Monday, February 27, 2006

And so it begins

The new bed was just a shot across the bows. I can no longer pretend my life isn't going to change drastically.

The problem: no shower in bathroom. Contributing factors to the problem: no ready power source for use in the bathroom, and floor level hot water tank, so gravity fed shower not practical unless I lie down in the bath and play shower head along my body. (Which might be fun at first but would soon lose its appeal.)

Motivating factor: Best Beloved wants one. Boy needs one.

The solution: install a power shower! Something I have been putting off for lack of time and/or funds and/or motivation for far too long ...

And so I now have a 10mm electric cable dangling from my bathroom ceiling, next to a dangly switch that wasn't there 24 hours ago either. Follow it back via the trail of ripped off picture rails, holes drilled in walls, slightly wobbly bathroom floor tiles (turned out they were glued down), removed doors, uplifted carpets, replaced floorboards and more holes in walls, and you come to a brand new circuit breaker next to the fuse box. All courtesy of the Magician Electrician, Scotland's greatest export after single malt, a man whom I won't name because I suspect he's moonlighting but who gave up 12 hours of a perfectly good Sunday to do all of the above, and put his marital harmony at risk to ensure my own. What a guy.

Next step: get the shower installed ...

All things considered, I would rather be a plumber than an electrician. Unless it can find a way to seal off your nose and mouth, water has to try very hard to kill you.

The appliance of science

We are a high technology company.

We have very clever doors.

They save lives.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hold page 7 of the Education supplement!

The Guardian did a fairly decent review of The New World Order yesterday: see,,1713794,00.html. Which is nice.

It's the first time, I think, that I've looked closely at the Guardian since the many years ago when I was desperately trying to find a publishing job outside London - somewhere, anywhere! - and hit on Oxford. In those days (and maybe still?) the Guardian's Monday Creative, Arts & Media section was the place to look. How well I remember my eyes straining against that forbidding utilitarian black type. It must have been the last of the major dailies to grasp the concept of design. Stalin wouldn't have enjoyed the paper's politics, but he would have enjoyed looking at it.

And now it's the visual equivalent of the trendy wine bar. How things change.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ben: the Unblogged Adventures

It was a secret too big to hide. You can thrill to my exploits, never before recorded, here. I have no idea how the artist found out.

Not just a river in Egypt

Mary Magdalene, David Irving and Mohammed. Watch me weave them together into a seamless whole.

I've recently finished According to Mary by Marianne Fredriksson, a novel of the life of Mary Magdalene from early orphaned childhood to middle age. Jesus is crucified and missing-presumed-ascended; Paul is writing his letters to the Corinthians; Mary, uncomfortably aware of how much the former disciples of Jesus resent her, is lying low in Antioch but is eventually persuaded to write down her memories in what becomes the apocryphal Gospel of Mary. (And in a nice touch of irony, she is also called upon to translate Peter's semi-literate letters into decent Greek, paving the way for their inclusion in scripture too.) The gist of the book is that she and Jesus were lovers and that his revolutionary views on the equality of women were anathema to the male-based followers. By the time Jesus was off the scene, and Peter and Paul were on it, poor Mary didn't have a chance. Cue two thousand years of patriarchal hegemony.

So far, so Da Vinci Code, but better written and based more closely on what we know, however much you may disagree with the conclusions. Which I do. But I will also admit that an oft-repeated quote of Jesus from the Gospel of Mary - "Make no rules of life on this which I have revealed to you; write no laws as the lawmakers do" - does sound like something he would have said. In other words, although I end up where I started - not believing Jesus and Mary had a sexual relationship - I have been sufficiently challenged to work out why I believe this, and thus my faith is strengthened and enriched.

Now, David Irving, right-wing nutter who famously didn't believe the Holocaust happened until a likely jail sentence hove into view and suddenly he discovered some documents that suggested in fact it did. Happen. I may well believe different if I had relatives or friends who had died in the death camps, but I can't help thinking the very fact of denying the Holocaust says all that needs to be said about the speaker. Do you need to bung them into jail too? Because we shouldn't just be taking it on faith that the Holocaust happened. The recent history of the former Yugoslavia shows all too well that new Holocausts can occur all too easily. Every generation needs to study and re-examine the evidence to show that the Holocaust did happen, and to prevent them from slipping into complacency that it could never happen again. And to do that, you need to be able to ask: "did it really happen?" Whereupon you look at the evidence, and you say, "yes, it did." And you are duly warned.

Belief based on blind faith and no evidence, even if it is correct belief, is only correct by accident, and we have no way of knowing that it is correct.

And Mohammed ... yes, it's those cartoons again, which are now claiming Muslim lives as other Muslims go a-rioting. Yes, those cartoons slandered him. So show us how they slandered him. Convince us. Win our minds. Don't just knee-jerk.

Mary Magdalene, David Irving and Mohammed. See how easy that was?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Farewell old friend

Let me tell you about my bed.

My bed's past is shrouded in mystery. We first met when I moved into my flat 14 years ago, and I was sleeping with it almost immediately. You would think that in a 14 year acquaintance with that depth of intimacy, a few secrets would leak out, but somehow it always kept quiet.

What I know, or am about to say, I have pieced together from clues here and there. I'm guessing it probably went to Spain sometime in the 1930s to fight for the Republicans against Franco's Nationalists. Or quite possibly the other way round - you know how easily beds turn. Come WW2 and it slipped over the Pyrenees to join the Resistance in a spirited guerilla war against the Nazis. Then after WW2 it emigrated to South America where it divided its time between tracking down war criminals and taking it easy as a gaucho on a cattle ranch near Buenos Aires. It fell foul of the junta and had to go underground, where its WW2 experience put it in good stead, before finally making a break for the Falklands. It lived there uneventfully for a few years until the Falklands war, when it successfully tricked the Marines into surrendering on Day 1 to give it cover as it retreated into the interior. There it fell into its old ways again of heroically resisting the invaders, lending such assistance to the SAS as was required before the taskforce arrived.

That brings us to the 1980s. Here it gets hazy. It certainly returned to the UK, and quite probably it was involved in the miners' strike, though I'm not sure on what side, and also the first Gulf War as a final fling. By now quite elderly, it decided to retire to Abingdon, where I enter the story. I have slept on it for most of the nights since 1991.

I mention all this to give an indication of how (a) old, (b) hard and (c) lumpy it had become. Well, no more. Today saw the final parting of our ways, as I took delivery of a brand new super kingsize pocket sprung divan based double bed. It takes up about 25 percent more room but I can live with that. I think I'm in love.

Old bed? What old bed?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

It’s like post-punk never 'appened

If I ever became a pop star – quite a big if – I suspect it would be because I enjoyed playing the music, jamming with my mates, generally having a good time. Making a living from it would be nice and winning awards would be gravy. But I could very well do without the Brits. I’d happily turn up to be given my gong and maybe enjoy a decent meal, but I would pay good money not to be serenaded by Paul Weller.

Paul has never sounded like he’s enjoying what he does. Of course, songs like 'Going Underground' and 'Down in a Tube Station' aren’t meant to sound like they’re being enjoyed, and the sheer force of the singer's anger makes them timeless. But that was then and then was a long time ago – Thatcher at her height and a lot to be angry about. There was a point to Paul back then. Why exactly does he continue to be famous? I quote a Brits organiser on the BBC News site: "Paul Weller is an artist who scores on every measure and typifies the range and quality of British music at its best." Range?? He doesn’t have a range!! You can tell a Weller song at 50 paces. That inexplicable sudden urge to slash your wrists or hang yourself is always the giveaway.

orry, I wasn’t expecting that mini rant. Let’s get cheerful. Listening to the band-of-the-moment Kaiser Chiefs on the way in to work, it occurred to me that apart from none of them having even been out of nappies at the time, there is very little to distinguish them from the post-punk bands of the late 70s, which was about when I started to enjoy music that wasn’t classical or Abba. (I was a late developer.) It's like everything in between had never happened. Given that this means cutting out the Stock Aitken Waterman music factory and the glut of boy and girl bands that happened since, this is no bad thing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Age rage

It had to happen one day. Last night I had to take my glasses off to read some small print.

In my defence, the small print was the obscure glyph meant to distinguish a line-in port from a line-out port, on the back of a computer, with no direct light source. So part of the problem was internal reflection off my lenses. Part of the problem, but not all of it.

I'm 41 today and I need bifocals ...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Not exactly breaking news ...

... but there's an excellent eulogy for the late, great Smash Hits here. To be honest, having last peeked inside the covers when I was about 16 and the New Romantics were It, I had no idea it lasted so long. But there's not one sentiment in the article that I don't agree with.

They had a cartoon strip, briefly, circa 1981, about the snailphobic Zitty Ben. And I didn't resent it. That's how much I enjoyed Smash Hits.

Note to the Prime Minister

Poor Tony. Having recently managed to lose a key vote because just one MP failed to turn up - himself - he is now stuck in South Africa with a broken down plane while another key vote goes through the Commons.

Note to PM. Stop trying to be an international statesman. Be a parliamentarian instead.

Timor ignorami conturbat me

Now, pay attention.

Tomorrow (my birthday, if anyone's interested) "noted physicist Dr. Franklin Felber will present his new exact solution of Einstein's 90-year-old gravitational field equation to the Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF) in Albuquerque. The solution is the first that accounts for masses moving near the speed of light." This from, and too many other sites as well.

I would so love for Dr F to be onto something here. He sees us reaching speeds of 90% of the speed of light by the end of the century ... cutting the trip to Alpha Centauri to a mere 5 years (
assuming you don't need to slow down before arriving), and to any habitable planet still well outside the average human lifespan, but let's not quibble. But my sceptical skiffy antennae twitch.

First, there's the basic kneejerk instinct that anything including phrases like "antigravity solutions of Einstein's theory" and sentences like "Felber's research shows that any mass moving faster than 57.7 percent of the speed of light will gravitationally repel other masses lying within a narrow 'antigravity beam' in front of it" is probably wrong.

Then there's my sceptical journalistic antennae, a tad underdeveloped but by no means atrophied. Dr F is Vice President and Co Founder of Starmark Inc, in San Diego. Starmark Inc is extremely hard to find on Google - or at least the San Diego version is. StarMark Cabinetry of Sioux Falls, South Dakota is easier. I eventually track down the San Diego company and find them listed as manufacturers of "light reconnaissance and surveillance systems, sensors and equipment for naval and aeronautics". And doubtless very good at it, too (still no website, though), but still not yer obvious candidate for sourcing revolutionary theories of antigravity propulsion.

Dr F himself, someone points out, gets less than 40 hits on Google. I've got more than that. Renowned physicists probably get more, you can't help thinking.

He is presenting his talk at STAIF, as advertised, in a session that also includes "Experimental Concepts for Generating Negative Energy in the Laboratory" and "The Alcubierre Warp Drive in Higher Dimensional Spacetime". In other words, the Analog readers' technological speculation slot.

So I have to confess I won't be holding my breath.

What is somewhat dispiriting is to find the text of the press release - issued by Starmark (not the cabinet makers), who else - reproduced without comment on far too many sites. It was brought to my attention, with much amusement, by a group of Year 11, 12 and 13 boys. They, products of the state funded
English secondary education system, could spot the flaws in it. Somehow all those technical web editors out there can't.

Felber's news leaves me cold, but this makes me faintly disquieted.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sometimes it's too easy

So there I was, looking up some facts about the Battle of Kohima (where my grandfather fought in 1944). A comment by Field Marshal Slim was made to the effect that Kohima, which finally turned back the Japanese from India, was similar in importance to Thermopylae, where the might of Persia was turned back from Europe in 480 BC.

One click of the mouse later, and I'm reminded that the pass at Thermopylae was held against 40,000 Persians by a mere 300 Spartans, 700 Greeks and ...

... 600 Thespians.

Insert your own punchline here.


Am I a coward? Or just wise? Or perhaps a combination of the two, with a touch of sensitivity thrown in. (I'm very proud of my sensitivity.)

Whatever. When I posted that last comment about those bloody cartoons, Friday afternoon, I included a couple of links to where you could find them on the web. They're not actually that funny (except maybe the one about the virgins). Then I slept on it. Then on Saturday morning I replaced the links with that bit about "a not too hard web search".

Everything is permissible, St Paul points out ... but not everything is beneficial. (A point that could also be taken on board by American gun nuts who maintain they are allowed to carry guns, so there, and in fact by obsessives everywhere who like to stand on their rights because it says they can, right here.) Publishing those cartoons really wasn't beneficial, and free speech isn't affected by not publishing them, because you can post them on the web and there's not a thing anyone can do about it. The only difference between posting on the web and, as happened, posting them in a newspaper is that in the latter scenario, presumably the artists got paid.

"What if it was Jesus?" - that's a rhetorical question that is (fairly enough) posed by some parties to explain the offence taken in the Muslim world at lampoons of the Prophet. What if someone drew a cartoon of Jesus with a bomb for a turban? My answer would be: (1) I'd point out that he was Jewish, not Arab and (2) I would seek out the reasons for why the artist has come to associate Jesus and bombs in the same breath. Then I would endeavour to correct that point of view by positive example. Admittedly that would be easier nowadays than a few centuries ago, in the glory days of Crusades, the Inquisition et al. (This is the fourteenth century of the Islamic calendar - maybe all religions have to go through these middle ages?)

And then I might settle down again to watch those Family Guy cartoons, or the Life of Brian (which are both really very funny), secure in the knowledge that Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, has a fully human sense of humour too.

This Sunday I was at a slightly whackier church than I usually attend, but the preacher made a great point about the Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed and probably every other creed. Their theology and doctrine are impeccable, but they say absolutely nothing about lifestyle or ministry. They are very much a product of the days when mission was done at the point of a sword, and as long as you could say the right words, you weren't burnt at the stake. More Shock-and-Awe than Hearts-and-Minds. We can learn from that. So can our rioting friends.

Incidentally, the gentleman lampooned in the cartoons appears briefly in Dante's Inferno, and not favourably. Expect fundamentalist riots in Florence any time soon ... after it actually occurs to one of them to read some literature.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Compare and contrast

What has Jesus had to put up with over the last 2000 years?

A lot of heresies. The Last Temptation of Christ. The Life of Brian. The sincere admiration of Torquemada and the Revd Ian Paisley. Portrayal by blond, blue eyed, Swedish Max von Sydow. The music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Godspell. Guest appearances on The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park. That poem in Gay News. His name being used as an exclamation of anything from approval to disgust. He's in a song by Chris de Burgh, for crying out loud. In fact, two that I can think of, if you count an early appearance as a baby. And yet the church persists.

Attacks on the Prophet Mohammed: an impenetrable literary tome by Salman Rushdie that, face it, no one actually read. The Not the Nine O'Clock News "Ayatollah Song". Oh, and some cartoons which you can find with a not too hard web search.

Personally, I think he can take it.