Thursday, May 31, 2012

On Nationalism, A Rebuttal

"A nation is a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbours." - Karl Deutsch (1912-1992), Czech political and social scientist.

On Nationalism

"A nation is a great solidarity created by the sentiment of the sacrifices which have been made and those which one is prepared to make in the future." - Ernest Renan (1823-1892), French writer, philosopher and political theorist.

A Suggestion

Pretty much every week I get advertising fliers and letters from various food companies that promise better prices, better products and of of course the current most favoured buzz word of the ad-man, solutions, solutions, solutions.  Well here is a solution I would actually like.

Next week we have a double bank holiday.  Bank holidays are times when many catering businesses and quite busy, Christmas, New Year, May Day, and of course this bank holiday for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  All of the food companies, who spend so much time and effort trying to persuade the catering industry how wonderful they are, will be closed for the bank holidays.  This means that we have to take our deliveries for fresh food for Monday and Tuesday (and perhaps Wednesday if it is food for breakfast/lunch service) on Saturday, or even Friday if it is one of those 'solution' based companies whose solution is not to work on a weekend.

My solution then is for the food supply industry to be more flexible, get their arses into gear and deliver food when we actually need it.  It isn't just a question of freshness, although I gather some butchers are warning customers not to order fresh chicken products as they would fall outside the 5 day safety margin. It is often a question of refrigerated storage, many catering businesses simply do not have enough cold space to carry goods for a busy 4-5 day period.

I'm going to give Lishman's of Ilkley a plug here.  Lishman's will be open on Tuesday, which is vital to me as I have a large order placed with them, which I could not possibly carry in my cold storage over the weekend. So thanks to David for opening, and thanks to Stuart and the team who will be making hundreds of burgers and sausages for me on Tuesday morning, I appreciate the effort, thank you.


Norman Mailer

"A factoid is a questionable or spurious (unverified, false, or fabricated) statement presented as a fact, but with no veracity. The word can also be used to describe a particularly insignificant or novel fact, in the absence of much relevant context. The word is defined by the Compact Oxford English Dictionary as "an item of unreliable information that is repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact".

Factoid was coined by Norman Mailer in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. Mailer described a factoid as "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper", and created the word by combining the word fact and the ending -oid to mean "similar but not the same". The Washington Times described Mailer's new word as referring to "something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact".

Factoids may give rise to, or arise from, common misconceptions and urban legends." - Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review - South: The Story of Shackleton's 1914-1917 Expedition - Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton 10*

Back when men were men. At the outbreak of WWI Shackleton had outfitted two ships and crews to try a continental crossing of the Antarctic.  He offered to halt the expedition but was ordered to continue by Winston Churchill.  Famously, the crossing never took place.  What did happen was an increasingly desperate fight to survive by the two ship's crews on opposite sides of the polar continent.

The book is largely made up of extracts from Shackleton's own diary and the diaries of some of the other expedition members, worked together into a strongly coherent narrative.  Shackleton charts the problems faced by his (the Weddell Sea) side of the expedition.  His ship, the Endurance, became stuck in sea ice in January 1915 where it drifted slowly across the Weddell Sea until it was crushed and sank in November of the same year. Shackleton's crew camped on the moving ice until April of 1916 when their ice floe broke apart and they were forced into the salvaged ship's boats to make a harrowing five day sea voyage to the dry land of Elephant Island.

Shackleton exhibits huge compassion for the suffering of his men. The rationing, the constant extreme cold and atrocious weather, the poor rations (including periods where the men were doing the backbreaking work of hauling sledges, after the deaths of the dogs, on rations of a single biscuit and a mug of cocoa a day), frostbite, boredom, ennui, scurvy, snow-blindness, exhaustion - the range of problems thrown against the men seems almost insurmountable, and yet, through it all, Shackleton keeps his group together working hard for each other's survival.

Parts of the tale are so epically British that you can't help but feel a swell of pride for a nation that produced men like these.  "The Endurance sank, but we saved the pennant of the Royal Yacht Club." Signs are important of course, and when throwing away almost of of their personal possessions after the sinking, Shackleton knew the importance of keeping just a few items, the pennant, an encyclopaedia, the men's pipes, that would remain as a tiny measure of normality and home comfort in the dark days ahead.

When everything seemed almost lost at the Elephant Island camp, with some of the men finally submitting to the throes of depression, Shackleton and a volunteer crew launched the ship's boat, the James Caird, a vessel slightly larger than a sailing dinghy and sailed 800 miles to South Georgia, arriving there due to the excellent navigational skills of the Endurance's captain Frank Worsely.  This voyage alone, through freezing, storm swept, mountainous souther ocean, would be enough for a heroic survival story, and upon landing on the wrong side of South Georgia the men still have to make a long and dangerous march in order to reach the whaling station and raise help.

The conditions faced by the crew of the Aurora across the continent in the Ross Sea were no less incredible.  The crew here followed in the tracks of Captain Scott, laying food and fuel depots for Shackleton's party to find as they crossed the continent.  The Aurora was ripped from its moorings and drifted, badly damaged, until the crew nursed it to New Zealand.  As Shackleton was organising the rescue for the Elephant Island team, so the Aurora's crew organised a rescue for their comrades on the ice near Ross Island.

South is a tremendous tale of survival against the odds, of what people can do when faced with extremis, when lying down and giving up would have been far easier than struggling on, for day after day, month after month.  It is an inspiring read, uplifting in its own way, and illuminates well how these men were the products of the era they lived in - after being rescued every man fit to serve signed up for military service in WWI.

South is currently available for free download from Amazon.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Using History

"If history is the judge to which we appeal, then it can also find against us. It can highlight our mistakes by reminding us of those who, at other times, faced similar problems but who made different, perhaps better decisions" - Margaret MacMillan, (2009) The Uses And Abuses Of History, London, Profile Books.

"A cockroach in the concrete, courthouse tan and beady eyes
A slouch with fallen arches, purging truths into great lies
A little man with a big eraser, changing history
Procedures that he's programmed to, all he hears and sees
Altering the facts and figures, events and every issue
Make a person disappear, and no one will ever miss you

Rewrites every story, every poem that ever was
Eliminates incompetence, and those who break the laws
Follow the instructions of the New Way's Evil Book of Rules
Replacing rights with wrongs, the files and records in the schools" - Lyrcis to Hook In Mouth by Megadeth, written by Dave Mustaine.
"The word [classical] carries the implication that the works of art and literature produced in Graeco-Roman antiquity possess an absolute value, that they form the standard by which all others are to be judged." - Griffen, J., in Boardman, J., Griffin, J., and Murray, O., (1986) The Oxford History of the Classical World, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day To Day Activities As Cultural Signifiers

"...everyday activities can take on symbolic meanings representing underlying beliefs, distinctions. and hierarchies within a society." - Moira Vincintelli in Reflections on a Kabyle Pot: Algerian Women and the Decorative Tradition, Journal of Design History , Vol. 2, No. 2/3 (1989), pp. 123-138, Article Stable URL:

Photo : A Kabylie oil lamp from the Victoria & Albert Collection.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My wife and I were sitting at a table at her school reunion, and she kept staring at a drunken man swigging his drink as he sat alone at a nearby table.

I asked her, "Do you know him?"

 "Yes", she sighed, "He's my old boyfriend. I understand he took to drinking right after we split up those many years ago, and I hear he hasn't been sober since."

"My God!" I said, "Who would think a person could go on celebrating that long?"

Manchester United Fans Crying

I saw a great one-liner posted on Facebook this week..."Manchester City fans haven't been this happy since they were Chelsea fans."

University Cheats

One of the rules imposed by the Open University, and most likely by all other universities, is that you don't cheat.  Your submitted work must be your own work, not plagiarised, and definitely not copied from the internet. Some berks on my course, AA100, have been caught selling their essays to the cheat site Essayzone UK.

Essayzone is a website that allows people who are only interested in the result, as opposed to the education, to purchase marked essays so that they can then presumably try to pass off a lesser or greater amount of the essay as their own work.

Now, I don't know about you, but if I was going to cheat and purchase such an essay, I would want that essay to be a top scorer, it would have to be a distinction level piece of work - that's 85% and above here at the OU. Two of the essays for sale are scored 74% for the Michael Faraday essay, and 72% for the Gunn/Flatman poetry essay. So for the purposes of cheating, the study book contains 100% of the information you require for this essay of which the submitter has only managed to glean just less than three-quarters of the meaning.  I just don't get it, if you're going to cheat, then at least cheat well.

This incident does seem to have exposed a difference between some people on the course.  On the one hand, and I place myself firmly in this group, there are those who see the educational and mind broadening aspects of the study as being at least equal in importance to gaining the degree.  In camp two are those who are only focused on the actual attaining of the degree and who tend towards such comments as "Why bother to read more books outside the course work, the course material contains all the stuff you need to pass."

Brick universities are at the moment packed with people in that second camp, teenage kids who wanted to go to university but without any clear idea of what they want to study.  I would say that some of these children have been railroaded by the school system and peer pressure into going to university, it has become the done thing to do, a three year party with a qualification thrown in at the end. Am I being unfair ? Some universities are reporting 1st year drop out rates of up to 20%, 21% of students starting in 2009 will not complete their degree (source - The Times 14 May 2012).

I cannot offer any proof for this, but it seems to me that someone who takes their second or third choice university course just to be able to have the 'university experience' may well be someone who doesn't care enough to put in the effort to make all their work their own.  Drop out rates from the very top universities, where students have to be the very best and presumably get onto their first choice courses, are tiny; Oxford, Cambridge and St. Andrews all have drop out rates of under 1.5%.

Cheating just seems so pointless.  I could have bought an essay here and there, and re-worded it a little to get around the plagiarism checks.  But if I had done so I would not have had the pleasure of researching and understanding the life of  Michael Faraday.  I would not have been able to explore a little known corner of British-African history (little known to me that is) that was the massacre at Benin.  My knowledge of many aspects of Christianity including Luther, the Reformation, the Dissolution, Pugin and church architecture would be much less.

I had twin goals when I began this degree.  I want to have the degree itself, that would be nice, I would like to prove to myself that I can work to the required standard to get a BA(hons). My other goal is more nebulous, I want to be able to answer more questions on University Challenge, I want to be able to listen to the guests on In Our Time and not only understand the flow of the argument but to be able to agree with or argue with the points raised in an informed manner, when an interviewee on The Culture Show starts to waffle about poetics versus hermeneutics I want to understand what they mean.

So I'm not going to cheat and buy an essay because I want to be more broadly educated, and anyway, I have consistently scored higher than the berks who have sold their work, so what can they teach me anyway ?

Saturday, May 12, 2012


"Some scholars are doubtful of the usefulness of distinguishing between subjective and objective, arguing that even apparently objective observations are dependant on the judgement of the observer who makes them, or on the accuracy of their observations, and that objective facts which are independent of someone observing them cannot exist" - Phil Perkins in Hughes, J. and Perkins, P., Approaches A151 Book 1, The Open University, 2012.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Cock Of The Week = Ferrari

Not the Italian car maker, but the reckless and foolish Italian rider for Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela who caused a crash in the final few metres of stage 3 of the Giro D'Italia this week.

As the front of the peloton began the sprint for the finishing line, Ferrari inexplicably decided to suddenly switch his racing line and veered to the right, straight into the front wheel of Mark Cavendish which sent the British rider sprawling across the road and brought down at least half a dozen other riders including the pink jersey Taylor Phinney.  Although Cavendish managed to get up and carry his bike over the line, Phinney remained on the road for some time receiving medical attention, but has since said that he will not be withdrawing.

Cock of the Week - Roberto Ferrari

Both of the long stage finishing stages in Denmark have been marred by crashes in the closing stages with fairly tight turns in to the finishing sprint, but whereas the crash on stage 2 involving Theo Bos and Alexander Kristoff was purely an accident, the crash on stage 3 was caused entirely by Ferrari's stupidity.

Giro D'Italia Stage 2 finish - In Italian.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Album Review : Birdcloud - Birdcloud 8*

Birdcloud are two sweet looking girls, Jasmin and Mackenzie, who play guitar and mandolin and sing in a country/bluegrass style.  They are also an absolute disgrace, and hilarious.

You might not pick up from the song titles that Birdcloud's self titled debut is a fairly scathing, and bitingly funny, satire on redneck life.  As soon as the girls start singing though I defy you not to laugh, if you can manage it between the gasps of shock.

There are seven songs on the album, and most are fairly short making it more of an EP length in playing time.  The girls sing and play well, in just the sort of strings and voices style that I love in folk music.  In terms of their lyrics though, it's like listening to The Pierces suddenly being possessed by the spirit of The Macc Lads, it is both raunchy and squalid but delivered with a sort of innocent unknowing quality of their stupidity.

Saving Myself For Jesus has been banned by YouTube. Why ? It may be be the lyric 'my hymen belongs to Jesus', or it could be the references to titty fucking, dry humping or being poked in the back door.  The girls have encouraged fans to do cover versions and post them so have a look around.

Other subjects covered in their song range from boasting about their mock native American heritage on Indianer, bewailing the loss of a beloved pet in Bandit, and to be honest Warshin My Big Old Pussy requires no further description.

The music is good, the girls sing well, they shock and entertain in equal measure, it's a short album but you'll get your money's worth of belly laughs from it.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Booths, They Understand Correct Grammar

I thought this might amuse the grammar pedants, most supermarkets have the "10 items or less" sign.  Not my pic though, it comes via @campusprjo on Twitter.

RED FANG - "Wires"

Book Review : The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins 6*

Perhaps the most famous famous, and amongst the most militant atheists writing today, Richard Dawkins has shifted over two million copies of his anti-religion polemic. That's an awful lot of books. Rick Warren's pro-Christian tract The Purpose Driven Life has sold about 30 million copies (source - ABC News), that's a truly massive amount of books.

Dawkins hates religion, much of The God Delusion burns with his fury at theism in all its forms.  I say in all its forms but to be honest it is mostly the big faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that Dawkins takes on, and Christianity that he seems particularly angry about.

Dawkins is obviously a hugely intelligent man, Oxford University don't choose fools to be professors, and he has an incredible pedigree in the fields of ethology and evolutionary biology.  He also has quite a large ego, I don't think I have read another scholarly book in which the author mentions himself quite so often.  Dawkins just loves pointing out how clever he has been in previous verbal sparring with theists and how often he himself has demolished theist arguments. It does become a little wearing after a while.

Where Dawkins is particularly strong is the science. I enjoyed discussions on topics like Martin Rees' six constants theory, and the evolution pieces are splendid especially where Dawkins explores in detail how a pre-disposition toward religion could have been a very useful, if slightly misdirected, element of evolution itself.

Where Dawkins makes rather a fool of himself is politics.  He asserts twice in TGD that without religion, there would have been no Troubles in Northern Ireland, and then claims that if children were schooled together the tensions in that community would die out in a generation. This is simply rubbish, those people in NI who consider themselves Irish and Catholic would still be opposed to a British and Protestant government if the religious element was missing. Although I have some sympathy for the view that cross-community schooling would help the community as a whole, joint education of white and black/asian children certainly has not wiped out racism in the wider community.

Dawkins really attacks religion, and tried to prop up the values of atheism by claiming that religion systematically influences people to do bad things.  One of his arguments for this is that he doesn't think that there are many atheists in prison (an unverified claim as far as I can see), you could look at this claim from another point of view and say that people turn to religion when they get themselves into a bad spot.  In a Louis Theroux documentary a prison guard offered a nicely cynical point of view when he said that he saw a lot of religious 'conversions' in prisoners as it certainly didn't harm their chances with the parole board.

There are numerous instances of religious people doing bad things, far too many to count.  Bad Popes, the Inquisition, dozens of Kings and Queens who have made war for religious reasons, paedophile priests, the nutters from the Westboro Baptist Church, all claiming that one god or another tells them to do bad things. Pol Pot, Stalin and Hitler were all largely atheist though, and that didn't stop any of them from massacring millions.

I have tried to think of a single moment when my church, its priests and followers, its teachings and public pronouncements have influenced or encouraged me to be bad. I cannot think of one. Instead I can clearly remember the things it has tried to influence me to do. To love all people equally without regard for race, nationality or religion. To have compassion and charity for those less fortunate. To know the difference between the older faith of an eye for an eye which we do not follow and the teachings of Christ that we should turn the other cheek. To strive to be the best you can be in this life, but not at the expense of others.

The God Delusion was an interesting read, but did it destroy my belief in God and throw a new kind of light  into my life ? Well, it didn't. It raised some interesting questions, trod over a lot of already well trodden anti-religious rhetoric and argued mostly wisely from a scientific point of view.  On the downside there are far too many assumptions and presumptions made when scientific fact and research would have safely shored up his arguments, such as in his discussion of the Montreal Police strike when he says "the majority of the population of Montreal presumably believed in God." It is no good presuming things when arguing from a scientific viewpoint, do the research, find the facts and use them, unless you have found them and they don't quite support the point you wish to make.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Foul Mouthed ****

The Foul Mouthed **** is apparently a country pub in Dorset.  Or an internet gag, Can't decide which.

However, it might be worth a trip out just to enter the pub quiz and win "A fridge full of wankers!".  I'll try of pint of Fucking Typical bitter while I'm there.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Free Books

I saw this website posted in one of my university groups...

Real Readers

Keen readers who are willing to write reviews can apparently get free books, in advance of publishing, to read and review.  It sounds good so I have registered with them.  I will report if and when I get my first free books.