Monday, September 25, 2006

"I Am Not Ach-rook"

Having watched today's Labour Party Conference, I have to ask myself - is Gordon Brown the new Tricky Dicky Nixon? There are certainly parallels between the dour Scot and the oft caricatured US president. Nixon has been viewed by history as one with a great intellect - but with the social intelligence of a pubescent teenager. Brown strikes as holding remarkable similarities; the thinking brain, the untamed ambition, the feeling of discomfort in his own skin, the forced and slightly frightening smiles. Nixon often talked about his hard-working family - Brown today mentioned a similar 'you don't get nothing for nothing' attitude to his upbringing - and Nixon was raised by religious parents - Brown's own father was of course a Church Minister. And, of course, if he were to become the next Prime Minister then he will likely oversee the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. It's no Vietnam, but still....

Finally, and perhaps most apropos of all, it would seem even Blair, our current incumbent, is heeding Nixon's advice; "A man is not finished when he's defeated; he's finished when he quits." Touché.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wealth and Safety

One of my pet gripes is Health and Safety. And I don't mean the serious, life threatening stuff, clearly there are reasons for having fire exits in buildings, escape shoots in planes and the exclusion of firearms from the general public (unless you are reading this in the US, in which case you are probably operating the mouse with the end of a shotgun). No, I mean the inane minutiae that drives Health and Safety ‘officers’ to patrol the offices of a workplace like the proverbial Eastwood stalking his prey in the dusty, midday sun-strewn street. Their prey, in this instance, being the empty cardboard boxes hidden behind a desk, the piles of books not correctly placed vertically on the shelving and, the Hannibal Lector of Health and Safety, unapproved scissors. I shuddered as I wrote that last bit, cowering at the thought of those scything blades, those non-plastic coated handles. Millions could die. Can somebody tell me, why they exist? To me they are the widgets of this world; they apparently do something useful, but is there a need to pay extra money for one when they don’t seem to improve anything?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Can art stop war?

border="0" />Guest blog by 'Markus Mark':

"I left computing research in December and to take part in a project researching art and design. Predictably my computing colleagues showed art the disdain that people not in the field always do. They think art is a waste of money and often quote high profile examples of the more eccentric forms of art such as the student who marries her car and the dead sheep. However, I would like to argue that art has a fundamental role in society and can even stop wars. Art will not bring about the instant ceasefire needed in the current conflict in Lebanon, but it can change attitudes.

Perhaps the two strongest example of this are (i) Nick Ut's iconic photo of children fleeing after US planes accidentally dropped napalm on the South Vietnamese in 1972. In many ways this fully ended the legitimacy of the Vietnam War for the American people. (ii) Veteran broadcaster Walter Cronkite in 1968 statement that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, which led President Lyndon Johnson to declare to his aids that this was the time to change course. So remember when asked by computer scientists what is the point of art say -'IT STOPS WARS'."

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Let them Eat (Battenburg) Cake

A cake-eating friend of mine wrote to me the other day regarding his favourite cake. And I thought I was obsessed with sugary delights:

While I was drinking tea and munching on Battenburg cake on the phone to you the other day, I wondered where the name came from and if it had anything to do with the Royal House. I looked it up on google:

The History of the Battenburg Cake
The origins of the Battenburg cake begin in Germany in the latter half of the 19th Century and the cake takes its name from the Battenburg Royal Family. It is said that the four quarters of sponge honour each of the four Battenberg princes, Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis. The cake as we know it today is said to have first been made to mark the occasion of Prince Louis marriage to Princess Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt.

There you go, some more useless info.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Billy Connolly

It is my first experience of the Edinburgh Festival and it is quite something to see the city begin to succumb to the fever of culture. Everywhere I look, banners are erected, brochures deposited and stages constructed like so many daffodils in a field of concrete grey.

What surprises me most is the type of people that seem to embrace the month's long activities. Today, I heard a woman in front of me who resembled Billy Connolly in almost every sense, including the signature ginger facial hair, if he had had a really tough upbringing, talking of her desire to "see one of them op-ra. I love the wee singin and dreeses, ach aye." Just goes to show you can't judge a book by its facial hair.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I Love Work

The man from Imperial ... he says of his impending departure:

"I can't believe its only two weeks before I get to escape the hell that
is Imperial."

I love to see a man who enjoys his work.

No Apologia

As the conflict in the Middle East continues, yet again, the world stands by as a spectator, called upon to play a role, and ultimately simply taking a seat in the stalls.

I am reminded of a trip to the UN HQ in Geneva, Switzerland. The walls are lined with memorabilia, tokens and gestures from countries around the globe that have contributed to the building in some way. And in the main room, the original League of Nations conference room until the UN and a move to New York. And yet I ask myself what have the UN ever done that the much maligned League of Nations could not? When the time for action arrives, when a deus ex machina is most needed, they are always caught wanting but not willing to act.

In this instance, the US and UKs failure to demand a ceasefire in the face of the rest of the world, has resulted in the continuing slaughter of innocents from both Lebanon and Israel. And the end result? Further instability. Iran steps up it's mission towards nuclear arms, a new breed of radicalised Lebanese are born, the Israeli resentment of their Arab neighbours grows and the already tangible hatred of the US and UK propagates further.

And so it begins again for the next generation, a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we are left asking when will the curtain fall on this Tragedy?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Professor's New Clothes

Kes is a good friend of mine but is one of the most unlucky people I have ever known. He is the kind of guy that, upon dropping a piece of toast, not only would it land butter side down, it would land upon his most expensive suit. His only suit. Just before his wedding. Ten minutes before his wedding.

You get the picture. One of his worst (and best from a purely sadistic point of view) anecdotes is his version of the Emperor's New Clothes, or rather, Professor's. So Kes had started a new job and early on in his new position his boss, the absent minded Professor, had came in to speak to him about obtaining money for a new camcorder. During the conversation he began calling Kes Ernshaw, Kes Blythe. However, rather than correct him (being eternally shy) he went with it and continued to respond to the name. Some time after he was asked to sign an expense form for the purchased camera. Which he signed. K Blythe. Later, another gentlemen entered the office, a Mr M Blythe to which his mad professor boss joked, you two could be brothers! Yes he chuckled how very true.

The lesson here - don't commit fraud unless it is in someone else's name. Though if your name is Kes Blythe, he's terribly sorry.