Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Some interesting links

1. "The territories along the world’s craziest border include the pièce de résistance of strange geography: the world’s only “counter-counter-enclave”: a patch of India surrounded by Bangladeshi territory, inside an Indian enclave within Bangladesh."

2. Stowaways on planes should all die. But they don't.

3. The paintings of the Australian artist Grace Cossington Smith.

4. "Macnee’s mother took refuge in a circle of friends that included Tallulah Bankhead and the madam Mrs Meyrick, before absconding with a wealthy lesbian, Evelyn. Young Patrick was brought up by the pair and was instructed to call Evelyn “Uncle”. He managed to resist their efforts to dress him as a girl, wearing a kilt as a compromise. His father fled to India, from where he was later expelled for urinating off a balcony on to the heads of the Raj’s elite, gathered below for a race-meeting. Evelyn financed Macnee’s education, at Summer Fields — where he first acted, playing opposite Christopher Lee — and then Eton. His corruption began when he was introduced to whisky by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, who had escaped into the garden with a bottle when brought in to consecrate Evelyn’s private chapel. Macnee was then expelled from Eton for running a pornography and bookmaking empire." That's what people read Telegraph obituaries for.

5. "The descendants of Scandinavian migrants in the US combine the high living standards of the US with the high levels of equality of Scandinavian countries. Median incomes of Scandinavian descendants are 20 per cent higher than average US incomes. It is true that poverty rates in Scandinavian countries are lower than in the US. However, the poverty rate among descendants of Nordic immigrants in the US today is half the average poverty rate of Americans – this has been a consistent finding for decades. In fact, Scandinavian Americans have lower poverty rates than Scandinavian citizens who have not emigrated. This suggests that pre-existing cultural norms are responsible for the low levels of poverty among Scandinavians rather than Nordic welfare states." Make of that what you will.

6. "Readers can, of course, draw their own conclusions." Here is a chance to see the awesome sight of the Daily Mail's weapons being trained on a target, and to see an "anonymous EU official" being cited positively.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Things that struck me

1. Local councils in the UK know how to buy Turkish bath services and machine guns.

2. "Should You Be Eating LSD for Breakfast?" Maybe.

3. "We have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem—or, what is much the same thing, of seriously understating the uncertainties associated with the climate problem—in its effort to promote the cause. It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis for society’s respect for scientific endeavour." That's Matt Ridley quoting an Australian climate scientist.

4. You've probably come across the question: would you rather be a rich person in the past or a slightly less rich person now (what with all the brilliant things we have nowadays like selfies, Oyster cards and those blue bicycle superhighways)? Someone has pointed out that old people were alive in the past and they seem to like the old stuff, so maybe this new stuff isn't so great after all. (This is how science progresses.) All of which is leading up to this question: "Which would you prefer: (a) a doubling of your income right now, or (b) a world with driverless cars, internet chips implanted in your brain, and vacation flights to the moon? For a lot of people, this would not be an obvious choice at all." I wonder about that. It seems like an easy one to me.

5. Here's James Fenton on pleasant enough meandering form, but I don't recommend it for that. However, he ends with this. "My own feeling about the Rothschilds is that they score highest when you can tell that they see the point of being Rothschilds. They see the point, in a way that, let’s say, the Windsors don’t always see the point of being Windsors, or the Marlboroughs Marlboroughs." There's something to that, isn't there? 

6. "There are genuine bloodstains on the [Turin Shroud] and we even know the blood group (AB, if you're interested)."

7. "Foreigners, even those who teach Japanese literature at a university, cannot read novels written in Japanese with any ease." And does this sound like Japanese in translation to you: "That is my only conclusion. I have no advice to give, no remedies to suggest, because I do not believe there is anything anyone can do about it. I am simply lamenting the sad fact of it all"? More on translating Japanese here.

8. Here is "On Cooling the Mark Out". 'Cooling the mark out' means calming down someone who has been conned so that they don't make too much of a fuss about it, seeking revenge or police involvement for example, so "The mark is given instruction in the philosophy of taking a loss." Now, there are a lot of marks out there who need cooling. The article ends as follows: "perhaps the most important movement of those who fail is one we never see. Where roles are ranked and somewhat related, persons who have been rejected from the one above may be difficult to distinguish from persons who have risen from the one below. For example, in America, upper‑class women who fail to make a marriage in their own circle may follow the recognized route of marrying an upper‑middle class professional. Successful lower‑middle class women may arrive at the same station in life, coming from the other direction. Similarly, among those who mingle with one another as colleagues in the profession of dentistry, it is possible to find some who have failed to become physicians and others who ‑have succeeded at not becoming pharmacists or optometrists. No doubt there are few positions in life that do not throw together some persons who are there by virtue of failure and other persons who are there by virtue of success. In this sense, the dead are sorted but not segregated, and continue to walk among the living."

9. Finally, a bit of law. The judgment starts: "This is by any standards a bizarre case." The judgment could be part of a Julian Barnes story. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

English History

I have just started reading The English and Their History by Robert Tombs. I earlier lauded That Sweet Enemy (which is by both the Tombses) and this one looks to be just as good.

Tombs has an eye for the telling and interesting detail. In a few pages, I have learned that in the dying days of the Roman Empire, the Romans stationed "more troops in Britain than any medieval English monarch would ever command" (at the outermost edges of Empire!), that Offa's Dyke is the longest and, from an engineering point of view, most demanding earthwork known to European history, that, "In more than 1,000 years of European history between the emperor Marcus Aurelius and Alfonso the Wise of Spain, Alfred [the Great] is the only European ruler we see reflecting personally on the moral duties of kingship" and a fair bit about the difference between English and Danish hairstyles at the time of the Danelaw. So far, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Good clean fun

These are a couple of things I saw, unless you are terribly po-faced, count as innocent fun.

First, Toby Young has a plan to get Jeremy Corbyn elected as Labour leader. It seems that for just £3 you can vote in the Labour leadership election, and for people of a certain cast of mind, that is not the least fun you can have for £3. But do note that Jeremy Corbyn is the man who divorced his wife (partly) because she wouldn't send their son to a comprehensive school and supports the extinction of the human race, so he's a man of principle. I'm sure he'll find a way of invalidating Toby's vote for him.

Second, Zionist single shoe-stealers! "Asghar Bukhari, the founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACK UK) unwittingly sent Twitter into a meltdown, after he posted a public rant in which he appeared to claim that Zionists attempted to intimidate and threaten him by breaking into his home and ... stealing one of his shoes. ... He didn't stop there. In fact, he posted a dramatic image capturing the emotional impact of the heinous crime that took place while he slept, sharing an image of a bare foot and a solitary, bereft shoe." I am a non-user of Twitter and it seems to me that making fun of people like this is what it is for. This is not quite up there with the Cameron on the phone thing, but it's not far behind. Here's Mr Bukhari on the BBC on non-shoe related matters: in fact, he turns up on the BBC a fair bit.

As a bonus, this one has no downside to it: if you want to escape from a zoo successfully, be a flamingo.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Is creativity research elitist?

This is a piece by a chap called Keith Sawyer who says that creativity research is elitist. It's a pretty confused piece (it's short - you can read it first) but there is are some nuggets in there.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The people who put the 'fog' into 'infographic'

Here's a sample of what to expect when you click here (not Buzzfeed, strangely, but Vox):

As the commentator says "There is so much to appreciate about this map I hardly know where to begin."

As a bonus:

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The unsung hero who single-handed brought justice to Tower Hamlets

It's a bold headline and not strictly true, but bear with me.

You will have seen that 4 people took a case to an election court claiming that Lutfur Rahman, the (apparent) mayor of Tower Hamlets was corrupt. They won. Here is the BBC's mostly harmless summary of the decision. (I say mostly harmless: you have to wonder why they were quoting Ken Livingston at the end attacking the Court's decision.)

The judgment is here. It is long but (once you skip past the technical legal bits) full of interest. There is the councillor who voted twice, the cleric who lied on oath, the voters who signed identical witness statements and lied and so on. Look out for Mr Choudhury too:

"Mr Choudhury was a very unsatisfactory witness. He was arrogant, indeed cocky, and did not hesitate to tell bare-faced lies in the smug assurance that the mere lawyers listening him would not have the wit to see through them. He also came over as an immature man who possessed, and did not shrink from expressing, outrageous views. ... In describing Mr Choudhury as Mr Rahman's right-hand man, perhaps the slang term 'hatchet-man' would be more appropriate. The modus operandi of the two men would be that Mr Rahman would retain a statesmanlike posture, making sure that he always said the right thing – particularly in castigating electoral malpractice – while what might be called 'the dirty work' was done by Mr Choudhury. This was especially apparent in the campaign against Mr Biggs which will be discussed below, in which, on the surface at least, Mr Choudhury would be responsible for the attempted character-assassination of Mr Biggs while Mr Rahman claimed to have had no input into – indeed, on occasion, not even to have read – the press releases put out in his name."

As judgments go, it's not a bad read.

Now, I have nothing for respect for the four petitioners who brought the case. As the judge (strictly speaking, the election commissioner) said:

"To bring an election petition as a private citizen requires enormous courage. If things go wrong and the petition is dismissed, the Petitioners face a potentially devastating bill of costs which, unless they are very fortunate, may well bankrupt them. ...

If the bringing of an election requires courage in ordinary circumstances, bringing a petition to try to unseat Mr Rahman required courage of a very much higher order. The Petitioners knew that Mr Rahman would deploy all his resources to defeat them and could rely on the Bangladeshi media to back him all the way. The Petitioners would be portrayed as racists and Islamophobes, attempting to set aside the election (by a large majority) of a Mayor whose government of the Borough had been inspirational, for no better reason than the fact that he was a Bangladeshi. And so it proved. The Petitioners have been duly vilified - but they have hung in there. ... And they have been vindicated."

But the man the headline is about is Francis Hoar, the petitioners' barrister. This was a huge case. And he did it, in effect, on his own. This is what the judge said about him:

"For Mr Hoar, this has been a complete tour de force. He accepted the case on the basis of direct access. That is to say that his four clients, members of the public, could not afford to instruct and therefore did not instruct solicitors. Mr Hoar, with such assistance as his lay clients could give him, has thus single-handedly conducted the entirety of the case: pleadings, witness statements, disclosure, directions, the Scrutiny, preparation of the trial and conduct of the trial. Though he occasionally allowed his enthusiasm to get the better of his judgment, he has carried the entire case on his back and has brought it to a successful conclusion. By any standards this was a considerable feat and worthy of the admiration of the court." Of one of Hoar's opponents, the judge said: "There were times when he obviously found Mr Hoar to be 'unplayable', and he was not alone."

Direct access work is not subject to the 'cab rank' rule. That is to say, Hoar did not have to take the case - he chose to. He would have known when he took it on that it would be a massive job and that his clients did not have much money, and yet he took it on and saw it through to the end. He has done a great public service and I think he deserves appropriate recognition for the job he has done.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Videos and Belgians

First, the videos.

This is a sort of animated infographic illustrating the numbers of people who died in the Second World War. It's well worth watching.

This is a video which you do not need to watch, but you might want to know exists. Here's the description: "Kinder Surprise Eggs are extremely popular around the world, but illegal to sell in the US due to small toy parts which the FDA says could be a choking hazard. ... We got a case and unwrapped each one to see what fun surprises were inside!" Seriously. A video of the toys from Kinder Eggs being revealed, to provide an illicit (but frankly very minor) thrill.

And then this: "This woman took a photo of herself every single day for a week, and the results will blow you away!"That's ClickHole's "moving testament to life’s impermanence".

So what about the Belgians? Well, the Low Countries seem to have got the most fun out of the Euro. I brought you the chap in the Netherlands who built the imaginary bridges on the notes, and here is Belgium's contribution to the party.

"Belgium on Monday began minting €2.50 coins marking the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's defeat of at the Battle of Waterloo, after France forced it to scrap a two-euro coin made for the same purpose.

Paris objected to the new Belgian coin, commemorating the French emperor's defeat by British and Prussian forces, earlier this year, saying it would create tensions at a time when Europe's unity is under threat.

Belgium was forced to get scrap about 180,000 two-euro coins that had already been minted after Paris sent a letter saying they could cause an "unfavourable reaction in France".

But Belgium has managed to skirt the French protests using a rule that allows eurozone countries to unilaterally issue coins if they are in an irregular denomination - in this case, €2.50.

The bit that puzzled me was this: "Sold in special plastic bags priced at six euros... " How many coins in one of those bags? Is it great value for 3 or pretty poor for 2? Or are the bags €6 each and the coins extra? 

Monday, 8 June 2015

The loos in Winchester: "I remember Chios, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Smyrna, Argos, because of their joint hexametrical rhythm"

The New York Review of Books has seen fit to indulge a couple of eminent ex-pat Wykehamists in reminiscences of their school days. If you want a comparison between the word "mofo" and Winchester slang then it seems that the highbrow American press is the place for you.

The loos were, of course, named after the rival birthplaces of Homer. I'm afraid there are no points for guessing the missing one that Prof Strawson had to look up (although do give it a go) - but I can tell you that it's not Springfield.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

More Zadie Smith

I have new Zadie Smith to report: it's this piece in the New Yorker. It is, as will become clear should you read it, an account of Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando fleeing New York in a rented Toyota Camry on the day of 9/11. Apparently there is "some textual support" for this being a real story and it is at least an urban myth. It is not one of Smith's best efforts, I'm afraid.