Friday, August 31, 2007

Its a fair cop

Society ultimately has to run on trust. Just look at the promise on a banknote. Without trust it is just a worthless piece of paper

We seem to be living in a society which is less & less prepared to trust. Under a Government which does not want to trust its citizens. Prove you are who you say you are or we will have to assume youre a money launderer or a terrorist. Prove you have no criminal record or we will have to assume you are a paedophile

Squawking at you all the time. Smoking is a criminal (!) offence. Approval needed to buy matches or the Saturday edition of The Times.

All sorts of officials may or may not have the power to fine me for something or the other. Putting an empty sardine can in with the non-recyclable rubbish. Failure to wash my plastic bottles. Who knows - nobody I suspect, with the number of new offences created in recent years

Ignorance of the law may well be no defence, but the citizen ought to have at least a sporting chance of knowing what it is

And with such a proliferation of offences, enforcement must become more random & thus increasingly arbitrary & unfair. This can only add to a general sense of cynicism, among both enforcers & enforcees. It it any wonder we can hardly be bothered to vote? We are just acting like bored & bolshie teenagers - yeah, yeah, whatever

If a (normally) lawabiding old lady can feel like this, its no wonder some just take the attitude - may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


So we have had a wet & humid summer. And the potatoes have been struck by blight

Only one year - so far

If it goes on for 3, how long before people make the connection with the Irish Famine? And start questioning the wisdom of decrying food miles & the fad for trying to live only on food grown close to home?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Walls have soul

I think I first started really looking at walls after seeing the Egyptian frescoes in the British Museum. Seeing the effects of weathering & wear over the years. So different from a nice clean postcard

My execution is not up to my imagination when taking photographs, but sometimes I like to try. They make beautiful abstracts. Lichen is good. And dry stone walls

But derelict or semi-demolished urban buildings hold a beauty too.

A wall can be merely a wall, but in some of Cartier-Bressons photographs the walls are painfully human, & live & talk about themselves. There is that vulgar wall behind the man in the brass bed; that great lonesome wall of broken paint & plaster along which some child is wandering; there is a huge sun-bright wall of a prison or an apartment house with a boy who is like a shadow at its base … There is the clash of sun & shadow, like modern music, in a Cartier-Bresson picture

Langston Hughes introduction to catalogue for Mexican exhibition 1935

Friday, August 24, 2007

Urinary continents

The Times yesterday ran a piece by Anjana Ahuja about the analysis of urine in the sewerage of American cities to get a picture of drug usage

This rang a bell & I found this in my Commonplace Book:

If we collect a man's urine during 24 hours & mix all this urine to analyse the average, we get analysis of a urine which simply does not exist; for urine when fasting is different from urine during digestion. A startling instance of this kind was invented by a physiologist who took urine from a railroad station urinal where people of all nations passed, & who believed he could thus present an analysis of an average European urine!

Claude Bernard 1865
Of course, in the drugs case they are using the average in a legitimate way, as a preserver of mass

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Humane rights

I did a course on international law during my first year at university. Among other things, we studied the UN Charter & the Declaration of Human Rights

One of the things which struck me quite forcibly was the contrast between the obvious passion & intellectual force (& rightness) behind the idea of Human Rights & the sheer triteness of much of the result

It often simply seems unfair to enforce someones right at others expense. It seems just unfair, & so it goes against what seems to be the first, earliest moral judgement we any of us make

There seems to me to be a host of good reasons not to send back to Italy the young man who is currently the focus of a media frenzy, & mostly only bad ones for doing so

But to claim that his human rights somehow trump all other arguments adds only to the sum of human grief & anguish & causes irritation & annoyance to neutrals, people who would otherwise accept any decision to let him stay with sadness & equanimity

Letting it all hang out

Michael Goves had an interesting piece in yesterdays Times2 on "the continuing role that nudity plays in male power relations"

He also commented on how semi-naked men occupy more space than if they are clothed. This explains why men who go to supermarkets dressed only in shorts & flipflops are so bloody annoying!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Serendipity proves I exist in a world

I think I really mean coincidence. But there doesnt seem to be a Latin word for that (I dont count concursatio). I was hoping to coin a tag to replace cogito ergo sum which is all very well for sum, but what about sunt, or, even more importantly, es

But serendipity is so much nicer. Especially as it seems now to be emerging from its phase of being a devalued advertisers word. Hopefully

The kind of thing I mean by coincidence is well illustrated by Googling, especially on the blogs.

Even philogamous

Even more powerfully, something you werent even searching for will suddenly pop up out of nowhere to remind you of all the infinite ways we are connected. Not entire unto ourselves. A piece of the continent

Related post: Only connect

Sex segregation

I was looking at a table of A level results in the paper.

What struck me most about them was the very distinct differences there seem to be in the patterns of subjects studied & the grade distributions of boys & girls. Looks much more subtle & interesting than just Boys do more physics or Girls do better than boys

Must try & get round to doing a more detailed analysis

Meanwhile I am left pondering why CHEMISTRY & HISTORY should be the only 2 subjects with a 50:50 split between boys & girls

Monday, August 20, 2007

ER Braithwaite

I am so glad that ER Braithwaite has been 'rediscovered' by the BBC. I am really looking forward to the programme this Friday on R4 at 11am

I hope they will soon do Reluctant Neighbours too

And that all his books will be republished


Just a little bit pregnant

The average woman in Britain is 1 week pregnant

A back of the envelope calculation. A ball park figure

It goes like this:

  • 3/4 million babies born each year
  • add 1/4 million for pregnancies which end in abortion (medically induced or spontaneous miscarriage)
  • total population 60 million
  • so 30 million females
  • so 1 in 30 gets pregnant each year
  • average length of pregnancy 30 weeks, say, (to allow for premature births & all those which do not result in a live born child)

So, on any given day, any female (of any age) is, on average, 1 week pregnant

We could refine the calculation. Adjust it to apply just to females 'of child bearing age'. Make other adjustments to allow for women who could not possibly be pregnant

Its not a fundamentally silly calculation. Quite useful for thinking about the overall provision of maternal & antenatal services, for example

And vital to bear in mind before you submit any woman to X-ray radiation, or a job involving exposure to substances which may damage a foetus, or prescribing any drugs

But silly if applied unthinkingly to every female, in any circumstances. Cruel, even

The moral of this story is: Statistics apply to populations, they dont apply to individuals

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Never mind the debt

For some time I have been wondering who would own all the equity if the UK housing market went seriously sour. This in the wake of all the takeovers, by foreign banks, of what used to be building societies

Interesting that the current panic is largely about who owns all the debt

Friday, August 17, 2007

Even the radio wont be on time

I am worried by the idea that the authorities are contemplating the complete shutdown of analogue radio in this country. And not just because digital uses more electricity

The most intriguing question is : what will it do to time? The time taken to decompress the signal varies from set to set. So Big Ben or the Greenwich time signal pips will no longer be reliable guides

Will this matter? After all, we have only had to work to a standard national time since the coming of the railways. But before that people did at least generally work to a standard local time. With digital you could even have 2 different times in your own home

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Good Google words



I am frequently discombobulated by the results of a Google search (especially when it is a Blog search)

The computer, or Google, or I frequently have conniptions about all this

Saturday, August 11, 2007

RU 18?

Yesterday I bought a box of Cooks matches in Asda. Went thru the self-service checkout. Was surprised when it squawked Approval Needed at me

I suppose we ought all to think that this new, strict policy of not selling a whole range of goods to people who are LUCKY ENOUGH TO LOOK AS IF THEY ARE UNDER 21 is a GOOD THING

But the policy produces very public social embarrassment for teenagers. Especially when the 16 year-old behind the checkout has to refuse service to someone who is obviously eighteen, maybe even a school or college mate who just doesnt have a proof of age card on them

Just as CCTV gave us hoodies, this well-intentioned policy will probably produce its own dodgy tactics

Friday, August 10, 2007

The turn of the year

On Tuesday evening I was going home on the bus - about 7 o'clock

The light was suddenly just right for me to see that the leaves are beginning to turn

Always a bitter-sweet, elegiac moment

Its still only August

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Christie Tower

The Manchester University erstwhile mathematics building, now demolished.

I used to think that this was a monstrosity. Then I realised it was one of the few landmarks I could see from the train & started to like it some. Then saw it, literally, in a different light, & started to love it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A fashion item

I wonder what would happen to the hijab/veil argument in this country if the wearing of headscarves generally came back into fashion for the first time really since the 1960s?

These days if you see someone who doesnt look Muslim but who is wearing a scarf, you tend to feel a twinge of sympathy, thinking they must be on chemo. Or the Queen, if theyre on a horse

But if everyone was doing it, & Hermes replaced Burberry as the Chav must-have - ???

Times cryptic crossword clue 2007: What might set off hard faces? (9)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Which twin is the father?

In the late 1960s I heard a radio sermon given by a Catholic priest on the subject of faith

To illustrate the need for faith he used the example of paternity. A woman can always know that she is a mother (though not necessarily with absolute certainty of any particular child). A man can only ever know that he is father through faith

With DNA testing there is now more information available to a man. But even so, there is no absolute, objective certainty - for example if he has an identical twin brother. I dont know how certain one can be if there are other close male relatives in the frame

There has always been a strong presumption in English law that a womans husband is the father of her child - getting a legal ruling that this is not so is still difficult, I believe

If the parents are not married to each other then a simple declaration on the fathers part is sufficient to get his name on the birth certificate. And there are routes for getting a man declared legally responsible if he is unwilling to do so himself

There are new moves to make all women declare the name of her childs father, & to make it compulsory for any donor of gametes to be named on the certificate

I am not directly commenting on these proposals here. What concerns me is whether we are on the way to creating a new underclass of 'bastards'. Those whose mother simply does not know who is the childs father

And what legal responsibilities will married couples have, if one or both of them know that someone other than the husband is or maybe the biological father, purely in the old fashioned way?

I dont in any case understand the argument that a child has a right to know its true genetic inheritance. If you can read anybodys genome, why do you need to know where it came from?