Archive for August, 2008

Lost knowledge

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Of which British 20th Century figure was its said by an American onlooker that his misfortune was that “He was born a Roman and died an Italian”? It could have been Churchill or possibly Keynes, though I think that Keynes died too early for the full weight of the lash to fall. But the phrase is not in Google and I need it for a piece I am writing. Though, of course, if you have lived this long from the days of the empire, you are in danger, though born Roman, of dying a Romanian. I wouldn’t like to claim Italian levels of civilisation for modern England.

Nature notes

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

I went out for a long, new walk yesterday — after living here for nearly twelve years there was still a path out of town past the football ground that I had never explored and that I only discovered by looking at an Ordnance Survey map. It led up to an unusually deserted stretch of downland, from which it was possible to see right across the valley to the giant hangar at Duxford. More interesting, though, was a buzzard hunting very high over the stubble, wheeling and almost hovering and a kestrel hunting very low and fast across some grass at about waist height.

By this great view, the path led past a wooden bench in very good condition, rather like the ones you find in parks, dedicated to the memory of someone who loved to sit there. This one, though, was two miles from the nearest road. Someone had taken a lot of care and trouble to place it there. There was a metal plaque on it, greatly weathered. The date was indecipherable, but the words above were “Happy Birthday — –, with love from — –” and I recognised the names — in one case most unusual — of two friends of ours whose divorce should come through any day now.

A wonderful tombstone

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

I was emptying my camera card today and came across these two pictures: front and back of a gravestone in Strethall Church (which itself is rather wonderful, dating back to around 900AD). Here is the Major-General’s daughter:

Jane Patience Cameron Adams, MBE

And this is what she put on the back of her tombstone:

And give a stranded jellyfish a push back to the sea

Spectator Review

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

An amusing review in this week’s Spectator, with one quote that’s going straight onto the paperback cover: “as perceptive as Bill Bryson—and, often, just as funny”

I will make a page of reviews tomorrow.

That speech

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I swear I heard Obama say that the essence of America was “Hoping for a better future round the bend”.

Why should anyone else feel good?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Something about the events of the last week have convinced me that Obama will lose horribly this autumn, and that the Clintonites were right in their assumption that America will not elect a black, metropolitan liberal president. I can’t quite put my finger on the evidence that persuaded me that—to put it crudely—racism will decide this election. Mary Dejevsky’s piece in today’s Independent is part of it. But I think the most telling nugget of information was the poll showing that 24% of Americans think their country is “not ready” for a black president. This is more than five times as many as those who say they wouldn’t vote for such a candidate, but in the privacy of the voting booth it means the same thing. There’ll be plenty of occasion to cry “God Damn America” as this goes on.

An infinitely gloomy picture

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Comes via John Naughton: it shows the bloggers’ room at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and half the comments seem to be people saying “Look! We’re just like real journalists!”. The accredited bloggers are penned with their laptops in a windowless room, dependent on television to tell them what’s going on outside, and able to talk only with each other. The joke is that they are just like modern journalists.

The Saunders defence bites back

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
Do we really want a certified nutter running Pakistan? It would appear from today’s FT that the US and Britain are perfectly happy with the prospect. When Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widow, was trying to fight off corruption charges in the High Court here in Britain last year, he visited various doctors of the utmost excellence in New York.

They did what he presumably then wanted, and diagnosed him as suffering from “a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.”

“I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year,” wrote one of them in March 2007. Since then, Mr Zardari has had his wife assassinated endured the assassination of his wife, not something which normally improves your mental health. But the High Commissioner in London, speaking on his behalf, told the FT he is now fit and well. So that’s all right then. Isn’t it.

She’s done the research

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

“The Sandoz acid was the Cadillac of drugs. The Owsley acid was a Mercedes with two flat tyres. It was a bumpy ride…” Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia, from a podcast Q&A session with an audience I found on my disk, possibly placed there by elves from the fifteenth dimension, possibly downloaded months ago from the Internet Archive.

Freud vs God and John Wilkins

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Catching up on feeds this morning, I found John Wilkins making against Christians my point about how idiots believe:

Christians, who have an extensive body of traditional dogma which they like to reassure themselves is true and consistent, like to think also that everybody has something like this. Religions are “rationally reconstructed” as sets of dogma by the Christian tradition (e.g., when doing anthropology by missionary) when in fact there is no dogma at all, just stories, rituals, and ways of life.

But you can—you should—swap in “atheist” for “Christian” in that quote and it would stay just as true. The kind of Christian who has an extensive body of traditional dogma, supposed to be both true and coherent, is rare as well as mistaken. Perhaps I hang out with Anglicans too much, but the people who are sure that their religious system is closed and entirely intellectually satisfactory, in the sense that there are no valid questions that can be asked outside it, and answers inside it to all valid questions, aren’t regarded as ideal Christians by their peers.