believe that there is a link - vote party x whose leader is y - but that is the most that can be said. And even then there is absolutely no sense in which the voters agree to a game of follow my leader

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The true nature & purpose of political power

The most capital advantage an enlightened people can enjoy, is the liberty of discussing every subject which can fall within the compass of the human mind … To render the magistrate a judge of truth, & engage his authority in the suppression of opinions, shows an inattention to the nature & design of political society. When a nation forms a government, it is not wisdom but power which they place in the hand of the magistrate; from whence it follows his concern is only with those objects which power can operate on … administration of justice, … protection of property & the defence of every member of the community from violence & outrage fall naturally within the province of the civil ruler, for these may all be accomplished by power; but an attempt to distinguish truth from error, & to countenance one out of many opinions to the prejudice of another, is to apply power in a manner mischievous & absurd

Robert Hall: Works 10ed 1850

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Barry Richards

I only ever saw one Barry Richards innings live. It was a Sunday match at the Oval, nothing very much depending on it

I was sitting near the old scoreboard at the pavilion end. The wicket was well over towards the other side of the ground. A long way away, in other words. Nevertheless there were several balls which came speeding right down to where we were sitting, racing along the ground, to jump the boundary rope then bounce back off the wall. And all seemingly hit without any great power at all

He got his hundred. Point made, job done. So he then wafted one & made his way back to the Pavillion for a well earned rest

Monday, February 05, 2007

War is magical - ?

I have not been quite able to make up my mind about the writer Lewis Mumford. At times he seems like a bit of a charlatan, or the Ancient Mariner with his glittering eye. And yet I have put lots of quotes from him in my commonplace book. Whatever else, he wrote beautifully

The following (from The City in History) needs no comment

If anything were needed to make the magical origins of war
plausible it is the fact that war, even when it is disguised by seemingly hard
headed economic demands, uniformly turns into a religious performance; nothing
less than a wholesale ritual sacrifice

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Clive Lloyd

The first Test Match that I ever saw live was at Bourda in 1968. That, rather than revolution, was what excited me most that year

My excitement was intense. We had to get to the ground early to secure a seat. The weather was gorgeous

My first shock was the wicket. It looked like a sheet of glass shining under the sun. Up until that moment I had truly thought - without ever really thinking about it - that cricket fields were green all over

But up till then my only experiences of watching first class cricket were via grainy 425 line black & white tv or Pathe newsreels at the cinema

So many memories of that match. But the most enduring was & is Clive Lloyd

Funnily enough I cant remember him batting in that match

What I do remember is his fielding in the covers. With his long reach & lithe form, he made me think of a panther. He didnt seem to even have to move much from the spot, just pounced

In truth, I didnt know very much about cricket then. I understood 4s & 6s & fast bowlers running in, but that was it. Didnt even usually know where the ball had gone to without the camera to guide me. But watching Clive Lloyd made me really understand for the first time that there really was a lot more to this game, a lot that would provide hours of absorbing entertainment. Even a tussle between Lance Gibbs & Geoffrey Boycott

Of course that was before Clives knees went. In later years I came to think of him more as Paddington Bear, with his hat & glasses & rather shambling gait when walking to the wicket

And what a batsman. I shall certainly never forget his innings at the World Cup Final in 1975

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A dream in marble

I returned to the Taj at night & saw it illuminated, first by a bright moon & then by some garish fireworks. I felt that if I were to write for years it would be of no avail - & so I departed - Taj-haunted - carrying off a new thought which can never perish

William Russell: My Diary in India in the Year 1858-59

et = square root (-1)

Once upon a time there were some sums which we could not do. No matter how hard we tried, we could not work them out

The reason was because in order to find the answer we had to get the square root of -1. But there is no such number in our world. It is indeed a very strange thing that we can have minus numbers, but not one of them has a square root

One day however a visitor came from another world. His name was i

He stayed with us while we did our sums, sitting in the place where the square root of -1 should go. And something magic happened. We could keep on going till we got an answer to our sum, an answer which was a perfectly ordinary number from our own real world

So then i could go home