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30 November 2003

Blogkeeping

I have some interesting things added. I scanned in a little piece of amateur artwork I did in a drawing class. I have added a second solution on my Bloggers Parliament page. I did not get any new book reviews done this weekend, although I still have tonight, so I yet may. I have a big backlog of books. I also scanned in a lot of photos, many of which are destined for the web, via Deborama's Personal Pages, so look for those in the future.

More on "Amazing Grace"

Snopes.com, the great debunker of urban myths, has more amazing facts about the life of John Newton.

Claim: Having survived a horrific storm, a slave trader promptly gave up his livelihood, became a Christian, and penned the hymn 'Amazing Grace' in thanksgiving.
Status: False.
Origins: A number of legends circulate about why John Newton, a slavetrader-turned-minister, penned the hymn 'Amazing Grace.' Most attempt to explain the seemingly inexplicable: How could one who made his living trading in the misery of others have put into words such a powerful message of personal salvation?
. . .
Newton began to express regrets about his part in the slave trade only in 1780, thirty-two years after his conversion, and eight years after he wrote 'Amazing Grace.' In 1785 he began to fight against slavery by speaking out against it, and he continued to do so until his death in 1807.
. . .
Newton did eventually grow into his conversion, so that by the end of his days he actually was the godly man one would expect to have penned 'Amazing Grace.' But it was a slow process effected over the passage of decades, not something that happened with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. In Newton's case, the "amazing grace" he wrote of might well have referred to God's unending patience with him.


I like the true story so much better than the myth. What people who have not experienced conversion, but have seen it on TV or at the movies, do not understand is what a slow-moving, organic, messy process transformation can be. You go down false paths, you think you are "there" long before you are, and yet all the while, there is in fact a moment or two you identify as "the conversion"; nevertheless, the conversion is but the start of "the conversion process", a life-long endeavour.

Number 45 on the top

This morning, I was singing some of my favourite hymns and spirituals softly to myself (as you do) in order to lift my spirits from some non-specific malaise. And I had this insight brought on from singing "Amazing Grace": the difficulty with the correct use of "less" and "fewer" dates back to the early 19th century at least. That's because I just noticed for the first time, after knowing this hymn for over 20 years, that there is this line "We've no less days to sing God's praise". Now, if you're going to tell me, no, you mean the late 18th century, I must correct you there. You see, I always do my research, even for the simple things like this (some would say simple-minded, but just shut up.) It appears that, although John Newton wrote the words in approximately 1779, the last verse, in which the stanza quoted appears, was added by an unknown author, and first appears in 1829 in the Baptist Songster, by R. Winchell (Wethersfield, Connecticut), as the last stanza of the song “Jerusalem My Happy Home.” So there.
This website has the full story of John Newton and Amazing Grace. The story is quite different from what I have heard in a sermon, and yet in some ways, better. I only knew that Newton had been a slave ship captain, had a conversion that changed his life, and wrote Amazing Grace. I did not realize that he continued in the slave trade for some years after his conversion, nor that it was decades between the experience it tells of and the writing of the song. But then I also did not know of the brutality of his early life, that he was a self-taught clergyman, an admirer of John Wesley, and a hugely popular preacher who strongly influenced the famous abolitionist William Wilberforce. The title of this post refers to "Amazing Grace's" designation in the Sacred Harp tradition.

Guantanamo Britons to be sent home

There is thorough coverage in the Observer of this story, which I heard on the news on TV this morning and also read in The Agonist and several other blogs. Very good news.

29 November 2003

Hardline victors reject Good Friday agreement

Ian Paisley's DUP was victorious in the latest round of elections in Northern Ireland. What does this mean for the future of devolved government in Northern Ireland? Well, the results were: DUP - 28 (seats); UUP - 25; Sinn Fein - 24; SDLP - 18.
The DUP wants a full renegotiation of the 1998 peace accord, claiming the election proves it has now been rejected.
On Thursday, Mr Paisley grabbed a reporter by the lapels and shouted: "No, I'm not talking to Sinn Féin and the party's not talking to Sinn Féin."
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, said in a direct appeal to Mr Paisley: "I am not a Christian clergyman. I am not the leader of a church but I do not know of any Christian philosophy which is not about dialogue."

28 November 2003

Sad Green Beret story "fixed" below

If you tried to view the link in "Forgetful Green Beret ..." (below) and were frustrated by an "archive wall" at the LA Times news site, I have fixed the linkrot by linking to a different site. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to your journey, as they say on the trains. (Every bloody day!)

Why it is so hard for Americans to remain in the middle class . . .




And almost impossible if they have any children. This excellent and fact-rich cover story from the City Pages weekly newspaper tells some hard truths about what is happening in the US economy and how the major culprit is - surprise! - private health care.

If you live in the US . . .

here is where you should buy books of a political nature. This is one of many sites selling through booksense, which means that the books are shipped by a local independent bookstore, aiding in the fight against the hegemony of the huge chains (including unfortunately Amazon, with which I am affiliated.) Of course, if you live in the UK, you should buy them from my website links to Amazon.co.uk. (I fear it's already too late for the UK on the independent bookstore front.)

RFK, Jr. on America's slide into fascism

This time the use of fascism is not empty rhetoric, but a real and historically-based analysis of the forces of corporate control of the government. This post in Notes from Atlanta links to the Salon.com interview with RFK, Jr. There is heavy quoting but it is all right on target.

Powell says UK detainees have not been interrogated

There was outrage from human rights groups and lawyers for the British detainees at Guantanamo when US Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to explain the long delays in "processing" prisoners at Camp Delta. It sounds like the hoped-for swift resolution is not going to happen. He also alludes cryptically to "complex legal issues" around the two detainees who have been "processed" and are due to be tried.

27 November 2003

Germaine Greer on her sex-obsessed school days

An extract from Germaine Greer's new book, Convent Girls. I adore Greer's writing. This goes a long way to explaining where she is coming from in her fiercely independent feminism.

Well, that was . . . predictable

Rasta poet Benjamin Zephaniah publicly rejects his OBE says the Guardian, even though they also carried his exclusive public written rejection notice.
In fact, Zephaniah had served notice of his feelings at least three years ago with this excerpt from his poem Bought and Sold:

Smart big awards and prize money
Is killing off black poetry
It's not censors or dictators that are cutting up our art.
The lure of meeting royalty
And touching high society
Is damping creativity and eating at our heart.

The ancestors would turn in graves
Those poor black folk that once were slaves would wonder
How our souls were sold
And check our strategies,
The empire strikes back and waves
Tamed warriors bow on parades
When they have done what they've been told
They get their OBEs.
(Taken from Too Black, Too Strong. Published by Bloodaxe Books (2001))

26 November 2003

The moral myth

George Monbiot says: just because you can make a moral argument for a war does not mean that you have a moral reason for the war. In fact, he argues, superpowers do not go to war for moral reasons, but for strategic ones, even if they do append a moral justification on to what they need to do.
"It (the US) armed and funded Saddam when it needed to; it knocked him down when it needed to. In neither case did it act because it cared about the people of his country. It acted because it cared about its own interests."

Blogwatching

If you are interested in books, you might want to check here periodically. You may like the margin features, including "These look interesting" where I provide Amazon links to books I have heard about and definitely mean to check out as soon as possible. (If you want to help me out, you can buy any of them at Amazon.co.uk as a gift for me; I will always remove them from there and post a book review as soon as I have read them.) I mention this as I am just about to go to Blogger and add this new book to the list: The Girl Who Played Go, by Shan Sa, translated by Adriana Hunter.
There is also on the same page a blogroll of writers, book reviewers and librarians.

Blindingly obvious or amazingly subtle?

Philosoraptor has a good post about the gay marriage controversy which is invading the presidential race in the US. This is inspired by a conservative who argues in defence of gay marriages, but, in Winston Smith's opinion, for the wrong reasons. Here is the bit that, when I read it, struck me as something we have all always known and yet never expressed so well (hence the title of this post):
"In fact, it seems to me that the best way to increase our respect for marriage is to make it clear that it isn't for everyone, and that it should be entered into only after careful consideration. The best way to destroy the institution is to misrepresent it as the only morally permissible venue for love and sex. If you want to decrease the divorce rate, be honest with people about the nature of marriage, and be honest with them about the alternatives."

24 November 2003

Latest pictures of Aimee and Savannah



Click on the pic to see another one (then use the "back" button on your browser.)

23 November 2003

Forgetful Green Beret Misdiagnosed as Derelict

This is the most tragic story I have read in ages - the story of a Green Beret who was an exemplary soldier, who contracted CJD, and was demoted, shamed and disgraced, sent home from Kuwait and scheduled for court martial, before his parents' intervention led to a proper diagnosis.
Update:
This post suffered from instant linkrot* and so I have a new link to the same story.
*Linkrot is the term for links that "break" over time; in the case of news stories this is usually due to news sites that stash stories behind an archive wall that requires at least registration and sometimes payment before they can be viewed. The site used in this story, LA Times, archives daily. Good sites like the Guardian require no registration for any archived story. Not so good sites like the NY Times require registration but at least it's simple and lasts forever if you use cookies. Really bad sites like the Wall Street Journal charge for everything.

22 November 2003

A war that can never be won

The Guardian's Jonathan Steele has an essay about the escalation of the terror campaign. It makes the brilliantly obvious point (but unfortunately not obvious to Bush and Blair) that "war on terror" only works as a metaphor. We can no more "defeat terror" than we can defeat crime or poverty or death itself. This is because terror is not an enemy ideology, nor an enemy nation; it is simply a technique that can be used by any ideology and those beyond the reach of nations. When the evidence is so overwhelming that making war in Iraq or Afghanistan is not only not defeating terror, it is not even weakening it, one would think that they would get the message, but it is hard to reason with a man in the grip of eschatological oratory.

The Walmart Dilemma

How to Save the World has an excellent article that explains everything you need to know about globalisation and free trade and macro-economics using superlative visual aids and the real-life case of Walmart as a model. This is highly recommended, even if you think you don't like or understand economics.

More Rugby World Cup stories

Isn't it amazing how fast they can get things on the internet these days?
Guardian : Wilkinson takes England to glory
Sport.telegraph: England win World Cup in Sydney thriller
Ananova: Jonny Wilkinson clockwatch
Sport.scotsman.com : Carling hails Woodward's wonders

RWC 2003 - England WINS!

I have just finished watching the Rugby World Cup final. It was the most exciting sports event I have ever seen and am ever likely to see in my life. England is the first northern hemisphere nation to ever win the Rugby World Cup, so this was already a game of historic importance, and their opponent in the final was arch-rival and twice World Cup winner Australia. But what an incredible game! The score was level 14-14 and went into extra time, which is two 10 minute halves. Each side scored 3 points on a penalty kick and at almost 100 minutes it was still tied. In the very last seconds of extra time, fly-half Jonny Wilkinson kicked a drop goal to win.

20 November 2003

Transcript: the Bush-Blair press conference

As published at Guardian Unlimited Politics. No, there is no joking going on here. Just make of it what you will. I will say only this: notice how old Tone squirmed out of the Guantanamo question.

19 November 2003

Blogkeeping

In Deborama's Fund of Knowledge, I have added a new category : Laws, Constitutions and Cases, where you can find such things as the Constitution of India and a database of all the US Supreme Court case opinions.

Jessica Lynch's case as a tool against equal opportunity in the military

From a blog called Intel Dump authored by a self-described "former Army officer, journalist and UCLA law student" comes one of the best analyses of the wrongness of trying to use the case of Jessica Lynch to roll back "Clinton era" reforms allowing women a wider role in military operations (and thus better career opportunities). I got to this link from Diotima.

Slugger O'Toole Archive: Northern Ireland bores the UK rigid

You must read this excellent post in Slugger O'Toole about the reaction of the British to an all-NI edition of Question Time. "Most seemed thoroughly bemused at a spectacle that most people in NI have simply become so inured to that it just seems like natural politics."
This is sparking a Blogger's Parliament solution idea. Check there in the next day or so for my fully-hatched solution.

18 November 2003

Ban on gay marriage ruled unconstitutional!

Big, big news from Massachusetts.

The Military Draft: A Call to Decisiveness

Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof Communities was a conscientious objector during Vietnam. However, he welcomes the rumours of an impending return to the draft in the US, providing it has a provision for conscientious objection. He believes it is good for young men to have to choose.
I don't agree with this position; I was an anti-draft activist both during and after Vietnam. A big conundrum about the draft is the fact that it is for men only, always a terrible injustice and a huge anachronism in today's world. Given the Bruderhof's old-fashioned take on sexual relationships, I doubt very seriously if Brother Johann would advocate the draft for women too.
Still, I am very glad to see this out in the open, and I think it needs to be picked up in the Blogosphere and given a good debate. And thanks to my good friend Lance for the link.

Get mad - and get even

I only wish. Gary Younge in the Guardian (sorry for blogging so many Guardian comments today, but it's a big day for them, what with Bush visiting and all) says that protesting against Bush, while necessary, is not efficacious for Brits. It is up to the opposition in the US to get Bush out of office, and it is up to the opposition in the UK (what opposition?) to do the same for Blair. Of course, in the US, most of the people opposing the war never voted for Bush, whereas most of the people opposing the war here did vote for Blair. It's a funny old world just now.

Brilliant as ever - Zoe Williams

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams explains who puts the demo in democracy. This sort of continues the theme from the last post, from another vantage point. She concentrates on the ways that "democratic" authorities use clever tricks to control the outcomes of popular movements.
"The real intention behind this endlessly name-checked democracy/protest dyad is to tap the conviction of the protesters for some kind of warped endorsement of the very system they are protesting against. If protest is part of democracy, and democracy has given us this government, then hey, guys, we're really all on the same side."
Very incisive piece; go read it.

George Monbiot: Rattling the bars

Covering the European Social Forum 2003, Monbiot says the young don't reject politics, just politicians. And points his irony at the media, who cover in exhaustive detail a meeting of a few hundred mostly old conservatives in their annual conference, but have barely one small notice per paper of a meeting of 51,000 mostly young people in Paris. (Of course we know why that is - the 51,000 non-elected activists have less than a tenth of the power of the several hundred office-holders and party hacks. Unpleasant, yes, un-democratic, maybe, but the way it "works").

17 November 2003

Helicopter crash update

The death toll on the crash of two helicopters near Mosul is in fact 17, not 12 as in the early reports cited below.

Blogrolling all better now

I have no idea what happened. When I went to my Blogroll maintenance page, the whole blogroll was filled with 150 or so entries of one site, this being one I had never heard of. Half an hour later it was back to normal. Oh, well.

Blogkeeping - the minor disaster

I think I have been hacked. I have been amazingly lucky for the 10 years I have been very actively "on" the internet - no hackers, viruses, remarkably little spam. But now my blogroll seems to have 150 occurrences of one (probably pornographic) site and nothing else. So I have taken steps. And in the interim, there is no blogroll.
BUT on the bright side, there is a beginning, feeble though it may be, to my activities in the Bloggers Parliament (see sidebar to the left.) Also, I did get a few new book reviews up, so see that blog as well.

I am thinking of adding yet another blog - a food-related one, very rich in recipes and food politics. If anyone would read such a thing, let me know (when the comments come back - we are having those technical problems, too.)

Update: it may not be hacking but just a weird temporary glitch at Blogrolling's site. My other two blogs that have a real Blogroll (as opposed to a hand-built one - safer, but a lot more work) are showing blank lists for the Blogrolls. Hmmm. I love a puzzle, but right now I am not in the mood.

16 November 2003

If I could talk to the animals

This story in How to Save the World about experiments and experiences with talking animals just blew me away. The story of the grey parrot is about - I kid you not - a parrot that appears to be teaching himself to read. But Dave's point is - why aren't we trying to learn their languages?

Childhood betrayed

Mary Riddell in the Observer covers the disgraceful story of Patricia Hodge, Minister for Children (but not for much longer.) Riddell shows that the disaster of the Children's Ministry is about what can be expected, given the status of children's rights and welfare in the current political consciousness.
"The Children's Minister, a woman properly described as able, seems sometimes to be treated almost like a child herself. That is not only down to her cloddish self-preservation tactics, but to the status the Government confers on young people. Like Alice in Wonderland swallowing currant cakes and cordial, children grow large and small alternately."

'Shoot-to-kill' demand by US turned down by Home Secretary

This story in The Observer about all the bizarre "requests" from President Bush's security team is just mind-boggling. I am speechless. Just read it.

15 November 2003

The Subtlety of British Humour

Latest disasters from Iraq

A crash of two U.S. helicopters killed 12, in the latest of the now almost daily incidents of RPG fire at coalition aircraft. Also in the same story, the bodies of the 16 Italian military and 2 civilians killed in Iraq were met in Rome today "by grieving families and military honours." In the US, all they have is the grieving families. And if you come home alive but mutilated, you are hidden from the media and have your disability pay pared to the bone. (Mustn't complain; don't you know there's a war on terrorism?)

Deborama's Periodic Spasm of Geekiness

The Official String Theory Web Site
Satellite Tracker Web Site

14 November 2003

Blogkeeping

Another burst of template-dressing has taken place. I now have some worthy causes you can support if you wish (to which have just been added three tonight). I have added some more blogs to the blogroll annex as well as the blogroll, and moved out a few to make room (it's still too big for my liking but as soon as I take one away it might get interesting!) I have added a new "News Aggregator" (Buzzle) on the Fund of Knowledge page, and a quirky link (the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition) to the Personal Page.
I have a huge backlog of book reviews to do, which I hope to get to this weekend, so watch this space.

Bush (and his little dog To-To) devise a last-minute exit strategy

A wicked, wicked Steve Bell cartoon. (Aren't they all?)

European Social Forum 2003

Guardian Unlimited Politics has a special report on the European Social Forum, a huge gathering of international anti-globalisation and social justice activists in and around Paris. This consists of a journal from Matthew Tempest, who is covering the forum for the Guardian - very entertaining read.

13 November 2003

Treetop Protest at Tasmanian Logging

From the Guardian, via Buzzle, the story of the world's highest tree-house, built in the name of protection of old-growth forests in Tasmania. The protest is a joint project of Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society.
The project organisers have a blog-like site with updated campaign news with pictures.

12 November 2003

Libby Brooks Talks to John Simpson

John Simpson, veteran BBC reporter, talks about his anger about the 16 journalists killed in the Iraq War, and the case of survivor guilt that hit him after the death of Kurdish interpreter Kamaran Abdurrazaq Mohammed.

11 November 2003

I missed it!



But here's a nice picture of it anyway. (Click on small image above to go to original full-size image at www.abmedia.com).

Baghdad Blogger on BBC

I saw Salam Pax on TV last night. And his mother, and all his family and Raed and the house he designed (he says he is a "really bad architect") and the place where he "stocked up on liquor for Ramadan". Although he didn't look like I imagined him (no one ever does; I have learned that in 10 years on the internet) he did look, act and talk like someone you could be friends with, just a regular guy, y'know?

Crisis in British dairy industry

BBC NEWS reports on the really serious crisis in the dairy industry in Britain. Even large dairy farms are struggling, as evidenced by the decision of the Co-operative Groups "Farmcare" dairy farms to cease operations in the spring of next year. Many dairy farmers are operating at a continual loss, and selling the cows won't even save them from bankruptcy as the whole sector contracts and imported milk is cheaper than British milk in most areas.

Three excellent pieces from the Guardian daily comment

Giles Fraser: The evangelicals who like to giftwrap Islamophobia. Roy Hattersley doesn't give a toss really what Prince C did or didn't do and with whom; the monarchy should be abolished despite, not because of, royal behaviour. And finally, Hywel Williams on the irony of all the mis-remembering that happens on Remembrance Day.

09 November 2003

It ain't MY flag, hoss.

A post in the apostropher discussing the fallout from the "unfortunate" comment of Howard Dean's about guys with Confederate flags on their trucks is wonderfully to the point, especially with this:
"Alabama and Mississippi aside, the South is not lost to the Democratic Party or progressive politics in general, but the guys with the Stars and Bars in their trucks are. Permanently. And you don't want them back - they are diametrically opposed to the ideals of the Democratic Party." I say Amen.

Private Jessica says President is misusing her 'heroism'

There are so many different versions of the Jessica Lynch story flying around that it could make your head spin. A balanced synopsis that covers most of the bases is available in this story in the Guardian's Sunday counterpart the Observer. One thing is clear to me, it is not Lynch's fault that the media is ignoring Shoshana Johnson and Lori Piestewa. Piestewa was killed, not captured; she was a friend of Lynch's and Lynch says it was Lori, not herself, who fought off the ambush. Johnson was also captured and was exhibited on TV in a move that was used at the time to show the inhumanity of the Iraqi captors. She got such a measly discharge "package" that she is now living on $500 a month, and no one is offering her book deals or talk show appearances.

08 November 2003

Tory Leader "Michael Hecht"?

A comment column by Nick Cohen from last Sunday's Observer, What's in a name? imparts a bit of the all-but-hidden family history of new Conservative leader Michael Howard nee Hecht, the son of an asylum-seeker. The obfuscatory stance of the Tories on this is contrasted sharply with Arnold Schwarznegger's capitalisation on his self-made immigrant status. A quote:
"If British Tories wanted to emulate the success of the American Right, then Michael Howard would have said last week: 'My father found sanctuary in Britain 60 years ago. He was saved from the gas chambers and welcomed with opened arms. The Kurd who is granted leave to remain must be as precious to us as the Queen . . . The Tory party will soon boast that it is living the British dream. In Michael Howard it will have its first Prime Minister who is the son of an asylum-seeker.'
"If you are holding your breath until Howard acknowledges that his very existence depends on the right to asylum, I must warn you of the dangers of suffocation. It's a fantasy to imagine that a politician might praise refugees and point out that he is a walking advertisement for successful assimilation."
Blogauthor's clarification: British politician, that is. I wonder why?

07 November 2003

"7 Men Smile and Laugh As They Take Control Of Your Uterus"

Eschaton gives the above wonderful caption to a photo of Resident Shrub signing the Partial Birth Abortion Act into law, while yep, six Congressmen look on and chortle.

Iraq is not America's to sell

Naomi Klein's latest incisive column in the Guardian. As she says, just pulling out the troops, even if it meant handing security over to the UN or the Iraqis, holding elections and a restoration of some kind of civil order, would not be enough to undo the damage already done by a wholesale and wholly illegal privatisation.

John O'Farrell on What that Guy left us

From the Guardian Unlimited :What that Guy left us is a comic expose of the ugly truth about the fifth of November. A quote will let my stateside readers have a little glimpse of what I was on about in the Remember, remember ... post below:
" 'The discovery of this fiendish plot of dire combustion shall be celebrated
evermore,' wrote James I, '...by teenagers chucking bangers at the swans in
the park, and the letting off of airbombs outside the old people's home at
two in the morning.' And so, 400 years later, from the beginning of October
to the middle of November, we celebrate the fact that an explosion didn't
happen by letting off 2,000 decibel explosions in the shopping precinct
after closing time and seeing how many fireworks it takes to set a telephone
box alight. It costs a fortune to get those telephone boxes back to normal.
Highly trained BT engineers often have to install brand new boxes before
ripping off the handset, sticking up prostitutes cards and urinating in the
corner."

I promise I won't talk about my dog anymore

No, not me. And we have two dogs, anyway.



Alexander Chancellor has been documenting his relationship with his little puppy, Polly, and his attendant potty-training struggles, etc. Apparently it was all too much for exactly one reader, but that was enough to cause Chancellor to recant. (Also, the fact that he was receiving wildly contradictory advice from his readers on his dog-training methods and often of a very emotional nature had led him to see that it was better to discuss something else.)
Chancellor also writes: "I know from my mail that a few of you will be disappointed by this decision. There are some people, even among Guardian readers, who are not really interested in anything except dogs. Their lives are governed by dogs, and their minds are so clogged up with doggy matters that there is no room in them for anything else."
I think I may be married to one of those . . .

In case you need proof that Deborama is a geek

From the Seattle Times, more about how the Voyager space probe is (maybe) venturing beyond our solar system.

Kids and Maths and a cute joke

From Ellen and Robert Kaplan, founders of "math circles", a charming
anecdote:

"Take the counting numbers, which go on past any number of particles in the
universe, past any span of time you can conceive of," Robert Kaplan says.
"Is there a last counting number? In our math circle, it is a question that
I will ask of our class of six and seven-year olds: 'Is there a last
counting number?' Once a little girl said: 'Yes.' I said: 'Good, what is
it?' She said: '23,000.' 'Ah,' said I. 'Hmm.' A little boy said: 'What about
23,001?' And she said: 'Well, I was close.' "

More about the Math Circles (or Maths Circles in the UK) here.
Books by Robert and Ellen Kaplan : The Art of the Infinite: Our Lost Language of Numbers and The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero.

A view from inside of Pentagon decision-making

This is terribly out of date (well, 6 weeks, anyway) but I am working through my backlog of things to blog and I thought it was just too important to let pass. "Pentagon decision-making flawed", an opinion piece written by a retired US Army Lt. Col., says that as an insider in the DoD/Pentagon, when she came to experience the decision-making processes of the new Bush Pentagon "what I saw was aberrant, pervasive and contrary to good order and discipline." She identifies three "prevailing themes" in the internal culture of the organisation that propelled the world into the Iraq war:Functional isolation of the professional corps, cross-agency cliques, and a predominant "groupthink" mode of communication. Frightening.
Thanks to my best friend Joani for e-mailing this link.

The Uncertainty Principle

From City Pages (Twin Cities weekly serious tabloid) Can Theoretical Physics Save an Iron Range Town? Local Minnesota interest and extremely high geek factor.

06 November 2003

An angry star?

Am I the only person weird enough to see this connection? (Yeah, probably.) One story in the news is about the Voyager One which has just reached the outer edge of the solar system. (Opinions vary as to whether it has actually "crossed" a boundary or not, but in any case it is in the zone.) Another major story concerns the ever-increasing intensity of a phenomenal bout of solar storms. These are surpassing records for intensity every day. As one scientist said: "This is an R-5 extreme event; they dont get much bigger than this."
Well, look, you have an object crossing a boundary of the Sun's own system - something that has not happened before. It's possible that natural space junk of some kind "passes through" the solar system, but after reading this. . .
"One team reported Wednesday that the craft apparently crossed a turbulent boundary near the edge of the solar system, where supersonic "winds" of charged particles from the sun collide with matter from interstellar space. No spacecraft has ever come close to the boundary, known as the termination shock" . . . I sort of think that an object would have to be propelled somehow to get through the boundary. And then at the same time, you have activity on the surface of the sun, that, while admittedly cyclical, is exceeding all previously recorded activity.
So, it makes me think that Sol is angry and throwing a little hissie fit. Of course, it (or should I say he?) probably doesn't know that Voyager is anything to do with Earth and indeed the solar storms shower everything in their path with the same magnetic bombardment; as the sunspots where these originate "turn away" from Earth, we will be spared their effects for a couple of weeks. But it could be back with the rotation of the sun, and scientists don't know how long it will last or how intense it can get.
It's just a thought.

05 November 2003

Remember, remember

I used to think it was cool that my birthday was a holiday in the UK. Then I went to York on a day trip and learned what Guy Fawkes Day is all about. Now, living in the UK, I am in the ridiculous position of looking forward to my birthday (I have always loved birthdays, I don't know why) and yet dreading "Bonfire Night". In fact I dread the whole fortnight starting at about the 29th of October. That's when the neighbours starting playing with fireworks, and "Fraidy-Dog", aka Desmond, starts cowering under the furniture and refusing to go walkies after dark.
Of course, it's really bad on the night. The loud booms are beginning to frighten me now, because they seem to be coming right through the wall about a foot to my right. I never appreciated so much living in places where personal fireworks are illegal until I lived in a place where they're permitted. Just give it a rest, will you?
I am 51 now, by the way. Thanks for the e-card, Joani. Thanks for going out and getting me ice cream, Lewis. And now, if this temporary lull in the noise means that next-door have used up all their exploding toys, I'm off to bed.

04 November 2003

And what do you do?

A great quote from Zoe Williams, one of my favourite Guardian columnists. This is relating to a poll that found that xx% of Britons in the x to x age-group (you don't really care and it's in the link) could not identify various photos of government ministers:

"Before resigning, ministers simply won't say anything about their area of expertise, beyond "I support the government in everything it does". So, this is the only fair way to test our ignorance or otherwise - not "who is minister for X?" but "who used to be?" I'd go one step further, in fact, and say the minute you can remember who's in charge of what, that person is probably for the chop, since they've already transgressed the first and most important rule - dovetail with the government so quietly and faultlessly that no one can remember who you are. Bad news for Geoff Hoon; good news for that bloke who does Northern Ireland."

Acceptable racism

George Monbiot's opinion piece in the Guardian is about a shocking racist incident that occurred just last week in rural England, and is apparently not even considered a crime or racist by most. In fact, the MP for the area where it occurred blamed the whole thing on the victims. What group is it that can be insulted and assaulted with impunity in modern Europe? (Indeed, this group suffers less in the UK than in many other countries.) They are the gypsies, or "travellers" as they are called here, or Roma, as is their offcial designation. Monbiot then turns to the question of why the racism against the Roma is so acceptable, and I have to say his thesis is a bit of a stretch. I think he got it the first time - they are stateless, therefore without rights, and with fearful barriers to organising to better their lives.

Another story about the betrayal of the US military

Tristero reprints this story from the "totally liberal and Commie-run Army Times".

02 November 2003

Gone Native (sort of)

In order to self-medicate with the flu, I am now consuming a Whisky Mac. Except it has about 6 parts ginger wine to 1 part Scotch. But it's not the best Scotch.

Blogkeeping Again

I have been sick with the flu since Friday, so there's not much in the way of real posts. I missed my drawing class Saturday morning and last week's was cancelled. I am hoping to be well enough to go to my yoga class tomorrow night but it's looking doubtful.
I tried to really cut down my Blogrolling list but I see it is still pretty long. Again, some that have "disappeared" are really moved to another page. But I did delete a few, the criteria being that they were silly, not posted to enough and that I hadn't looked at them much. They had to meet all three criteria but then my definition of silly might offend the blog owner. Or maybe not; some people mean to be silly. I am silly myself, occasionally, just not all day, every day.

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