Saturday, June 30, 2007

[sos] send in the women

The three greatest difficulties coming back from an apartment repairs hiatus are:

1] You're skint;

2] You get dragged back into a day job situation - speeches and documents banked up to work through whilst the plumber is still there sawing pipes in half in the other room and at the same time you're still in this sort of strange, unsettled mood;

3] You get dragged into a Second Life Blogpower party, dancing till 04:00 with the twinkle-toed Welshcakes Limoncello and later catching three hours sleep like a 20s something.

4] Your hands are shaking so much you can't type this.

On the other hand, repairing the flat has its plusses:

1] You get to create a giant dance floor right in your main room which once was clogged with all sorts of bric-a-brac;

2] You now feel confident that when the lady arrives that you can take down the Danger sign from the loo and feel confident that no creepy crawlies are going to leap out at her and bite her b.

There's nothing quite like the confidence a clean loo and bathroom can give you - it sort of starts the evening off right.

And so to the party. As a late interloper, I finally found out what the Blogmeister Last Ditch Writer has been up to these last few weeks - he's been entertaining all and sundry, the suave smoothy.

It was nearly sickening to see my chat up lines fall flat when he just had to whisper in the ear of a total honey like, say, Anais: "Are you interested in sculpture? I have a particularly fine specimen on my spaceport balcony. Have you seen the rest of my property?"

They stroll off onto said balcony.

So I'm feverishly writing his lines down to use on my own visitor in First Life and though my newly cleared balcony pales by comparison, still, it is a large balcony and it does overlook the city from the 10th floor and it does offer possibilities.

If you want to get some idea of the vista, go to Wolfie's site and glance at his header.

Now to the crux of the matter. With Welshcakes playing hard to get, Ruthie nowhere to be seen and Anais being chatted up by Tom, well:

Ladies, we need you. Apart from the aforementioned, we need:

# Bel is thinking

# Ellee Seymour

# Finding life hard?

# Heather Yaxley - Greenbanana

# Morag The Mindbender

# Ruthie Zaftig

# Lady Macleod

# Mutter&Meanderings

# Nobody Important

So ladies - you know what you have to do. Sign in to Second Life here, travel to here, teleport yourself and the suave Tom Paine will help you from there. We really, really need you tonight for the pre-awards party!

Chaps - forgive me my slant towards the females. The smooth Ziggy, The ThunderDragon, Bags Rants, Free Jersey [whom I thank for the pic above of the early part of the evening before the ladies arrived], Delicolor, Theo Spark and Jocko the Kilt Man - no party's going to work without the likes of you.

As one party animal was heard to comment last night - Iain Dale doesn't know what he's missing. C'mon, Iain!

And Welshcakes, you won't escape my embrace this evening.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Snapshots Of Moscow


I've been to Moscow twice. I love it because you can get a palpable sense of history visiting the city. The first time I visited was in early 1999 with fellow political blogger Peter Smallbone. It was shortly after the Russian financial crisis and we stayed in the legendary Communist carbuncle known as Hotel Rossiya overlooking Red Square (the prominent building in the background of this pic I believe it has just been demolished). In terms of nightlife, Moscow felt like arriving at a party that had just ended. The city had been hit hard. One day a protest was taking place on Red Square and we realised that the cordon that was in place was clearly to protect hotel guests from the massed crowds of Communists. If memory serves me right the crisis in the Balkans was the source of disharmony. On the first night in Rossiya we went for a drink in the hotel bar which didn't have a happy ending. In our group were a bunch of ex-pro-footballers one of whom we managed to persuade to stay with us for a few shots. We ended up leaving him in the bar, but the next day it turns out that he met a woman in the bar who he didn't realise was charging until after sleeping with her. The incident spoilt his holiday which was a pity.


Next time I visited Moscow was in 2002 and things had changed out of all proportion. Restaurants catering for every cuisine under the sun had popped up and there was a buzz pervading the city. Having a confident Muscovite girlfriend as a guide was another plus. Marina had her own personal driver which was handy on a night out. One night we went to an expensive Georgian restaurant which was quiet following a shooting the week before. They had a house magician who went from table to table. As I was struggling to find some change for his two minute show Marina dropped him a note worth £20. I think that's what he got at the other table, too. It was a moment that sort of clunked. On the same day there had been street protests from government scientists who were demonstrating about their low pay. This magician had just earnt way more in five minutes than they did in a week. Another weird incident was when we went to visit the Kremlin. All tickets for the day were sold out, so of course we bribed a Kremlin guard to get in. The guard had no hesitation in assisting us, but was keen to make sure that we didn't get caught. On the basis that they only check foreigners' tickets he told Marina "As long as your Western boyfriend doesn't smile you'll get in all right!". He was right. I can do sullen Russian.


Blogging is a vain activity. In both senses of the word. We bloggers are often asked “why?” As my own blog is given over to frivolity at present, let me take the last chance before handing James his keys back to give my answer here. At least my answer for today.

With our companions in life we play the fool, the villain, the romantic lead. We progress to the meatier parts of maturity, until - if we are lucky - we play our Lear and exit. In the meantime, we become typecast. We play to our “type”, however far it may stray over the years from our inner voice. That’s fine on a stage or in a book. All creativity proceeds from an essential truth to a crafted set of gleaming lies. But must there be so much play-acting in life?

Millions, God help them, live without hearing truth spoken, still less speaking their own. Lies - mostly white and petty - are the fuel of human organisations. They spray lies through carburettors of convention and politeness.

Cynical old hacks in every organisation flaunt the conventions slyly. Having believed successive generations of contradictory untruths, they lose the ability to adjust. But even they, except between each other, must pretend to believe.

When a black lie is told, however, these gentle conventions can prevent us from challenging or even detecting it. For how many years of Blair’s premiership, did he have the benefit of the doubt? Though the man was plainly dishonest, his office protected him. He was able to tell the “big lies” that history shows are much easier to pass off than the small ones.

Thus liars prosper. Often the truth is only told in jokes.

I want a space, however small, which is unencumbered with the conventions of my everyday life; somewhere I can tell the truth as I see it. I was so enraged in 2005 by the Prevention of Terrorism Act (and even more by its slavish acceptance by media and addled masses) that I felt I had to speak; however hopeless the cause.

I continued because I found it therapeutic. It gave an outlet for my frustrations. Then the comments began and I realised I was not alone. The comments led me to other blogs and to a new sense of community. I have friends “out there.” It was weird, but I soon became accustomed.

That community became the purpose. Blogpower is part of it. I smiled at the simplicity of it to begin with, but James had really had a great idea. Ellee and Welshcakes provide insights into other worlds from mine, as do Lord Nazh and Ruthie. Blogpower brought shades of grey (and not just Shades of Grey) back to a life which - in my political rage - had become too black and white.

The good news is that there are are people out there who long to tell their truths; great and small. Meet them in their everyday lives and they would be playing their parts. We would not really know them. In a sense, they would not really be them. As bloggers (particularly anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers) their inner voices speak.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


It is a truth universally acknowledged by women d'un certain âge that intelligent, decent, heterosexual men in their forties and fifties do not usually come in single packages. It is another truth universally acknowledged that when they do, they want twenty-something trophies who can reproduce, not bright, witty, kind women of a like age with whom they could actually have a conversation. Readers of my own blog will know that I am an addict of the BBC Radio 4 soap The Archers and a few years ago the story line seemed so ridiculous to me that I wrote the following epistle to its editor:

Dear Ms. Whitburn,

As a long-standing listener to “The Archers”, I write to say how utterly ridiculous I am finding the current “Shula affair” storyline:

All this wrestling with her soul in church seems a little pointless as she and Richard are, after all, both supposed to be single. You’d think she had at least broken up a marriage or two!

The character simply does not come across as a "femme fatale": [1] She is boring and has no sense of humour [except when she giggles irritatingly with Caroline over the misfortunes of others]. [2] She is in some seventies time warp as she [a] never buys a round of drinks and [b] only feeds her men pasta and quiche.

And how come there are three single, decent, fortyish, professional men [Richard, Graham and Alistair] in the village of Ambridge when there are none such in the whole of Cardiff, which has three hundred thousand inhabitants?

Well, if Shula does not want the lovely Alistair, dear Ms. Whitburn, I suggest that you pop him on a train to South Wales; I’ll look after him and feed him fare which is more in keeping with the times than pasta and quiche!

Yours sincerely,

UPDATE: I'm rather glad I didn't take Alistair under my wing now, as he has become a rather sly character who gambles away the family silver. But so would most men, if they were married to Shula!

I only posted this because it's gone quiet over here!

[lost for words] don't stop yet!

I would like to thank all who contributed guest posts during my time away [which hasn't actually finished yet, in an oh so Russian way].

I also wish to thank all those commenters who added to what turned into a mini-festival. I'm gobsmacked at the quality and before you say "he would say that" - actually he wouldn't if he didn't think so. He wouldn't say anything about them at all.

But they were excellent.

I had no idea what would happen and to the commenter who thought it was in order to "up my stats", I can say with a completely straight face that that was the furthest thing from my mind. I confess I thought that if I invited 32 guest posters, if even half of these contributed, then there'd be a pretty interesting read for people.

It has been a fascinating read [I've now finished them all] and there is a favourite post or two but I'll keep that to myself.

What I think might be an idea in the long term future is to run a three day festival, say quarterly and invite certain people to post on certain days. No one would know when someone else would appear. Or else everyone would know - it would be scheduled.

But that gets into the Carnival idea which I'm not crazy for as I think the "made to order" post always lacks something unless the blogger is lucky enough to already have the idea half formed in the mind.

I must confess that when I'm asked to guest post, I always fear that I won't do justice to the blogger who invited me. One of our guest posters felt this and Lady MacLeod replied to her, I think correctly:

[Y]ou are a modest woman of excellent manner, however the above statement says more about our judgement than your modesty. I have a touchy trigger on this subject (we all have something), but I was given this lecture when I was quite young - the example being if someone tells you are pretty or smart and you say "No, I'm not." you just called them a liar or a bad judge of what is; how much better to duck your head and just say "Thank you." :-) there I'm done, I feel all better.

Now as to this EXCELLENT post m'lady……

I see guest posters as putting up pieces they might not normally get around to on their own blogs but the most important thing is that they must be left free to post virtually whatever material they wish.

Awards madness continues

Anyway, to those who posted from the 18th to the 29th inclusive and also to former guest posters, for you is this little award from me if you'd like to have it. Many, many thanks. Now there's one condition attached to copying and pasting the award - you must NOT embed a link directly to my blog but rather to your own guest post.

Similarly, for those who contributed more than one comment during this time, this award is for you and along with it also go my thanks.

Silent invisible readers

MyBlogLog clearly shows [haven't checked Sitemeter yet] that many people came in many times just to read and to you - if you'd like to use the second award also, I'd deem it an honour.

If you're interested, these were the stats I had up to Tiberius' problems with the words "aisle":

Guest Posters

L'Ombre [4]

Westminster Wisdom [3]

Shades of Grey [3]

The Last Ditch [2]

Sicily Scene [2]

Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe [2]

The Cityunslicker

Nobody Important [2]

Buckeye Thoughts [2]

Devil's Kitchen

Ruthie Zaftig

Flying Rodent

Lord Nazh


Fabian Tassano

Imagined Community


Welshcakes Limoncello [14]

lady macleod [7]

jmb [6]

Matt [5]

Colin Campbell [5]

mutleythedog [4]

Delicolor [4]

Mr Eugenides [3]

Ruthie [3]

FlyingRodent [2]



Rev. Dr. Incitatus

Winfred Mann


Reactionary Snob

Lord Nazh




dirty dingus


Norfolk Blogger


Tin Drummer

I'm not really back yet. Tomorrow is a pretty Russian day with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and so I probably won't post until late tomorrow or Saturday. The flat looks like new and in the process I've been lucky enough to score two new cleaning ladies who will keep it that way. They've just shown their wares now, we've come to an agreement and they've departed for the evening along with the other three ladies.

Oh, I forgot to mention that my cleaners are 37 years old [i.e. their ages add up to 37].

More tomorrow. Please don't stop posting until the 29th is well over. Pretty please?

Gordon Brown take heed

A warning from the Adam Smith Institute Blog that Westminster isn't quite the desirable area it sounds:

By the way, it may be Gordon Brown's dream home, but Downing Street is in a seedier area than folk imagine. In a council house just over the back fence lives an extended family run by a grumpy old woman who keeps a pack of fierce dogs. Her husband makes racist comments and a local shopkeeper says he murdered his son's girlfriend – but the police do nothing. Most of their kids have broken marriages, and their grandchildren are always out clubbing. They all live off the state, and every day the papers are full of their excesses. Who'd want to live near Buckingham Palace?

(Crossposted (and heavily pruned with the ofensive stuff about the outgoing Prime Minister removed) from ShadesBlog

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How to spell aisle?

A minute ago I was correcting an article on Bits of News about the recent defection of Quentin Davies MP from the Tories to Labour- its a political event which has some fleeting importance. But anyway in writing this, at one point too insignificant to mention I used as a verbal flourish the word aisle- but in my folly spelt it isle instead of aisle. Its a brief incident but as I corrected it I began to think- why had I got it wrong and why hadn't I noticed it when I wrote the original article last night.

The thing is that isle and aisle actually sound exactly the same- the thing about my writing and I don't know whether this is true for others is that as I'm putting these words down on the screen I am sounding them in my head. You are basically receiving an internal monologue- with full stops. So my mind guides me to write phonetically what I should write. That's not quite true though- take the word phonetically- I actually should write that fonetically were I writing phonetically- so its a little more complicated than just that my mind is transposing the sounds I hear in my head direct to the page.

What its actually doing is a feat of translation- there isn't a one to one correspondence between a letter and a sound- the letter e for instance can sound as it does in does, between or even isle where its silent. Rather my mind works with groups of letters, for some reason I have recorded in my brain that the letters g r o u p sound out something that phonetically might be spelled groop- its like a piece of coding that my brain automatically uses to refer to the sound I am making internally in order for your brain to make the same sound internally as you read what I've written. (I don't know about you but as I read I speak the words inside my head that I am reading.) Despite the fact that my fingers are tapping particular keys what I'm actually doing is writing whole words- groups of letters which signify various sounds in my head.

One of the interesting things about this though is that that's not quite how it works- if it were so I wouldn't know how to pronounce a new word that I'd just come across- all of you would know roughly for instance how to pronounce the word pasot though it doesn't exist in English and that's because what our minds are doing is stepping between two sets of signifiers- one is the set of letters, a b c etc, the other is the set of words that we remember where each letter changes slightly its basic meaning. The problem is that definitely in my mind I infer a logical relationship between the letters and the words- I infer that if there is a word I can't spell then I should by logically combining letters be able to spell it.

I think that's the reason I struggled with aisle this morning- because what afterall is that a doing there- doesn't add anything to the sound that isle doesn't already give you. Its silent. The odd thing about it is that at the same time I didn't wonder about the s or the e at the end of the word which also are behaving in peculiar ways- but you see my mind had remembered that the chunk of letters isle were sounded in a particular way- it hadn't remembered the a. I often have this- the word what for instance quite often causes me confusion- because again my mind loses its database of words and tries to combine the letters to get to what- and realises that the logical combination of letters isn't the combination that English actually uses.

The way that letters and words relate strikes me as a fascinating insight into the way that systems can almost but not entirely map onto each other- in a sense if I can be even bolder today its a useful analogy because as words relate to letters, to concepts relate possibly to the data that we receive. Again the data that is contained within a concept ought logically to add to the concept but one of the key lessons of life is that that isn't true- that concepts map indirectly and inaccurately onto the world- that the ideological equivalent of that a in aisle exists.

Ultimately we use words to sort the world, and indeed to sort letters into groups- but those groupings whilst not arbitrary don't neccessarily relate to the logical combinations of the definitions of the letters- the sounds are not neccessarily reflected- its interesting to consider language because I think it reveals wider epistemelogical problems- afterall why is there an a is aisle- there is no a-ness about it- nor is there a p-ness about what that p is doing in phonetically- they are both historical accidents not neccessary conclusions of the arrangement of the language.

And to prove my point I'm sure I've made tons of spelling mistakes in the above!

The Latin

Whenever I hear the word Latin, what springs to mind is a British comedy sketch.

Beyond the Fringe was a stage review put on by four young Brits (Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Peter Cook) for a few years in the early sixties. It is considered the forerunner of the British TV shows like Monty Python's Flying circus. This Wikipedia article gives you the whole story.

For the fans of this type of British humour, who couldn't attend the stage productions, a vinyl record was produced and we listened to it eagerly.

To my mind, one of the best skits was by Peter Cook, called Sitting on the Bench. He played a coal miner regretting the fact that he didn't fulfill his ambition to become a judge. The sketch is very funny, but best summed up in these sentences. "Yes, I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin. I never had the Latin for the judgin'."

Well I had the Latin. In my high school we all had to have the Latin, well at least for the first year. But I loved the Latin, I don't know why. Somehow it appealed to me, the orderly sense of conjugating verbs and different cases for nouns. Almost mathematical in its orderliness. We all hated the teacher, Miss Simons, with a passion. She was a cranky old unmarried teacher (probably still in her forties, I was only 12 after all) handing out detention left, right and centre, making you copy out a vocabulary word 20 times if you missed it in a test. This only happened once to me, let me tell you. But she couldn't deter me. She was my Latin teacher for 5 years, and I even took Latin honours for matriculation. I still insist it was probably the most useful subject I ever took in high school.

When I went into Pharmacy people said to me, well aren't you lucky you have the Latin. Huh? Even in the fifties the Latin had almost disappeared from Pharmacy. It was easy for anyone to learn the few expressions left, although those with the Latin knew exactly what the abbreviations meant, for example: bid (bis in die - twice daily) or prn (pro re nata -literally for the thing that is born, or as necessary).

The next use I found for the Latin was in gardening. When you are looking for a specific plant you can't rely on the common name, since the common name may refer to three different plants, depending on the region. On the other hand, one plant may have three different common names. Consequently you need to use the Latin name. Indeed, it has been a great asset to me in all the garden clubs I've belonged to over the years, with those long botanical names rolling off my tongue.

So you see I could have been a judge. I wasn't, but I could have been, because you've got to have the Latin for the judgin' and I definitely had it.

This is a bit of past whimsy from my blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A short trip

James normally has me down as the travelling blogger due to the amount of time I spend travelling with work. Actually this has declined alot in recent months so I don't really deserve this title anymore.

In any event I recently did some travelling in the UK for a change. Despite the predictable weather I had a great time. I visited North Norfolk and drove around a lot taking in all the sight. It is a lovely and peaceful part of the country. This is not altogether surprising as it is near impossible to get to due to a chroniclack of transport infrastructure. From London you could get to Newcastle in about the same amount of time. However, this means that the area is left in a timewarp which is very quaint.

The beaches are magnificent and with global warming and so good sea defences they will no doubt rival the costa del sol within our lifetimes. The local villages are nice and some of the bigger towns are a little sh**e-on-sea, but I liked Sheringham which lies on the north coast. For extra fun you can rent a boat and muck about on the broads ( a network of natural waterways and canals).

The local delicacy is Cromer Crab which is in deed very nice; if not quite comparable in size to say Alaskan Crabs.

Overall it was a lovely and relaxing place to spend a few days away from it all and I can see the attractions for the likes of Bryan Appleyard. So if you have a weekend spare and want to do some UK travelling , head Norfolk Bound.

The flooding was preventable

Floods damage homes and were preventable

As I dragged myself from my bed this morning, after the carnage that was the FOREST-sponsored dinner at the Savoy this morning, I wondered what on earth I could compose for 18 Doughty Street this morning. Luckily, a topic leapt out at me, top of the BBC News page.
“Three people have died and thousands have been forced from their homes after severe flooding hit England and Wales.

About 900 people are using emergency shelters in Sheffield, and dozens more were evacuated across Lincolnshire, Shropshire and Nottinghamshire.”

These floods—and the accompanying homelessness, damage and loss of life—are, of course, a terrible event but what makes them even more unpalatable is that they were preventable.

The current issue of Private Eye highlights the underfunding of the flood defences by the government. In 2004, the National Assessment of Defence Needs and Cost for Flood and Coastal Erosion Management pointed out that funding plans fell short by £700 million over the next ten years.

Last week, the NAO produced a report showing that the Environment Agency had not met its targets and that 63% of England's flood defences were inadequate. In fact, the agency says that it needs another £150 million a year, from the government, to meet the targets.

So what? It's hardly a surprise is it? Gordon Brown, the Gobblin' King, has been spending our money like water on his pet projects, whilst other necessary projects have been neglected. But it gets worse than that.

The Environment Agency's budget is controlled by DEFRA (David Miliband's department) which has had its woes recently. The biggest problem it has had is over the Rural Farm Payments shambles; its failure to pay out the money within the allotted timeframe has incurred massive fines from Brussels.

These fines are currently running at £350 million and, even worse, Brown has absolutely refused to find the money from the Treasury coffers and has demanded that DEFRA find it from their own budget. This can mean only one thing: cuts.

Sure enough, DEFRA looked around to see where it could make savings; and the Environment Agency was one of the first to feel the pinch. £15 million has been cut from its budget which was already, as highlighted by the agency and the NAO, far too low to start with.

As a result, projects have had to be put on hold and flood defences neglected. And, sure enough, we now see the inevitable consequences of this policy; huge insurance costs, wrecked homes and dead people.

No doubt, in casting around for something else to blame, David Miliband will make dire prognostications concerning “climate change”, but make no mistake: these deaths are a direct result of DEFRA's incompetence and poor government spending priorities.

Cross-posted at 18DoughtyStreet.

In the home straight

We are in the final approaches now to the Blogpower Awards ceremony next Sunday.

The venue is ready. Those who plan to attend have set up their accounts, designed their “avatars” and are all set. The only mysteries in this respect are James and Ellee. Both have been in SL. Ellee is planning her birthday party there, but neither has made contact. It seems that Ellee, sadly, will not be able to make it to the awards.

As the founder and guiding spirit of Blogpower, I am expecting James to make a suitable entrance "on the night".

The "Blogpower" group in Second Life (search for "Blogpower" and join, if you haven’t already) now numbers 26. I have met all of them in SL and spent a little time with most, helping to familiarise them. Most will "attend" the awards, as will some others I know. My glamorous lady neighbour in SL (who kindly donated the DJ's (tuxedos) for the Blogpower men to wear) is getting up at 6am her time to do so (thanks, Zhu).

Some Blogpower members and guests still struggle a little. Since this link (and others around the Blogpower blogs) will take them straight to the venue, they need no navigation skills. They need only master the basics, which of course include communication. The first three buttons from the left at the bottom of the SL screen are the most important for this, "IM," "Chat," and "Friends."

The first message most Blogpower people received in Second LIfe was an instant message (IM) from me, (LastDitch Writer) welcoming them. The next was an invitation to be my Friend (and thus to be added to the list brought up by my "Friends" button). The third was to join the Blogpower group that I have set up in SL.

Clicking the IM button allows you to send a message to your friends. I should be on your list. Add me if I am not. If you have accepted my invitation to join the Blogpower group, you can also IM the whole group at once, which may be useful if you are in trouble. IM's are forwarded by email if someone is offline, so it's worth sending one anyway. Someone may log on just to reply!

IM’s are for distance communication. One common mistake is to use it when in the same space with the people you are talking to. Only the person or group you send your IM to will see it on screen. To talk to everyone "in the room" you need to use "Chat". This mistake has caused some confusion when we have had large groups assembled, as those not receiving the IM's struggle to understand half a conversation!

When you get to the awards venue, just click on "Chat" and type away. Everyone in the room will "hear" you by seeing the text (prefixed by your name) on their screens. Find a place to stand (out of the way of the incoming teleporter please). You can close your IM box.

Some of you have become adept at using SL gadgets. Bag Writer set off some fireworks on my airship last night. Very pretty, but please don't do things like that on the night. Our region of SL will have more people than usual in it, and we may suffer from server lag and other problems - even a crash - if people run too many "scripts" (little SL programs) to use such devices. No weapons please, of any kind. The security bot will eject you if you pull a gun! If we DO have a crash, don't panic. Simply restart SL, making sure to ensure that you are set to return to your last location. You will resume your place in the room.

If you have questions in the next few days, please IM me in SL or email me direct. I want this event to be a huge success and will do my very best to help. I will be devoting my blog to adverts for the event for the rest of this week. Please email me for suitable graphics to use for this purpose if you would also like to promote it. Please link the graphics to this URL, so that people can teleport to the location in SL directly from your blog. I would appreciate all the help you can give .

I have hired an SL and general tech guru, Abramth Asp, to be my estate manager in SL (I have a real life and a blog to run, you know!). He will be on hand to help out anyone who gets stuck or lost during the event, when I may be a bit too busy to do so. By all means add him to your list of SL friends. If you are in trouble during the event, just send an IM to Blogpower and one of us will help out. I look forward to seeing you all on the day. It's not to late to set up a free account and join us. Don't leave it too late. You need a bit of practice in advance.

Cross-posted to Defending the Blog, The Last Ditch and the Blogpower Express

Good news!

Welshcakes Limoncello's popularity and influence in Blogpower is rivalled only by that of Ellee, Ruthie and of course "Mr Blogpower" himself. Since she first registered her SL identity (Welshcakes Rossini) a number of people have told me they were "hanging around" in SL in the hope of meeting her. I am delighted to report that last night (my time) we finally met!

She made it to the bar of the airship named for her, where the Blogpower SL'ers will meet before and after the ceremony (and where you are all welcome to join us).

She is looking good, but her computer is still struggling to cope with the demands of the graphics-intensive SL software. Still, she made it and we can now all hope she will be there on the night. I am just sorry that I was so excited to see her there that I forgot to capture the moment with a snapshot.

Cross-posted to Defending the Blog, The Last Ditch and The Blogpower Express

Sunday, June 24, 2007


For those of you who have not visited my own blog, I moved from Cardiff, Wales to Modica, Sicily in the summer of 2005. My dog and I spent our first few weeks here in a tiny house belonging to a kind friend, whilst I found an apartment, dealt with Italian bureaucracy and awaited the arrival of my furniture, books and other items:

Towards the end of June 2005 I received a call from the Swansea removal company informing me that the container of all my worldly goods would arrive at the Port of Napoli on Friday, July 1st. They also asked me to “take a copy of your passport in” to the Neapolitan removal company which would handle things from there, for all the world as if Napoli were just around the corner! I faxed a copy.
On the morning of July 4th I received a call from the Italian company telling me that it had all cleared customs and would be with me early the next day. Hooray! It had been just over five weeks but seemed much longer.
So I came up to the apartment on the Tuesday morning and my friend Gina, bless her, came along to provide moral support and in case there were any unforeseen problems; and thank goodness she did.The removal men – one Beppe from Napoli and his mates [one of whom had the eyes of Frank Sinatra] arrived at around 10 am. Beppe, had he been a Spaniard, could have stepped straight out of Robert Louis Stevenson: long, ringleted, black hair tied back in a ponytail, drooping, black moustache and long, black beard, an enormous gold earring and sporting culottes and a gilet.
The first problem was that all the men had heavy Neapolitan accents and I found it difficult to understand a word they said – even Gina found it hard – and the second was that they announced that they couldn’t get the container up the road! Luckily Gina’s husband had thought there might be a problem and had told her of a nearby small removals agency that might be able to help. So we all marched down there and they said they would be able to transfer the contents of the container up to the condominio but that we would have to wait 2 hours or so for them to finish another job! Well, there was nothing we could do about it so wait we did. The container was parked in a nearby street and, whilst the men went to a café for refreshments, Gina and I walked along to have a look at it. Neither of us could understand what the difficulty was and, to this day, I still don’t; if the water lorry [water is delivered here] which is longer and wider, can get up the road and reverse into the condominio parking space, I don’t know why the container couldn’t have been thus manoeuvred! Gina pulled me away from the container rather quickly when I suggested we take a hammer to it, such was my anxiety to get at my stuff! [The hiring of the van and the men from the local removal company cost another €200, by the way, on top of the considerable sum I’d already paid.]
Finally the transfer was begun and all you could hear for the rest of the day were shouts of “Ehi, Beppe!” as all 175 enormous packages were loaded into and sent up via the lift. Then you would hear Beppe muttering, “Meglio cinque pianoforti che tutti questi libri” [= “I’d rather shift five grand pianos than all these books”].
Now, I had paid to have everything unpacked by the men at this end but Gina, being more fussy about dust than I am, decided it would be better if the 4,708 books and 912 ornaments [!] remained in their boxes so that I could sort them a little at a time. I’d wanted the books unpacked and stacked so that I could sort them back into categories easily – I’d been horrified, in Cardiff, when the men said they would have to pack them in boxes according to their size, not their subject-matter – and I knew I wouldn’t be able to lift the boxes. But Gina’s word prevailed .She had to leave at 2pm for a meeting at work and, although the cavalry arrived later in the afternoon in the form of friend Marco, a lot of other, larger items that should have been unpacked by the men were not. What could I do? They said they had a load to pick up from Messina that night and they could have cited the delay in the morning as the reason for not doing a full unpack. It was also a blazing hot day and we were all tired. I thought of complaining but, my imagination perhaps running away with me, I decided that, on the whole, I’d rather not have a visit from the Camorra [Neapolitan Mafia] so, with Beppe literally breathing down my neck, Stanley knife glinting in his belt, I signed the form saying the service had been good. To be fair, I was also somewhat mollified by the fact that everything seemed to be there and the only thing that had got broken over all that distance was a flowerpot which didn’t matter; that does say something for both removal companies.
The thingamajig that should have held my bed together plus the special screws needed to reassemble a wardrobe were nowhere to be found – not the fault of the Italian company – so the first night that Simi [my dog] and I moved in we slept on the settee; I could have slept anywhere that night! The next day I got a carpenter in and all was fixed efficiently and he put up some bookshelves, too.
I swear that the piles of books grew surreptitiously during the nights because, although I’d brought all my bookshelves with me, both freestanding and wall-mounted ones, there just wasn’t enough space to accommodate all the precious tomes. So I ended up purchasing three new bookcases here.
It took me till that September to sort all the books back into categories [yes, I should have been a librarian!] partly because of the lifting involved and also because you could only do so much at a time in the heat. Marco’s son and his friend came to lift the final boxes.
And now, as I sit in the apartment, gin and tonic in my hand and shutters open during these balmy evenings of another summer, I gaze around at my ornaments, pictures and books, all here and all in place. And I think back to the events of two years ago and wonder how I managed to re-sort everything and where I got the energy to do so!
This is an edited version of a post to my blog of 14.6.06.

Public Service Warning

Online Dating


James's R rating means that readers should be over 17 unless accompanied by a responsible adult.

The naughty offending words have been banished from this post to the Labels Section.

Pretty prudish if you ask me. I am sure James uses these words in a very benign and erudite way.

Mr Eugenides on the other hand, well he is a NC-17, meaning nobody under 17. He has a few more naughty words on the taboo list. We all know about him.

You all know how to get your own rating. Click click clickity click on the icon.

From Rachel Lucas

Saturday, June 23, 2007

True journalism and the death of constructive debate

Our dear patriarch James also asked me contribute to his blog in his absence.

Because very little of what I write is worthy of his blog, and because it's been a difficult week, I'm re-posting something I wrote a couple of months ago:

There’s an important distinction between journalism and punditry: real journalism attempts to be unbiased and impartial. Pundits, on the other hand, write or speak from a specific angle.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with punditry, in small doses and in the right context. Most blogs fall under this category, although there are a few I would describe as journalistic.

But let’s not confuse the two. Bill O’Reilly may have a degree in broadcast journalism, but he is not practicing journalism. Neither is Al Franken. Neither is Rush Limbaugh.

The ideologies these people spew are often mistaken for “news,” or even “journalism.” But they’re not. I’ll tell you why:

  • Real journalists don’t demonize people who disagree with them while elevating those who do

  • Real journalists don’t shout people down

  • Real journalists don’t use inflammatory or biased language

Journalism is succumbing to pressures from all sides, but the worst trend that’s crippling the credibility of the institution is the increased movement toward journalists as pundits, especially on cable news shows. Nothing ruins a journalist’s objectivity quite like punditry.

Fox News comes under a lot of fire (and rightly so) for being biased and sensationalist, but the fact is that all the cable news networks present the news with a distinct slant. The problem is not limited to Fox. For every Rupert Murdoch, there’s a liberal equivalent. It’s blatant. It’s obscene. It’s everywhere.

Let me give you an example. During the 2004 election, CNN and ABC News would refer to Bush and Kerry in the same sentence as “Mr. Bush,” and “Senator Kerry.” One by his honorific, and one by the generic pre-nomial “Mister.” It was a very subtle way of discrediting one and elevating the other. Fox News, simultaneously, had it precisely the other way around: “Mr. Kerry,” and “President Bush.” Do you see how clever and subtle the difference is?

Most differences aren’t that subtle. Today, if you’re a conservative, there are countless conservative radio shows, talk shows, blogs, Web sites and publications that you can go to glean your news from. If you’re a liberal, there are countless explicitly liberal shows, publications, blogs, and Web sites as well. There’s no longer any perceived need for objective journalism, because people increasingly want to absorb “news” that reflects their personal beliefs and leanings.

I’d like to submit that this system is not working. It’s just leading to greater stratification and sectionalism within our collective societies. Feeding one’s intellect with only news and information that reflects one’s own partisan slant is not healthy or constructive. It leads to the kind of “debates” that we see televised daily on these cable news shows—debates that are not debates at all, but shouting matches between talking heads and pundits.

Here’s a prime example by two of the worst offenders.

These men aren’t talking to each other; they’re talking at each other. That’s all it is. This isn’t a debate. These are soliloquies.

For that matter, there’s a serious dearth of knowledge as to what constitutes constructive debate—or even constructive dialogue or discussion—whether in written or spoken form. Some very basic, common-sense rules are not being followed. For example:

  • If you’re presenting your opinion about a contested or controversial issue, it is the purest folly to insult people who disagree with you, explicitly or implicitly. You will lose whatever chance you might have had to convince them of the truth of your position, and you’ll wind up preaching to the choir.

  • Nicknames like “Democrap,” Repukelican,” “Lib-tard,” and other childish terms don’t help your case—they just alienate these groups entirely.

  • Your “side” is not always right, just as the other “side” (liberals, conservatives, whatever you like) is not always wrong. Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken would be well served to learn this.

  • Similarly, it’s important to remember that the other “side” is not comprised of evil people who want to see American/Britain/wherever fail. They usually genuinely think they’re doing the right thing. They won’t be impressed by this kind of rhetoric.

Divisive sectionalism within the “news” community has led us to an us-versus-them mentality that is entirely unhealthy. Dialogue, discussion and debate should be respectful and articulate, not inflammatory and divisive. I truly believe that the most important factor in any discussion or debate is the ability to put yourself into the shoes of whomever you’re disagreeing with. If you can’t understand why your opponent believes himself to be right, you might as well go home. We need a true understanding of why others believe what they do, or we will never be able to communicate.

This is why I feel so comfortable talking about one extremely difficult topic—abortion. I’ve been young, poor, unwed, pregnant and terrified, so I understand the dilemma. I’ve stood in the shoes of the countless girls who have to make the decision whether or not to get an abortion. And because I understand why a young woman might decide an abortion is the right thing to do, I am infinitely more prepared to discuss this issue with people who disagree with me. I can honestly say, “I know exactly why you believe this. I understand your reasoning perfectly and I pass no judgment—now hear the conclusion I came to and why I came to it.”

The moral of the story: Good debate, like good journalism, is free of inflammatory, offensive, or biased language. I’d like to see more of both: good debate and real unbiased journalism.

What, questions? How surprising.

But Ruthie: I like to get my news from newscasters who think like me. I don’t want some liberal/conservative injecting their opinions into my newscast!

Well, that’s your loss. Going to only one source for news is severely limiting your understanding of the world. As I’ve said, it’s important to understand why people disagree with you so you’ll be better able to discuss these issues with them in a respectful manner.

That sounds like political correctness. I dislike political correctness.

It’s not political correctness, it’s just good form. It’s common sense. If you alienate your audience by offending them or putting them off, you wind up preaching to the choir and convincing no one but yourself. I’m willing to bet that 99% of Rush Limbaugh’s listeners are conservative, precisely for this reason. He never has anything positive to say about liberals or Democrats, only derogatory remarks. If you switch it around, the same is true of Al Franken (who, delightfully enough, is running for Senate here in my home state). I see them as two sides of the same coin.

But what if I can’t find any unbiased news sources? What if none of them are objective?

True objectivity is impossible. Every journalist betrays his opinions when he writes. Even subtle and often unconscious word choices, like “hostage” vs. “detainee” betray a journalist’s true opinions. Many news organizations don't even operate under the pretense of objectivity anymore. The key is balance. If you understand all the sides of an issue—all the shades of gray and varying viewpoints—you’ll be better able to defend your own.

Thou Art The Ref

1. The Winger's Labours Lost

Fair DESDEMONA, daughter of Venetian senator BRABANTIO, hath skipped past the left-back and advanceth goalward.

Yet even as she approacheth the angle of the box, IAGO doth bring down DESDEMONA with a crude, two-footed lunge.

"Verily," cries IAGO, "I barely happened to nudge the lily-livered strumpet!"

Thou art unsure whether this venomous act of knavery occurred within the box, and thy assistant referee declaims that he was sore unsighted.

What shalt thou do?

a) Award a penalty unto the attacking team, and send forth IAGO unto an early bath?

b) Award a free-kick upon the box-edge, and issue IAGO a fulsome admonishment?

c) Smother the fair DESDEMONA, assail IAGO with thy blade and then slay thyself by thine own hand?

2. Much Ado About A Fair Challenge

OPHELIA and ROSENCRANTZ doth contest a fifty-fifty ball within the central circle. OPHELIA winneth the ball, leaving ROSENCRANTZ with an ugly gash upon his foreleg.

ROSENCRANTZ assails thee, crying "Thou art a dull, sheep-biting punion, sire! Thou needest glasses, thou blind bastard - may the worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul, thou mountain of mad flesh!"

In the meantime, play hath continued and lo! OPHELIA hast been bodychecked by HORATIO. A vexatious melee doth ensue.

What shalt thou do?

a) Inscribe the name of the whoreson mandrake ROSENCRANTZ in thine notebook, and adjudge the dropping of the ball?

b) Allow the play to continue anon, and issue ROSENCRANTZ a stern rebuke upon the exit of the ball from the field?

c) Send forth OPHELIA unto a nunnery, therein to be as chaste as ice, as pure as snow?

3. The Three Gentlemen of Midfield

While thine sight is distracted, thou doth hear a calamitous uproar from behind, and, turning, presently discover that MERCUTIO, kinsman of PRINCE ESCALUS, hath been struck an injurious blow and now bleedeth in sanguineous torrents.

Since it is plain that MERCUTIO hath not so wounded himself, the only possible culprits are TYBALT, cousin of JULIET, and ROMEO of the house of Montague. Thy assistant referee was, alas and alack, unsighted.

"Marry, I never touched the nondy fucker, sire!" quoth TYBALT.

"A plague on both your houses, thou dirty, hacking bastards!" cries MERCUTIO.

What shalt thou do?

a) Bring play to a most untimely halt, and allow the physick to attend the effuse of blood?

b) Send TYBALT unto the dressing room like a common dog, therein to ruminate upon his dastardly action?

c) Slay TYBALT, and flee unto exile?

Ye shalt find the answers in comments.

From the archives of Flying Rodent.

Football and the Second World War

Tom Finney, who played at every position across the forward line for England, in the postwar era was called up in 1942 to serve in the army (his photo is above). Finney was not unusual amongst footballers of his day- 98 went from Crystal Palace, 91 were called up from Wolverhampton Wanderers during the war, 76 players from Liverpool fought in the war and other future stars like Bill Nicholson of Tottenham Hotspur served in the war. Football within England was interrupted by war- the clubs were split into regional divisions and played each other, the FA Cup and other competitions stopped for the duration of the war and the England team ceased to play. Careers as notable as those of Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton, Finney himself, Bill Shankly and Don Howe all interrupted their careers to fight in the war. For many of them those careers became the lost years that they could never recover- like the Oxford Undergraduates who came up in 1939 only to complete their degrees in the late 1940s, these footballers spent their twenties fighting in conflict. English football also lost players in the war- Harry Goslin a England defender who played in unofficial internationals during the war was killed in 1943 in Italy (his picture is below), Billy Dean an Arsenal goalkeeper wrote home as he went to fight that he had fulfilled his ambition by playing for Arsenal, he was killed in 1942 on service with the Royal Navy.

Obviously the rest of society suffered as much if not more than football but football enables us to appreciate some of the costs that the Second World War brought to Britain- the echo of war lasts far longer than the war itself. For many clubs the war brought the end of a side that had prospered during the thirties- nowhere was this more true than at Arsenal where the side built by Chapman in the thirties and sustained by George Allison containing such famous names as Ted Drake and Alex James broke up during the war. Eight players from Arsenal were killed during the war- the war ended other players' careers as well though. Bill Shankly returned to find that Preston North End now considered him too old to utilise and thus started one of the great managerial careers in English football. It is interesting to wonder looking at the photo below of Bolton players going to war, how many of their careers were blighted by the experience.

The echoes of war in postwar football though were not merely a consequence of the absenses of those who were killed, the missing names on the teamsheets, or the absense of those who had spent their prime at Dunkirk and El Alamain, but also psychologically on those that remained. For Wilf Mannion fighting in Sicily and losing half his company effected him profoundly- for a while the Middlesborough winger found it hard to even play football again. The general effect of the second world war as studies in Scotland have found was to smooth out an underlining decline in suicide rates so the effect on footballers like Mannion fit into a general trend. For many men the war formed the background to their lives during peacetime- having broken up their careers and cost them their mates, the war became a defining event in their lives.

There is no question that the second world war was the right war to fight- but there were massive costs. Costs which ran through individual lives- the lives of footballers are interesting cases because for many of them their best proffessional years coincided with their military years- the costs though were greater in terms of the impact of war upon sensitive young men- giving them a numbness to death, like that Paul Fussel described in his study of the experience of the second world war. Just as with much of the rest of British history, the echoes of the second world war in football lasted long after the guns had stopped sounding.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Funerals -- Celebrations of Life

It seems that I have come to that time in my life when I am often a funeral participant. I hadn't been to a funeral in years it seemed, but, in the last year or so, I have had quite a few opportunities to be a mourner. With the exception of two very close long time friends, most of the departed were not close friends but my connection with them demanded a show of respect and an appearance at the funeral. Some of them were quite elderly and not well and the sorrow was tempered by the fact that they had led long satisfactory lives. On the other hand, some of them were the same age as I and this was sad for me, while some were considerably younger and this was indeed tragic.

It seems that certain things have changed at funerals since I last attended one. For example, there is usually a large photo of the departed displayed prominently. Sometimes it is a portrait of the person and sometimes a happy family group and often there are informal collages of photographs at the reception. The flower arrangements are simpler nowadays with many families requesting no flowers, but donations in lieu to the charity of one's choice.

But the innovation that I like best of all, is the PowerPoint musical slide-show presentation that is almost the norm now at funerals. True celebrations of a life, displayed for all of us to see what a fine life this person has led. Since I am an immigrant, I met most of these people as young adults or even middle-aged individuals. So I discover all these interesting things about their early lives that perhaps I didn't know before, that they had never told me. I love this part of the funeral and I am disappointed if there is none. The eulogies by friends seem to have become less formal, with funny stories being told so that there is joy in the atmosphere as well as regret. Now many people want to speak at funerals and sometimes they are very long. The funeral for my dear Hungarian friend, who died this past year, was two and a half hours long, since so many people spoke. There I found out he had been shot during the 1956 revolution, which I hadn't known previously, although I had known that he was part of it and escaped later.

Just over a year ago I gave the eulogy for a very close Scottish friend. It was a memorial service and since she had died at Christmas, it was held in early January. I wrote my eulogy and was terrified that I would break down and cry in the middle. However two days before I developed viral bronchitis and my voice almost disappeared. No one would agree to read the eulogy for me, so I was forced to croak away into the microphone and was concentrating so hard on speaking that I did not lose control until the last.

If you knew me, you would know that I am a micro-manager and always have to do everything myself with lots of double checking involved. So I keep thinking that I should prepare my own funeral celebration. I know which photograph I would like enlarged, a simple candid shot taken when I was about 50. It's my favourite photo of myself. I'm not photogenic at all, I fear. I have already asked a friend's son if he will play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes for me, but hopefully it will not be for a long time. I don't know much about PowerPoint but if I can learn blogging I can learn PowerPoint. So I'll have to start looking through my photos and borrow PowerPoint for Dummies from the library. After all, I want my mourners to enjoy my funeral presentation as much as I have appreciated the celebrations of life that I have attended lately.

The bagpiper is Jimmy Mitchell, from Texas, who plays Amazing Grace at funerals.
This is another early post from my blog.

Celebrities and Charities

Scarlett Johansson has recently been called in by former Vice-President Al Gore to help him promote his Live Earth day, this follows hot on the heels of an announcement that Miss Johansson, most famous for her acting and for being according to some the most attractive woman on the planet, was recently appointed to a role as ambassador for Oxfam in India. No doubt Miss Johansson will give Mr Gore's efforts to stop climate change (a matter I know of dispute within the readership of this blog, but that's a debate for another day) and the efforts to help the poor of the world, a touch of glamour and style that may tempt some more people to discharge their pockets in a beneficent gesture of charity.

There are a couple of obvious issues to do with this kind of celebrity endorsement of things- firstly it leads to an uncomfortable situation where celebrities are effectively sifting for us the charities that we should be interested in. But of course they have no more expertise in doing that than anyone else. Miss Johansson to her credit is a very good actress and in films like The Man who wasn't there, her performances create characters who are very interesting. But that doesn't make her an expert on development studies or environmental science- having said that many of our decisions in politics are taken upon an ignorant basis- for example many people in the 2008 election for the US Presidency will be considering Hillary Clinton's behaviour in the 1990s, Rudy Giulliani's divorces, John McCain's age and Mitt Romney's flip flopping as well as their positions on the levels of income tax over the next five years.

There is something though that I object to just as much going on here. Miss Johansson is a very impressive actress but she is also a very rich woman- as is for instance Bob 'Give us your f***ing money' Geldoff. I work on a budget of around spending ten pounds a day at most- if I give a fiver to a beggar or a fiver to a charity, that's half my day's budget gone. If Scarlett Johansson gives the same amount to a charity, that's a fraction of her income in an hour gone. When Geldoff and Johansson and others get up and start pontificating about the guilt of the rich West and how we should share resources- there is a temptation to ask them well why don't they give enough of their resources away so that they have to live like a normal person. Admonitions to sack cloth and ashes don't come well from those strutting in diamonds and furs!

But I think there is something also going on behind all these celebrity moves into advocacy for charitable groups. Celebrities as many people comment are cut off from society- football players who used to earn the wage of the average manual worker, now earn the average manual workers' lifetime income in a year- actors and actresses now are wealthier than you and I to an extent that even their wealthy predecessors in 20th Century Hollywood would have found remarkable. This isn't a complaint at all- but one of the interesting things about this is that of course it makes the recipients of this largesse feel both guilty and unjustified. Yes probably the charity endorsements are the products of publicity agents- but it also strikes me that when Bono or Bob or Angelina Jolie head off to Africa and say the West is disgustingly wealthy, lets help the Africans, what they are really also saying is that the distinctions between I Bob and you Gracchi are insignificant, we are both disgustingly rich and you should share my guilt and do something about Africa.

I should end this post by saying that lots of celebrities do a lot of good- but I do think its interesting to look at the way that this novel state- being a celebrity- interacts with the high profile use of charity work by many of them- it almost makes being a celebrity into the condition of being a modern saint- recently Angelina Jolie was described by Esquire as being the best woman in the world because of her charity work- I'm almost certain that if I had Miss Jolie's wealth I could give a lot away as well- and I'm almost certain as well that if I did that I wouldn't be the best man in the world either.