Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Why we need more chairs 5

It's because somebody else (that blotched arrangement) always tries to hog The Best Chair, and I just can't get comfy on inferior surfaces.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

There's no pragmatic way out

Tara Smith wrote an arresting article on "The Menace of Pragmatism" in the Fall 2008 issue of The Objective Standard. She explained that
[w]hile pragmatism presents itself as a tool of reason and enjoys the image of mature moderation, of common sense and practical "realism," in truth it is anything but realistic or practical. Pragmatism has become a highly corrosive force in people's thinking.
Later on she identifies the key features of the pragmatic style (it could hardly be called a method) of thinking:
  • A short-range perspective

  • The inability (or refusal) to think in principle.

  • The denial of definite identity.

  • The refusal to rule out possibilities.
Professor Smith's article has many examples; but I came upon a concretisation of the psychological process involved in a totally different source, a World War II thriller I'm reading [The Polish Officer by Alan Furst].
It snowed, early in November, and those who read signs and portents in the weather saw malevolence in it. The Germans had lost no time stealing Polish coal, the open railcars rattled ceaselessly across the Oder bridges into ancient, warlike Prussia. The men who ran the coal companies in ancient, warlike Prussia were astonished at how much money they made in this way - commercial logic had always been based on buying a little lower, selling a little higher. But buying for virtually nothing, well, perhaps the wife ought to have the diamond leaf-pin after all. Hitler was scary, he gave those huge, towering, patriotic speeches on the radio, that meant war for God's sake, and war ruined business, in the long run, and worse. But this, this wasn't exactly war - this was a form of mercantile heaven, and who got hurt? A few Poles?
The thugs in charge of economic regulation in Britain and America, like the Fascists of the 1930s, are getting away with a course of action that verges on insanity and can only lead to ruin. As far as Britain's Gordon Brown is concerned, borrowing billions from the producers of the future works quite well in the short run, because the opinion polls report that his popularity has increased, and other European politicians have praised him for his economic leadership. It's true that injecting all those billions of nonexistent money into the economy doesn't seem to have eased the flow of credit much yet... But perhaps, somehow, Keynesian economics will succeed this time round, if only government ministers can bully financial institutions into making magic work.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The mixed economy v. capitalism

Two recent articles, one by BBC reporter Robert Peston in the Times Online, and one by Ayn Rand Institute analyst Alex Epstein in the the Telegraph Blogs, present contrasting analyses of the economic crisis. Peston thinks capitalism will have to metamorphose:
A New Capitalism is likely to emerge from the rubble, one which may well seem fairer and less alienating than the model of the past 30 years. The system's salvation may require it to be kinder, gentler, less divisive, less of a casino in which the winner takes all.
Epstein says that the system we have had for the last hundred years is not capitalism at all:
[G]enuine capitalism was abandoned long ago in favor of a mixed economy - an unstable combination of economic freedom and economic coercion by government. Today's crisis, like the 1970s stagflation before it and the Great Depression before it, took place under, and is growing under, a mixed economy - not a free market.

Peston blames private enterprise:
Who's to blame? The short answer is all of us. But it's hard to mount a convincing argument against the notion that the most at fault were the banks and bankers - because they systematically failed to do what they were handsomely remunerated to do, which was to assess properly the risks of all that lending. Their survival as institutions now wholly depends on the goodwill of governments and taxpayers.
Epstein blames the crisis on the failure of decades of regulation:
In fact, today's crisis illustrates the evils of government intervention in the economy and vindicates supporters of laissez-faire capitalism. The traditional, laissez-faire view of government, held by thinkers such as philosopher Ayn Rand and economist Ludwig Von Mises, was that the sole purpose of government was to protect individuals rights against force and fraud.

This purpose necessitates, in Rand's words, "the abolition of any and all forms of government intervention in production and trade." Laissez-faire thinkers explained how any and all of the supposedly moderate, progressive government interventions in the economy, from the money-printing Federal Reserve to government insurance of failing banks, were morally unjust and economically disastrous.

Peston thinks the solution is still more government interference:
But the biggest lesson of all is that we are a million miles from having created the political and regulatory institutions to help us to contain the risks of globalisation. If the unfettered movement of capital, goods and services is going to survive, if there is not going to be a retreat into national fortresses that could impoverish all of us over the longer term, we will have to find a far better way of monitoring global risks and of bringing governments together to deal with them.
Epstein thinks the solution is laissez-faire capitalism:
To anyone who is unhappy with the direction the economy is going, take note: the free market philosophy has not failed-the unfree market philosophy has failed. Do your homework, speak up, and put the interventionists on the defensive.

Do you think that spending money you don't have, but that somebody else is going to have to earn, is a moral way to conduct economic affairs? Do you think that businessmen ought to be the servants of politicians? Do you think that forcing banks to make unsound loans is the way to cure a disaster brought about by government-induced imprudence? If not, read Alex Epstein's article in full (it is brief and clear) and follow his advice - if you do want to be free.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Here's hoping

Now that the weather has turned bitterly cold, I find myself afflicted with an inchoate aspiration. I want to... Help those with less Heating than myself? No, that doesn't sound right at all. I want to... Hark the Herald angels sing? No, not so soon after Halloween. Let's see: I want to... Hide my savings under my duvet? Sure, but I'd Have to convert them to Hard cash first. I want to... beHead the Chancellor perhaps, or at least shave off his eyebrows? (Yes, but hagainst the law.)

Shhh! Let me concentrate. Now then: I want to... um... Hug a Hairy Hominid? No, no, no! I really want to... Hibernate? Closer, but not there. I want to... Have a Holiday in Hawaii! Yes, that's it. Phew! Just goes to show how far you can stray from your real needs when you confuse your aspirations with your aspirates.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Independent earns its name

The Independent is an interesting newspaper. It is mostly left wing, but sometimes it presents unconventional viewpoints. Nothing could be less conventional, or more right, than this article by Dominic Lawson. An extract:
John Maynard Keynes, rather than Ludwig von Mises, is the economist whose name is currently being invoked on the airwaves in Britain. in his own day, too, Keynes obliterated Mises: it became fashionable to believe that Roosevelt's New Deal was a kind of successful rudimentary application of Keynesianism.

Yet Roosevelt's policy of massive intervention by the state to prop up wage rates and inflate credit gets a much better press than it ever deserved. Consider this: in September 1931 the US unemployment rate was 17.4 per cent and the Dow Jones industrial Average stood at 140. By January 1938, unemployment was still at 17.4 per cent, and the Dow Average had dropped to 121.

Mises' followers insist that the present problems in the economies of the West have not been caused by laissez-faire, but by the opposite: politically sensitive central bankers so desperate to prevent any stock market slump that they cut interest rates to a level which turbo-charged the debt markets. So when George Osborne, as he did yesterday, declares that "laissez-faire is dead", the Mises-ites – one of whom is the libertarian ex-Presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul – would protest that such a policy was never tried in the first place.
Read the whole thing. Also read Andrew Medworth's comment, which identifies the fundamental issue:
A crucial question, not addressed by this article, is why these disastrous policies were followed in the first place. Here we must turn to moral philosophy. Ayn Rand, herself a great fan of Mises, observed that laissez-faire policies such as the gold standard depend crucially on egoism, the view that self-interest is man's proper fundamental motivation. Government inflation has always been justified by the claim that it helps the poor: ultimately, of course, it harms us all, but if we want to see a change, we must address the moral issues behind the policy debate.
Capitalism is the only practical socio-economic system because it is the only moral system.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Killing the messengers doesn't change the facts

To the British government, and a distressing proportion of economic commentators, it's still all about spin: the problem with the markets is lack of confidence. Silence the doomsayers, and all will be well; credit will continue to flow to the unworthy, and no one will have to call in the loans any time soon. Subjectivism rules: if you just believe that everything is fine, it will be - so long as we manage to suppress those spivs who tell it like it is.

Well, here's a different view:

In Defense of Speculators and Short-Sellers

By Amit Ghate

Everywhere today government bureaucrats and media pundits blame
unwanted price movements on speculators and short-sellers. If prices
are "too high"--it's the fault of greedy
speculators; if prices are "too low"--it's the work
of evil short-sellers. To hear these critics tell it, speculators have
the ability to create artificially high prices, while short-sellers
can wantonly destroy sound companies. (Ignore for now the obvious
question: "Where are the short-sellers in markets that are 'too
high' and the speculators in markets that are 'too low'?")

The critics then claim that since neither speculators nor
short-sellers perform any positive economic function, barring them
from the marketplace is an appropriate remedy, one that's long
past due. (Recently the United States did just this by making some
shorting illegal.)

So to begin, let's ask what the critics consider a
"correct" price? Clearly it's not the price which
obtains when all market participants are free to engage in trade based
on their best judgment, because this is precisely the free-market
price--a price which they so vociferously condemn. But if "too
low" and "too high" aren't judged relative to
the free market, what is the standard? Stripped of euphemism: their

For example, they wish--contrary to all relevant facts--that oil be
priced at $20/barrel and that Lehman's stock trade at $80/share.
Never mind that environmental policy has prevented the drilling of oil
and the development of nuclear power for decades now, or that Chinese
and Indian oil consumption is growing relentlessly; forget too that
Lehman chose to leverage itself at 35:1 and made riskier trades year
after year--if these critics wish for a price, then that should be the
price, facts be damned!

But of course, attempting to set prices by wishing doesn't--and
can't--work, not for Lenin, Stalin or Brezhnev; or for Paulson,
Bernanke and Bush. If prices are to reflect reality, they must be the
result of an objective process of discovery and judgment performed by
interested actors.

So just as doctors specialize in identifying and evaluating the facts
affecting health and disease, speculators and short-sellers specialize
in identifying and evaluating the facts pertinent to market prices.
They make it their business to understand economic facts like supply
and demand, and then risk their capital on their judgment, properly
profiting if they're right and losing if they're wrong.
Thus in a free market, rather than prices being set by wish or decree,
they are set by a rational process, one which benefits from the
knowledge of all who participate.

For instance, if speculators believe that future oil supplies
won't match demand, they buy oil, increasing its price. If
they're right, and oil prices continue to increase, they sell
their positions, profiting from their insight but also capping prices
as their supply comes to market; furthermore, their initial effect on
prices signals to the market that greater oil supplies are needed and
reduced oil consumption is appropriate--efficiently allowing market
participants to adjust their actions to the facts.

So too for short-sellers. If they judge that Enron is cooking the
books, or that Lehman is insolvent, they can seek to profit from their
insight by short-sales. These lower stock prices in the present and
convey to the market that there are potential problems with the
companies, helping others avoid losses in the stocks. And if shorts
are proved correct, rather than exacerbating any price slide, they
actually mitigate price declines when they buy their positions back.
(Of course, short-sellers, like speculators, only profit if their
judgment is correct. If they short a productive, undervalued firm,
say, e.g., Wal-Mart or Apple, they lose when the actual facts belie
their predictions.)

Consider the recent failure of Lehman, where critics claim that
short-sellers caused the decline by obscuring and distorting the
company's true value. The facts say otherwise. When the
government shopped Lehman to potential buyers, opening the books to
them, not a single buyer emerged, not at any price! Everyone who
examined the company concluded it was worthless. This was the fact
that short-sellers grasped earlier than others--it wasn't a fact
they created.

Speculators and short-sellers don't create facts, they seek to
identify and respond to them; and in the process they help adjust
prices to economic conditions and establish smooth and liquid markets.
As a result--instead of being scapegoated and banished--they should be
respected and welcomed for the productive role they play in our

Amit Ghate is a guest writer for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual
Rights, a division of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is a full-time trader
who often speculates and shorts.

Copyright (c) 2008 Ayn Rand(R) Center for Individual Rights. All rights

Op-eds, press releases and letters to the editor produced by the Ayn Rand
Institute are submitted to hundreds of newspapers, radio stations and Web
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If you would like to help support ARC's efforts, please make an online
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This release is copyrighted by the Ayn Rand Center, and cannot be reprinted
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You can also see this article, and others on the financial crisis, on Amit Gate's blog, Thrutch.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


No, not capitalism, CAPITALISM - the INSISTENCE on using UPPER case for ALL the SIGNIFICANT words in EVERY SENTENCE, ESPECIALLY in ELECTRONIC formats like THIS one. CAPITALISTS do not REALISE that CAPITALISING a sentence's most IMPORTANT words makes it HARDER not EASIER to understand. CAPITALISTS, I implore you: rely instead on the natural emphasis inherent in well constructed prose. Listen to the rhythm of what you write: if the words don't jive, rearrange them, don't just make some of them bigger.

But if it was capitalism you were after, I don't want to disappoint you. Here's where you can find out more about capitalism:
  • The Ayn Rand Lexicon for a basic definition and further explication drawn from AR's writings. The entry starts with this:
    Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.

    The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man’s rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man’s right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control.

  • The ARI's Capitalism page for op-eds, articles, lectures, videos and books aimed at the general public and businessmen

  • Clemson Institute for a university website with links to study resources.

  • If you read just one book from the Clemson's bibliography of capitalism classics, let it be Frederic Bastiat's The Law

The strangled remnants of capitalism in today's mixed economies are responsible for the wealth and freedom we still enjoy. If we understood the moral foundations of capitalism, we would clamour for less, not more regulation of economic activity.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Ironing Board Philosophy

Eurkea! Yes, I have found the solution to my ironing-bored problem. (Sorry about the pun but I can't help it, being British.) The lovely flower has two roots: web technology and Dr Leonard Peikoff. I recently bought a Mac iBook to replace my ancient PC. The laptop is easy to carry and of course has a wireless internet connection, so I can surf from anywhere in the house. When I have ironing to do, I connect to Dr Peikoff's website, download his latest podcast, and stow the Mac on the little shelf beneath the ironing board (I think it's meant for folded shirts). Then I listen to Dr Peikoff's benevolent, frequently witty and always original views on the topics raised by his audience; and I zip cheerily through my load of crumpled clothing in what seems like no time at all.

According to Myrhaf's recent post, I can look forward to LP's answers on the following: "sex with prostitutes, can a whore have a heart of gold, is the absence of evidence not the same as evidence of absence (an argument for God), can one be a Howard Roark or John Galt and still believe in God, why does Roark says he would sacrifice his life for Wynand, does faith lead to better health, and reading Rand's fiction or non-fiction books first". Tomorrow's ironing session should be good.

My opinion on the last topic: read Ayn Rand's fiction first!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Old Hats

The ancient ladies from sunny Tanagra:

A well-bronzed male showing off the same fashion:

A much younger man in a beautifully polished hard hat adorned with flowing horse hair:

Two other young men sporting full heads of bear hair:

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Demented music

All of the following drive me up the wall:
  • An English Country Garden.

  • Not sure that it's demented? Just listen to it. Even Nana Mouskouri can't make it bearable. It's a traditional song that used to be learned by every English schoolchild and perhaps still is. I learned it at boarding school in Rhodesia (demented enough then, infinitely more demented now as Zimbabwe).

  • Gilbert and Sullivan. Tit-willow, tit=willow, tit-willow - what does that mean?

  • (The Mikado is another legacy from my Rhodesian boarding school.)

  • Anything played on the pipes of Pan.

  • It's like nails being cheerily hammered into your head. I'd rather be a hammer than a nail... Aaaaaaargh!

  • Mozart. Respect - really - but, apart from a few songs, I can't stand his music.

Absolutely barking.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Dolphin Lamppost

Now that's what I call a lamppost!

(It's in a quiet part of central London a little north of Hyde Park.)

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Nothing new under the sun1

A favourite image of mine, the Ancient Greek Laptop, has been doing the rounds for many years now. I thought it was about time I found out which of endless thousands of Greek pots it came from. An informative post by Vagabond at allempires.net directed me to the slow but stunningly comprehensive Perseus site. The famous image turns out to be from a cup painted by Douris in the early fifth century BC, Berlin F2285 .

The laptop scene comes from side B of the Douris cup - teacher and student with stylus. According to the description,
The teacher in the center, who is seated on a cushioned stool facing right, holds a writing tablet on his lap, his stylus held in his raised right hand. His student also stands facing him, wrapped in his mantle.

For another example, in close-up, refer to Philadelphia MS4842.

Though the classicists claim these are writing tablets, I have word from Mount Olympus that the gods hid fully formed laptop computers in the caves for the Ancient Greeks to discover. Historians who claim that technology evolves over hundreds of years are wrong, because Zeus can create a laptop in an instant - and these pots prove it. But the gods became angry with the ancient Greeks for spending too much time on Facebook, so they caused mankind to forget where the original laptops were hidden and made the successors of the Greeks discover them the hard way, which took two and a half thousand years. The point is, if it weren't for intelligent design by the gods, laptops could never had existed at all.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Life as a bear

I'd like to try living as a bear for a year or two. The bear's lifestyle appeals to me. In summer and autumn it crams itself with salmon and blueberries until it is fat. Then it hibernates throughout the winter, oblivious to the bitter cold. In spring it wakes up thin.

Friday, 15 August 2008

What happened to the buttery pecans

Paddy and I attended the wedding celebrations of his nephew in New England recently. From the various events we each gathered two sets of wedding favours: buttery pecans, nicely packaged and tied with a white ribbon. We brought them home with us. And then:
  • I decided to take the pecans to work to share with my colleagues.

  • Paddy opened one packet at home and ate a few pecans.

  • I finished the packet (you mustn't let them go stale).

  • I opened one more packet at home and ate quite a lot of pecans.

  • Paddy finished the packet (you mustn't let them go stale).

  • I decided to let Paddy take the remaining pecans to work to share with his colleagues.

  • Someone opened the third packet at home.

  • Someone or two finished all the pecans (you mustn't let them go stale).

  • Paddy opened the fourth packet at home and ate a few pecans.

  • I finished the packet (you mustn't let them go stale).
All I can say is: we didn't let them go stale.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Jesus played cricket

What's more, he may have walked on water while doing it. Rogueclassicism has the gen:

Friday, 8 August 2008

Coming out in sympathy

This morning Paddy took a day off work because he was ill with a sinus infection. Too sick even to watch the cricket, he stayed in bed. The cats kept him company. Pussy Janeway was sick on the blanket in sympathy. It is time to put her on the market, but who would buy her? "For sale: eleven-year old mackerel tabby, very affectionate, finicky eater, regularly sick on bed or carpet, clean condition, only seven pounds (in weight)."

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Life, and other kinds of existence

A very old woman in failing health, with nothing to look forward to, became tired of lingering. She asked her doctor, a Glasgow GP, for strong sleeping pills. He prescribed them to her. She used them to commit suicide.

The Independent of 24th July reports that the British General Medical Council suspended the GP for six months for
actions "inappropriate, irresponsible, liable to bring the profession into disrepute and not in your patient's best interest".

They found he prescribed the retired businesswoman, known as Patient A, with sodium amytal "solely for the purpose of ending her life" and practised poor clinical management after she took an overdose of a different drug.

The panel also found he prescribed sodium amytal without adequate reason and contrary to guidance, and that he failed to make adequate notes.

Dr Kerr said he gave Patient A the sleeping pills as an "insurance policy".

He told the hearing in Manchester: "She said 'Give me something that I can take if things get too bad' and I said yes."

Suzanne Goddard QC, counsel for the GMC, said what Dr Kerr did was "akin to handing her a noose with which to hang herself at a time of her choosing".

Patient A later disposed of the sleeping tablets because she did not want to get him into trouble after learning he was being investigated by health chiefs for his views on assisted suicide.

Patient A was an osteoporosis sufferer who loved playing bridge and attending family events but feared becoming a burden upon her family, the GMC heard.

Her son told the GMC she was strong-minded and had a high regard for Dr Kerr.

He said she was aghast at witnessing the deterioration and death of her sister from bone cancer.

Dr Kerr said Patient A had "firm views about how she wanted her life to end" and wanted to maintain control over what happened to her.

She made an advance statement in which she expressed her desire not to be resuscitated if she became gravely ill, the GMC heard.

Patient A killed herself in December 2005, aged 87, using a cocktail of Temazepam, antihistamines and painkillers.

The GMC heard she made a failed suicide attempt two weeks earlier using Temazepam but was not referred to hospital by Dr Kerr.

His decision to prescribe her more Temazepam three days later was branded "illogical" by John Donnelly, chairman of the GMC Fitness to Practise Panel.

The panel found Dr Kerr had not failed to take adequate measures to dissuade her from suicide.[my emphasis]

Mr Donnelly said: "Patient A was an elderly lady who made her end-of-life wishes quite clear, in that she did not want to become a burden upon her family. The panel found that she was determined to end her own life."

[Dr Kerr] told the GMC: "I think when dealing with someone holding a rational view of the circumstances in which they want to end their life, it was my duty to at least consider whether he or she had a reasonable opinion and that it was my duty to assist if I thought I agreed with that patient's assessment."

He also said his concern was for the wellbeing of his patients who had placed their trust in him.

Lives are individual. Individuals who choose not to continue a painful existence have more respect for life than those who would deny them the right to assisted suicide. As philosopher Tara Smith says in her book Viable Values:
[T]he reason that suicide can be morally allowed is that life is not intrinsically valuable. Life is not to be maintained at any cost, like it or not. A life-based code is not a sentence to live, saddling people with the obligation to endure, however painful the circumstances. Life is the standard of value and source of moral obligation if it is a person's goal but it is up to the individual whether to embrace the goal.

Who in the world has the right to tell Patient A whether to value her life or not? And, if she didn't, what was she supposed to have done instead of seeking help from someone she trusted? Leapt off the Forth Bridge? Dragged herself through another few hateful months or years of increasing dependence as her health continued to deteriorate? For whose sake should she have done it? The religious have an answer: for God's Sake. For God's sake!

Monday, 21 July 2008

South African cricketer Hashim Amla is a good player, and I congratulate him on his recent test hundreds against England. No, really. That hissing you hear is not from me. May the best man win, and all that - and Amla's technique has improved markedly over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, his appearance has not. He shaves his scalp and compensates for it with a horribly bushy beard. Every time I see him play I think he looks as if he's put his head on upside down. It seems that making yourself ugly is characteristic of the devout of all religions.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

How to do things properly

Here's how to do push-ups properly:

Really, I never knew. They're hard! I did look up how to do them in The Royal Marines circuit training book, but the text there didn't tell me everything I needed to know. The illustrations, featuring an unattractive, vest-clad man with a moustache and protuberant buttocks, weren't explicit enough either. Videos are better at explaining how to do exercises, and it helps if the presenter is cute.

VideoJug tells you how to do everything properly:

How To Eat Sushi

Oh boy. I now realise that in the past I have offended by taking way too much soy sauce and wasabi in one go, not bothering to eat the ginger at all, and nibbling sushi to bits instead of taking an entire piece with a single bite. And you're supposed to dip with the fish side down! And you're not allowed to leave any rice on your plate! I am really going to have to practice.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The solution to the food/energy/whatever crisis

I've been thinking about this food waste problem, because I want to do my bit to save fuel, or the economy, or the Ethiopians, or whatever it is one saves by not casting out unwanted food (bearing in mind that it is also a sin to be fat). What we require is an engine that can take in large quantities of stale food continuously, without developing a blockage, and convert it to kinetic energy. The solution already exists: it is called a Dog. All we need is some really big dogs and a lot more treadmills.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The English Climate

I love nothing so much as a thunder storm. We don't get many in this country. I'm tempted to move back to the tropics, but the spiders are bigger there. I think I'll just stay here and pretend I don't mind the fact that two weeks in April now constitute the English summer. It's all my fault anyway, for wasting food and thus contributing to global warming - "Gordon Brown has urged families to make saving food as important as saving energy as he arrived for a crunch G8 meeting with world leaders." We used to have proper weather in England but now what we have is a Nanny climate.

Monday, 7 July 2008


Someone rang the doorbell this evening. I feared it might be Christians, but it was only a woman collecting for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I gave her £2 - you never know when you might need a lifeboat.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

King of the beasts

Pussy Kirk often displays leonine manners at the food bowl as he shoulders Pussy Janeway out of the way and snarfs her dinner (boys first, might is right). I wish him to extend this sort of behaviour to the outside world. He must defend the home against our insolent neighbours, who caterwaul in the early hours, leave insults on the front lawn, and spray the plant holders in the back yard. If he is to put them in their place he needs a clear example of the proper attitude to strike.

I first thought of the Maltese lion:

but this creature does not inspire respect (though it brings to mind Kirk's piteous cries when the food bowl is empty).

The Chinese lion, guarding the portals of a restaurant at the cruise ship terminal in Valetta, goes too far in the direction of ferocity:

The ancient Greek lion in the British museum, though impressive and dignified, is a little too distant to convey the right degree of vigilance.

Here is what we need:

One of the four Landseer lions in Trafalgar Square, he frowns down at the milling crowd, knowing that one swat of his majestic paw can quell it.

But here is what we have:

Monday, 23 June 2008

sensational salads

The packaging of the salad I bought in my local supermarket describes the contents as "peppery wild rocket and vibrant baby-leaf red chard". I know what "peppery" tastes like; but Mr Sainsbury, please explain how "vibrant" tastes. The Concise Oxford, 6th edition, defines vibrant as: "Vibrating; thrilling with (action etc.); responding readily to emotions etc.; (of sound) resonant." The salad is quite nice, and I'm likely to buy it again, but I cannot say I found the red chard thrilling or resonant, synaesthete though I am. Didn't get too much of a response to my emotions either.

While you're at it, Mr Sainsbury, please tell me why you consider pea shoots an acceptable salad ingredient. They may be green and non-poisonous but that doesn't make them edible. Don't you know that most green stuff is not in fact edible? Grass, tree leaves, hedges, weeds, brussels sprouts - we don't like to eat them.

All the same, I love the man-made miracle of supermarkets. For a pound or so - the equivalent of about three minutes of work - I can buy a fresh, washed, bug-free pack of salad. How much would it have cost me to grow that, harvest it, prepare it, and have it ready just when I wanted it?

Friday, 20 June 2008

Goldilocks and Christian de Bear

I just found this off-the-wall cartoon ("A Bear Attempts Romance"):
Thanks to Chad Hansen, via HBL, who posted a link there to another Wondermark comic strip.

The Bear's script doesn't sound like the work of Cyrano de Bergerac. Here's a sample of what Cyrano, pretending to be Christian de Neuvillette, said to Roxane as he stood in the shadows beneath her window:

Little things, pretty things -
Arrows and hearts and torches - roses red,
And violets blue - are these all? Come away,
And breathe fresh air! Must we keep on and on
Sipping stale honey out of tiny cups
Decorated with gold tracery,
Drop by drop, all day long? We are alive;
We thirst - come away, plunge, and drink, and drown
In the great river flowing to the sea!

(from Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, Act III, Brian Hooker translation).

Now that's romantic.

Thursday, 29 May 2008


A short time ago Pussy Janeway ran in with a mouse in her chops. Pussy Kirk wanted it. There were words between them (a little muffled in Janeway's case). Janeway ate half the mouse but this time had the manners to leave the other half for me. Ooh! Fresh hind end of mouse! But I have just had breakfast.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


Paddy and I have just done a deal with our neighbours. We'll swap our cats for their grandchildren. No doubt they'll bitterly regret the decision, having no idea how troublesome a pair of tabbies can be, but a deal's a deal and we will stand firm.

Sue and I have agreed a contract amendment: Paddy, Stan, the cats and the grandchildren will all be made to live outside. (It's OK - both households have garden sheds.) The men and the cats will be allowed to visit during the hours of darkness, but not the grandchildren.

This is how life is lived in suburbia.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Cigar Slave

The cigar slave is a superior kind of slave. Not for him the lowly tasks of the farmyard and scullery. He is to be found in the upper apartments of the villa, elegantly if scantily clad, lolling about on couches. His job is to smoke cigars for me. I would smoke them myself, if only they tasted as good as they smell. But since the smell of the cigar is the whole of its attraction for me, the cigar slave puffs fragrant clouds of smoke into the air on my behalf. Ah... that's good.

I have thought of getting the cigar slave to smoke pipe tobacco as well, but pipes are a little too fragrant. He can smoke those on his own time. Oh - I forgot, he's a slave, so he doesn't have any time of his own. Well then, in between bouts of cigar smoking, he can open oysters for me. I don't know if there is any natural limit to the number of oysters I can eat at a sitting, apart from availability, and I need to find out before my next visit to Galway.

Monday, 26 May 2008

The beam in my own eye

I like Nora Roberts and have read many of her books, including some that feature sorcery and celtic mythology. One thing that I objected to in those however was her use of the word "mote" in spells - eg
And each cross of silver a shield will be. As we will, so mote it be.
[from Morrigan's Cross]

The silliness of rhyming spells was bad enough; but "mote", I thought, was not an auxilliary verb, and I couldn't find it in the Concise Oxford either.

You have to be careful, though, before you castigate a favourite, so I looked for "mote" on the web and lo!


I see now that it's also in my 1955 edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. ("Shorter", by the way, does not mean short: the SOD contains over two and a half thousand large format pages and weighs eight pounds.)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

O Julissi

I heard on Radio 4 that the Belgian entry for the Eurovision Song Contest would be sung in a made-up language (and no, it won't be Belgian). The band, Ishtar, gave a brief rendition during the interview - they had to stop after a few bars because they forgot the words...

If you play the video and can get past the prancing around on stage, you might notice that the lead singer has a lovely voice.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Vide Dicus et Jana

I've had this wonderful picture on my desktop for a few years now:

I don't know where it came from, but I've heard that rogueclassicism might have more information.

The Dick and Jane Hamlet is also educational - an excerpt:
See Hamlet run. Run, Hamlet, run.
Where are you going, Hamlet?
"I am going to find Uncle Claudius" says Hamlet.
On the way he passes a brook. In the brook he sees Ophelia. Ophelia is drowning.
"Where are you going?" asks Ophelia.
"I am going to find Uncle Claudius."
"Glub, glub," says Ophelia.

Dazed with look-say admiration, I can only exclaim "airplane!" But I was probably meant to say "up" - as this article explains:
The Scott, Foresman series was heavily illustrated with pictures intended to help new readers associate a word with its meaning: a picture of Jane and Sally looking up at Dick's flying airplane above a few lines of text repeating the word up, for example.

That's enough about Dick and Jane. Richard J King has an interesting post about a corrective, the Dr. Seuss books. He identifies two reasons for their success: children loved the hilarious chaos created by the exuberant and irresponsible Cat; and they probably also found them easy to read.
Another important influence, albeit a largely indirect one, was Rudolf Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read, published in 1955. This book argued that children’s primers were not just boring, but educationally flawed, based as they were on word recognition, by which children learn words by memorising them. Flesch, by contrast, proposed a system whereby children are taught to associate letters and groups of letters with particular sounds. This, it was argued, would equip young readers to make sense of unfamiliar words by sounding them out phonetically.

It certainly worked for me.

Update: I found the source for this very silly picture (and here's a translation)

Friday, 16 May 2008

Terrorism by other means

My friend Tom Minchin posted more news on libel tourism, or lawfare, on HBL , telling us of an interview in FrontPage Magazine with the laywer Brook M Goldstein. Here's what she has to say about the situation in Britain:
...UK libel jurisprudence, in direct contrast to US law and due process considerations, effectively operates to declare Defendants guilty before proven innocent and UK courts have become a magnet for libel suits...[S]o heavy is the burden of proof put on the defendant that the mere threat of suit in a UK court is enough to intimidate publishers into silence, regardless of the merit of their author's works.

A major player on this front is Khalid bin Mahfouz, a wealthy businessman who resides in Saudi Arabia and who has been accused by several parties of financially supporting Al Qaeda. A notable libel tourist, Mahfouz has sued or threatened to sue more than 30 publishers and authors in British courts, including several Americans, whose written works have linked him to terrorist entities.

Faced with the prospect of protracted and expensive litigation, most of the parties targeted by Mahfouz have issued apologies and retractions, while some have paid fines and "contributions" to his charities.

An earlier post from Tom Minchin on HBL drew attention to the publisher Ezra Levant, the victim of similar action in Canada. This link is to the first of a series of YouTube videos showing how he fought back against the Human Rights Commission in Canada, the vehicle used by Islamicists there to silence him and others. As Mr Levant robustly points out, free speech includes the freedom to offend - because the truth will always offend those who can't or won't see it.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Hair time

Every time I have a hair cut my stylist asks me, "And how has your hair been?"

How does one answer that? I racked my brains, and here are some of the things I might have said:

"It was worn to a frizzle from all the traveling but bounced back after a week in the office."

"It's been dull and dispirited since I stopped the vodka rinses."

"It's just got engaged to a Rastafarian."

But in fact I only mumbled "Oh, you know, much the same..." as I mentally rehearsed my answer to the next question: "Have you got any holidays planned?"

Monday, 5 May 2008

Baltic delights

Years ago, about to go to the supermarket during my lunch break, I asked my colleagues if they needed anything. "Yes, please!" cried one. "Get me a pack of Finish". I was stumped. Finnish? what could it be? Was it something like Danish - a sort of pastry, perhaps an iced bun? Or would it be more like polish - a sort of rubbing substance, perhaps involving steam and birch twigs?

Finish, it turned out, was a detergent for dishwashers. In those days I thought dishwashers unnecessary (I was young), so I'd never heard of it before.

The Polish connection made me wonder if vodka could be used for cleaning - and lo!
Nothing can make your glass and chrome bathroom fixtures shine like a polish with some vodka.
Leonard Peikoff revealed in his February podcast on philosophy that vodka was his favourite drink (yes, it was on-topic - listen and discover how). I suppose he buys the best Polish. Does he know of its other uses?

Music of the gods

Want people to go home at the end of your party? Try putting one of these numbers onto the music centre:


I attended a public lecture on ancient Greek music in Oxford a few years ago at which they played a fragmet of the music for a tragedy (one of Euripides', I think). When the music started, there was no actual noise from the audience, but I felt a sort of collective gasp. The music was horrible - not because of incomprehensible dissonance, in the way of classical Japanese music, which is so alien to the Western ear as to seem hardly like music at all - but because of the all too comprehensible sense of overwhelming dismay it imposed. I have to say it worked: I can imagine no more effective accompaniment to a typical Greek tragedy. On the whole, though, I'd rather listen to the Czardas Princess.

Planes I have missed

I don't mean that I longed for them; I mean that I didn't catch them. In my entire life I have missed only three planes (and not longed for any).

The first was a 19-seater Beechcraft from a small military airfield in Wiltshire to an even smaller civilian airfield in Cumbria. I missed it because I got lost in Bath (not actually on the way to the airfield), but my excuse was that floods the night before had blocked the minor roads I had planned to drive down. No harm was done: I just caught the next flight, a couple of hours later, and arrived all too soon in the lovely town of Barrow.

The second was an Air France flight from Lyons back to London. I missed it because I stayed too long at a meeting and was afraid to drive like a Frenchman in order to get back to Lyons in time.

The third was an EasyJet flight from Glasgow to Bristol. I was at the boarding gate early; but I fell asleep sitting there and woke just after the boarding for my flight had closed. Frequent red-eye flights have taught me to catnap, and I now do it too well.

I'm not a nervous flyer, and actually enjoy turbulence, but I am a nervous traveler. So many things could go wrong: setting the alarm for 4.00pm instead of 4.00 am; having the wrong id (I once brought my boyfriend's passport instead of my own); packing something illegal (I have no idea how that carpet tack got into my carry-on bag, but it didn't get through security); boarding the wrong plane (I've done that twice)... I may seem to have done every dumb thing I could have done at airports, but I fear there are more awaiting discovery.

Getting rid of bugs

I have recently started doing Fagan inspections again. I favour Tom Gilb's variant, and thoroughly recommend the book he wrote with Dorothy Graham, but whichever approach you take, Michael Fagan is up there with the heroes of software.

Inspecting a document is a lot like de-fleaing a cat: you suspect it has bugs, but you have no idea of the scale of the infestation until you apply the pesticide and see hundreds of the vermin dropping from their victim.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Rules is rules 1

We are not allowed to jump up onto the worktop.
We are not allowed to lick from other people's bowls.

But we do.

Because we like it.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Coming out 2

I used to think Lorem Ipsum was Latin.

You know the sort of stuff:
Etiam cursus cursus dolor. Lorem Ipsum quisque in lacus et dolor fermentum malesuada. Integer eleifend libero ac est. Suspendisse vitae urna. Etiam mattis convallis libero.
Unable to make sense of the snippets I saw now and then, I thought I must have lost the moderate grasp of Latin I'd had when I left school in the year 3 BPC (Before Personal Computers).

But recently I needed to copy a block of dummy text into an html template... and concluded that Lorem Ipsum wasn't any language at all, even if some of the words were Latin and many others looked as if they might be.

It seems I'm wrong again: according to this interesting BBC article, the Lorem Ipsum text is Latin, though not in a form anyone could be expected to understand:
...For many years it was believed that it was a random, nonsense text. However, Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia...has established that Lorem Ipsum is derived from two paragraphs of Cicero's 'De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum' (The Extremes of Good and Evil), written around 45 BCE. It is somewhat scrambled from the original, with words interchanged and syllables missing.
In fact,
...Lorem Ipsum has also become a spoken language - albeit a fictional one. In the novel, 'Something Rotten' by Jasper Fforde...Ms Next's toddler son, Friday...grows up burbling phrases of Lipsum that only his mother and their pet dodos can understand.
Friday Next isn't the only Lorem Ipsum speaker around. I often have the sensation that what someone is saying to me sounds like real language but doesn't actually mean anything. (This is one of the more creditable reasons for my tendency to think about imaginary people at meetings.)

Sunday, 30 March 2008


Can't find FITNA? Found one of the fake versions on YouTube instead? Try this link:


This is the version I saw on LiveLeak a few days ago.

RightCrazy has some other links as well as a downloadable version:

This thing is out there and the genie’s damned well not going back into the bottle. And now that you’ve managed to work your usual magic of murderous intimidation, even more people are going to want to see it to find out what the hell all the fuss is over.  Here’s a list of some of the places where you can still download the video and see it for yourself:

AJM (dedicated server — very fast)

Bivouac-ID (French subtitles)

Czech Infidel (Czech subtitles)

Daily Motion (flagged as inappropriate — must register to see it)

Google video

Isohunt (links to torrent sites)

Rapid Share (flv format)

Rapid Share (wmv format)

The Pirate Bay (bit torrent)

If none of those work, just click here and download it from my server (about 35MB in .wmv format for now) to keep on your hard drive.  Here’s a torrent link, if that’s more your style.  And as soon as I can find it in a format that’ll embed good here, I’ll be doing that too.

I don't know the site, but that particular post is worth reading in full.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The tooth fairy

I've had a lot of trouble communicating with my dentist recently, and it's not because I put the wrong teeth in.

It started like this: I needed to arrange an appointment for a tricky (and expensive) piece of work. Using a number stored on my mobile, I phoned the reception and asked how long an appointment to book. The receptionist said she didn't know - the best thing would be for me to discuss it with Ali, the dentist, who would call me when he was free. He never called.

I tried again a fortnight later. The receptionist took down my full name (I had to spell it three times) and agreed to arrange an appointment with Ali. I suggested the next Tuesday afternoon; she said Ali didn't work Tuesday afternoons, how about Thursday?

Fine, I said, but how long should the appointment be?
"Well, you'd need an initial consultation first..."
No, no, I said; I'd had the consultation, I'd had the X-ray, we'd agreed the work to be done, all I needed was to make a long enough appointment.
"Then I think you'd better talk to the dentist..."

I explained, through clenched teeth (bad dental habit), that I'd already been through that with the other receptionist.

"Oh... but I can't find you on our database. Have you been to us before?"
Yes, I was a regular, and at my last appointment Ali and I had agreed the work to be done.

My voice was becoming strained, but through the red haze the truth began to glimmer. I asked if this was the Abbey Grove Dental Practice.

"No, this isn't the Practice, this is the Clinic."
The Abbey Grove Dental Clinic? Not the Abbey Grove Dental Practice?
"Yes, the Clinic, not the Practice - it's not the one in Abbey Grove, it's the one in Charing Cross."
Okaaaay... but they did have a dentist called Ali?
"No, we don't".
Then with whom had she been going to make the appointment?
No reply.

Dazed by the inversion of normal sequence during this bizarre conversation, I mumbled something about checking the phone number and hung up.

The next day I found the number of the real dental practice on an old appointment card. I got through to a courteous receptionist with a brain, operating in real time. The real Ali phoned me back just as promised. I booked an appointment in a few seconds. There is no tooth fairy and all is well.

Of course, if I'd been trying to get an appointment with an NHS dentist, I'd still be waiting. Some people do believe in the National Tooth Fairy, who flits from flower to flower sipping National Insurance contributions and fixes your teeth for free. They get upset when they can't find a National Health dentist to take them on: they don't see why the demand for "free" dentistry should so exceed supply.

Too big to fail

I heard on the news today that the British government is likely to pump another £11 billion into the financial system - this time to help high street banks keep on lending. Just whose billions is the Chancellor planning to give to the banks? The government doesn't have any money of its own, so it's going to be taxpayer's money - whether taken directly from tax funds or indirectly by printing money. Words fail me. Fortunately, Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute does have something to say in his short but illuminating article "Too Big to Fail". He explains how the policy of bailing out big banks encourages poor investment decisions at the expense of those who exercise better judgment, and argues that the risk of bankruptcy is the ultimate protection against irresponsible lending policies. Instead of allowing the people who make the bad decisions to suffer the consequences, the government encourages corporate and individual irresponsibility by interfering in financial markets. If the American and British governments go on implementing panic measures then, as Epstein says, "the next financial market fiasco is just a matter of time."

Sunday, 9 March 2008

When the Fat Lady Sings...

...the controversy about low carbohydrate v. low fat diets may end. The idea that high carb diets promote weight gain is older than most people think. For instance, in the 1930s short story "Jeeves and the song of songs", Bertie Wooster has this to say of his pal's intended: "...she proved to be an upstanding light-heavyweight...she seemed to me a good deal what Cleopatra would have been after going in too freely for the starches and cereals."

This hilarious story was dramatised in the TV series "Jeeves and Wooster" (which Secular Foxhole reminded me of in his recent comment)

Coarse Outfits

I am taking a short course on elementary web design. One of the students gave us a link to an example of bad design, Bosfish. What stuck in my mind even more than the garish fonts was the opportunity to buy a Coarse Outfit. I have always wanted to wear a coarse outfit. I can't choose between the Mega Coarse Outfit 2007 and The Supreme Coarse Outfit 2007, but both are probably still in fashion. This page also offers coarse packs, such as the 'Baggin Machine' Waggler Pack and the Shock Core Elastic Pack from Middy. Those do sound vaguely but shockingly coarse. No wonder fishing is the most popular participation sport in Britain.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

English Immigration Restrictions

I demand that we place immigration restrictions on the English language. Words that have already settled into English must, I suppose, be allowed to stay - all those Greeks and Romans and French and Dutch and Indians and Arabs have been here for so long that we'd have a job getting rid of them now. But no new immigrants! Let us have no more foreign words stealing the jobs English words used to do! If we have to support redundant words, let them be English words, not words that don't belong to this language. We should keep foreign words out before they swamp our schools and hospitals. We have to stop these words from just waltzing into our language without restriction, as though they had a right to be here. Those admitted on tourist visas should be italicized and made to leave as soon as their time is up.

Laughing at anti-immigration arguments is one thing. For a reasoned defence of free immigration, go to the internet version of The Objective Standard and read the article "Immigration and Individual Rights" by Craig Biddle. He's talking about America, but the same moral principles apply to immigration into this country.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Mixed Species Metaphors

For example, there are one or two flies in my house. I don't know where they came from, but it is February, and cold, so the flies are sluggish. Sluggish flies! (Now I'm imagining slugs with wings, so I have to pause for a brief memory wipe.)

OK, I'm better now.

Take dogs: dogs frequently wear sheepish expressions after doing something forbidden but overwhelmingly tempting, like eating the entire birthday cake in three gulps, candles and all, while mommy is off fetching the matches.

If you prefer (I do), take cats. My boy cat, now eleven years old, tries to ravish my girl cat, his sister, at least twice a day. His ravenous glare betrays his wolfish lust as he doggedly pursues poor Kitty Janeway all through the house. Since he has soft fleecy fur and a tendency to emit loud bleats when hungry I often call him a wolf in sheep's clothing. A cat-wolf in sheep's clothing, you see - and weren't there a dog and a raven in there as well?

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Fear of aconyms: acronuphobia

I need a word designating "an abnormal dread of acronyms". "Acrophobia" would have done, but of course that's already taken. Since the Greek root is the same akron plus onuma (name), I thought "acronophobia" might be an acceptable coinage. To my surprise, a web search found this word... but only because of a couple of people who could not spell "arachnophobia". I didn't want to coin a word that already existed on the web as a spelling mistake, and decided that in any case "acronuphobia" would be more correct.

I don't suffer from acronuphobia myself. I'm just the type who might, but gradually increased exposure under controlled conditions has cured me. I'm even developing a habit of making up my own acronyms for my grocery shopping lists:

KBs (Kidney Beans)
BEBs (Black-Eyed Beans)
NBBs (Naked Baked Beans - actually covered in sauce)
HBs (Hash Browns)
RW (Red Wine)
WW (White Wine)
WWV (White Wine Vinegar)
GPs (Green Peppers)
RPs (Red Peppers)
PTs (Plum Tomatoes)

One item I write out in full every week for Paddy's benefit is "NO BEER". He ignores it.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Can you spell Onomatopoeia?

Forget French pop music. Have you ever heard anything like Kevin Kirk and Onomatopoeia? Their music is exuberant, tuneful, fast, driving - it's jazz, I suppose, but not as I know it. I have the sample from the website playing now, rather loudly, in one of my other browsers while I type this - over twenty minutes of it is on offer.
Hat tip: Greg Perkins at Noodlefood (Greg himself is a member of the band).

Friday, 25 January 2008

government pickpockets

I'm a big fan of Fagan Inspection, a proven and effective method software defect prevention. Note the spelling: Michael Fagan has never been unkind to Oliver Twist, unlike old Fagin. (He is also a real person, even if he does look like Max Headroom). One of the techniques an inspection leader may employ is to have a "novice" on the team: someone unfamiliar with the product domain who will ask obvious questions and may thus uncover unwarranted assumptions.

Let me now take on the role of the novice in the domain of economics. In recent months we have learned that the "sub-prime" mortgage crisis arose because banks had been lending too much money to high-risk borrowers; many borrowers defaulted on repayments, causing enormous losses in the finance industry and a tightening of credit. Stock markets around the world have reacted with steep falls.

To stop this cascade of trouble, the Federal Reserve has decreed a sharp cut in the interest rate. In other words, they've loosened the constraints on credit. The root cause of the problem was easy money... so the US government's remedy is easy money. This seems like a mediaeval quack deciding to bleed a patient who is suffering from the symptoms of anaemia.

We Brits, meanwhile, will soon be forced to lend billions of pounds to a bank.

Fagin would have been impressed.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Comedy differences

My TV diet for the past few weeks has been restricted to test cricket (the Sri Lanka series wasn't at all funny for England supporters) and two American sitcoms: Frasier and 3rd Rock From the Sun. I also watch reruns of the British comedy Coupling when I remember.

The big difference between American and British sitcoms is that the American ones are optimistic while the English ones are melancholy.

American comedies poke fun at the foibles of successful people. The eponymous Frasier Crane and his brother Niles, for all their absurd affections, are cultured professionals who pursue happiness and to a large extent achieve it. The aliens of 3rd Rock usually get their own way on earth despite their inadvertently outrageous manners. Though I didn't particularly care for Friends, they were hardly inadequates. According to Wikipedia, some people think Seinfeld is nihilistic, but I find it just cheerfully callous, and I love the inexorable logic of the way each episode develops a trivial event into an absurd crisis.

Most of the funniest British comedies, though, are about failures. The manager in the British version of The Office is so ghastly, and his victims so helpless, that I couldn't bear to watch more than a few episodes when it first came out. Victor Meldrew of One Foot In the Grave is an embittered old man whose character flaws lead him into hilarious predicaments with depressing resolutions. All the characters in Only Fools and Horses are small-time conmen whose scams generally go wrong. Count Arthur Strong could be regarded as senile (I have to say I thought he was just eccentric and absent-minded when I wrote this post; senile isn't so funny).

Monday, 14 January 2008

Coming out 1

I like French pop music.

There. I said it. I have now lost all credibility in Britain. My friends will disown me. My relatives will publish statements denying any connection. My old piano teacher, dead these many years, will turn in her grave. My colleagues will sidle away from me at meetings. Josh Dickson of Mancini will have to pretend he's never met me. And the French still won't like me.

Friday, 11 January 2008

No man, it's an island

During the Christmas break Paddy bet me £10 that Vancouver was not an island. He meant the city of Vancouver. So did I, but since the city of Vancouver is in fact on the British Columbian mainland, I'm going to claim that I meant Vancouver Island.
One reason for being sure that the city of Vancouver was on an island was Paddy's assertion to the contrary. I am speaking of the man who once asked me if Turkey had a border with France. (For the geopgraphically challenged: No, it doesn't; it doesn't even have a border with Germany, despite the large number of Turks in German industrial towns and the even larger number of Germans in Turkish holiday resorts.)