Thursday, September 28, 2006


Stothert & Pitt works (Newark Foundry)
Stop The Bulldozer: "Bath and North East Somerset council are sponsoring a scheme to replace all the existing buildings with a pair of six storey glass and concrete constructions; a replacement campus for Bath Spa University and the Dyson Engineering School."
The architect who designed this building went on to design the parliament buidlings in Canada, and this is the only example of his work in the Bath area. Surely the new use that is planned for the site could incorporate the existing building, and not demolish it? The designs for the new buildings are utterly boring and trivial, with no distinguishing features whatsoever. Bath is a World Heritage Site and does not need any more crappy modern buildings ruining its character.

Monday, September 25, 2006

the squid lives

Parsnip found that looks like Cthulhu

A Bedfordshire woman's home has become a shrine for latter-day worshippers of the Lovecraftian horror Cthulhu, after the tentacly one manifested in her garden in the form of a parsnip, writes our correspondent, H A Wilcox.

total perspective vortex

View of Earth from SaturnYou Are Here → |
A photo of Earth taken by the Cassini probe from Saturn's orbit reveals just how big space really is. There's a tiny tiny speck in a vast expanse of black, with Saturn's rings in the foreground. Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Men shake their bellies | - Amazing dancing. So there you go, men, don't replace that beer-belly with a six-pack, just paint a tiger or lion face on it and shake it all about. Very cool.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

out of context

BBC News: The Pope's speech

The whole furore over the Pope's speech has been blown out of all proportion, just because a short soundbite was taken out of context. This is what is so irresponsible about news - it takes a tiny bit of something out of context and then relays it around the world just to wind everyone up.

I can honestly say that I am a completely neutral observer (not being a Catholic at all), but taken in context, there's nothing to be offended about. I'm not a fan of "God's Rottweiler", particularly, but I intensely dislike being misled by the media.

This is what he actually said:
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read... of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

In the seventh conversation...the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. ... he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.
  1. The Pope distances himself from Manuel II by prefacing the quote with the phrase "with a startling brusqueness" and following with "after having expressed himself so forcefully".
  2. Manuel II was talking in the sense of comparative religion, saying that the main difference between his religion (Orthodox Christianity, which didn't do forcible conversions as far as I know) and Islam was that Muhammad had only brought violence (in addition to stuff that other religions had already invented). Clearly they hadn't really got the hang of interfaith dialogue in those days.
  3. The Pope is quoting this in support of his argument that faith and reason need to go hand in hand; not as part of an attempt to persuade people that Islam is bad.
  4. He is specifically talking about Islam because he wants to make the point that the Muslim view of God (in the 14th century at any rate) was that God transcends our categories, even rationality; whereas the Byzantine view was that not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. He then reflects on the question of whether the Greek view is universally true, or just an opinion.
My own criticism of the above would be that the Pope should also have mentioned the forced conversions of Muslims and Jews in Spain in the fifteenth century, and indeed the Crusades, which were also heinous (and could also have been used to bolster his argument that faith and reason should go hand in hand), but apart from that, it is clear that the Pope himself was not saying that Islam is evil and inhuman (and I'm pretty sure Manuel II Paleologus wasn't actually saying that either). Here's the whole speech if you want even more context.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


A joke heard by my team leader at a wedding:

As the inflatable teacher in the inflatable school said to the inflatable boy who brought a drawing pin into the school:

"You've let yourself, down, you've let me down, and you've let the whole school down."

Monday, September 04, 2006

folk wisdom

A colleague sent me this very amusing page: Making Light: Folksongs Are Your Friends, all about the wisdom inherent in folksongs, as we were discussing various folksongs, and I quoted a friend of mine who always says that English folksongs are about rebellion and raunchiness, Irish folksongs are about famine and disaster, and Scottish folksongs are about incest and murder (preferably both in the same song). Nevertheless, it's surprising how much of the wisdom in folk songs is still relevant, especially "A fellow who's a massively accomplished flirt hasn't been spending his time sitting around waiting for his One True Love to come along. Furthermore, odds are poor that you'll turn out to be his One True Love who will reform him."

life in colour

Over the weekend we watched two movies (one directed by Steven Soderbergh, the other produced by him): Sex Lies and Videotape (1989) and Pleasantville (1998). As a result of watching these, I can only conclude that life in the USA is irremediably drab and conformist. (This is confirmed by the fact that teenagers have to wear beige to school in order not to appear like someone who will go mad with a gun.)

Sex Lies and Videotape is about the strange empty lives of small-town Americans - the lawyer character (a former frat boy) gets quite aerated about the fact that the other main male character, Graham, wears a black shirt - apparently this is very weird in hicksville. There were definitely parallels between the themes of the two films.

Pleasantville was a very good film. The effects were stunning - the way the monotone world starts breaking out in colour, first as a sort of overlaid Technicolor, and then as real colours, as people start changing and having emotions. The story was very effective, particularly the scary book-burning and window-smashing scene, reminiscent of Kristallnacht; and the sign in the window saying "NO COLOREDS", reminiscent of segregation in the 1950s. And all of it an oblique comment on Bush's vision (and that of the Christian right) of what America should be like. The character development of the two main characters was interesting too.

We have also realised that our cat, Bean, is an escapee from Pleasantville. She is grey and white and always happy. She rarely thinks about anything - clearly the perfect citizen of Pleasantville.

Soderbergh's next film, Jennifer Government, looks to be exploring some of the same ideas, only this time, it's set in a future where the corporations run everything. (Hey, wait a minute, that's the present, isn't it?) I think I can see a theme developing here.

In fact there are quite a few people drawing these parallels between the current situation in America and past and future totalitarian scenarios. V for Vendetta, Babylon 5, Equilibrium, Gattaca, The Truman Show, etc.

Live your life in colour - don't let the greyness (or the beigeness) engulf you.