Archive for April, 2007

Fun in the sun

Sunday, April 29, 2007

One of the UK’s most famous and popular theme parks is Alton Towers, where I was taken for my birthday. Never having been on a roller-coaster before, I had fun and came away feeling proud of myself: I went on four, each of which rattled both my brain and my stomach. I’ve also been musing that whilst some things are good ideas, like the park’s Oblivion, they’re best left that way:

Beyond the quagmire

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The US’ Public Broadcasting Service has produced a superb documentary that tracks the role of the mainstream media in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. Its story goes like this.

Such was the post-9/11 mood that it was considered bad for business to report on facts. The propaganda spun by the White House, Pentagon and State Department was itself based on propaganda fed to them and transatlantic media networks by Ahmed Chalabi’s ‘Iraqi National Congress’ in exile (unfortunately funded by the US taxpayer). Those who found reasonable answers to questions, and those such as Senator Ted Kennedy who raised legitimate concerns were sidelined, even by the likes of Oprah Winfrey. A massive ‘slime machine’ that emerged between governmental and broadcasting systems told a tainted story, casting dissenters as ‘bad Americans’, and became too powerful for politicians to oppose, let alone doubt. Both John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate, and Senator Hilary Clinton supported the moves to invade. The drumbeat for war was deafening, providing no space for reflection and deliberative decision making. And in a world where the media becomes a platform for commentary rather than reportage, the most powerful commentators of all can, of course, be politicians. Even the veteran giant of broadcasting, Dan Rather, asked himself ‘who am I?’ to question those like Colin Powell who must know something I don’t. The majority of journalists chose neither to get the story right nor to get the right story.

All of this reminds me of Ben Okri’s words, ‘to poison a nation, poison its stories’. Forget the insurgency for a second. The most appropriate course of action to take in Iraq now might be to apologise sincerely. Two wrongs – 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq – don’t make a right. As such, addressing the question of morality rather than logistics could be the most cost-effective way over the long-term to go beyond the quagmire.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

… my ‘cousin-once-removed’ (from what, I don’t know), the storyteller – Ashley Ramsden.

Photo lifted from his daughter’s photo album
(I’m presuming she’s happy about this…)

A picture speaks a thousand words. Maybe. I love it – and him.

And why not?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Three things to learn from this:
a) making oneself comfortable is worth the trouble;
b) experience of London buses comes with – and could make one – age; finally,
c) think twice before leaving home without some way to record impressions.

(This post is dedicated to my friend Velin, who appreciates fine craftsmanship.)

Latin phrases

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Nomen est omen – ‘the name is the sign of destiny’, so I’m reliably informed. Hence a husband and wife running a sweetshop being called Mr and Mrs Sweet, and a head gardener I once worked for being called Mr Greenfield. As friends of mine would recount, I changed my preferred first name in 1995 to Francis, which is my middle name. Hmmm, so by association: Francis of Assisi, Francis Bacon (the philosopher), Sir Francis Drake, Francis Meynell?

[This revelation tempts me to use Latin phrases more in daily life, which I had thought was the preserve of Oxford graduates only. Note that

Oxford came second to Cambridge in Archaeology, Classics, English, History, History of Art, Mathematics, Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies

in the Guardian’s 2006 league tables for universities, which pleases me. My brother was clearly right to switch from one t’other to advance his Theology.]

Writer’s block is a sham!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Or so says Scott Berkun. The idea of framing the situation is critical:

It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people, it’s its fear of not writing well; something quite different. Certainly every writer has moments of paralysis, but the way out is to properly frame what’s going on, and writer’s block, as commonly misunderstood, is a red herring. Consider this: Have you ever been blocked while playing Frisbee? Eating doughnuts? Dancing naked in your living room? Those are joyful things and there’s nothing at stake: if you fail, who cares? Nobody. If there are no rules, and no judgment, psychological blocks are impossible. And remember writers like making names and overthinking things: there is no term for architect-block, painter-block, juggler-block or composer-block. Every creative pursuit faces similar pressures, but they don’t obsess about it the way writers seem to do.

So play. Loosen up. Smile. Break the framework that’s making it impossible to start. Forget the deadline and the assignment and just be an open mind with a pen. Remember that until you say you’re finished, you can break all the rules. If you can’t get started, your psychology is making the challenge bigger than you can handle. Thinking of the book, the chapter, the page, the paragraph, is all too big if while you’re thinking, the page remains blank. Like a weightlifter out of his class, a writer with a blank page needs to lighten the load.

As someone who enjoys writing a blog, but was faced with blank pages and a looming PhD-thesis deadline, I can relate to what he says well. The only thing on which I’d differ is that people engaged in other creative activities can be faced with equally-stuck moments and DO obsess; I know the blank-canvas feeling well, for which I think his insights are equally valid. Notwithstanding, he goes on to list a number of suggestions for overcoming writer’s block, one of which is:

Have a conversation. Since you can’t get “converse with a friend” block call up your buddy and talk. Get their opinions on whatever you’re writing, or throw them a bit of yours. Take notes about the conversation. Guess what? You’ve started writing. Friends are too busy? Go to a café or bar. I’ve found that if you tell bartenders you’re a writer, after they stop laughing, they’ll happily chat and occasionally give you free drinks. In a pinch, or if you’re a loner, talk with your dog. No dog? Create an imaginary friend (or three). Perhaps I’m insane, but I talk to myself all the time, and sometimes I even like the answers. If you know a writer friend, be writer buddies, available by phone to help each other get started.

His-torical characters could be good imaginary friends… Who’s? His. That’s H-I-S. (Link from John Naughton, who seemed to identify with the ‘whiskey and non-alcoholic alternatives’ suggestion.)

Gliese 581

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Well, well, get ready for moving home, but fasten your seatbelt

We plan it this way

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Today, only 16% of schoolchildren in the US walk or bike to school, similar to the UK. Ray Ison was in Marin County, California, last week where he heard a thought-provoking keynote speaker speaking about the influence of the planned and built environment on public wellbeing, who argues that the

modern America of obesity, inactivity, depression, and loss of community has not ‘happened’ to us. We legislated, subsidized, and planned it this way.

Yes. If only John Prescott, the lying-low UK Deputy Prime Minister, was at the same event as Ray. Prescott has been a flag-waver for the Thames Gateway housing development to the east of London that’ll drown with rising sea-levels.

Getting wired

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This morning I exchanged my Darth-Vader-like wireless broadband router for a sleek, wired router, which most would say is a regressive step.

This is in response to concerns that wireless technologies harm children, teachers and those constitutionally more vulnerable – and bee populations, thus threatening a variety of crops that depend on them for pollination. Such concerns are not stopping the headlong rush of local councils to enable whole cities – such as Norwich near where my parents live – and streets – such as Upper Street in Islington near where I live – to become wireless, ‘wifi hotspots’. A wifi hotspot enables anyone with a laptop to log on whilst sipping espressos at cafe tables in the noonday sun. Sounds good, yes? Until you realise your brain is subtly frying away into oblivion. I have been feeling a little nauseous from using wifi in my flat.

Incidentally, my former boss installed one in my former office, which probably explains the slightly scrambled perceptions of my former colleagues… but that’s another story.

Update 20.7.07

It seems the idea that mobile phones have been causing the bees’ colony collapse disorder may have been an urban myth.