Saturday, January 31, 2009

[shakespearean insults] time for some more


You’re probably wondering how to adequately express your contempt for the incompetents above so it’s time to revisit the world of the bard. Try these for size:

Methink'st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee. Taken from: All's Well That Ends Well

Away, you bottle-ale rascal, you filthy bung, away! Taken from: Henry IV, part 2

Thou mewling dizzy-eyed flirt-gill! You are a fishmonger. Taken from: Hamlet

Thou art only mark'd for hot vengeance and the rod of heaven. Taken from: Henry IV, part I

Thou reeky clapper-clawed gudgeon!

This one would not make the cut for ingenuity but I like it for its simplicity:

In civility thou seem'st so empty. Taken from: As You Like It

[grammar corner] lay and lie

Lie detector


Lay or Lie?


• Lay means "to place something down." It is something you do to something else. It is a transitive verb.
lay – laid – laid - laying
• Lie [1] means "to recline" or "be placed." It does not act on anything or anyone else. It is an intransitive verb.
lie – lay – lain - lying
• Lie [2] means "to tell an untruth" or "to tell a lie". It does not act on anything or anyone else. It is an intransitive verb.
lie – lied – lied - lying
• Layed is a misspelling and does not exist. Use laid instead.

Which is the correct variant in each case?

1. You’ve been lying/laying on that bed all day!
2. She lied/laid to me about how much money she’d spent.
3. Whenever chickens lay/lie eggs, we eat.
4. He has lied/lie to you from the very first day.
5. He lay/laid on the bed and thought about his life.
6. Are you going to lie/lay on that bed all day?
7. Having laid/layed the books on the table, he sat down.
8. Having laid/lain in bed all day, he decided finally to get up.
9. By lying/laying the baby on the bed, she would have her hands free.
10. He has been laying/lying to you about his second wife.
11. Having laid/layed the baby on the bed, she had her hands free.
12. Do not lay/lie to me about the crime you committed!

Answers next posting day.

Friday, January 30, 2009

[geography] can you name the area


Question 1 [1 point]

Which country [nation] is this?

Answer

Trick question - the country, England, doesn't officially exist.

Question 2 [5 points]

Can you name the specific area where this is?

Answer

Oxendale and Crinkle Crags

[where are they now] an occasional series

So … er … where is he now?

I’m talking about the Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. Can anyone forget such classic lines as:

"My feelings - as usual - we will slaughter them all. G-d will roast their stomachs in hell at the hands of Iraqis."

"We are not afraid of the Americans. Allah has condemned them. They are stupid. They are stupid" (dramatic pause) "and they are condemned."

"They tried to bring a small number of tanks and personnel carriers in through al-Durah but they were surrounded and most of their infidels had their throats cut."

"They are trying to fool you. They’re not at the airport. They are showing any old pictures of buildings. And they even went into the VIP section at the airport, just because Saddam Hussein may have sat in such and such a chair or slept in such and such a bed. They are stupid!"

About Bush: "the insane little dwarf Bush" About Bush and Rumsfeld: "Those only deserve to be hit with shoes."

Anyone know where he is? Perhaps he’s no a shoe salesman in Cincinatti.

[letter from britain] for those who would venture here


This is a letter which I'm sending to my friend who is coming over from Russia for a visit and who plans to come north to see me. It's had the personal bits taken out but the substance remains. I had to write as accurately as I could. Thought you might like to correct me on some points where I've gone astray:

London and Britain

These are two different things, like Moscow and Russia. An example is the minimum wage in London [about £7.40 an hour] and in the rest of Britain [about £5.70]. £1 is about 49.4 roubles.

Costs

The major cost for you will be fares and food. For a short distance of about 200km you can pay up to £125. The cost of fares is unbelievable. However, at a certain hour of a certain day, if you reserve, you can have that journey for £9. You just have to know.

So, there is no such thing as jumping on a train or long route bus. You have to go into a big train station or bus station or use the internet and find the best fare. Example is when I went from London to a place on the coast. They wanted £42 for that but the woman beside me paid £9 because she had booked that journey two weeks before.

A sandwich in a pack will be about £3. A coffee will be £1.90. If you go to a pub and have a few drinks and something to eat, like in Russia, you’ll pay about £25. A piece of ordinary meat to eat is about £8.

However, the locals know the way to shop and it is not in the markets – there are almost no markets and what they have is not quality. You need to go to ASDA, Aldi, Tescos or one of the big stores and they have specials. For example, a box of Maltesers can cost £1.70 in a normal shop but £1 in a supermarket.

I bought myself a pair of winter boots. In most shops - £78 but I found them for £20. If you don’t look around, you will lose all your money fast and for no good reason.

Credit cards are big and used for everything but it is possible to use just cash as a tourist, if you go to the office which sells things.

Complex to find anything

On a map, it looks a small country but it is like the circuit board of a television or computer – complex roads everywhere, little lanes crossing each other and impossible to find.

In Russia, if I give you an address to find, the problem is no street signs and some roads are just tracks but the roads can be found. The problem then is the numbering of the houses. In Britain, you’ll just not find anywhere without a map because roads change names and they make new routes to what is on the map.

Many people use the internet to plan a journey. You write in where you start and where you want to go and it does it for you.

The tourist just does not understand how many people are actually in such a small space. Britain is organized with a lot of green areas with no people, beautiful from the train and then towns small and dense with thousands of people in a little area.

Everything is closed. For example, in Russia, you can sell things from the side of the road [like the grandmothers]. Here, that is a crime and so you are caught in a road system where you can not stop, there are no places where people are just selling and you end up in a specially built area where each of the shops pays a large amount of money to be there and they have a monopoly.

An example is someone playing music on the footpath. Looks like he just sat down and did that but no – he paid a fee and is allowed to sit there for two hours, twice a week.

Almost anything you want to do here is criminal, even little things like where you walk and what you say. You have to be careful not to criticize anyone because it is a crime. Nasty people see law suits [sudyebni protsess] as a way to get money in this economic depression. Be careful.

Closed society

You’re not looking for work here but it is almost impossible unless you have a local qualification [NVQ] on top of the normal qualification you have. With mass unemployment here and firms closing every day, employers are able to ask outrageous things from someone wanting work. That’s why so many are unemployed and it is almost normal now.

If you don’t know someone, you can survive if you have money but you will be paying top rate. In this country you have to know someone to avoid paying huge money for things.

Danger

The country is so demoralized now and a new underclass has developed of young people called chavs – unemployed, can’t get work, living on government benefits, drugs, crime. If you look expensive, you are a target.

The way to go anywhere is to be in busy places in the main street [not side roads] and use major rail and bus stations. Be with someone when you go and have someone at the other end.

Advice

My advice is to try to look ordinary, plan everything from journeys to purchases of even simple things, understand that everything takes time or else money [one or the other] and make sure your phone is working.

My place

My place is so unusual. It is an old mansion converted to flats near the sea. They are currently rebuilding and renovating flats and there is builder’s rubbish everywhere, dust and so on. I think I have one of the best flats in it.

The flat itself is compact, clean, newly painted, the central heating is lovely [and this is not so with all lower end houses], hot and cold water [clean water too – no need for filters], the carpet is wall to wall, new and clean and the kitchenette is modern. The view is lovely of the sea and right now there is a ship just a short way from me out there.

Trouble is, as I said, it’s a closed society and there is a barrier stopping you going near it. Instead, there is a lovely path but it leads around to a restaurant where they want to force you to buy a meal.

Two good things here are the automatic washing machine for your clothes and an iron. I know you need these and you can use them all the time so don’t worry about being clean. The bath is good too.

The down side of my flat. The only real down side is that there is nothing in it. I have one blow up double airbed [very comfortable, by the way – things are quality over here] and a winter weight king-sized duvet. It is SO warm at night. Today I’m going to buy a sheet for the bed and a duvet cover.

I am so poor that I have to think whether to buy either a knife to cut things with or else a chair. I only bought a super-duper can opener yesterday. I plan my meals carefully, using a can of meat, grechka and cabbage or else there is a nice tuna and Mediterranean salad in a tub. Plenty of tea and coffee though.

I have had £5 in my pocket and it has lasted from last Thursday until now.

Shopping

This is the positive side where I live. Very close is a shopping centre with huge supermarket, called ASDA, an arcade and other things [enough for most days].

However, some kilometres away is a giant shopping complex with boutiques, stores, McDonalds and all the food places, GAP and so on. People come from everywhere to go there.

My problem, as I said, is not that there is nothing to buy – there’s plenty. It is only the money – I can’t afford it.

Address

There is a good reason I don’t give my address on the internet and that is because it is hacked. People can get in and see what is in my emails and I have enemies. So I’m posting my address to XXXX today and she will send it to you. Please don’t ever put it in an email to me.

Summary

It sounds bad from reading the words above but you will be fine. Get to XXXX’s and then she’ll get you to the main station and you’ll come to one of two towns I’ll give you [not on the internet – I’ll send to her]. I'll get you from there.

I’m alive, warm and comfortable and eating not badly. My friend has lent me a bicycle so I get around and get some exercise.

Get here – I really want to see you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

[cat and mouse] add your own caption

[writing technique] you may or may not agree

One happy spin-off from having no internet is the chance to rework the three novels and much of the weekend was spent doing that. Writers might be interested in skimming through this post to see if it’s what they do and they might offer some helpful tips for me.

The greatest problem with a partly autobiographical novel is the fan fiction trap or to be more specific, the Mary Sue trap. Either the main character is so outrageously immune to bullets, poor shooting, being wrong or else he/she always comes through in the end, in the face of almost insurmountable odds, that the thing is a bore.

The Andromeda series fell into that trap when it became a super-hero vehicle instead of a good series. The trouble with the Russian section of my novels is that those things really did happen but they read, in a novel, particularly badly and so it was necessary to at least split the main character into two people and the main girl into two as well.

The next step was, rather than having two superheroes coming at you, for each to have realistic foibles and not to have things always working out well in the end.

Three decisions may or may not have been wrong.

Firstly, I went with a plethora of characters, each filled out at least to an extent and last count there were 58 of them, some with similar sounding names [Sean’s criticism].

Secondly, the books are written in the third person, rather than the autobiographical first person.

Thirdly, where many novelists run sub-plots as separate chapters, e.g. Tolkien and some run them interwoven, jumping from scene to scene, I’ve taken the risk of organizing the twenty five or so chapters in each of the three books to be about fifteen pages long and within each chapter are sub-chapters, marked with Roman numerals, which are both irregular in length and jump from one sub plot to another.

There are usually three subplots going on at any one time, each converging in some way, somewhere down the track.

The number one problem is to mute the main character sufficiently so that his sub-plot does not occupy, say, three pages while another character’s troubles occupy half or three quarters of a page.

On the other hand, one mustn’t mute the main character to the point of blandness and that’s definitely an issue with one of the two protagonists, Marc, for whom I’m having difficulty making him genuinely attractive to women and men. I’d like him to be more attractive than the main character – he’s certainly adept in what he does.

The difficulty with the main character now is that he never seems to actually do anything but is usually around when things are being done, usually by the women around him who are the main agents in moving the plot forward.

I don’t think the feminists will have any criticism of the characterization from this perspective. He occasionally provides an insight which has moderate impact. He seems a bit passive to me, with bouts of craziness but he has a modicum of wisdom, born of experience.

Another issue is which characters last throughout the book and which come and go. In the novel’s original form, one man and one woman went right through. Now it will most likely be so but the two who go right through do not become an item until the second book.

Finally, do the characters grow as people, [the Robinson Crusoe motif] and how do they grow as people? Three novels is a long time to make people grow. The way around it, of course, is two steps forward and one step back.

Anyway, I’d appreciate your thoughts on writing.

[ho hum] learning from the beeb

Check this one out:

It is to be presented by Rageh Omaar, a black Somalian Muslim.

Would it have been too much to expect a British TV company like Channel 4 to perhaps show things from a white Christian point of view - being that the Crusaders were white Christians?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

[today's recipe] prepare and enjoy


A friend of mine intensely dislikes my food posts and the French in equal proportions. This post is dedicated to him.


Pappardelles au saumon fumé

Ingrédients :
300g de parppardelles
200g de saumon fumé
40g de beurre
2 Cs d'huile d'olive
1 bouquet d'aneth
1 pincée de piment séché
50g de parmesan râpé
sel

Recette :

Dans une assiette, taillez les tranches de saumon en lanières d'1cm de large. Mélangez-les avec l'aneth ciselé, le piment et l'huile d'olive.
Dans un faitout, faites cuire les pâtes dans de l'eau salée.
Egouttez les pâtes, remettez-les dans le faitout.
Ajoutez le beurre en parcelles et remuez sur feu très doux jusqu'à ce qu'il soit fondu.
Incorporez les lanières de saumon et leur huile de marinade. Mélangez délicatement. Couvrez et laissez reposer 2 minutes afin que le saumon fumé tiédisse doucement.
Servez avec le parmesan râpé


Conseils :

Les parppadelles sont des pâtes larges et fines, faites les cuire croquantes et remuez-les délicatement
afin que le saumon tiédisse doucement.
Servez avec le parmessan râpé.
Boisson conseillée : pinot noir ou blanc d'Alsace

Mon commentaire :

Ajoutez cette recette à votre carnet pour ajouter votre commentaire personnel !

Enjoy!

[teachers] love them or loathe them


When I met my first wife, she was hanging about in the company of engineers, an earthy bunch who generally called a spade a spade.

Let me tell an anecdote. She’d apparently been rabbiting on about me and how they’d now have to get a king sized bed in. I walked into the after work bar where she’d been holding forth and one of her colleagues proclaimed, ‘Nah, a double will be more than enough.’

One job group they didn’t have much time for was teachers, of which I was one. Their criticisms of teachers ranged from inflated sense of importance and being ‘lefties’ to teachers’ opinions so simplistic and amateurish that they weren’t worth heeding. And all those holidays!

Holidays

In a society where the politics of envy is the prevailing philosophy, teachers’ holidays were a never ending bone of contention and reached ridiculous proportions when they were made to come in and ‘work’ during school holidays.

For a start, any teacher worth his [her] salt is going to spend a substantial portion of that time preparing for the new term, cleaning the classroom, arranging things, photocopying, ordering in and so forth. It doesn’t need a prescriptive regulation to achieve that.

For any forty minute lesson, a good teacher devotes another fifteen to twenty in preparation and this used to be drummed in to student teachers by their teacher trainers.

So, back to those holidays, what you had were staff sitting around creating work, to make them look occupied, when their preparation had already been done, they were substantially ready and for what? To assuage a section of the community with absolutely no idea, which perceived all teachers to be on a cushy number.

Usual criticisms

Don’t get me wrong – lazy teachers are the bane of any head teacher’s existence plus their habit of only being able to see the micro-world of their own classroom, rather than the big picture. Such people also tend to be squabblers over unimportant matters, not unlike the children they teach.

One of the greatest criticisms of teachers is that they’re not in the real world. It generally helps if they have families, IMHO but that’s no guarantee of realistic approaches to life which they pass on to children and the number of times my staff had parent-teacher interviews and were insisting on their classroom rules at the expense of common sense were too numerous to mention.

A lot of this came from the political views of the teaching profession. In a job where the key components in classroom management are compassion and good order, these dovetail neatly with the socialist view of the compassionate society, while free enterprise and initiative can be seen as dangerously subversive.

Preparation and example

The criticism that teachers are lazy because they work such short hours is total hogwash. In any profession you’re going to get the lazy who come to lessons on time or even a few minutes late, [a big no-no in teaching, when you should be there ten minutes early to set up].

One of the best tests of this was the use of cassette players. The teacher rushed in five minutes late, noisy children sitting around aimlessly and then started to cue the cassette to its place, nothing set up on screen, discs not in place and feeling under pressure.

On the other hand, walk into a good teacher’s room and she [he] is there when the first children arrive, probably setting things up round the room, notes are at hand and she can share a joke with the child and listen to his/her latest news.

Discipline

At a seminar I once attended, one young teacher asked about discipline and my little contribution was that the best way to maintain discipline was firstly not to worry about it, to make it a low priority on your list. It also helped if you knew your material back to front, were well prepared, had set up the materials and you didn’t see the child or the parent as an adversary to be negotiated or contained.

At university, my best lessons were the speech practice topics where I had very little immediate control at all, everyone was deep in argument, gesticulating and haranguing and it would have taken ten minutes to quieten them all down. Better to let it run its course.

In the end, one of the most helpful things for discipline was simply to care. If the kid knew you really liked him, it made it so much easier but better was to only say no when it was absolutely necessary. How many people say no automatically without reasoning why? ‘Well, it’s the rule, isn’t it?’ Why is it the rule in the first place?

Saying no

There’s not a lot of difference between the home and the classroom in this.

A friend of mine has no problem with discipline at all but his wife has constant trouble.

Her approach is to threaten and say, ‘If you do that again ..’ Then next time she says, ‘If you do that again …’ When she does give punishments, she hasn’t the heart to carry them through and they know they can always get round her.

The result is ongoing discipline trouble and stress.

He has a different approach. If he says no, then it’s no. It never alters, even if he hasn’t the heart to impose the penalty. ‘You step across this line and you don’t get this treat.’ The kid steps across the line and she doesn’t get the treat. Never has, never will.

He has no discipline trouble at all and he compensates for that with good humour and treats, within certain boundaries.

In teaching, the golden rule is never to threaten anything, never employ the term “if”, unless you’re prepared to go through with it.

Example: One girl who hardly ever attended at university turned up one day and from the beginning, she showed not the slightest intention of getting into the topic. Instead, she sat there, looking down at her feet and making little dance movements with them.

That was one thing but the moment she started trying to engage the attention of those in the group with the lowest attention spans, I stepped in. ‘Go,’ I said. ‘What? What have I done?’ she appealed to the group as a whole. I opened the door and waited five to seven minutes till she’d gone, her last words threats to sue me.

Then I got back to the lesson, apologizing to the group for the scene.

Educational fads

This one has been saved for last and it’s my pet hate.

There’s a staff of teachers discussing which English textbook to use next year – Streetwise, Opportunities, Knockout? For better or worse, a book is adopted and immediately half those teachers appear in the staffroom at breaks, muttering out loud, hands flailing, ‘Oh I can’t use this text – it’s impossible.’

Still, it’s adopted and the parents are slugged for the cost of the textbook, the workbook, the exam maximizer, the cassettes and the study guide. They’re told it’s the latest thing in education, the ants’ pants.

For two years, all is well but then a new intake of staff doesn’t like this book imposed on them and the rumblings become a chorus of dissent so the whole process begins again in the name of progress and hey presto, a brand new textbook is now adopted and parents are slugged yet again.

Next year it starts all over again when some new educational fad comes into vogue, some academic from Canada or Australia having written in a journal that the latest research indicates that children should learn a different way.

Welcome to the prevailing state of education.

[interim report] for those who wish to know

This marks one week in the new flat and how’s the report card?

It’s a lovely flat, carpeted and centrally heated, with piping hot water and clean cold water but of course, it’s so empty to look at, with no drapes as yet and virtually no furniture.

The main room, with its vaulted ceiling, is quite chic really and the more ordinary bedroom does the job. Newly rebuilt, the paintwork and carpets are all new, spick and span and the kitchenette is modern.

I’ve come to a decision – I’m not getting a fridge for a long time. It’s been one week using semi-skilled milk powder, tuna lunches, fruit and vegetables with one piece of fresh meat bought daily and the gas takes care of the cooking. So the microwave is also postponed.

Perhaps the main thing going for this place is its aspect, the panorama it looks out on. Down near the sea, it has a view of a marina on one side and well, the sea, on the other. Passing ships provide a constant backdrop and it’s possible to go down and visit them from a short distance, if that’s your wont.

Let’s not dwell on the fact that I might be unceremoniously booted out tomorrow if my circumstances suddenly change, which they may well do and instead, let’s pretend I’m going to be in here for some time, even finding fulfilling employment.

Truth is, it could be a lot worse than it currently is.

By the way, I really like the pay-as-you-go electricity with the readily readable meter. I’ve worked out that, with the heating on almost full time and with the other drains on power, I’m using 74.4 pence of electricity per 24 hours. How does that compare to you?

By the way way, did I ever write to you how much I love my Mac Tiger? This has to be the best computer I’ve ever used.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

[economy good] according to gates

Shades of Dr. Pangloss


Bill Gates' take on the economy:

Despite the fact that his foundation’s assets have declined by over 20% in the past year—actually a decent performance, relative to other institutional investors—Mr Gates is remarkably optimistic. He will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, where there will be much talk of the need to “reboot” the global economic system, but he thinks such talk is exaggerated, because the foundations of the economy are basically sound.

“Even if it now drops 5-6%, the world economy has delivered phenomenally,” he says, predicting that innovation and wealth creation will eventually resume because the underlying market and technological forces remain as potent as before. Well, let’s hope so.

Glad he's happy with things.

[spy v spy] the faceless men

This is an abridged version of an often rambling interview but interesting nonetheless:

For nearly 30 years, Markus Wolf headed the international intelligence gathering arm (HVA) of East Germany's Ministry for State Security (MfS), or Stasi. Known to Western intelligence as "the man without a face" for his ability to avoid being photographed, Wolf developed one of the Cold War's most effective espionage operations.

Under his direction from 1958 to 1987, HVA ran a network of about 4,000 agents outside East Germany, infiltrating NATO headquarters and the administration of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. After German reunification Wolf was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage and treason. Later, however, the conviction was overturned and he received a suspended sentence on lesser charges.

Wolf was interviewed for Cold War [a publication] and the resulting article “Spies, in their own words”, was published in January 1998. The text has been translated from German.

On recruiting spies in the West

I feel that I, and the people under my command, tried to use all the traditional methods of recruiting agents which were also used by other intelligence services; adopting also means like pressure, money, sex -- but that did not characterize my service. I mean, it did exist and may have been adopted, and was successful in one or other case; but still, from the very beginning, when we had no experience, while the West German service had the experience of the Nazi General [Reinhard] Gehlen and they should have been superior, I feel that with our political convictions, we managed a lot. ...

The most important thing was that we tried to have a targeted approach -- to attack where the side had its secrets, in the centers in Bonn where the major government institutions and the Chancellor were -- you will know we were not quite unsuccessful there -- and in NATO and NATO countries. But the latter was not top priority. And of course, we thought about how to approach these people, how to get inside.

For instance, with the West German Foreign Office, it was important for us to study very closely how to make an application there, what sort of people were recruited -- perhaps from diplomatic families with establishment backgrounds, people who had studied a certain field at university and had shown good results; that is, people who from a Western perspective looked good and had a good chance of getting in. ... And so some of the most important sources were in the Foreign Office.

There were links through the [student protest] movement in 1968, where [West German] establishment youngsters joined us as a way of protesting against the state they were living in. ... One example concerns someone from the 1968 movement who wanted to protest against the injustice he saw in the West. Another [agent] who found him said: "If you genuinely want to do something against the country and against the establishment, there are other options. Let's go over to Berlin and do some talking about it." And then his further development was controlled, from his university studies up to a top position in NATO. ...

What we wanted from an agent depended on what he brought in. It was our experience that a simple sergeant in the U.S. Army, or a technical employee in the Ministry in Bonn, where not many abilities were needed apart from a willingness to furnish information, was perhaps more important and resulted in better, more secret information, and a larger volume, than [information provided by] an undersecretary, a high official or a high officer.

What we wanted from an agent depended [on a series of factors]: he had to be willing to do it, and to accept certain risks and dangers and a variety of different psychological preconditions as well. One person can take papers, photograph them without getting excited, return them, and give them away without any scruples; while someone else has to overcome an enormous obstacle. The question of trust comes in.

On the other hand, for a secretary who has a lot of confidence in her boss, and maybe has a certain liking for him -- to abuse his trust and to take secrets from his cabinet or shelf must be a major psychological barrier. Perhaps insurmountable.

And we weren't only successful there: there were cases where interesting target people said, "No. That's it -- period." You can't do anything if a person says no. In such a case, there's nothing you can do -- unlike the popular cliche that pressure is exerted, or that maybe an unwilling source is done away with. No.

I can give you an example of a secretary who used to work at the Chancellor's office, and who was seduced to cooperate through a [male agent]. She even asked to be accepted into our party. And then the man, because his papers weren't that good, had to be withdrawn back to the GDR, and she got to know another man, a simple waiter, and she told him everything, and he said, "You're not going to carry on." I talked to both of them myself in Berlin, and I tried to lure them: I made financial offers, I tried to get them to carry on their work, but we failed and there was nothing we could do.

Making use of human weaknesses in intelligence work is a logical matter. It keeps coming up, and of course you try to look at all the aspects that interest you in a human being. At our college we were taught a universal approach to find out about a person: what problems the person has, what difficulties, what personal tendencies and likings.

But I must say that from my experience and the experience of my service, [it's not as] is popularly thought: that somebody who is a homosexual or engages in perverse sexual practices, or gambles or is over-indebted -- okay, that comes into the game, yes -- but of all the human weaknesses, I would think the most common weakness in capitalism is the lust for money: to have more money than you do, to live better than you can afford to. That is what was mostly used and played a major role. Then it's psychologically not that difficult to find a way.

It used to be my principle, even with someone who sold himself to us, to try to remove their feeling that they were doing something dirty. I tried to instill a different motivation, to give them the security and the conviction that they were doing something good, something necessary, something useful -- if you want to use a grandiose expression, that they were doing something for peace. I mean, we did believe we were doing it for peace.

On sex and espionage

Sex and espionage certainly go together -- that's an old tradition. There are many examples described in history as well as in literature, for example in "The Three Musketeers," where there is this famous story about the attempt to seduce D'Artagnan. But there are also true stories, for example that of Mata Hari. [Sex] does play a major role, in so far as women are employed against men; much more so [in other services] than in the service I used to be the director of. I have no good Mata Hari-type examples to talk about.

There was, however, a different approach, which the media called the "Romeo method" (though we never used that term) which became a very successful strategy. We used young men, people whom we had initially meant to send to the West anyway, who were unmarried.

They had different jobs initially, and we said to them, "If you need a woman -- and you may need one -- then don't choose one [who is] just a tram-driver: look out for a [government] secretary you like."

And it worked. ... It wasn't, as the media cliche would have it, the middle-aged, not beautiful, sad, easily seducible person -- no, no. I mean, they may have existed as well, but that wasn't the focus. There are as many examples as life itself. There were some tragic cases of women whose love was abused, who for a certain time procured important documents or information, not knowing who for, what service they worked for, and for a variety reasons got jailed, were tried and sentenced.

That's on the negative side, on the morally negative balance sheet; but there were also some who were lucky, who were happy enough. It was a successful method. You couldn't say that we were a "lonely hearts" operation. ... [But] I could maybe give you 10 or more examples where that turned into a happy relationship, and even a marriage with children, where I was present as a witness to the wedding ceremony.

I still correspond with several such couples where there was this fortunate outcome. But we can't say that the service was a marriage agency -- no, that was partly a by-product of that tough work, which in the end has nothing to do with romance.

On Berlin's role in Cold War espionage

The particular feature of Berlin -- well, all you need to do is look at the map: the geographical position of the city right in the heart of Europe, and the separation of the most powerful two blocs we've ever had in history, which went all the way through Germany. Berlin was in this exotic position, right in the heart of a socialist country, or a country within the socialist camp or the Warsaw Pact countries. And at least until 1961, when the borders were closed, it was easy to operate there. ...

The atmosphere in Berlin in the 1950s, early 1960s ... I mean, it was a hard, tough fight. It wasn't fun; it was a tough fight for all those involved. ... It was an exciting time.

But for those in charge, it was more work behind their desk, where the excitement came in the form of paper, of reports. Every arrest caused excitement. I hadn't been long in my post at the head of the service, when the West German Vice-Chancellor Blucher announced that 37 East German agents had been arrested. That was the first man who left our service and betrayed it to the West. That created a lot of tension for the director, causing sleepless nights.

I used to live in a small settlement at the time, which was surrounded by guards, where leading politicians of the GDR used to live only a few hundred meters away from the French sector in West Berlin. And one could freely move to and fro, and there were abductions -- people got kidnapped from the West to the East. So we had to expect retaliation, that one of us might become a target. I didn't have a personal bodyguard, although I had been offered one. But I didn't like that. But of course, I had a pistol. I was armed. ...

Our area never had anything to do with James Bond-style espionage. In the John Le Carre film "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," which included perhaps a depiction of myself, the tension was exaggerated for the purposes of the film. But then again, there really was an underlying tension. The responsibility for the agents, for offensive espionage work, is linked to tense situations. There were arrests time and again.

Sure, there were also action scenes; there was tension, but the tension was chiefly invisible. It was an invisible war. We coined the term ["invisible front"]-- or rather, we took it from the Russian language, to be exact. There was a song, and I remember I wrote the German lyrics: "The Soldiers of the Invisible Front." The invisible front -- that's what it was in the Cold War. And for us it was war. The soldiers were still on the alert, but for us and for others who did go out into the cold, it was a war.

On technical intelligence

We planted bugs, microphones, in premises which interested us in the West. We weren't too successful -- I would have said unfortunately in former years, but I don't care anymore now. But strangely enough, we were successful with Egon Bahr, one of the closest collaborators of [West German Chancellor] Willy Brandt, and we managed to monitor his confidential talks with an emissary from Moscow, which was interesting -- and we had no information [about the talks] from Moscow at the time -- but it wasn't of decisive importance.

Most of the results of using technical bugging devices were of little importance for my service. It may have been different in counter-intelligence, where bugs in flats, etc., were used to obtain a lot of information about what counter-intelligence was interested in. There was a lot of superfluous stuff, in my opinion, when other people were monitored: those with dissenting opinions, people in hotels, what people suspected of being spies said in hotels.

Of course, counter-intelligence used technical means in hotels for the surveillance of journalists, foreigners, people who were suspected, but all in all, as far as my service, the HVA, was concerned, the use of technical means played a subordinate role.

On the ethics of espionage

I'll use a comparison which I don't like to use, but ... you see, a general who commands soldiers in a war knows that some of them are not going to survive. And generally speaking, he will have no moral scruples. Of course, having human feelings, he will be sorry for every dead soldier, but he will say, "I did that in fulfillment of my purpose, my task." I don't like this comparison, but it's true in some way.

If, as a director of the intelligence service, I am putting people at risk of going to jail, then I don't do anything other than the general who does that in war. ... All staff members of a secret service, including my own, knew that they were risking death if they furnished information to the other side. ... Each staff member of an intelligence agency who crossed the borders and betrayed secrets, knew what to expect while there was capital punishment in the GDR.

In terms of intelligence methods, one may wonder at times if the end justifies the means -- this famous Machiavellian expression. I'm asked about that, with respect to the Romeo cases in particular, and it would certainly be the simplest thing to say, "No, certainly not; one has to refute such a principle." But that wouldn't be the full truth. With intelligence methods, you can't apply the same yardstick as with ordinary morals. And surely, one or the other means is justified.

And if, say, a secretary whose feelings were misused for love, or pretended love, for a man -- I'm thinking of a particular case now -- if, for 10, 12 or more years, she supplied secret documents which were vital for our service, and it was discovered and she was jailed for three years, and she lost the man and she lost the love -- I must say, as the head of that secret service, that in that case, well, it was worth it.

It's not nice, certainly, but then again, every director of an intelligence service, including those in the West, would be in the wrong position if he said, "I have to be scrupulous about it -- is that in line with my ethical conduct?" Intelligence methods are not moral things.

On the importance of espionage in the Cold War

Whether it was important or not is something for the historians later on to decide. But I feel that at that stage of the 20th century European history, developments at times bordered on a hot war, and that's why I think that if something positive can be said about the work of the intelligence services, it's that through their work they may have avoided this going over the threshold to a hot war. I think that's the most important thing. ...

Generally speaking we reaffirmed that the purpose of our intelligence service (maybe of all the services) was to prevent surprises -- above all, military surprises -- against one's own country or one's own alliance. That was the main job; that's the way we formulated our functions, and that's the way I saw it. ...

I'm pretty sure that the intelligence services on the whole, and the spies both in the East and the West, tended towards a more realistic assessment of the balance of power than that of politicians and military leaders; so that actions, or even adventurous actions which could easily have led to an escalation [of tension] or even to a war, would have been desisted from. So, yes, I do claim that my unit contributed to our having had the longest peacetime in modern European history. I feel I can justly say so. ...

[But] I have my doubts about the use of secret services. ... In the end, it all depended on the political decision-making, and I feel that we can count ourselves lucky that in those critical crisis situations in the Cold War -- in the end -- political reason won, somehow. Many things were not handled very reasonably, and perhaps if people had listened more to secret service agencies, some things would have been done more intelligently, more reasonably.

I don't think the intelligence systems spoiled a lot, but whether they were a lot of use -- well, I would reserve my reply.

Friday, January 23, 2009

[respectability] and what’s hidden beneath


Drawing room plays and Victorian novels stressed the necessity for money and therefore respectability.

Everything was predicated on money and above all else, one had to have wealth, which had the added advantage of providing a locked closet for former indiscretions.

It’s not just the British who place great store by respectability but the Brits have made an art form of it.

When I went into a properties place to get some accommodation, the "respectable" looking Higham, at first, had them interested but the moment it became apparent that I was just as impecunious as the average denizen around these parts, the tune changed very quickly.

So what is respectability?

Is it a bourgeois illusion, a thin veneer papering up the cracks or is it something more – a sense of decency and fair dealing? Maybe it's the possession of wealth after all.

What does respectability actually mean?

And is it important?

[china] and a false sense of security


Poor old China - the news doesn't look good:

Annual economic growth in China almost halved from 13 per cent in 2007 to 6.8 per cent in the year to December, the National Bureau of Statistics reported yesterday. The growth figure is below the arbitrary 8 per cent threshold that Chinese leaders say creates risks of social instability. Adding to concerns, Citigroup has calculated China's economy shrank 0.1 per cent in the December quarter from the September quarter — its first contraction in at least 16 years.

Wishful thinking.

There's still growth, of course and the shrinkage was miniscule but given the overall strength and direction in its controlled economy, it's still able to pursue its objectives around the world. Whatever China has become in the last 15 years, it is still a country relying on vast, cheap manpower and this can overwhelm all but the United States, which has been crippled by the traitors at the top in all spheres of its society. This article's not new but it sums up the reality:

China has adopted a "string of pearls" strategy of bases and diplomatic ties stretching from the Middle East to southern China that includes a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani port of Gwadar. Beijing already has set up electronic eavesdropping posts at Gwadar in the country's southwest corner, the part nearest the Persian Gulf and the post is monitoring ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea.

Other "pearls" in the sea-lane strategy include:


• Bangladesh: China is strengthening its ties to the government and building a container port facility at Chittagong. The Chinese are "seeking much more extensive naval and commercial access" in Bangladesh.

• Burma: Close ties to the military regime in Rangoon and turned a nation wary of China into a "satellite" of Beijing close to the Strait of Malacca, through which 80 percent of China's imported oil passes plus naval bases, electronic intelligence gathering facilities in the Bay of Bengal and near the Strait of Malacca. Beijing also supplied Burma with "billions of dollars in military assistance to support a de facto military alliance," the report said.

• Cambodia: Military agreement in November 2003 to provide training and equipment. Cambodia is helping Beijing build a railway line from southern China to the sea.

• South China Sea: Focus is "protecting or denying the transit of tankers through the South China Sea" and to be able to "project air and sea power" from the mainland and Hainan Island. A military airstrip on Woody Island was upgraded and its presence increased through oil drilling platforms and ocean survey ships.

• Thailand: Construction of a $20 billion canal across the Kra Isthmus that would allow ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca giving China port facilities, warehouses and other infrastructure in Thailand aimed at enhancing Chinese influence in the region.

China will not confront the Islamic push or Russian reassertion - it will simply sign treaties with them until the time is ripe. Never forget because the Chinese don't, Deng Xiaoping's maxim of hiding its light for the present and nourishing obscurity until the time is deemed right.

[retail today] going the extra yard

Oh, I like this one, about Right Rant's trip to WH Smith:

She scanned the paper and then put the bloody thing in a carrier bag - and with a receipt to boot! Talk about eco friendly - a friggin carrier bag for a newspaper! And a receipt - whats that for? So that I can take the paper back if there's a fault with it? 'Can I have my money back for this newspaper please, it's gone wrong'.

Every time I go to my bank, the lady asks me, after we've done the dirty deed: "Would you be liking something else, Mr. Higham?" [Love the continuous tense.]

In the case of one nice teller named Nikki, it might be a consideration but in general, the answer would have to be: "No thanks, the money's enough for now but thanks for the offer anyway."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

[memory loss] ho hum

Damn, damn, damn and damn.

I had a post on 'respectability' but forgot to put it on the stick. I did have my CV though and the letter to a potential employer. Oh well, I'll post it tomorrow.

This is being written on the library computer and it makes everything ten times slower than the Mac so I'll do my visiting tomorrow. Still, this is a friendly place here and warm, so that's good.

Have a good day - I'm off to ASDA now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

[aging] lifestyle change rather than drugs


Not at all sure that drugs are the way to go, no matter how effective they may be in the short term.

Aging is an unfortunate but natural process which requires complete lifestyle adjustments. Easy to say that you and I should have thought of this earlier but still ... all our efforts should be to take care of the inevitable before it goes too far.

If we can, in this current climate.

[feminism] one woman's take on it

An anti-feminist


Dare I mention this interesting post? :) For personal reasons, I make no further comment whatsoever.

[obama] and that inauguration


I'm very proud to have [possibly] been the only person on this planet [apart from one or two tribes in deepest Africa], who saw nothing of, heard nothing of nor was interested in Obama's inauguration.

It would be nice if he were eligible but he's not. It would be nice if he wasn't beholden to forces who are going to rip America apart but he is. It would be lovely if he were the messiah but he's not.

It would be lovely if we were all prosperous again but I'm not holding my breath. However, hope springs eternal.

[interim report] midweek fun and games

My washing machine [also doubles as Wordless Wednesday]


Things are impinging, people.

The interview yesterday might produce something but at best it’s going to be a piecemeal solution. Still, a start is a start. The new place is good but already there are faulty kettles to take back, letterboxes to repair and all the other moving in things which you know well.

The builder found an old washing machine for me, connected it and up to a few minutes ago it was fine but then came the rinse cycle and the walls and floor are shaking a-a-t-t t-t-h-h-i-i-s-s m-m-m-omen—t-t-t.

Blogging’s going to be a headache for some weeks as there are quite a few things to be bought for the home before I start thinking of BT and internet. For now it’s going to have to be the library in a nearby town and occasional visits to my mate to impose on him, a situation which is a pain in the neck but it’s only until mid March.

It was suggested yesterday that I should write up a lot of posts and put them into “scheduled”, which Blogger now allows but there’s a downside to that - the nature of blogging anyway. Isn’t it supposed to be an interactive process? When I visit someone’s site, he/she is away and the thing’s on autopilot, it somehow isn’t so good.

So, I’ll post when I can. That’s about it really for now. Hoping your own situation is either stable or improving.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Well, Who'da Thunk It?

Since there's the hoopla of the inauguration of the first black President here (sorry, he's holding the office but will never be since he's not a natural born US citizen), I have some more bad news for all the Obamunists. He isn't the first black person to hold the office of President of the United States of America. Sorry, Barry is the 9th, yes 9th, black man to hold the office. Sorry folks!

Monday, January 19, 2009

[the abyss] inexorably down or rising above it


Whilst you might be on the edge of your seat awaiting the latest news of Margaret Beckett, Geoff Hoon or Lembit Opik, whilst Hazel Blears' latest missal or news of Jonathan Ross and Jade Goody might fill the gap in your day, it would seem it does not take centre stage in the minds of maybe a few million people across the UK.

These are the ones hanging over an abyss or who've already fallen into it. These are the ones about to be redundant or the unemployed, the drug addict on the street moving slowly downwards to that feral state I've seen before in a former life [not me but I was closeby], the bin pickers and corridor finders at night, the fallen - those who once occupied positions of trust and respect and who somehow lost all, those who've lost what they thought only other people lose.

These are the people needing some sort of break, some sort of hope but instead see signs on buses telling them there is no G-d and to abandon all hope.

Why so dark today? These are the days where the ship has left the spaceport and finds itself out there once again hovering over the abyss, where one systems glitch will see it spiralling down but this time without a safety net. This is reality TV.

Confession time - yes, I've been watching this series from the early 2000s called Andromeda, not the greatest series ever but sufficiently concerned with universal themes to make it morish. In researching it, its characters and actors, the same questions were asked by many - if it's not all that great as a show, then why am I still watching episode after episode?

Off topic for a moment, how could I be watching this if I have a house to shift, job interviews to attend? The answer is that if you don't take breaks, you go mad.

Back on topic. The abyss was a good name for the force of darkness from a parallel universe, a force which sucked you down a black hole which you could see no end to, a force the afficianados said [and backed up by the words of JC in the gospels] that you shouldn't mess with or even mention by name.

In the series, it was a force which was all watchful, which found its way in through little fissures in relations between people, which explored cracks in the fabric of life systems and always stressed the gloomy side, rather than the hopeful. It was concerned with death and destruction and somehow labelled this noble and romantic, as if the despair and sadness were a fine thing to inure you against hope. Black was white and white was black.

Hope was its enemy.

It got into the commonwealth and corrupted the politicians so that they even turned on their former heroes, incarcerated and tortured them. It turned people's minds so that former allies were now enemies, consumed by personal ambition and indifference to others. Whatever had been built up, whatever had been achieved after long struggle, it was perverted and corrupted and it always sought people in key positions to do that to.

You could excise it from the brain of a subject [exorcise?] but it would find another host to occupy. Where, in earlier series of the show, it was referred to obliquely, now the gloves were off and it was referred to openly as possession and the struggle, which had previously been between different worlds, different peoples, good and bad, where it had once been a secular, temporal matter, now the chaos was revealed to have had a guiding hand deep in the soul of people, on a one to one basis and the greatest joke was that people knew and yet didn't know they were even possessed.

Immediately I think here, in today's world, of the millions who are slaves to their credit cards.

The abyss seeks to kill or neutralize the whistleblowers; the naive and not so naive seekers of truth are welcomed by pretty faces, with smiles, who appear to be onside at first but who slowly reveal another agenda and in whom the paucity of good values and strange responses to mini-crises should be a warning sign for the perceptive but the perceptive can't get anyone to listen to them.

Through the series, two people on opposite sides of the galaxy might be following different agendas - one a tyrant consolidating power, another a girl who had fallen to the unforgiving street of feral once-humans but eventually, it's seen that the same force had permeated its way into their brains. Security forces who seem to be targetting the wrong people - ditto.

In the second last episode I saw, the starship captain was trapped on a derelict craft, headed towards a black hole and with him is a religious man who's now lost the way. The latter is full of doom and gloom and asks the captain what his greatest fears are, to which the captain snaps: "Those are negative thoughts. they're not going to help us out of this hole."

He gets out and others who were looking for him find him, [neither could have done it alone] ... but in the very next episode, one of the crew is infected by the abyss and nearly costs everyone's life.

And so it goes on and on ... into the starry blackness of the future. There is hope, despite appearances, but it depends whom you trust.

Off topic - I'm moving today and have an interview tomorrow and thus will be temporarily offline. Have a successful couple of days. Try this post.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

[effects] do you know yours

Mass effect

What is the effect called:

1. ... commonly heard when a vehicle sounding a siren approaches, passes and recedes from an observer. The received frequency is increased (compared to the emitted frequency) during the approach, it is identical at the instant of passing by, and it is decreased during the recession.

2. ... primarily with hunters and trappers to criticize what they feel are irrationally emotional objections to the killing of "adorable" animals, regardless of what the hunters consider are environmental and economic realities.

3. ... referring to situations in which students perform better than other students simply because they are expected to do so.

4. ... which is a psychological phenomenon whereby a highly persuasive message, paired with a discounting cue, causes an individual to be more persuaded by the message (rather than less persuaded) over time. Some messages are often accompanied with a discounting cue (e.g., a message disclaimer, or perhaps the message was delivered by a low-credibility source) that would arouse a recipient’s suspicion of the validity of the message, and ultimately suppress any attitude change that might occur with exposure to the message alone.

5. ... a phenomenon where it becomes difficult to detect local feature changes in an upside down face, despite identical changes being obvious in an upright face.

Answers
doppler, bambi, pygmalion, sleeper, Thatcher

[unpopular opinions] cost many readers


The most important thing is to tell it as it is, even if it costs you big in terms of readership. If the truth runs contrary to popular opinion, that's no reason not to tell it.

Obama

The President-Elect began the day in Philadelphia, the cradle of American democracy, and travelled by train to Washington DC, seat of the nation's super power. In so doing, he followed in the wheel tracks of the man who enabled the first steps that have taken black Americans from slavery to the world's most powerful office.

Bentsen once said to Quayle: "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," and anyone could say to Obama: "You're no Abe Lincoln." In fact, the cynical train journey by the non-president is a travesty, an insult to the American people.

As for the American people themselves, they've been hoodwinked in the same way Britain was with Blair.

Gaza

Stop the rockets and all the rest follows.

Today's agenda

When the American War for Independence came to an end at Yorktown, the British, stunned at their defeat, stacked arms while a band played "The World Turned Upside Down." At the time, the musical selection must have seemed particularly apt. After all, who could have predicted the defeat of the world's foremost naval and military power by the band of rag-tag citizen soldiers fielded by the Colonies?

It's as well to look yet again at the elite's manifesto:

1) Abolition of all ordered governments
2) Abolition of private property
3) Abolition of inheritance
4) Abolition of patriotism
5) Abolition of the family
6) Abolition of religion
7) Creation of a world government

Marriage and the family

Pornography, the gay mafia, feminism and the predictable male backlash, along with the tame reconstructed male, domestic violence which is never explored for its true antecedents, the rise of the unsocialized young male and now female, the dumbing down of education, agendas of destructive organizations like planned parenthood and the detested CSA, the controlled MSM, a new generation which knows nothing of ordered society - all contribute to the destruction of the family unit and marriage as its binding glue.

Active assault on their maker

If the notion of a deity is as much a myth as the socialist, atheistic humanists like to make out, why the need to take out ads on the sides of buses? They've got quite a psychological problem, poor souls. One can only smile the way they trumpet the rationale as supporting "free speech".

Er ... exactly the opposite, actually but still - these people never can see this.

They like to portray themselves as the voice of reason but all they're really doing is taking part in the same suppression that they're purportedly railing against and can't see their hypocrisy for what it is. Why does the existence of their maker send them into such apoplexy?

Lastly

In his keynote address to the Association for Childhood Education International, in April, 1972, Chester M. Pierce, Professor of Education and Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard University, proclaimed:

"Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances toward our founding fathers, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being. It's up to you, teachers, to make all of these sick children well by creating the international child of the future."

Lovely people, aren't they?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

[cold winter] what really happened with the gas


Sometimes you just have to cut and paste, unabridged. this is the best piece yet on what actually happened with Russia and the Ukraine:

On October 2 last year, the Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers signed a memorandum envisaging the two countries' intention to switch to market prices in the business between their gas companies - Gazprom and Nafotgaz - with the Russian side allowed to sell directly to end users in Ukraine.

The follow-up negotiations were in an advanced stage by end-November when Kiev inexplicably began stalling on the repayment of pending debts for gas supplied to it earlier (an amount of US2.4 billion), which was a precondition for a new gas deal for 2009.

The transfer to market prices is important for Russia as it has been heavily subsidizing the supplies for Ukraine at an average cost of $179.5 per 1,000 cubic meters, whereas it buys and delivers from the Central Asian producers at $375 per 1,000 cubic meters. Russia sought a reduction of the subsidies with a gradual increase in gas price to $250 per cubic meters for the 2009 contract, but Ukraine declined and broke off negotiations. (Gazprom also pays a transit fee to Ukraine for getting the gas across to the European market at $1.6 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers.)

With no contract to supply gas for 2009 in place, Moscow cut off the gas supplies to Ukraine on January 1. Ukraine retaliated by refusing to allow the transit of Russian gas to Europe. A related problem is that Ukraine had been illegally siphoning off gas destined for the European market and creating a gas reserve of its own at no cost.

Gazprom sold to Ukraine roughly 55 billion cubic meters (bcm) gas at $179 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2008 as compared to 155 bcm at roughly $480 per 1,000 cubic meters to the European market. That is to say, Gazprom earned in excess of six times as much revenue from European countries for only thrice the volume it sold to Ukraine. Based on 2008 sales, Gazprom lost $12 billion by selling gas at a subsidized price to Ukraine. The company is in the red and has asked for a financial bailout from the Russian government.

[vale] voyage round rumpole


Well, we can't very well let him go unmentioned. This is a good one from Melvyn Bragg:

"Life was encircled around that place in Turville and he was the monarch of that," Lord Bragg said. "We went to pay court to him and, to be honest, you went just to laugh and to hear the latest gossip and the latest book he'd read and 'what do you think of this and what do you think of that?' "There was a whiff of erudition and scandal always around John and it was completely seductive and he'll be badly, badly missed."

You can't replace people like that. He was unique.Tangentially, how certain actors have become their fictional characters. Could you imagine anyone except Leo McKern in the role of Rumpole? How about Joan Hickson as Miss Marple or David Suchet as Poirot, Basil Rathbone as Holmes or Fry and Laurie as Jeeves and Wooster?

Could you add some others?

[size matters] when you're flying


The Age Travel asks a fair question about obesity and flying - should those passengers have to purchase two economy tickets?

It's an issue airlines are having to face as more and more passengers get bigger and bigger - the practical consequences of an obesity epidemic. The options right now? Obese travellers can choose not to fly, fly if they can fit but be uncomfortable, or pay more to get more space.

"Should a customer require extra space on a flight, we will seat them next to an empty seat where possible," says a Qantas spokeswoman. "However, the only way for a customer to guarantee extra space is to either purchase two economy seats or fly business or first."

My first novel recounts the story, at one point, of a Mexican on the Greyhound bus from LA to Vancouver. I'd found a seat but there was no one next to me. Three people got on the bus - an ordinary guy, a slip of a young lady and a heavily obese Mexican. Mine was the last available place beside me and the girl won.

At the next town, damn it if she didn't get off the bus and immediately the Mexican, who'd been hovering near the back of the bus, swooped and I was jammed against the window with his stench in the nostrils for over half that journey. Not only that but he wouldn't sit still.

Nothing against Mexico but that was not a pleasant experience. I'm well aware obese people are very, very sensitive about the matter and hey, who doesn't carry fat? I can assure you that I have a winter layer but there does come a point when the obese person needs to recognize the limitations.

You'll call it cruel to mention this but on that same Greyhound ride further on, a woman tried to get on the bus and it took four of the men to lift her up and cram her onto the front row of the bus, go and buy her takeout and so on. The same happened in reverse at the other end.

The closest I've come to that was a great heavy boat I once had. Called a 505, it was a fast craft new but this one was ten years old and it took six people to haul it up the beach. Naturally, whenever we came back to the club, yachties on the beach would melt away into the foliage or to their cars.

In the end, I had to take drastic measures.

Friday, January 16, 2009

[only for guitarists] musicians' musicians



Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Betts - they had the well-earned reputations but there were others, less sung, who were highly respected. Above is one of them, Roy Buchanan and below - Ry Cooder:



Finally, try Harvey Mandel:



Did I say finally? Well, all right, let it be Dickey Betts then:

[space] how to get the head around its vastness

When did you last sit back and contemplate space?

Thought so.

An interesting post by Bag concerned how one little error b---ered up a whole space journey - how would you feel? You've managed to get that far and then comes the one error. Blip. Gone.

Have you considered just how far that spaceship might have travelled by that stage and how vast space actually is? This was just a set of numbers in the head until a cool comparative scale model came to hand:

First, collect the objects you need. They are:

Sun-any ball, diameter 8.00 inches
Mercury-a pinhead, diameter 0.03 inch
Venus-a peppercorn, diameter 0.08 inch
Earth-a second peppercorn
Mars-a second pinhead
Jupiter-a chestnut or a pecan, diameter 0.90 inch
Saturn-a hazelnut or an acorn, diameter 0.70 inch
Uranus-a peanut or coffeebean, diameter 0.30 inch
Neptune-a second peanut or coffeebean
Pluto- a third pinhead (or smaller, since Pluto is the smallest planet)

Put the Sun ball down, and march 10 paces.
Put down Mercury and march 9 paces further.
Put down Venus and march 7 paces.
Put down Earth and march 14 paces.
Put down Mars and march 95 paces.
Put down Jupiter and march 112 paces.
Put down Saturn and march 249 paces.
Put down Uranus and march 281 paces.
Put down Neptune and march 242 paces.
Put down Pluto and take a rest because the next part is going to tire you out.

You have marched more than half a mile! Now, leaving aside the fact that the orbits aren’t two dimensional, it’s time for the next little jaunt 4000 miles [on our model] to find Proxima Centauri.

Light travels 186,283 miles (or 299,793 kilometers) per second. It could travel, for instance, 7 1/2 times around the Earth in one second.

Moon to Earth 1.28 light-seconds [2.4 inches]
Sun to Earth 8.3 light-minutes [26 yards]
Sun to Jupiter 43.27 light-minutes [132 yards]
Sun to Pluto 5 1/2 light-hours [1019 yards]
Sun to Proxima Centauri 4.22 light-years [4000 miles]

So there we are. Your homework - on this model, how far across is the universe?

H/T Bag

[freedom] twilight's last blogging

These are not my words but they could be:

Imperfect, divided, mutually quarrelsome as often as not; we still see the threats approaching and try, as best we can, to rearm the shrinking world of freedom and the culture it springs from. Even when things look as black as they do today for freedom’s cause, we need to fight and fight again, and plan and persuade and rage and swear and sneer and joke wherever and whenever we can.

Because the bad guys aren’t going to stop. So let’s hear it for Themistocles: the dirty, sneaky, pig-headed father of the West’s survival.

Please read the whole thing at North Northwester.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

[first aid quiz] will your patient die


1. What can a rescuer do to help a victim in shock?

a) Give the victim some water
b) Elevate the victim's feet
c) Cover the victim with a blanket
d) Both b and c

2. What should NEVER be placed on a burn?

a) Aloe
b) Water
c) Cocoa butter
d) Dry sterile dressing

3. How should a bee stinger be removed?

a) Wash it off
b) Scrape it off
c) Pull it out
d) It shouldn't, leave it in

4. Which of these is the most medically trained?

a) EMT
b) Paramedic
c) First responder
d) Firefighter

5. How long before the brain starts to die through lack of oxygen?

a) 15 - 20 minutes
b) 0 seconds
c) 3 - 4 minutes
d) 10 minutes

6. What is the first principal of First Aid treatment?

a) Preserve life of First Aider, casualty and bystanders
b) Make records to prevent litigation problems
c) Prevent casualty from getting worse
d) Promote general health of casualty

7. The contents of workplace First Aid boxes should include

a) Cotton wool and tweezers
b) A face shield and dressings
c) Aspirin tablets
d) Burn creams, calamine lotion and aloe vera

8. Nosebleeds are usually treated by

a) Putting a cold compress on the casualty's neck
b) Blowing the nose
c) Pinching the soft part of the nose and leaning the casualty forward
d) Pinching the soft part of the nose and forcing the head upwards

9. Treat a minor cut on the hand at your workplace by

a) Cleaning and stopping the bleeding
b) Find the First Aid box and your gloves
c) Find the accident book
d) Do nothing until help arrives

10. Treat a scalded hand by

a) Putting butter on the burnt area
b) Cool burnt area with water for at least 10 minutes
c) Put flour on the burnt area
d) Put ice on the burnt area

11. To treat a broken leg

a) Get the person to walk to a chair for treatment
b) Get the person to move the leg to check if broken
c) If possible, keep the person still until the ambulance comes
d) Practice and experiment with splinting techniques while waiting for the ambulance

12. The main reason that the recovery position is used for unconscious casualties is in order to

a) Keep the back straight
b) Prevent the casualty vomiting
c) To make it easier to monitor their condition
d) To keep the airways clear

13. Since November 2005, resuscitation guidelines have recommended compressions and inflations at a ratio of

a) 10:2
b) 30:2
c) 1:5
d) 5:1

14. A bang on the head requires a medical check if

a) The casualty vomits
b) The casualty is disorientated
c) The casualty has blurred vision
d) All of the above

15. To help a choking adult casualty

a) Ask them to cough, then slap on the back x 5, abdominal, thrusts x 5. Repeat as necessary
b) Perform abdominal thrusts immediately, as no time to waste
c) Reassure them and call for help
d) Do not move them until help arrives

16. If you think a person has swallowed 16 tablets

a) Walk them up and down to keep them awake
b) Quickly make them sick
c) Take them by car to hospital
d) Keep them still and call an ambulance


Answers [highlight to see]
1 [d], 2 [c], 3 [b], 4 [b], 5 (c), 6 (a), 7 (b), 8 (c), 9 (a), 10 (b), 11 (c), 12 (d), 13 (b), 14 (d), 15 (a), 16 (d).

Further 1, 2