Friday, 30 November 2007

Someone at work mentioned Belbin team roles, and that has been my ruin today. I did a Belbin test about twenty years ago and came out as a "Plant". Wondering if that would have changed, I wasted time on a fruitless search for a free online test after work. But I did do a consolation quiz that is probably nearly as accurate, courtesy of Monica at Spark A Synapse, and came out the same as her on the Sesame Street one. And what do you know, I do collect unusual objects (my objets trouves collection is under constant threat of being thrown out by Paddy). Since I was in the mood I did a whole series of these amusing tests and was impressed with this one:

Your Brain is Purple

Of all the brain types, yours is the most idealistic.
You tend to think wild, amazing thoughts. Your dreams and fantasies are intense.
Your thoughts are creative, inventive, and without boundaries.
You tend to spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people and places - or a very different life for yourself.

It's the usual guff, but the last line is actually true: I really do spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people (especially at meetings).

Sunday, 25 November 2007

In debt

The shame and disgrace continues. Yesterday I went to the library to return another book (a well written but pointless novel by Martin Amis, can't remember the title.) A shelfful of books was for sale: "fill a bag for £1". I selected three books, took them to the counter and opened my wallet - which contained nothing but a £20 note. The library is not set up to handle that kind of money, so the librarian kindly put an electronic note on my library card: owes £1. She said I could pay up the next time I came by. Poor gullible creature - she'll get into big trouble when I skip the country instead.

Saudi Arabia is not our friend

Saudi Arabia funds Islamic terrorism - using the money we give them to buy oil from the oil wells they confiscated from western companies in the 1970s. And now, they are using our laws to silence a westerner who has criticised the Saudi regime - see the short film from the Moving Picture Institute that I linked to in yesterday's post. The film is about Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz's attempt to destroy Funding Evil by Rachel Ehrenfeld, a book documenting how he and other Saudi Arabian bigwigs further the cause of Islamic totalitarianism.

As Dr Ehrenfeld explains in the video, paying for terrorists to bomb our soldiers, our skyscrapers and our public transport is expensive. Still, the Saudis have a lot of money left over, and they use some of that to buy advanced military systems like the Eurofighter. Western governments eagerly thrust these weapons at the Saudis. They are our allies, after all, aren't they? Unfortunately for us, they're also theocratic barbarians. With money extorted from the west in the first place they buy weapons we provide for them. What reason do we have to suppose that they'll use them in ways that won't harm us? About as much reason as we have to suppose that Iran wants nuclear capability so that it can generate more electricity.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Libel Tourist

"Saudi Billionaire Accused of Funding Terror Exploits British Laws to Silence American Authors. Documentary Film Shows How The Libel Tourist Failed to Silence Rachel Ehrenfeld.
The Moving Picture Institute (MPI) has released a documentary short film (at casting light on what a former ACLU director calls 'one of the most important First Amendment cases of the past 25 years.'"
The Libel Tourist exposes how Saudi billionaire Khalid Bin Mafhouz exploits the British legal system and sues for libel in London even though he does not live there and the articles or books are not published in Britain. It is an outrageous abuse of the legal system," said the film's Executive Producer Rob Pfaltzgraff. Many American authors and researchers are finding themselves silenced and harassed by Mafhouz's trans-continental manipulation of libel laws. MPI's new 8-minute film The Libel Tourist is a story about how Saudi money is used to silence and control the media through the British court system.

Directed by MPI fellow Jared Lapidus, the film explains how Mahfouz filed a libel suit against Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It. The suit was not filed in the United States, where the book was published and sold, but instead in London, where Mahfouz associates ordered 23 books online. The judge ordered all copies of the book pulped, and ordered Ehrenfeld to pay the legal fees and damages, despite the fact that nothing in her book about Saudi funding of terrorism was ever disproved.

Since 2002, drawing on a vast fortune, Mafhouz has sued more than 36 times in London, where the libel laws heavily favor the accuser. Every media outlet or publisher he sued, or threatened to sue, apologized, retracted and paid fines. "Mafhouz has single-handedly wiped out an entire genre of reportage. Researchers are chilled into dropping the entire subject." said Pfaltzgraff.

Mahfouz's frequent libel lawsuits have earned London the title of "World Capital for Libel Tourism;" even Cambridge University Press, the oldest English-speaking publishing house, chose to pulp the book Alms for Jihad, apologize, and pay Mahfouz.

Ehrenfeld, however, is fighting back. In The Libel Tourist she speaks about her shocking experience of modern-day book burning by British courts, and the First Amendment lawsuit she filed against Mahfouz. Oral arguments in her case were heard November 15, 2007 in a New York courtroom.

Audrey Mullen, Advocacy Ink: (703) 548.1160 email:

Hat tip: Ed Cline via UKOA

Friday, 23 November 2007

Putting up with the little things

For a year or two now I've had a slight problem with my right knee - a twinge of pain when stepping down from one level to another. I think it started after I slipped while hurrying down some steps in the rain and banged my knee hard on the concrete. I'd never done anything about it and had almost stopped noticing it. However, I recently started running once or twice a week and found that that made the pain worse.

Worried that the extra exercise might lead to a real injury, I resolved to do something positive to prevent it. I considered a visit to the doctor; but that didn't appeal, because I would have had to take time off work and probably would have got nothing out of it but a prescription for ibuprofen and a referral to a physiotherapist with a three month waiting list. Then I realised what might really help: and I resorted once more to Sarah Key's The Body in Action. There is, of course, a knee section in there, so I did all the knee exercises she recommended (they don't take long). Judging by what she writes about the initial difficulty of doing these excercises, both my knees are actually pretty healthy; so when I felt an improvement the very next day I wondered if it might just be a placebo effect. But I noticed, when I stepped down from the kitchen onto the back porch, that I had omitted to do something: I hadn't braced myself for the expected discomfort I would feel on bending my right knee. I'd got so used to something being wrong that compensating for it had become automatic. Now, it's normality that seems novel.

One of my reasons for writing this is just to say again how good Sarah Key's exercises are.

My other point, though, is that we shouldn't get used to something being wrong - physically or psychologically - without first finding out if it can be fixed. Some things can't be fixed, and we have to get used to those. But I wonder how many times we subconsciously wince before enduring yet another little niggle that could have been fixed without much difficulty, if only we'd stopped long enough to identify it, but that is gradually developing into a real problem because we're ignoring it.

To keep putting up with minor annoyances, enduring slight discomforts, and finding ways round small obstacles is to allow disorder to accumulate in our lives as more and more of our enerby becomes unavailable for useful work.

Why we need more chairs 3

This photo reminds me of the old story about the Princess and the Pea: the one where the princess is so sensitive to discomfort that she can't sleep a wink, despite the fact that her bed is piled with twenty-three feather matresses, because right at the bottom of all of them is a dried pea.

Pussy Kirk is very like her.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

hapax legomenon

Come on, you ought to know what that means - after all, it's there as bold as brass in the Oxford Concise (9th edition, 1995). It is of course, "a word of which only one instance of use is recorded. [Greek, = a thing said once]".

I found it on the way to "he" (which I'd decided check up on while writing my previous post).

Grammatical neutrality

I'm off on another grammar whinge (actually, only the second on this blog, but unlikely to be the last).

My favourite offender, Pet Supermarket, warns me about the perils of Christmas in the following terms:
Your cat is likely to hide if there are lots of people or noise around the house at Christmas. Give them time and encouragement and they will hopefully venture out and be included so they too can enjoy the Christmas festivities ... If your cat is nervous and hides away, make sure they either have access to the outside to toilet or the use of a clean litter tray.
Now who are "they" - all my clamourous but timid guests, queing nervously in the shadows outside the bathroom door? No, "they" are my cat - he, she or it. I know we aren't allowed to say "he" any more when we mean a person of unspecified sex (just try doing it when you write material for a training course or a company's business management system). But now, it seems, we aren't even allowed to refer to an animal of unspecifed sex as "it". We are, however, allowed risible constructions like those quoted, because it's quite alright to be grammatically incorrect.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Falsely accused

The Council sent me a threatening letter about an allegedly overdue library book. If I did not return the overdue item within a fortnight, it warned me, "borrowing privileges will be suspended. Daily fine: 15p per adult item." By the time I got the letter the item would have been nearly a month overdue and attracted a fine of over £4; so of course I phoned the library at once and protested my innocence.

After an investigation lasting several minutes the librarian found the book right where it lived, on the fiction shelf under "R", and apologised profusely. I accepted her apology. Afterwards Paddy told me I should have requested compensation: for did this false accusation not cause deep psychological distress to me, bring shame and confusion to the family (me, Paddy and the tabbies) and cast a shadow of local ignominy upon me? People would have pointed as I walked through the town and whispered to each other: "She's been excommunicated, you know." I would have had to buy all my books instead of just most of them. I would have had to move to another county, perhaps change my name.

The book, by the way, was Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts (an author recommended to me by my friend Jack Gordon). This is not her best, and I am not fond of the Irish saga genre, but it was well worth reading, especially for the sex scenes.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

American Football v. Rugby

I just watched a bit of an American football game, New York Giants against Detroit Lions. I know nothing about American football except what Charles Sures once told Paddy and me way back in 1989 at the Objectivist summer school in La Jolla: it's all about territory.

At a first glance, American football looks a lot like rugby - muscle-bound scrums, running with the ball, rough tackling, trying to carry the ball over the line. Rugby players, however, look nothing like football players. Rugby players look battered: broken noses, cauliflower ears... features coarsened and blurred by repeated trauma over the years. Football players look well cared for: some faces sharp-featured, others with smooth curves and planes, all unmarked by injury. Rugby players do not wear helmets. Football players wear helmets (and shoulder pads, and gloves).

Football players also seem a bit taller and more slender than rugby players. I don't know if they really are, or if they just look that way because they wear skin-tight breeches instead of shorts.

My verdict is that, on aesthetic grounds alone, American football beats rugby hands down. Just to be clear: football may or may not be better in other respects (I suspect it is); but it's already better enough in the way it looks to be better overall than rugby. And isn't it just a bit dumb for rugby players not to wear more protection?