Friday, June 29, 2007

Milward Rodon Kennedy Burge

Another on our list of writers in The Floating Admiral is Milward Kennedy, whose full and real name Milward Rodon Kennedy Burge (1894-1968). He wrote under a large number of pseudonymns: John Frederick Burke, Jonathan Burke, Owen Burke, Robert Milward Burke, Evelyn Elder, Harriet Esmond, John Frederick, Jonathan George, Joanna Jones, (Robert) Milward Kennedy, Sara Morris, Martin Sands. Good grief!

This no doubt makes him a fairly prolific writer, but he’s hard to track down. Seemingly he was a public servant, as well as being an author, but whether he was ever a full-time author I can’t discover. You’d have to think he was, given the number of pseudonyms he employed.

The Floating Admiral Floats Away

Finished The Floating Admiral last night. It had become highly convoluted by the time the last chapter was written, and possibly improbable! And then, of course, once the book itself was finished there were the various solutions to be worked through. Sayers’ was the longest (and most amusing); Knox, in spite of claiming that he had no idea what was going on, still provided a solution, and of course by the time the book was finished the ‘inventions’ they’d created were superseded by even more complex difficulties. Though it was intriguing that one or two of them anticipated things that hadn’t been written when they presented their chapter.

I don’t know that it’s the most satisfactory way to write a novel – I was involved in a short-lived novel writing experiment some time ago in which each person in the group wrote a chapter. But the problem was that each new writer came up with more extreme and ridiculous things as they went along. It was fun but not very productive. In the end, there needs to be an overall mind at work. (Something Sayers herself would have agreed with, if her The Mind of the Maker is anything to go by.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cullen's latest idea

Some time ago we had a rental property which we’d bought in a moment of madness and regretted forever after. According to the wisdom of the person who advised us that buying the property was a good idea, we would not only earn a profit on the rent paid, but be able to claim against our taxes for a number of things, including depreciation, rates, insurance and the like.

For us it was never much of a deal. We came into the property market at the wrong time, and eventually sold at a loss. That’s the way it goes in some businesses.

But I see now that Michael Cullen, our esteemed Minister of Finance, is considering removing many of the tax breaks landlords receive. That would be scary for an awful lot of people who rely on that extra income at tax return time. It’ll be particularly scary for those who own only one or two rental properties. (The only way to make big money in the rental business is to own a number of properties, so that the losses in rent are compensated for by the gains.) And I suspect there’ll be a sudden rash of rental property sales on the market, which will possibly reduce the value of housing, and will also decrease the number of rental properties available.

No doubt Mr Cullen in his wisdom knows what he’s doing, but I for one am glad I’m well and truly out of the rental market.

The Write Advertising

Ever thought about what you might put on a pen if you had the chance to do it for free? You know the sort of thing I mean: advertising pens, the kind that get given away by firms in the hope that you’ll remember them every time you do some writing. Remember them instead of the competition, who’s also given you a free pen.
But if you were given a 1000 pens that you could your own individual message on, what might you say? Jesus Loves Me? Mike Crowl Blogs Way Too Much? Everyone Deserves a Sabbatical?
I’m sure you can come up with some other ideas – let me know…it’s some time since anyone commented on anything in here! (boo hoo)
Looking through my HitTail results, it’s possible you could use one of the following enigmatic phrases: How Tall is Denzil Washington? Branson, Music Capital of the World. I’m an In-Law. The Endless Itching of Athletes’ Foot.
Just while I’m on the subject of HitTail search results, here’s one that’s really off-the-wall, and a little scary: All sort of home kitchen crowl insect.
When will people learn that Crowl isn’t the spelling of Crawl?

Round and round they go

When I came across the name, Whirlpool Dryers, I thought it must be a machine that had a new way of drying clothes. Nope. It’s the old tumble dryer that we know so well, the one that throws the clothes round and round until every inch of dampness has gone, and they come out smelling good and fresh. Just as if they’d been on the line all day in a good breeze – and a bit of sunshine.

So Whirlpool, as I discover, is a brand name, like General Electric. Look for Whirlpool Dryers on the Net and you’ll find a big range of them. One place that I tried checking them out on was They started up as recently as February this year, and they’re getting heaps of searches every day. They don’t just give you all the alternatives for Whirlpool Dryers, of course: any home appliance, from fridges (why is there a ‘d’ in fridge when there isn’t in refrigerator?) to stoves, from washing machines to dishwashers. (Apparently a bloke at the workplace I was recently at bought a dishwasher for the first time ever. He spent the first two nights watching it do its work!)

And in July they’re going to be adding other items: flat panel tvs, garden items, barbeques and you name it. The search engine seems to hone in on San Francisco for some reason, but I’m sure there’s a way of finding the appliances you want rather closer to home.

Cecil Street: alias John Rhode et al

Cecil Street had three pseudonyms: John Rhode, Miles Burton, and Cecil Wayne. He was extremely prolific, writing some 140 books over the thirty-seven years between 1924 and 1961. Though some regard him as a humdrum writer (which at least is not a ‘hack’) there are others who claim that he had a gift for plot construction, a great eye for detail, a subtle sense of humour (one of his victims was killed with a hedgehog and another with a vegetable marrow), and a not-always acknowledged gift for characterization.

Her wrote most novels under the name of John Rhode. These generally featured an armchair detective called Dr Lancelot Priestley. The novels written as Miles Burton had mostly rural settings, and featured an amateur sleuth called Desmond Merrion. As Cecil Wayne he wrote four thrillers, all featuring yet another detective, this one called Christopher Perrin.

Again there’s a lengthy bibliography available from the same site as previously.

G D H and M Cole

The fun part about reading The Floating Admiral is that the authors’ different styles come across, in some cases quite strongly. Dorothy Sayers’ sardonic humour is in full evidence in her chapter, and Ronald Knox writes what must be the longest chapter, full of detail, and wit. In it he takes every single point that has appeared so far and has the chief character, a police detective, go through them one by one and make comments and notes about them. It’s a great way of keeping the reader up with the play, because it’s become an immensely complicated book as far as I’m concerned! Of course, I’m never much good at discovering whodunit in murder mysteries. I miss most of the clues, and the ones I pick up I don’t always know what to do with.

Next on my list of lesser-known detective writers are the husband and wife team: G D H and M Cole. The Times Literary Supplement of 8th Sept, 1927 wrote: “Mr. and Mrs. Cole are among the most remarkable and efficient of English detective writers… There is room in their stories for extraneous and intellectually, but not aesthetically, irrelevant things; in some of their stories for excellent satire, and in this for the business of a pure novelist.”

Their plots are apparently highly ingenious, and their retired policeman/detective has ‘both a conscience and a brain (his favourite author is Chesterton).’

There’s an excellent bibliography of their books at this link. (Thank God for people who are enthusiastic for things I know nothing about!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More on the Detection Club

Click here to read the original ‘oath’ that members of The Detection Club had to swear. It focuses on fair play between the author and the reader, and the avoidance of what Sayers in the introduction to The Floating Admiral calls ‘sensationalism, calp-trap and jargon.’

It turns out that a number of compilation books were written by early members of the Club, though nothing quite along the lines of The Floating Admiral.

So what about these various lesser known authors? The first is Victor Lorenzo Whitechurch, who, like Ronald Knox, was a clergyman. He was also a railway enthusiast. He wrote a number of short stories, and some 24 books, some of which are still readily available. His most famous detective was Thorpe Hazell (created to be as unlike Sherlock Holmes, as possible, apparently!).

There’s not a lot about his life or history on the Net, apart from the link above, though several of his better-known books are listed.

Compilation Mystery

I’m reading an interesting detective novel at the moment, one that was first published back in 1931. It’s unusual in that it’s not written by one author but by a dozen, each one taking a successive chapter and building on the work of the authors that have gone before. G K Chesterton provides a rather elliptical prelude, and Dorothy L Sayers tells how it came into existence. The writers were all members of The Detection Club and arranged to write the book following two particular rules: they had to construct their instalment with a definite solution in view and not introduce complications just to make the whole thing more difficult. They had to be able to explain their clues coherently and plausibly, if called on to do so, and to provide an actual solution for the benefit of the other writers. Not that the others had to read that solution before they wrote their own chapter, but it had to be available.

The interesting thing about the list of writers is that only a few are still remembered – well, remembered by me, anyway. Sayers and Chesterton are still widely read; Agatha Christie even more so and most of her books have probably never been out of print. Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Croft and Clemence Dane are still familiar names. But what about these? Victor Whitechurch, G D H and M Cole, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Edgar Jepson and Anthony Berkeley. None of these mean a thing to me, so I’ll be devoting a little time to letting you know who they are over the next several posts.

By the way, the book is called The Floating Admiral.

In reverse

I wrote about the reverse auction process at a couple of months ago, regretting the fact that I couldn’t join in with this system because I don’t live in the right part of the world. Unfortunately nothing has changed on that front, so I’m still missing out on this fun approach to sweepstakes. Well, that’s the way it goes. We can’t all get free gifts on the Internet – at least not through this site! I’ll have to check around and see if anyone else is doing this sort of thing, as it sounds fun, and a number of people who got prizes out of it have left their comments on the site, remarking how surprised they were in each case to win.

It’s probably more of a surprise in a reverse auction than a normal auction, where you have a pretty good idea if you’re going to win. Plus the bonus, with this site, of getting prizes without having to pay anything. I don’t know how this is funded (in fact, it’s a mystery to me how lots of things are funded that include a big cash prize or item prizes, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) but there don’t appear to be any catches, and that’s what people on the Internet want: no hidden traps!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Life on Mars

I hadn’t seen any episodes of the tv series, Life on Mars, before we left NZ. It was becoming quite a hit there by all accounts. Well, here in the UK they’re doing a repeat of it, so I saw the first episode last night – without ads, which was great. (I wonder how much editing they do to NZ versions of these series, when you consider that the program I saw was round about an hour anyway.)

John Simm has a very intense role as the man who may have gone back in time, may be in a coma, or may have just gone round the twist. Whatever the problem is, he plays the role very well, and elicits considerable sympathy from his audience in spite of his rather hard-nosed nature.

The seventies ‘look’ of everything is perhaps a little exaggerated. Were we really that overdressed and excessively hairy? I suppose it’s possible. And of course everyone smokes like a chimney, so the atmosphere indoors looks perpetually cloudy.

Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with some more of it, although it’s on quite late at night. Not that that’s worrying us much at the moment; we can sleep in as late as we like!

Holidays and weight control don't mix

My initial reaction to something that advertises itself as entirely free – ‘no credit card is ever required’ – is that there must be some catch somewhere. But if there’s a catch with the site I can’t see what it is. They have a forum on the site too, for people to interact with each other, and reading through the various entries the comments seem to be pretty positive overall.
One of their main features is a free calorie counter and the use of a food database that keeps on growing as more people add items to it. Without becoming a member I can’t say much more about this, but obviously it’s working for some people who need to watch their weight.
Actually one of my recommendations for watching your weight is not to go on holiday! As soon as you’re out of your routine the calorie counting – or whatever it is you do to keep your weight under control – goes out the window!

Condo hotels

I first came across the phrase Condo hotels a few months ago, when I discovered it meant hotels where you buy a piece of the property in the same way as you’d buy a condominium (or a dockominium, for that matter – great word, dockominium!).
To explain in a bit more detail. A condo hotel is one where you have all the perks of a proper (and upmarket) hotel coupled with the convenience of a condo. (Or a docko – a floating hotel would be the equivalent: LOL). Condo hotels have reservation systems just like ordinary hotels, and the staff are on duty round the clock. When someone else uses the room in the hotel, the owner of that part of the hotel receives revenue (it varies from hotel to hotel, obviously). This money can be used to offset the cost of the property or any other fees the owner might incur.
The other important factor is that of investment. Some people who’ve bought into condo hotels have seen their investment rise enormously. The whole idea has that ring of lateral thinking about it: taking two somewhat unrelated items and pulling them together to see if the connection offers something new in the creative thinking field. Obviously in this case it has!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Religious Jeans?

Skipping around the Net I was taken with the phrase true religion jeans which I naturally thought had some religious connection, and was intrigued to find out what it was. But no, true religion jeans are jeans with about as much connection to religion as you could find. It gets more complex. There are True Religion Destroyed jeans, which take fashion to a ‘ripped new level,’ and Bobby Vintage wash jeans that are apparently ‘comfortably mythical jeans’. Comfortably mythical? What the heck does that mean?
Talking about fashion like this reminds that I’ve meant to comment for some time on the curious thing about women’s fashion magazines, or any magazines that feature fashion as part of the package. Doesn’t it seem odd that these magazines often display women in alluring, even sexual poses, yet the magazines are for women? Feminists used to complain that men’s magazines featured women in near nakedness, but women’s mags are often just the same. How does that figure? Are women who read these mags only focused on what women wear and how they look in those clothes? I guess they must be. Certainly these mags aren’t in any way intended for men, though no doubt some men glance through them. Are the mags intending to say that You, the Reader, will look as alluring as this model looks? I don’t think so, somehow. I think they’re saying that other women will be envious of how you look if you wear this gear. I suspect men don’t even come into the equation.
But I could be wrong. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Birdman flies again

I caught up with Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcatraz the other night, on tv. It’s a curiously named film when you think about it, as he has nothing to do with birds in Alcatraz at all. It should have been called The Birdman of Leavenworth, because that’s where all his action with birds took place.
Be that as it may, it’s an excellently made film, and deserved the awards showered on it. It’s unlikely that Stroud, the character played by Lancaster, was as genteel as he comes across in the movie. Only in the earliest scenes is he shown as violent and vicious. Lancaster, however, is one of those actors who tends to come across as a tough gentleman, and that’s pretty much how he plays Stroud. Equally, Thelma Ritter, who plays his mother, is seen as a rather lovely lady who campaigns for her son in spite of his behaviour. It’s only when he prefers his wife to her that she turns on him and shows an equally vicious side. The relationship between the two is never quite explained: why is he so fond of his mother? Why does she do so much for him? And later, why does the woman played by Betty Field fall under his charm so easily?
The movie isn’t interested in these questions, and it presents the long journey of a man who spent almost all his adult life in prison, and the way in which he made successful use not only of his time, but also of his isolation. It’s absorbing in spite of the unanswered questions about the characters. The movie is also very sympathetic to Stroud, and the real concerns of the prison governors regarding his violence are quickly swept aside in favour of a view of the man as someone who really didn’t deserve to be locked up the way he was.
I began watching the film on quarter of the computer screen: the great thing about that was that the fuzziness you often get on larger tv screens was entirely absent. Instead there was a superb clarity about the picture, and it brought out the detail of the lighting and photography, both of which are excellent. Burnett Guffey is credited with the cinemaphotography. He had a long career spanning all sorts of movies, from Gidget to From Here to Eternity, from All the King’s Men to Me and the Colonel.

The photo isn't of Burt Lancaster without his make-up, but of the real 'Birdman', Robert Stroud.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Fame on the Net is widespread. Or so I’d like to think. Back at the end of May I posted a short piece about shrinking shirts. Someone did a search on the German version of Google for the following odd selection of words: ‘she should lose weight church’. Don’t ask me what it’s supposed to convey. Anyway, they picked up my piece about shrinking shirts, which has a small amount to do with weight and nothing, as far as I can see, to do with church. It came up in English, of course, but alongside it is the German equivalent of Translate this site: diese seite übersetzen. Just for fun I thought I’d get it translated into German. No doubt the German it’s become is as grammatically odd as the English that we get if we ask Google to translate, but for the record, here it is:
Schrumpfende Hemden
Es ist eine ärgerliche Sache, zum etwas zu kaufen und es dann zu finden schrumpft auf dir. Vor drei oder vier Monaten kaufte ich drei Hemden vom K Handelszentrum. Alle drei von ihnen sind geschrumpft: zwei von ihnen gerade wenig aber eins beträchtlich. Meine Frau setzt es unten zu meinem gewinnengewicht während dieser Zeit. Aber ich weiß für eine Tatsache, daß eins der Hemden kleiner ist. Als ich es kaufte, würde es oben um den Ansatz tun. Jetzt wird es nicht. Du kannst nicht erklären mir, daß ich an Gewicht ringsum meinen Ansatz gesetzt habe!

Sovereign and Wymondham

I’ve been reading an historical novel that the book editor at the Otago Daily Times gave me as light reading. It was one of several books she gave us before we left NZ. The title is Sovereign, and it’s the third in a series of detective-style stories set in the reign of Henry VIII. It’s some 600 pages long, and should have been about 300 at the outside. There is an awful lot of padding in it, in my opinion, and things that the reader has picked up at least twice are repeated yet again, and again. Some of the dialogue takes the story nowhere; it just seems to be filler. I’m only finishing it because I am interested in the whodunit side of the story, but if it hadn’t been for that I would have put it down ages ago.
It does a pretty good job of giving an idea of what life is like in the days of that particular King, and the destruction he wreaked on society through claiming the headship of the church in England in defiance of the Pope. The people come across as people like us, doing things like us and in general being just as capable as us in their various skills. Words are thrown into the text to give it colour, words that aren’t any longer used, but can still get their meaning across to us. But I find the use of modern swearwords a bit anachronistic. It’s highly possible people used them in those days, but somehow they don’t ring true. Shakespeare included swear words in his play, yet these don’t appear in the book.
The story is by C J Sansom, and obviously he’s a fairly popular writer. I must be just too fussy. However, the interesting link between the story and what we’re doing at the moment – living in Norfolk – is that when we went to Wymondham today (pronounced Wind’am, for those who don’t know it) we saw Wymondham Abbey, and also saw the results of King Henry’s desecration of the monasteries and such. The Abbey and its connected buildings (including a monastery) once covered about four times its present area. All that’s left is the Church building itself and a forlorn arch that goes nowhere. The Abbey is still substantial, and isn’t by any means a ruin, but the glory of the original buildings has been decimated. (Or perhaps that should be ‘quartered.’)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Throwaway Society

Much and all as I love the convenience of bic pens and their sidekicks, the razors and lighters, I do have to wonder how much better off the world would be if we didn’t have throwaway items like this. Or maybe I’m just trying to get off the guilt trip I feel when I go to a bookshop, as I did today, and see dozens of titles like: 20 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet, 365 Ways to Save the Earth, and so on.
Bic pens, as I recall, were amongst the first things to be regarded as disposable. When I was first at school, we used pencils in the younger classes, and then graduated to fountain pens – with even a period of using nib pens that had to be dipped in inkwells. Man, that seems ancient! (I actually flicked my fountain pen at the boy in front of me when he annoyed me once, and left ink all over the back of his shirt.)
I can’t remember now whether ballpoint pens made it into school while I was there – I suspect they were still regarded as instruments that would turn our pristine writing into scribble – and they did. But certainly it was in the time when I was first at work that they came in in full force. And began to be thrown away in their thousands. For a time, ballpoint pens had replaceable cartridges, and there were some stylish pens around that could be refilled. But not for long. Along came Mr Bic and that was that. Billions of ballpoint pens must have made their way to the refuse dumps over the decades, billions of bits of plastic and tiny springs, and inner bits. Bic’s promoting of the throwaway product was certainly innovative, but it may also have been disastrous, encouraging manufacturers to get us to throw away almost everything

Go Earthworms!

Throughout Britain, hundreds of sites where there were once petrol stations are now sitting empty, and seemingly clean. But in fact, the sites are unusable because of the leftover contaminants from the petrol and diesel.
Normally such contaminants would, in due course, be dealt with by micro-organisms that make their living out of cleaning up human beings’ mucky stuff. But the contaminants in this case are very small and hide away, as it were, amongst the soil particles, making their almost unreachable by the micro-organisms.
Enter the heroes: our old friends, the earthworms.
Put to work in the soil where the petrol and diesel contaminants lie, the earthworms chomp their way through it, and leave their excretions all over. The excretions include the now-revealed contaminants, and the way is cleared for the micro-organisms to do their part of the task.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Economics and the Circus

Want a good book to read on a plane trip? Freakonomics is the one – well, for me, anyway!
It’s made economics (a subject I’ve despised since I first came across it at an adult commerce class years ago) into something that’s readable, interesting, quirky and even fun. Of course, it took a mind like Steven Levett’s to bring me to that change of view, but that’s fine. Usually I’m prepared to have my mind changed in regard to my opinions – though my wife doesn’t always agree that that’s the case.
Again and again Freakonomics throws up two seemingly unrelated subjects and works out whether they have more in common than you’d think. I don’t suppose Levett actually sat down and said how can I contrast two totally unrelated subjects; there’s a good deal of thought behind his writing. Nevertheless, he manages to ask crazy questions and show that they’re not so crazy after all.
The writing is a symbiosis: Levett can certainly write without the help of Dubner, but it was Dubner who got the book off the ground. Levett is almost too busy to sit down and write a book.
I don’t know that I can pinpoint what it is about the book that intrigues me so much. Maybe it’s just the lateral thinking approach, something I’ve always enjoyed. Applying it to a subject I’ve seldom enjoyed (I’ve regarded economists as being about as reliable as weatherforecasters) has meant I’ve got access into economics, stats, sociology in a way I’d never have considered possible. I’d compare Levett’s free-ranging approach perhaps to the way Le Cirque du Soleil has changed people’s idea of what the word ‘circus’ means.

Made in China

We bought a couple of pillows to take with us on our flight to the UK, but as it turned out, Korean Air generously provided everyone with pillows anyway, so we didn't need the ones we bought.

So we thought we'd use one of them as a bath pillow (for them what read in the bath, like) and when I looked at the blown-up one this morning I noticed these intriguing instructions:

AU Warning: use only under competent supervision.
US Warning: this is not a life saving device. Do not leave child unattended while device is in use. Never allowing diving into this product. Never leave in or near the water when not in use. Keep away from fire. Follow these rules to avoid drowning, paralysis or other serious injury.
GB Warning: use only under competent supervision. Keep away from fire.

I would have thought that the AU, US and GB referred to countries, except that after the warning in English on the GB line, it goes straight into French, German, Italian, Spanish and something else.

Any sharp-eyed reader will have noticed the strange line in the US section of the warnings, though I'm not sure why the US need so much warning to use a pillow.

Sit Up Straight!

I think one of the things that amazed me, going back into the corporate workforce at the beginning of the year, was the way money was thrown at office furniture and stationery. The budget for these seemed limitless, and the spending on them was helped equally by one woman who thought that catalogues were for ticking off the things she liked, and by the nurse who came in once a week, and could spot a health and safety issue a mile off.
In the old days we put up with a lot of things that people don’t even think twice about now. Yes, I know that sounds like the ‘old codger’ syndrome, but am I alone in thinking that there’s a great deal of fuss made today over things workers of the past would consider trivial?
Certainly the advent of the computer in offices has meant that a lot of people have to sit at desks longer than in the past. But the advent of typewriters must have caused the same issue, and you don’t hear of problems from those days. Perhaps people were taught to sit up straight when they worked (I remember the ramrod straightness of the women in the typing room at my first office), and perhaps, rightly or wrongly, they were expected just to get on with life. Part of the issue today, I suspect, isn’t just that we’re much more careful about people’s health, but that the people themselves are much more fussy. I hate to say it, but I think the women in offices are more the culprits here than the men. Nevertheless there’s a great deal more fuss made over small things than ever in the past – from both sexes.

Distracted by the Trivial

Once again the Islamic world is up in arms with a matter concerning Salman Rushdie. Some MP in Pakistan is threatening suicide bombers if the knighthood Rushdie has received isn’t taken away from him. The warped thinking that goes on in the Islamic world can scarcely be believed. Firstly, it’s none of their business who the Queen gives a knighthood too – and calling her an ‘old crone’ is hardly diplomatic.
But far more importantly, these same people who condemn a writer for writing something that offends them find no offence in the fact that 75 people were blown up in Baghdad today, and hundreds of others were injured. Do we hear anyone in the Muslim world condemning this act of terrorism? I certainly haven’t. And if we discuss such an omission in the Islamic world the Muslim speakers are likely to say it was all the fault of the Americans. If the Americans hadn’t been in Iraq it wouldn’t have happened. The plain nonsense of such a statement (which has been made before) is self-evident. The hypocrisy of the Islam is so blatant that the Western world can only stand by open-mouthed, wondering what piece of nonsense they’ll come up with next.
They have a great deal in common with Napoleon the Pig from Orwell’s book, Animal Farm. Whatever piece of nonsense he wanted to spout had to be believed, such as: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
The Islamic world seems to say: Everything we say is wise, though much of it is nonsense.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Culture shock

It’s been interesting to return to London 40 years after I first arrived there. At that time I suffered a major cultural shock: people all around me had a confidence I didn’t know; the place was full of the sexual revolution of the sixties, with blatant advertising of what was essentially porn at every turn; advertising itself was a constant in your face; the huge number of people was overwhelming, and the pace of everything was extreme.
Coming back I don’t find things anywhere near as different. The whole Western world is much more on a par, in particular on a technological level, so that England isn’t really further ahead of NZ anymore. Advertising is similar around the world, the tv is the same everywhere, even down to the same faces (tv was in its infancy in NZ when I first came to the UK), and the sexual revolution has left the whole world in much the same mess. As for all the people, well, the sheer number of people is still something I doubt I’ll ever get used to, but it’s different from the first time I experienced it. I was expecting it, for one thing, but I’ve also been in some other places where endless people is the norm.
What’s different about London? More bridges, especially new foot-bridges over the Thames; a cleaner atmosphere (I came at the end of the pollution era); far more people of different nationalities; taxis with advertising all over them, more boats of all sorts on the river, and a number of changes to the skyline. But in essence, London doesn’t seem to have changed much: the tubes still run constantly and for the most part efficiently. Piccadilly Circus station is still the same round building I knew and waited in – often for hours while people came late for appointments. (I sometimes used to go round and round the place wondering if I’d missed someone.) The buses are as ubiquitous as before. And the people are the same mix of really friendly, and strangely distant. It’s nice to be back here, but I’m glad to be able to have far more contact with those back home than I did on the previous visit.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Finding your way

When I went to visit my uncle recently, I saw that he’d been one of the few people in the city who’d taken up the offer of having his house number set into a little rubberish triangle in the asphalt on his driveway. These things were supposed to make it easier for taxis and other visitors to see the house number - especially if the number on the letter box, for instance, was obscured by bushes.
However, I always felt that these little numbers weren’t big enough to be seen, even though, like the cat’s eyes we have in the road, they reflect light. And obviously a lot of other people had a similar feeling. The little signs never took off, and you can see only a few scattered around the city still.
An address plaque needs to be big and visible to be of use. As a former postie, I know how many people’s house number signs are under par in terms of visibility. I can say this with a clear conscience, as our house number is large. But even then, someone will miss it!

Bullets in the air

You have to wonder if the Hamas and Fatah sects in Gaza will ever make any progress towards peace with each other. They’re the same in essence in terms of aggression towards each other as the two Muslim sects in Iraq. These people appear to have no idea how to come to peace with each other, and no desire for it either.
When you see them on tv in the news, they don’t seem to have any organisation; they’re just bullies or little boys in men’s bodies running round with oversized guns. They destroy and burn and loot. And, as always, they shoot their bullets in the air as some sort of celebration. None of them ever seen to consider that bullets sent up in the air will eventually come down. It always looks as though the think the bullets go up indefinitely!

Incheon airport

The airport at Incheon in Seoul, Korea, is a fantastic piece of real estate. From the hotel where we stayed, just a few minutes away, it seemed a reasonably-sized place, but once you were inside it, it was extraordinary: full of space, and with plenty of room in every respect.
Outside, everything is wonderfully designed - the Koreans have a marvellous sense of aesthetics - and you can tell that the architects give a high priority to beauty. The necessary things are good to look at, but there are extras, such as a plane-shaped piece on top of the main part of the building. The walkways from one section of the building to another have a spiralling effect in their design. It isn’t just the large parts of the architecture that are good on the eye: every detail is well thought-out, and innovative touches are everywhere.
But the long distances between the desks where you check in, and the gates where you depart from, are a bit of a pain. Anyone with walking difficulties (such as one lady we got slightly acquainted with) must find the length of their walks unpleasant.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Movies in flight

We had our own screens on the back of the seats in front for the second leg of our trip to London. This has meant we could watch movies as we want, and to watch what we want. However, I tried to watch Road Hogs three times, and each time found the dialogue was in Korean, something that only became evident two or three minutes into the movie. I gave up on it in the end, (though Celia had no problem with it on her screen) and watched one of the half dozen classic movies that were available (Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Sound of Music and so on). I watched It’s a Wonderful Life again (I’ve got it on DVD at home) and thoroughly enjoyed it again. It’s a superb performance by James Stewart and he carries the movie from whoa to go. Frank Capra directs a large (and very talented cast of familiar faces) wonderfully: the film is full of scenes with thirty or forty people all being individuals. It’s surprisingly long - though Capra’s movies did tend to take their time - and even though it starts out as a kind of flashback, that side of the story takes over completely, and it’s more than three-quarters through the movie before the stuff about the angel surfaces again. But that works fine. The exuberance and energy of the movie is tops and another thing was noticeable: the soundtrack was exceptionally clear. One of the problems with listening to the modern films on the earphones provided by K Air is that you struggle to hear the dialogue. Sound effects, background noises, music are all much clearer. The dialogue, especially if it’s quiet, is hard to hear easily. Yet the dialogue throughout Capra’s movie is crystal clear. But then, of course, the scripts were also very literate!

Because I Said So

The second movie shown on the Korean flight was a chick flick - and I use that word advisedly - called Because I Said So. I think. It starred Diane Keaton doing her most over the top and least subtle performance. Perhaps she thought it would give the thing some life. It’s a pathetic story that never works, and in the end drives you slightly crazy. Keaton plays an overprotective mother who can’t let her daughters go - particularly the one unmarried one. Her catchphrase is Because I Said So - hence the name of the movie. It was a shame this was the one shown as there quite a few other decent ones in the selection.
And the film got rather icky at one point, since the main character (Keaton’s daughter, Millie) was actually sleeping with both the guys she thought she was in love with. Hmm. When she had to admit this, at one point to her mother, and again to the two boyfriends - at different times - these were embarrassing moments that should have be excised from the script. If filmmakers didn’t throw their characters into bed all the time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. And it would have been a more romantic movie.

Crossing the Equator

Written while flying at 34,000 feet, on the way to Korea.
Apparently we’ve crossed the Equator and at various times we’ve gone as fast as 900 or more kmph. It’s hard to credit what that actually means, since we feel as though we’re just trolling along at no speed at all, and the only sense of movement is the occasional shaking.
We’ve spent the last hour and a half or more watching a very gloomy Korean movie, Beyond the Years - with subtitles. It was all about an old man who adopted two children - in the loosest sense. One of them, the girl, and the older of the two, he was going to train as a singer. The boy would be a drummer. I presume the style of singing is some classical form as it’s fairly unmelodious to the western ear. Things continually go from bad to worse: just as you think something good is going to happen to one of the characters, it goes rotten for them. The two children - as adults - survive, but virtually no one else does. The guy is never sure whether she’s his sister or not, and there are hints throughout that she’s not. The old man never quite lets on, and then there are hints as well that he’s caused the girl to go blind in order to make her a purer singer. This is regarded as nonsense by some of the other characters but it’s never quite let go of. And the whole thing is told partly in flashback and partly in the present, and it took me a while to cotton onto this: consequently I had no idea who the two characters talking about the whole story were until I finally realised that they were the two boys in the earlier part of the story. Oh well. It doesn’t help that we don’t recognise Korean faces so readily - although the main character had a somewhat Westernised look about him, because his eyes were more Western in shape.
It was all rather romantic, in a doomed sort of way (though at least the two main characters both survived), and very beautifully filmed. Unfortunately it was also the sort of movie that puts people off watching foreign movies!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Distressed by my ignorance

McCall Smith has a lot of fun with the clothes one of his characters wears in the latest book in the 44 Scotland St series. (The book is called Love Over Scotland.) In particular he talks a lot about a sweater in some colour called 'distressed oatmeal', and in general the other characters think it's not only passe but does nothing for the character who wears it.
I'd never heard of distressed oatmeal as a colour until I read this book and assumed McCall Smith was playing with words. However, I've just discovered that distressed mahogany is quite a normal description for a certain kind of table finish, including poker tables (which is where I saw the description first). I don't normally have any great need to be investigating sites where they sell poker tables, but was struck by the coincidence. Even looking at the pictures of the tables I don't really have much idea what the 'distressed' part of the finish is, and asking Google, 'what is distressed mahogony' turned out not to be helpful. Usually descriptions of tables are fairly obvious, more so than the colours of clothing, in fact, but this one has got me beat. Maybe there's someone out there who can help!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ms P H again

Well, Paris Hilton is back in jail - or gaol - or both. I only wanted to make a note of this to show that I keep up with the news...
Actually, I haven't been keeping up with the news as much. About a month ago we stopped getting a newspaper at home because we weren't getting the time to read it - and I was reading some of it at work. We don't watch tv news much because it's so often just magazine-style material and not real news at all. And since I only listen to the Concert program - when I do listen to the radio - I don't hear much news on there either.
So, how did I hear about P H?? I'm staying at my daughter's at present, and the tv is always on. Sometimes the news makes it into the room, and so tonight the re-arrest of Ms H was on, and given a good deal more importance than the deaths of 25 people in the floods in the Middle East, or even the deaths of a whole family in floods in Australia. Oh, dear, how we do delight in thinking that so-called celebrities are important.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Ms P Hilton

I thought New Zealand was supposed to be the home of tall-poppy-cutting-down, but when it comes to celebrities, the US of A well and truly holds its own. The cries of 'Jail Paris Hilton' rang loud and clear throughout the land, and have gotten even louder since she's been released on home detention after just a few days in jail. The whole thing is absurd, and once again shows how the American system of justice can be so easily undermined. Celebrities don't appear to get their just desserts, but neither do people who have none of the wealth and power. They are more likely to make up the time that the celebrities don't have to do. You might say that balances things out, but of course that's hardly the point.

Karl Maugham

For a while I used to go round the various art galleries situated near Princes St and take note of paintings I liked, jot details down in a notebook about them, do a rough sketch of them, and 'add' them to my own personal art gallery. It didn't exist, of course, but I gave myself a budget of several hundred thousand dollars a year, and thought of the gallery as being built near the Ross Creek Reservoir, a place I feel has a great peace and quiet about it.
One of the NZ artists I 'bought' several works by was Karl Maugham. Over a period of several years, I'd come across exhibitions of his work at the Milford Gallery, and always found that his paintings of gardens delighted my eye, and pleased me emotionally. Milford Gallery has another exhibition of his works beginning on the 16th June, and you can see some of the paintings on the Gallery's site at present. I don't know how long they'll be on there, so I can't guarantee that this link will always be useful. Check it out while you can, as there doesn't seem to be any other site on the Net showing his work. You need to be aware that these paintings are large: from memory they're usually a good metre square - probably larger. They overflow with colour (one reason I love them) and they always have the feeling of being jam-packed, even though Maugham controls the colour scheme and layout of the paintings very carefully.
I haven't included an example of his work with this post, as they'll be copyrighted, so do make sure you have a look at the ones Milford has on display.

Fallacious Arguments

I've always struggled to understand the justification for radar detectors. People talk about using them as though they were playing some game with the police radars, yet this isn't a game. The intention of the police, whatever many people think, is to prevent speed accidents. Yes, lots of people claim it's to make money out of motorists, but surely if the motorists didn't speed then the police wouldn't make the money. There's some failure of logic on the part of people who want to use radar detectors, I think. But I've always felt as though I was in the minority on this argument. Still, being in the minority on an argument doesn't necessarily prove you're wrong; it may only mean that a lot of people believe a fallacy.
I don't enjoy speed restrictions either, along with most drivers. I always think I can drive safely at the speed I'm going at. But the issue isn't what I think, but what the law is. And in general, the law has accepted the argument that people are killed because they don't know how to control speed. Of course there are drivers who can control speed, but they're a minority, and many people have illusions about their ability to control speed. This becomes obvious on days when the weather is iffy, such as heavy rain, or frosts, or snow (it's just started to snow outside again as I write). Some people don't change their driving habits on those days at all, which to me is foolish. But again, I'm probably in the minority on this argument.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Radio ga ga

I haven't listened to internet radio much - or streaming radio, as it tends to get called here - but it is something quite amazing. It's a bit like the whole business of Skype, which my wife and I have been sorting out for when we go to England next week. Hearing the radio through your computer is a peculiar thing, especially when the quality is as good as you'd get on your own radio - well, most of the time. I've had patches when it's a bit hesitant, or there's some obvious interference, but overall it comes across very well. And it's great to have such a choice! When the program on the Concert program isn't to my liking - for instance, when they're playing something I've heard just once too often, or it's Tuesday night and Kate Lineham is on with her Sound Lounge, where all manner of 'music' is played, much of it quite inferior. It's often only played because it's 'alternative' in some way.
We 21st century people are more than spoiled for choice - there's so much choice in everything that's available to us. Of course, I'm talking about us middle-class Westerners who have the world at our feet, when all is said and done, and who as well off as many of the people who were considered wealthy in the 18th and 19th century. In some cases we're better off, in fact. We just don't realise how well off we are, which doesn't really do us much good, in the long term.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Actors and stars

I wrote about Adam Sandler yesterday and the way his screen persona doesn't seem a lot different from his real life persona. Persona might be the issue: having played a lot of crude-mouthed characters, perhaps that's the 'image' he now portrays in real life. It's hard to know. Screen actors, more so than stage actors perhaps, tend to mould their parts to themselves, and get parts that are moulded to their natural person. I find Danny de Vito, for instance, always seems to play loud-mouthed, and often foul-mouthed, characters. Different, but similar, to Sandler's.

Denzil Washington, on the other hand, is more in the vein of the gentlemanly person, and rarely plays a villain, especially the sort of villain who has sadistic or violent streaks. Whether these are just outside his natural acting limits, or whether he prefers not to play them, it's hard to know. He has played a few unpleasant characters, but something doesn't quite work, it seems to me, when he does. This is not to say he can't be aggressive or strong, or domineering when required. But in general it's his humanity and warmth that we go to see him for.

Maybe because we seem so close to screen actors we find it hard to distinguish between them and the kinds of roles they play. The camera doesn't let an actor away with a lot; it readily picks up false notes in a screen performance, especially that of a major star. (Character actors and supporting players are a different kettle of fish.) You can sense when a star isn't comfortable in a role. The most recent example I've seen of this was Michael Caine In Educating Rita. Caine playing a professor, even an alcoholic, washed-out professor, just didn't seem to work; and you sensed the actor being out of sympathy with the character in a number of scenes.

Johnny Depp, though he produces great characters, still brings a sensitivity and vulnerability to all his roles. This meant, when he played the writer in secret Window, he could engage our sympathy throughout the movie, and give us a nasty shock at the end when he turned out to be the murderer.

Of course, producers play to their stars' strengths. That's only natural. And I guess if a scriptwriter turns up with a story that requires a crude character in crude situations, then they'll ring Sandler's agent, or de Vito's. There's no way Washington or Depp would fit the bill. And equally, you can't see Sandler in one of the 'commanding presence' roles that Denzil Washington – or Harrison Ford – plays.

I suppose actors get cast to what they do best. Whether that's the best approach is another matter, since it never stretches the actor. Whether stars can be stretched may be another issue as well.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sandler's trademark

Yesterday we arrived at my daughter's place, where we're staying for a few days before flying off to England. I was too tired to do anything much on the computer or to read, and so I finished up watching an Adam Sandler movie, something I'd rarely do. I've seen others in the past, and they're a puzzle to me. Invariably they're loaded on the side of crudity, even including children in the crudity. (There's an Asian character in this movie who has nothing to do with the story; his sole role is to make crude comments on what's going on.) Plainly Sandler appeals to a certain audience, because he's certainly popular enough to keep making movies. The audience doesn't seem likely to be a young audience either; perhaps it's the middle-aged beer-drinking boys' night out audience. But I'm not sure that the movie I saw last night was likely to appeal to such an audience, since it's a romance; though anyone less likely to strike me as romantic is Sandler.
The movie was 50 First Dates, and in it Sandler plays a crude marine biologist who has two even cruder off-siders. One is either a man or a woman - no one seems sure which - who has a mouth like a cesspool. The other is played by Sandler regular, Rob Schneider, who plays a Hawaiian with half a dozen young sons constantly in tow. He not only speaks crudely (often in front of the boys), but acts even more so. Drew Barrymore is the girl Sandler improbably falls in love with, and Sean Astin plays her dorky brother. Dan Ackroyd makes some occasional appearances - and of course is given some crude lines.
There are some funny moments, though most of them are overdone. There are even some funny lines - between the crude ones.
I saw Sandler on Rove one night. He was almost as crude in that interview as he is in the movies, which makes you think he feels this is an okay way of life - and performance. At the end of this particular movie there's a dedication to his Dad. He hopes that he'll always make his Dad proud of him. You have to wonder what his dad was like if Sandler thinks these movies do him proud.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Need more input!

I love sites that are full of information. There’s nothing more interesting than digging around a site that has articles, links to articles, and links to the links. So I came at a site advertising ‘no exam life insurance’ with some enthusiasm, because it seemed to have links to all sorts of info. Being 62 this year, I’m having to think about these sorts of things, although at present the life insurance I’ve got ought to see me through. (And we’ve taken out travel insurance for our six months away: if something happened, the other person could wind up being a millionaire! Scary.)
However, the site’s links must be playing up. There are three articles on their Long Term Care page that just keep bringing you back to the same place, and the links to the e-books, in the right-hand column, do the same. Maybe the site’s having a bit of a sickie itself!
When this sort of thing happens on a site, I always start to think: maybe I’ve missed something; maybe I have to sign up or something before it’ll function. I’ve found that before. But it doesn’t seem to be the case here. Pity, because I wouldn’t have minded looking at some of the articles, particularly the one on annuities. Though there seems to be a word missing in the title: Annuities why are the new choice for safe investments for baby boomers...
Somebody must have been having a bad hair day.

Here be spoilers

I didn’t mention the marvellous Tom Hollander in POTC3 (he’s also in edition 2). He seems to suit historical parts very well, and has appeared in several costume dramas. Unfortunately he often gets to play rather unpleasant characters: he does a marvellously obnoxious Mr Collins in the latest version of Pride and Prejudice and the man at odds with all sorts of issues in Gosford Park. His height is always going to be an issue: leading men usually need to be a couple of inches taller (Tom Cruise isn't tall, but he’s built differently). But he has an intensity about him that conveys deep currents running beneath the smooth surface. The characters he’s played are usually not people you’d want to muck about with.
He’s given a rather ignominious end in POTC3 – of course he would have to come to some sort of nasty end, being the villain – but it’s an ending that’s almost beneath him. His sudden failure of confidence is out of character, and you get the feeling Hollander finds it a bit difficult to reconcile with the rest of his scenes, in which he’s always in control.
Still, I can understand that sudden failure of confidence: it’s something I’ve had to deal with on several occasions in my life, and even more particularly over the last months. It takes quite an effort to hoist yourself up out of loss of confidence, and some people just don’t make it, breaking down, or spiralling into depression.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

It's TRUE!

I’ve been looking at a site advertising various options for a Florida rental vacation. On the page listing related books I thought at first I saw one called Existential Florida. It could have been apt, listed as it was between the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. But the fact is it was called Essential Florida. I think I like my version better.
Looking further into this site, I discover that Florida is the ‘entertainment capital of the world!’ (the exclamation mark is essential). The writer admits this is an overused phrase, but says it’s true. Later the same writer claims the expression ‘shop till you drop’ began in Florida. I have no way of verifying either of these statements, but I can bet your boots there’ll be other States claiming the same things!
And one other interesting point: there are several pages of testimonials. Surprisingly enough, some of them aren’t entirely positive. And some of them are fairly unreadable, as the original spelling and grammar has been left intact. Still, the majority claim their holiday with this particular company was ‘the best’, so that’s all a company can ask for, ain’t it?


My wife and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean Mark 3 the other night. I hadn’t been looking forward to the prospect of a three-hour stint in the theatre, but in fact, the three hours went by pretty quickly, certainly more quickly than the third in the Lord of the Rings series, which was at least twenty minutes too long.
That’s not to say that POTC3 couldn’t have been cut. There are some sequences – particularly the pitched battles – that go on to such a degree you’d have be a numbskull to think there was anyone left alive. But there always is. And several versions of Jack Sparrow on screen at once is almost several too many. It’s only the fact that Johnny Depp’s character is so perfectly realised, and so intrinsically hilarious, that saves these scenes. In fact, Depp saves quite a few scenes.
All the characters are back in full force, plus a few additional ones, such as Chow Yun-Fat as an Asian pirate lord. And the special effects are extraordinary, as befits a blockbuster of this ilk in this day and age. Once upon a time you could spot many special effects; these days it’s well nigh impossible.
Apparently there’s a scene after the credits – which we missed. No doubt we’ll catch up with it when the DVD comes out.
The story line is utterly complicated – almost as bad as the later Star Wars movies. It resolves itself in the end, to a degree, but you have to keep your wits about you to follow it first time round. And it has a nasty twist at the end which really took the edge off the romantic part of the story – for me. I won’t say what it is, as it would spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

No One Cares What You Had for Lunch

No One Cares What You Had for Lunch could be a line that many bloggers should take to heart, including me. Sometimes we just blog for the sake of it, either because we ‘have’ to write something, or because we want to keep our blog functioning, or because there was nothing better to do (like helping your wife clean up). Sometimes we get obsessional and can’t keep away from the keyboard.
I haven’t read this book, but I see it was recommended by another blogger friend, who’s acted (perhaps without realising it) as a kind of blogging mentor, particularly when it comes to helping me discover other bloggers and approaches to blogging (link and blog challenge, for instance).
No One Cares What You Had for Lunch was written by Margaret Mason, and though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet myself, it sounds worth getting hold of, by the reviews on Amazon. You never know: my blog posts may improve!

Making a Proposal

I had a lot of fun looking at the romantic tips section of the Danforth Diamond site. I’m a bit old in the tooth to think about engagements and engagement rings any more (though I have been engaged twice; married once), but the answers to possible questions people in the engagement market might ask are certainly worth checking out.
You’ll find their ‘romantic tips’ section in the column on the left of their site. It leads to ideas for proposals, how to get a man to propose, and how to propose to a man (Danforth’s say: Thank heavens women are no longer hampered by the old fashioned ideas of the past. Today's woman can propose to a man without being labelled "shameless" or "desperate"!). There’s also a section called Proposal Mistakes, although it’s more about commonsense things to think about when proposing, that actual mistakes. I can’t in the least remember how I went about proposing to my first fiancee – it’s a long time ago – and I’m not going to tell you where and when I proposed to my second. (Danforth’s might not have thought that the occasions was appropriate – and it would probably come under their category of an Impulsive Proposal!) Anyway, wedding rings found themselves on our ring fingers exactly a year later, so the proposal, appropriate or inappropriate occasion aside, must have been satisfactory enough!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Don't take these at face value

All right, if I say the words, Vienna Philharmonic, you’ll think this is another post about music. Nope, this is a post about a 24-carat gold coin called the Vienna Philharmonic. They’re worth 100 euros. I suppose they’re a nicer way to have gold around the house, rather than those chunky great bars we’re used to seeing in crime movies, but they’re probably a bit heavy to carry in the pocket.
But beside Vienna Philharmonics, which have violins on one side and something I can’t identify from the picture on the other, you can get US gold coins, such as the American Buffalo, or the American Eagle. Naturally these have a buffalo and an eagle on them. Plus the buffalo has an American Indian on the other side. Interestingly enough, these coins are legal tender in the States, and are worth $50 each. Fancy walking into MacDonalds or Subway and trying to buy a takeaway with an American Eagle. You might actually get the assistant excited!

Those were the days

Ah, the simple pleasures! We went to see the latest Pirates of the Caribbean tonight (more about that another time) and came home around 8.45 not having had any evening meal. Neither of us felt like cooking, so we ate the cheese rolls I’d got yesterday that were basically in return for a donation to a kindergarten. They were very tasty, and not nearly as oniony as they’d smelt when they first arrived.
And they remind me of the wonderful taste of cheese rolls way back in the sixties, when, together with a late night coffee, they were something of a specialty in coffee bars around town. We don’t seem to be able to make them as well any more, but I can vividly remember how special they seemed at the time, laden with melting butter! No doubt these days the cholesterol police would be onto them like a shot, but back in the days when nobody seemed to worry much about what they ate, they were great!


In the film version of James Dickey’s Deliverance, a story about nothing but the brutal divisiveness of modern life, there is a scene where a city slicker form Atlanta pulls out a guitar, while waiting for gas at a backwoods store. He is a strange in a strange land – and indeed a self-divided man, a true ‘modern.’ But as he strums, his chords are echoed by a banjo from the porch nearby.
The fugue goes on, faster and more complex with each passing phrase. The old man pumping gas begins to dance. Then guitar and banjo finally join in an exuberant duet. For a brief moment the whole world is in harmony – the whole word is in step.

Melvin Maddocks, in an article called, What became of the art to uplift?* originally published in the Christian Science Monitor, circa June 1985.

I originally had this as 'the at to uplift' which didn't make sense, but even the 'art to uplift' doesn't sound quite right. Perhaps it was the 'art of uplift?' Who knows!

Ah! Capella!

Capella must be one of the youngest universities around. I’ve mentioned it before in these posts, so thought I’d have a bit of a look at their history. There isn’t much about it online, just a list of dates when special things happened, but it’s interesting to see that its beginnings only go back to 1991. By 2004 it had 10,000 learners: a fairly speedy increase!
Capella’s focus is online education, and they have some 800 courses available. And the interaction between teacher and pupil is actually better than it is in many ‘live’ universities: "I enjoy this program more than anything I've done in the way of education. If I e-mail my professor, he e-mails me back immediately. It's like having a one-on-one tutor." [Don Felty]
I wrote on another blog about the way some college professors are giving up on email because they’re feeling swamped. But to me email is one of the best forms of communication around, because people can relax as they write. They don’t have to be reading signals from another person all the time, as we do face to face. I’m not advocating an end to face to face communication: it’s just I’m a great fan of email!
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Casual Friday?

What is the point of casual Fridays in offices? It's one of those strange customs that's crept in over the years, and which doesn't seem to actually contribute anything. Maybe I've been out of the 'business formal' scene for a long time, and have forgotten that most men are still required to wear suits and ties, and most women have to 'dress up' when at work. But making one day a week 'casual' doesn't seem to contribute anything. Does it make people more relaxed at work? I'd hardly think so. And women, being women, will no doubt still dress up whatever the day is: they can't afford to be seen looking underdressed in contrast to other women in the office.

There's an interesting article on the subject on Wikipedia, which says that the idea of Casual Fridays goes back to the 1950s, but that it didn't take off much then. And then there was a period in the 90s when casual almost became the norm. I haven't had to 'dress up' at work for such a long time, I barely posses any real business clothes, and even in my current job(s) there's no need for what you'd normally call business gear – at least as far as I'm concerned. Earlier this year, when I got an interview with a legal firm, I went and bought a suit on the off-chance that I might get the job, and need to be suitably dressed. It was nice to have a suit that actually fitted – the one I already possessed had got a little tight, to say the least.

The trend seems to be getting away from casual on Fridays, or casual on any day, in fact. Casual dress can denote a casual attitude; business dress can denote a business-like attitude. It may not be truth, but it's worth bearing in mind.

While thinking about this topic I came across a blog called Canadian Headhunter. The post is obviously aimed at the bloke, and is written by a bloke, apparently. It has some good advice in it, even though not everyone might agree with the choice of clothing suggested.