A quick note

November 1st, 2011

I’m leaving for the hospital around 7:30 pm. I’m to arrive between 8 and 8:30pm. Operation is still scheduled for tomorrow, so I had a meal with our houseguest and won’t be eating anything else until probably tomorrow evening.

I hope everything goes well—I’m quite apprehensive so if you think good thoughts normally, can you think some my way? And if you’re a praying sort of person, can you say one or two for me too.

Will post something after I recover from the anesthetic.

Encouraging and sustaining marriage in Singapore

October 28th, 2011

Disclaimer: I admire Singapore and follow events there fairly closely. But not being Singaporean, any observations below are my opinions only and may be challenged by those with a better or closer knowledge of my favourite Asian country.

Singapore has a low birthrate at the moment, and a current average marriage age that is relatively high. The Singapore government, always thinking of the future (but often getting it wrong) is going to promote new and innovative ways of getting Singaporeans to marry and stay married.

When HWMBO was growing up in Singapore, there was a government-sponsored social club into which all young Singaporeans were enrolled, designed to urge them to pair up and eventually get married. This club was the object of much derision among many young Singaporeans and I believe it has gone out of existence (but may be wrong).

As for a history of misplaced Singaporean futureology, one might point to Lee Kwan Yew’s fear of overpopulation on the relatively small island of Singapore which led to a policy of encouraging one child only several decades ago. This has been replaced by a policy of encouraging Singaporeans to marry early and breed often, since the island nation has a shortage of native talent for its industrial and financial organisations. This has led to a surge in immigration, both temporary and permanent, and this surge has also produced discontent in the average native Singaporean.

This discontent at rising immigration is not confined to Singapore, of course, but the Singaporean version has some fascinating characteristics. Many immigrants to Singapore are from the People’s Republic of China, and some native Singaporean Chinese feel threatened by this influx of Chinese (forgetting, like some modern Irish Americans, that they themselves are the children or grandchildren of immigrants) and point out how “common” the immigrants are. A reluctance on the part of the immigrants to learn English (Singapore’s lingua franca) is also a source of irritation. Overcrowding on the MRT (Singapore’s state of the art rapid transit system) is becoming a great source of discontent.

I recall a recent case where a family in Singapore that often cooked its native dishes (some kind of pungent curry) was irritating a neighbour, who took them to court to force them to tone down their cooking. I recall people in America complaining about the smell of cabbage boiling in Irish households, or the garlic that infused the cooking of Italian families.

The government’s encouraging Chinese Singaporeans to speak Mandarin Chinese only has raised a generation of Singaporeans who cannot communicate with their grandparents except through their parents, since the younger people cannot speak the grandparent’s dialect (Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese, for example) and the grandparent never learned Mandarin or English. So much for honouring one’s ancestors and transmitting cultural values down through the generations.

I suspect that this program will not have much effect on the tendency of Singaporeans to marry late and divorce frequently. Making it easier to conduct an integrated and family-friendly life by reducing hours spent at work would probably be more fruitful in this area. I don’t see that happening soon.

Not my best work…

October 27th, 2011

…but the news about Canon Giles Fraser resigning from St. Paul’s Cathedral because of the deliberations about using force against the Occupy London protesters has occasioned a higgledy-piggledy.

Higgledy piggledy
Canon Giles Fraser
Protected the people
who camped near St. Paul’s

The funny thing is that
Camping in churches
Is for canons in stalls.

It also puts me in mind of the old limerick, slightly altered here, collected by Gershon Legman:

The venerable old Dean of St. Paul’s
said, “Concerning them cracks in the walls,
Do you think it would do
If we filled them with glue?”
The Bishop of London said, “Balls!”

Stabbie is VERY cross

October 27th, 2011

As you may know. Stabbie’s feet are not in very good shape. In fact, today Stabbie toddled off to Kings College Hospital on Denmark Hill for a pre-op evaluation. Next Wednesday they’re going to put Stabbie under, cut the end of his fifth left metatarsal (the bone behind his little toe), and clean up the ulcer, in hopes that it will heal. Stabbie has never been under general anesthesia before, and he’s pretty well worried about that. In addition, it looks like the hospital will want to keep Stabbie in for a couple of weeks, just to keep him from walking about.

Stabbie has also had some kind of bronchitis for the last four days or so. This is pretty annoying, what with the coughing all night and the aching diaphragm. So sleep is precious.

At 3 am, the phone rang. Stabbie can’t get up fast enough to answer it, so HWMBO did, and the person at the other end asked for Stabbie.

Stabbie groggily took the phone, and the voice asked, “Stabbie?” “Yes, this is he” said Stabbie. “London Stabbie?” “Yes. This is he. Who is this?” “Kathy.” “Kathy who?” “You know, Kathy K.” The name is redacted to shame the guilty.

Kathy is Stabbie’s first cousin once removed. She, like Stabbie, is interested in geneology. She is Stabbie’s grandmother’s great-granddaughter. We have corresponded in the past, but fell out of touch during the SARS scare when Stabbie proposed to visit Toronto and then visit her. She said she was too afraid of contagion so Stabbie decided it wasn’t worth it to keep up a connection, so quietly let it die.

Stabbie politely told Kathy that it was 3 am here in London and that he had a hard day at the hospital ahead. She said, “It’s really 3 am there?” Stabbie assured her that the time zone system extended either side of Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific and that we were, indeed 5 hours ahead of her (Kathy lives in New England).

She apologised, hung up, and Stabbie tried to go back to sleep, without much success.

This is not the first American friend Stabbie has has to point out the time difference between North America and London. Stabbie’s brother’s girlfriend once called at 1 am. But Stabbie would like to pay particular attention to the math and social studies teachers in the United States who seem not to be aware of the time zone system. If said teachers don’t start impressing their students with the fact that not everywhere on Earth is in their time zone, Stabbie may be at the next National Association of Teachers convention, and it won’t be pretty.

And to those Americans who feel that the sun, moon, stars, and all things belong to THEIR time zone, Stabbie points to Big Ben and assures them that, when and if it topples over, Stabbie will try to make sure they are in the vicinity asking their spouse, “Mabel, do you think that clock is leaning a BIIIIIIT? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

Odds and Sods

October 26th, 2011

I still have a hacking cough today, so I gave the free ticket to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to HWMBO, who is enjoying it right now as I type. I am just hoping that the cough improves enough by tomorrow (it’s a bit better today) so that I’ll be passed fit for my operation next week. Thanks to the Atlanta Circumciser, who is a dear friend and a great lunch companion, for the ticket. Maybe someday he’ll let me buy lunch.

I am apprehensive about this preop assessment tomorrow. I always hate being in hospitals, and I’m apprehensive in particular about continuing infection and the possibility of picking something virulent up while I’m in there.

I think it’s unlikely that Michael Ipgrave or Giles Fraser will be appointed as Dean of Southwark next week, for various mechanical reasons. If there is no announcement next Tuesday, Michael will be back in the picture.

I have been slothful today, and only ventured as far as the mailbox to pick up our post. This is bad, as I’ve been alone and brooding about the impending operation.

I am listening to Evening Prayer for the feast of St. Alfred the Great, by Fr. Jonathan Hagger. It’s quite good, and if you appreciate eclectic worship, go on over there and have a listen.

I’m about to go to watch Sir David Attenborough’s latest, Frozen Planetabout the poles. He didn’t travel much for this one; he mostly narrates from the studio. But I’m told that everyone thinks it’s first rate. And his voice is something else; I would listen to him read the phone book (do we still have them?) just to hear his voice. He reminds me of Alexander Scourby in that his voice is suited to his work. I kept thinking “Alexander Schreiner” but he was the organist for the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City and didn’t have a “speaking” part. Does anyone remember either Alexander these days?

I enjoyed Frozen Planet—it was, of course, formulaic. We had the obligatory sex scene (between two polar bears) and the obligatory death scenes (wolves after a bison, and killer whales after a seal). But the photography is stunning. I do have a bone to pick, in that they don’t use the whole hour. In order to tailor it for the US commercial market, they end it at 48 or 49 minutes and then have a “Making of” feature showing the photographers doing their thing. One presumes that the “Making of”s will be packaged as an additional hour (plus commercials) in places that show commercials.

I am tired; it is time for bed. Tomorrow will be stressful, being an entire day at the hospital. I do not look forward to it.

Today’s religious video

October 26th, 2011

When your son comes home from college and says that he’s “found Jesus”, beware.

Foot update

October 22nd, 2011

I’m reminded that I haven’t given y’all an update on the foot situation for a while.

The ulcer on my right foot is scar tissue only, and they hack away at it every few weeks. The scar tissue is permanent, they say. Oh, well, at least I have my right foot.

The ulcer on my left big toe has healed; there is still some rough skin on it but that will slough away in time, if the podiatrists don’t hack it off next week.

The ulcer on the left side of my left foot has gone down to the bone. You may remember that the one on the right side of my right foot did too, but it healed before my name came up on the waiting list. This one seems to be infected (although not too seriously), so they have given me amoxicillin, flucloxacillin, ciprofloxacin, and metronidazole. These four antibiotics seriously kill nearly every bacterium known to man, and probably a lot more besides. They affect my digestion, but I will draw a veil over that. Flucloxacillin has to be taken on an empty stomach 4x daily, so you cannot eat one hour before or after taking it. Ciprofloxacin is interfered with by calcium and iron preparation, so you can’t have milk or Tums-like medications two hours before or after taking it, 2x day. Metronidazole is taken 3x daily, and you cannot drink alcohol while you are taking it. Amoxicillin is pretty easy: 3x daily and no dietary restrictions. I am down to a daily routine that manages to observe all these restrictions. I’m amazed.

Two Mondays ago I went to the clinic and got looked at by an orthopedic surgeon. They quacked over my X-rays. The podiatrist told me they were exciting: I guess that her life is a bit dull. The bone behind my little toe has twisted so that the end of it is protruding from the left side of the foot preventing the ulcer from healing. What they propose to do is shave off the end of that bone, wire the joint up temporarily, and stitch up the ulcer. I am unsure, but they may also put my left leg in a cast. I will be left with that well-known medical condition, floppy toe. I told them that I can hardly move it anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

Yesterday I got the note from the hospital: I’m to go in for pre-assessment this coming Thursday (it conflicts with a Foot Clinic appointment so I will have to call them on Monday to see what to do), and then make myself ready for admission on Monday November 1st, and surgery on Tuesday November 2. I am assuming it will be under general anesthesia. I need to put down a list of questions to ask the surgeon beforehand. I think that I will be released either November 3rd or 4th.

So, next week, wish me luck! If all goes well, I think my feet will be in OK shape within a month or so, assuming that I don’t go around walking miles and miles and rubbing the skin to create another ulcer… 🙁

Today’s Wagnerian Video

October 21st, 2011

Thanks to Ron’s Log, I have heard the Ride of the Valkyries played on a magnificent pipe organ in St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, which is northeast of Minneapolis and obviously a rather wealthy community, judging by the pipe organ. The quality of the video is a bit grainy: sometimes it looks like there was water in the lens. But the most interesting factoid is this: the organist confessed that, as it would take three organists at the console to play his transcription, he merely fed the MIDI scores into the organ console and used it as if it were a player piano…er…organ.

I enjoyed it; there is something of the plodding of a herd of horses mechanically galloping down the road in this transcription—not hysteria, or wildness, just the inevitability of the march of time and calamity that is to come.

Looking at the church’s website, it seems as though it wouldn’t be very welcoming to the likes of me, and the offer of contemporary worship makes me shudder, but at least they have an organ suitable for the highest worship style.

Sic semper tyrannis

October 20th, 2011

Among others, those were the words that John Wilkes Booth shouted as he leapt from the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre after mortally wounding President Abraham Lincoln.

Over the more than a century and a half since that day in 1865, political figures from Presidents of the United States, Kings, Archdukes, dictators of all sorts, and leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. have been assassinated.

Today we have learned about the capture of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, and his subsequent death, either as a result of wounds suffered during his capture or from a subsequent gunshot. This has been the inevitable conclusion of the events begun by the uprising in Misrata in February.

The scenes shown on CNN and the BBC News Channel are of Gaddafi, alive, being taken away in a truck, and of Gaddafi, dear, sometime later. We see jubilant Libyan fighters waving their guns in the air and shooting off celebratory rounds. Other fighters are flashing the “V for Victory” sign, or boasting that they were the one who found Gaddafi in his drainage pipe hideout and dragged him out to be shot. Women and children are waving signs and ululating in victory.

Why then do I feel uneasy?

I suppose that not having lived under a tyrant I have a jaded view of deaths of tyrants. The video of Saddam Hussain falling through the scaffold’s trap door to his death was pretty awful. The death of Osama bin Laden, while not accompanied by pictures or videos, was fairly squalid as it was described. The scenes of Egypt’s Mubarak, being brought into court on a stretcher, obviously ill, aren’t very pleasant either. Going back in time a bit, the suicide of Adolf Hitler brought the Second World War in Europe to a swift end in 1945. Stalin’s apparent death was celebrated by his closest aides, until he was found to be still breathing; his end had to be hastened by a pillow (reportedly).

Death has a way of being both an ending, and a beginning. The death of Gaddafi has brought his rule in Libya to a pretty bloody closure. But is it the beginning of a new, democratic state of Libya where democratic rule of law will reign over its people? We do not know. We can only hope.

But I must confess that I do not feel easy today. I am not sad at the end of a brutal dictatorship. I am, however, sad that the Libyans arrived at this end through yet another killing. Death, whether of a child in Ethiopia or Somalia from famine, or of a dictator in Libya, or of a close friend, does not bring me any joy.

I do not mourn his passing; however, I do not take joy at the manner in which it happened.

And, lest we forget, death will visit us all, without exception. No one will live forever (nor would anyone want to, I believe). Death has taken the Colonel. However, death will take us too.

It is said that the Rt. Rev’d Mervyn Stockwood, once Bishop of Southwark, remarked on the longevity in office of various elderly priests with, “Where there’s death, there’s hope.” I think that in the Colonel’s case we can only trust that this saying was right. May all the victims of tyranny worldwide rest in peace and rise in glory.

Tom Lehrer—Genius!

October 17th, 2011

For some reason I was drawn to look at and listen to the multitude of YouTube animations of Tom Lehrer’s song “The Elements”. Only a genius could have written and sung that song, and I comment it to your most serious contemplation.

But more important is a relatively new collection of music videos showing Lehrer himself singing various of his hits of the 1960’s and 70’s. I remember my physics teacher at St. John’s Prep introducing me to Tom Lehrer, and I was absolutely smitten. Had I actually seen a performance, my smittenness would have been complete. While no one can sneer in their music better than Tom Lehrer, but when you actually see him singing, the sneer becomes complete.

Below you should find a YouTube embedment of “Wernher von Braun”, one of his masterpieces. Watch the sneer!

Lehrer ended his singing days at the behest of his academic superiors (actually, they were his inferiors, I think), and ended up a professor of mathematics at CalTech. He is still alive, in his early 80’s, and long may he wave!

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, Political Department, Tory Division

October 12th, 2011

We’ve been here before, of course. In many countries, and in many situations, politicians who are gay or bi feel the need to conceal this fact in order to be elected. One might remember Senator Tapper McWidestance, the Idaho senator who was caught soliciting in a men’s lavatory at Minneapolis airport. Senator McWidestance…er…Craig repeatedly denied he was gay, in spite of a large body of evidence that pointed to a history of involvement with rent boys and the like.

The Secretary of State for Defence in the coalition government, Dr. Liam Fox, is married. To a woman. His best man, a gentleman named Adam Werritty, has been a close friend for years. Mr. Werritty handed out a business card saying that he was an “Advisor” to Dr. Fox.

The news broke last week about Mr. Werritty’s connection with Dr. Fox, and the Tories formed a circle firing outwards. Werritty was not an official of the government, was not paid by the government, and was most definitely not an advisor to Dr. Fox.

However, Werritty has been claiming that he was acting for the Defense Secretary’s office when booking hotel rooms in Dubai. He has been taking many trips with the Defense Secretary, and has been present at official meetings (there is photographic evidence). He has no current visible means of support, despite living in a ÂŁ700,000 flat in London (with a female flatmate, it should be said). He was the director of a charity called Atlantic Bridge that was set up by Dr. Fox, and has now been wound up.

Atlantic Bridge, according to another article, has links to the Tea Party in the United States. So you Americans are also concerned in this.

And, finally, this morning it has been revealed that when Dr. Fox’s home was burglarised last year, a man was staying in his flat with Dr. Fox. The man was an overnight guest, says Dr. Fox, and was not Adam Werritty.

Now, taken separately, all these facts would be innocent. And an interview with a political analyst on BBC Radio 4’s Today program just now suggests that the innocent explanation was that Dr. Fox felt that he was isolated in the government, and that civil servants were undermining him. In those circumstances, it was only natural that someone that Dr. Fox trusted (ie, Mr. Werritty) would be tapped to assist him in talks with foreign officials and defense companies worldwide.

So we have an impasse. Dr. Fox is being prevented from doing his proper job by the drip-drip-drip of information and, to be frank, gossip that is appearing in the news media. I think that he will end up having to resign because the news media will make it impossible for him to evade or wave off these accusations. If he is not gay, the gossip is malicious and wrong. However, in politics appearance is everything. If it appears that a politician is dissimulating about his own personal circumstances in any way, he (it’s often a male politician, but not always) can wave goodbye to his political career.

I would not venture an opinion as to Dr. Fox’s sexual orientation. And the assumption that a person is straight unless otherwise specified is still very powerful. But I’m disturbed that politicians seem to think that the possession of a private life (which is important) means that they can separate that private life from their public persona.

Honest integration of one’s private and public lives is a good thing. It means that when asked a question about something in one’s personal life, a person can answer honestly and truthfully. There is no need to go and hide something just because it’s at odds with one’s public life. There would be no need to conceal anything, and the news media would have to go find gossip elsewhere.

There will always be an England, Ecclesiastical Department, City Section

October 7th, 2011

As is my wont, I began reading the Church Times, that notorious organ of the Church by law Established, from the back, looking at the advertisements for parishes and dioceses, then the Gazette, which is where movements of clergy in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland Anglican churches are chronicled. I came across this entry:

CROSSLEY. The Revd Jeremy Cross­ley, Rector of St Margaret Lothbury and St Stephen Coleman Street with St Christopher-le-Stocks, St Bartho­lew-by-the-Exchange, St Olave Old Jewry, St Martin Pomeroy, St Mil­dred Poultry and St Mary Cole­church, Director of Post-Ordination Training, and Diocesan Director of Ordinands, to be also Priest-in-Charge of St Edmund the King and St Mary Woolnoth with St Nicholas Acons, All Hallows Lombard Street, St Benet Gracechurch, St Leonard Eastcheap, St Dionis Backchurch and St Mary Woolchurch, Haw, London (London).

The Rev’d Mr. Crossley must be a very busy man indeed, running between all those churches to take services. I do hope he has a few curates or priests with Permission To Officiate to help him, or even a Reader or ten. He is in my prayers.

Today’s Religious Phone Call

October 6th, 2011

…is taken from a friend’s blog in Singapore.

Me: Who was that on the phone?

Mum: (Sigh) A very religious lady.

Me: OMG these religious Jesus nuts! They are just too much! They are at it at every given opportunity! Force feeding the bible down your throat, do they stop to think or ask if you want to listen to their gospel? No! They just go on and on disregarding not to mention disrespecting other beliefs and support systems! There really should be a law preventing this from happening! By the way how did she get your number? This is an outrage I think we should…

Mum: You done?

Me: No I am not! We need to do something about this…

Mum: (cutting me off) It is not the church lah.

Me: Oh?

Mum: It’s the lady from the Buddhist temple downstairs.

Me: Oh I see…err So how is church these days?

Today’s Unfortunate Quotation

October 6th, 2011

As most if not all of you know by now, Apple’s Steve Jobs died last night. Aside from all the encomia emanating from the technorati such as Stephen Fry, there is the complicating factor of the announcement of the iPhone 4S.

The Inquirer is one of the sassier tech news sources around. However, in its article about the iPhone 4S launch, it included a last paragraph that made me sit up and take notice:

Let’s just say, whatever Tim Cook has up his sleeve, it better be good. A firm that has become celebrated for its innovation could be slipping behind. Is it time for Apple to bring back Steve Jobs?

Now, Apple has done many great things. But bringing back Steve Jobs is unlikely to be one of the great things Apple does.

Today’s language joke

October 4th, 2011

…is ruthlessly pinched from Erika, a commenter on Bishop Nick Baines’ blog.

“A Swiss man, looking for directions, pulls up at a bus stop where two Brits are waiting.
“Entschuldigung, können Sie Deutsch sprechen?” he asks.
The two Brits just stare at him.
“Excusez-moi, parlez vous Français?” he tries.
The two continue to stare.
“Parlare Italiano?”
No response.
“Hablan ustedes Español?”
Still nothing.
The Swiss guy drives off, extremely disgusted. The first Brit turns to the second and says,
“Y’know, maybe we should learn a foreign language.”
“Why?” says the other. “That guy knew four languages, and it didn’t do him any good.”

My new porn name

October 4th, 2011

Nearly every gay man at some time or other has been christened with a so-called “porn name”. This is the name one would take if, by some miracle, one’s body was in shape enough to act in porn.

I never took one, as I never had any illusions about porn and my place in it (as an occasional consumer, not as a producer of same), but I have come across the best porn name ever, and I’m taking it.

From now on, my porn name is Salty Cumming. The below advertisement was cribbed from the Live Journal vintage-ads group. I hope they don’t mind…much.

To my Singaporean friends

October 4th, 2011

Congratulations on the impending opening of the rest of the Circle Line MRT stations! I am looking forward on my next trip to Singapore to meeting all of you first, then travelling on the new Circle Line!

Letter to her husband

October 4th, 2011

My darling husband, Before you return from your business trip, I just want to let you know about the small accident I had with the pick up truck when I turned into the driveway.

Fortunately it’s not too bad and I really didn’t get hurt, so please don’t worry too much about me.

I was coming home from Wal-Mart, and when I turned into the driveway I accidentally pushed down on the accelerator instead of the brake.

The garage door is slightly bent but fortunately the pick up came to a halt when it bumped into your car.

I am really sorry, but I know with your kind-hearted personality you will forgive me. You know how much I love you and care for you my sweetheart.

I am enclosing a picture of the damage for you.

I cannot wait to hold you in my arms again.

Your loving wife.

P.S. Your girlfriend called.

Today’s Thing that makes you say “Huh?”

October 4th, 2011

This is taken from Rev’d Leslie’s blog, which is always thought-provoking.

Today’s anniversary

October 2nd, 2011

I suddenly remembered the moment that I decided to attend my first Integrity/New York eucharist, more than 23 years ago. St. Luke-in-the-Fields was two blocks north of where I worked, and the service was at 7 pm (I seem to recall). They put an ad in the gay rag in New York, and every week that ad nagged me to go to church. I had not been to church for many years at that point, as a former RC I preferred to eat doughnuts and read the New York Times on Sunday morning.

So I walked north to St. Luke, and instead of going in I walked around the block. When I got to the front door again, I walked by it and around the block yet AGAIN. I finally walked in the front door on the third try, and was greeted by the most wonderful man I have ever met in the church: Nick Dowen, then the president of Integrity/New York. He welcomed me in, sat me down, and was very kind. I had to leave right afterwards as the speaker at the coffee hour was someone I knew from another context who wasn’t very nice. I returned the next week.

And thus, today, October 2, is the 23rd anniversary of my reception into “this branch of God’s Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”, as my certificate (on my wall) says. Every journey starts with a couple of laps around the block, it seems.

Even for Oral Roberts’ grandson, it gets better

September 30th, 2011

For a guy whose own mother said at his grandfather’s funeral that he himself would go to hell, making a video like this must have been difficult. His uncle Ronnie, Oral Roberts’ son, was gay, and committed suicide. This is his gay nephew’s letter to him.

I hope that every young child of an Evangelical family who thinks they may be gay or lesbian will watch this video. It is very moving, and tissues should be handy.

Today’s Canine Video

September 29th, 2011

If you’re a tired dog owner, you’ve probably encountered your dog, with a ball in his or her mouth, coming up to you, laying it at your feet, and waiting for you to throw it, just so the dog can catch it and do it all over again.

Well, the person who owns the dog in the video has made it easy to exercise your dog without actually moving a muscle yourself.

Talking about another Rowan, for a change

September 28th, 2011

Last week Rowan Atkinson, him of Blackadder and Mr. Bean fame, gave an interview to the Times in which he slammed Church of England priests for being, among other things, smug.

Among other things, he said:

I used to think that the vicars that I played or the exaggerated sketches about clerics were unreasonable satires on well meaning individuals… But, actually, so many of the clerics that I’ve met, particularly the Church of England clerics, are people of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extraordinarily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society… Increasingly, I believe that all the mud that Richard Curtis and I threw at them through endless sketches that we’ve done is more than deserved.

The Times asked the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford, for a comment before publication:

We take the hit and I am sorry that this has been Rowan Atkinson’s experience. But it takes no account of the thousands of self-sacrificial clergy who don’t fit this stereotype. I would be happy to introduce him to some.

Well, Nick published a blog post about the whole business, expanding on his comment above. However, the last paragraph, to me, is the real killer.

And I still find Rowan Atkinson’s film clergy caricatures funny. After all, they are caricatures – based on a certain acknowledged reality, but hopelessly exaggerated and wildly hammed up.


Which, of course, is totally true.

Today’s heartwarming story from Thailand

September 25th, 2011

Imagine, a single mother in Bangkok, faced with giving up her baby because she can no longer keep him. The gay couple down the street takes an interest, and someone suggests that they adopt the baby. But, while they’re at work, who’s going to take care of the baby? That’s right, birth mum will do it.

This is a really heartwarming story. The couple have now adopted the baby, named “Little” Ricky, and the Thai mum is their nursemaid. They are a happy family. And don’t miss the update—Ricky’s turned three years old and is cute as a button.

I love stories with happy endings, and this one is bound to go on and on.

For taking up the challenge of raising a little Thai boy and keeping his mother involved, Lee and Rick are my Bricks of the Day (sorry, MadPriest; I’m stealing this idea).

Why do software giants think they can decide what I want?

September 23rd, 2011

No, this isn’t about the recent Facebook dĂ©bacle, although it could have been, I suppose.

This morning I found an email in my mailbox from LinkedIn. Now, I don’t believe LinkedIn is of much use to me any more, and as soon as I retire formally I’ll delete my profile and forget about them, but until I do formally retire I suppose that it doesn’t hurt to be on there. I belong to a lot of groups, and I get a daily digest of activity for most of them. The salient part of the email is pictured below:


If I’d wanted weekly digests I’d have asked for them.

No, I don’t visit the site very often. But, I don’t want to be told that I can only get news from them weekly. If it cost them anything to send the email daily, I’d say that they were justified. But it doesn’t.

On the other hand, if by sending me that email they wanted me to visit (if only to change my preferences) then it worked, as I visited and changed my preferences back. Presumably the high mucky-mucks at LinkedIn are now huddled in a secure conference room somewhere trying to figure out why I changed my preferences back.

Today’s Telephone URL

September 22nd, 2011

I don’t know whether this has ever happened to you, but occasionally I used to get calls for a business whose number was close to mine. I just would tell people “I’m sorry, you have the wrong number.” and hang up. However, Mark Evanier had a difficulty where a local art gallery commissioned an advertisement where their phone number was misprinted—as Mark’s number. He spoke to the art gallery and got the advertisement’s next printing pulled, in a most ingenious way.

Today’s IT Video

September 21st, 2011

And you think that YOU’RE having computer problems…just watch this bunch of workers try to solve their IT problems.

Stabbie in the kitchen and at the computer

September 20th, 2011

London Stabbie has been quite annoyed today. He has resurrected his old computer in order to ensure that everything useful is removed, and exported his recipe book this morning. Now there is nothing more useful in keeping and disseminating and sharing recipes than a computer. One would think that after many years of storing recipes on computers someone would have figured out a good way of exporting recipes and then importing them into another computer or another program. One would be wrong. Very wrong. As wrong as drinking shiraz with lemon sole.

Stabbie was amazed at the speed of the export from a very old version of Mastercook into a text file. Less than 5 seconds for 2MB of recipes (Stabbie has lots of recipes).

Stabbie then copied the file into his new computer and fired up Mastercook 11, guaranteed to work with Windows 7. Then he imported the recipe file, and while there were a few mistakes (reported by the software) most of the recipes seemed to be imported fairly well.

So Stabbie took at look at his mother’s recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. He was surprised to learn that it required no meat, no tomatoes, but a lot of flour and sugar and baking powder. Somehow Mastercook had slipped a gear and missed out several recipes, putting the wrong labels on the subsequent ones.

So Stabbie deleted all the recipes, and opened the text file with the exported recipes in it. He now has to import them 10 or 20 at a time and go through each. Some have ingredients misplaced, and others don’t have the instructions or notes correct. Stabbie has more than 1500 recipes in his database. He’s not looking forward to the next four months.

Cooking software is written by dweebs for noobs.

This is also true for geneological software.

Stabbie would like to get the programmers, and especially the people who arranged the user interfaces and the import and export engines, into a very small dining room, lock them in, and feed them chocolate cake iced with Ex-Lax. The toilets will not be accessible.

Paying the labourers in the vineyard

September 17th, 2011

Tomorrow’s sermon at St. John’s

September 18, 2011 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time/13th after Trinity
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10 AM.
First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9; Ps: 144; Epistle: Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Gospel: Matt 20:1-16 (Year A)

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

Where I come from, in the school where pupils are 11 to 14 years old, which we call “junior high school”, we had to participate for the first time in what you would call “PE class” and what we called “gym”. It’s supposed to toughen you up, get you in good physical shape, and also build character. Whatever character is.

Unfortunately, character is often not something that’s built, but something that’s demolished. Whatever hopes, fears, aspirations, good and bad qualities that a child has, experiences in school will tear down the existing qualities and replace them with something else.

So when in gym class we were told to take part in a team sport, a captain was chosen by the teacher and then those captains chose their teams. The good players were picked first, and then those who were left over were, often reluctantly, chosen until, at the end, there were two unfortunates who neither team wanted but who had to be picked anyway. The same two children always turned out to be the last two picked, no matter what sport was to be played. Thus was character built.

As an overweight, left-handed child, I was normally in that group of two children always picked last. I don’t know whether that did anything to build my character, but it certainly made me feel worthless, at least at sport.

This parable in Matthew is a troublesome one, especially to those of us who have been raised with the Puritan work ethic. The principle of modern work and pay is that the longer you work, and the more work you do, the more you are paid. Ask any banker whether he or she is justly paid huge sums for what is essentially the business of buying and selling money, and the banker will of course say that a banker’s pay is commensurate with the amount of work he does.

Ask a worker in the local council whether her pay for, perhaps, helping an elderly person stay at home rather than go into a nursing home is just for the amount of work she does. She might say that it is a bit low but in these times everyone has to tighten their belts.

I’m sure you’ve read articles in the newspapers about a person who is working at a job he absolutely adores. This person often says that he would do that job for half the money, or even none, he loves it so much. Of course, no manager or owner of a business ever takes them at their word and lowers this person’s pay.

We’ve also seen stories in the news lately about the situations of interns. In many cases employers, even members of Parliament, advertise for interns who will, unfortunately, be unpaid except, perhaps, for travel expenses. The hope of the intern is that, eventually, the contacts she makes and the experience she gets will make up for the fact that her dinner menu consists entirely of Curry Pot Noodles and black tea.

And, of course, there are those who have no work at all these days. There is the necessity of cutting the government’s budget or the requirement that private employers trim down their costs in order to continue to pay dividends to their shareholders. These jobless people always have the hope that, ultimately, at the end of the day someone will hire them to do something to earn a wage.

There is a historical perspective to this parable, in that Matthew was speaking to the early Christians, just forming themselves into a church. One can imagine that those who became Christians early, perhaps even during Jesus’s lifetime, might be a bit annoyed that those who became Christians later on were taking some of the most important spots in the structure of the church. They might feel that being what marketers call “early adopters” should have entitled them to more privilege within the organisation.

What Matthew is saying to those people is that we are all equal in the church through baptism. Once we have committed to following Christ, we are all equal heirs to the kingdom and entitled to the same level of grace and the spirit that those who have been Christians for many years. While I think that Matthew wanted to damp down rivalries in the early Church through this parable, from my observations of the Church over the past half a century or so I doubt it had the desired effect.

While Matthew may have had one intention in writing this parable, the beauty of Scripture is that it’s a very deep treasury of symbolism and truth. The Gospels can be like an old gold mine, exhausted of ore. Sometimes just when you think the mine is no longer productive, some other ore is discovered in it that is as valuable as the ore it used to produce.

We often see among various types of Christian ones who think that Christianity is an exclusive club. It’s run by Christians, for certain types of Christian, and only those types are going to get everlasting life.

These people take it on themselves to pronounce on who will be saved, and who will be condemned to eternal punishment. In America there is the Westboro Baptist Church, celebrated for demonstrating at the funerals of soldiers, saying that they are going to hell because the US is allowing gay marriage. In fact, these people believe that everyone except themselves is bound for hell.

In my early years as a Roman Catholic, I was taught to believe that only Roman Catholics were saved; everyone else was bound for Purgatory at least, if not full-blown hell and damnation. This was the official line until Vatican II, and many still believe it.

This parable, for me, illustrates that the opinions of people as to who will be saved are utterly useless. You, or I, or anyone can declare that such and such a person or group of people is not going to be saved. We can say it as loud and as long as we want. We can get indignant that some other church asserts that they have the possibility of salvation when we ourselves are of the opinion that the other group does not.

All this is vain posturing. The parable tells us that only God can include us in the kingdom of heaven. It’s God’s free gift to us, and nothing that we ourselves earn, or deserve. As the landowner says in the parable: “I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own?”

So God chooses the team. Our belief, and our actions, are judged only by God, and it is God who includes us in, generously, at the end. Even the left-handed fat kid who can’t play sports can be included. And if that kid gets in, there’s hope for everyone. AMEN.

Today’s Fauna Video

September 17th, 2011

I can’t say that I think much of taxidermy. But the most natural acting in this commercial comes from the stuffed animals.

And it’s comforting to know that the taxidermist doesn’t stuff pets. I can sleep better tonight.

Queen Anne’s Dead

September 11th, 2011

Chris Ambidge drew my attention to an article in the Sunday Telegraph by Jonathan Wynne-Jones saying that Rowan Williams was planning to resign next year in order to take up an academic post.

My first reaction was “Oh, Queen Anne’s dead.” (what you say in the UK when someone relates old news to you). Last year Rowan publicly stated that he would not serve until 70, and the current trend is for most bishops, except for those who love the office more than life itself, to retire around the age of 65.

The line about stepping down nearly 10 years early makes the assumption that bishops serve, unless they die or get very ill, until the age of 70 without exception. This is wrong and Wynne-Jones is being needlessly detailed about it. Bp. Tom Butler and Bp. Richard Harries retired on their respective 70th birthdays (as bishops of Southwark and Oxford, respectively) but they are the exceptions rather than the rules.

The machinations behind this are probably all speculation or on deep background. In my opinion, Richard Chartres has been a pretty ineffectual bishop of London and is in his mid-60’s, so he’s not in the frame as any eventual successor. I could just barely believe that he’s been urging Rowan to resign early. However, as Rowan’s already said he wouldn’t serve until 70, he’s pushing on an open door. Besides, Rowan’s natural place (and, it might be argued, the place in which he should have stayed) is in the groves of academe, and in order to make an impact in an academic institution, he’d have to get a post at least 8 years before he’d have to retire from that position, and that would be next year.

As for successors, Archbishop of York John Sentamu is a year older than Rowan, and has been a great lover of the publicity stunt, but his temperament is not what one would want in an Archbishop of Canterbury.

One thing that Wynne-Jones got right is that the tenure of an ABC revolves wholly around the Lambeth Conference. In recent times only Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher stayed around for two Lambeths (he had to be told by his secretary in 1961 that the time had come for him to make a graceful, if tardy, exit). Every Archbishop since has been appointed long enough before a Lambeth Conference to do effective planning, and resigned at a time before the next one that would allow his successor to do the same.

So Ramsey from 61-74, Coggan 74-80, Runcie 80-91, Carey 91-2002 all “surrounded” a Lambeth Conference, if you will.

Thus, if Williams resigns in 2012 after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, his successor will be enthroned in 2013 and that will give him a 5-year run to the next Lambeth Conference in 2018.

My only comment on an eventual successor is that I believed that if Rowan stayed on until he was 65 (in 2015), Bp. Nick Baines, late of Croydon and now of Bradford, would be the natural successor. If Rowan does retire in 2012, the timing is wrong for that. My only hope would be that if Rowan resigned next year and Sentamu got it, Nick might just be able to squeeze into York and wait for Sentamu to resign in 2019.

The rest of the Bench of Bishops is a bunch of lesser men, and no one stands out as a natural successor except Baines, in my view. Sentamu would be the beneficiary of Buggin’s Turn, but neither Runcie nor Carey nor Williams were Abp. of York before Canterbury, so the natural succession of Diocese/Abp of York/Abp of Canterbury has been broken for decades.

You can take this Friday and shove it…

September 9th, 2011

It all started yesterday afternoon. A phone call came as I was about to tuck into my lunch. I answered the phone and the Indian voice at the other end of the line said that he was from “XXX Accident”. Ambulance chasers interrupting my lunch to find out whether I’d had an accident lately. I told him, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you piece of shit!” and hung up. I was so annoyed that I forgot to take my insulin and metformin.

I then did some surfing on the web when the phone rang again. The voice identified itself as “Leslie from the Diabetic Foot Clinic” and proceeded to ask me whether I could come in on Friday, as the nurse needed to give me an antibiotic. I asked her what the difficulty was, but she said that she “wasn’t medically trained” so couldn’t say anything. I told her I’d come in Friday afternoon, and proceeded to worry my way through dinner and a very restless night.

The only good parts of the day were a meeting with the Archdeacon this morning which helped us both get the Deanery Synod meeting and the minutes of the Archdeaconry Pastoral and Mission Committee (which should have been taken by the former Area Dean but weren’t) settled. In the middle of the meeting HWMBO called me and told me that he had lost his wallet on the bus—he was going to try to track it down. Bad news.

Then I went downstairs in the diocesan office building and attended a very fruitful focus group session with other tenants of housing associations in this area of London, talking about scrutiny of our housing associations and how we can be involved with it. Lunch followed. The session was a bit rambunctious because people came with specific complaints rather than thinking about the general procedures for getting complaints looked into. However, the leader was good and kept the bitching-and-moaning to an absolute minimum. Good session, especially since it was only 2 hours long.

Then I went home to find HWMBO’s wallet on the kitchen table with a note: he has gone home after he drew a blank with the bus people. So that was good news.

Then on to the Diabetic Foot Clinic, still in my suit and tie. I sat in the waiting room as usual, read my Grauniad, and waited for 1-1/2 hours for the nurse to see me. When he finally “noticed” I was there, he came over and said, “We need to give you some antibiotics—can you take erythromycin?” I told him that I could and he went away to scare up a doctor to write a prescription. It’s odd that in a hospital doctors are so difficult to find.

He returned without the prescription and I asked him which bug I had. It’s a kind of streptococcus, but I told him, “That’s what they found when I was here last week. I’m taking amoxicillin for it.” He looked at me, and looked at the bug they’d found, and said, “Oh, this one is sensitive to amoxicillin.”

I looked at him and said, “I see. So this entire visit was unnecessary.” He grinned sheepishly. I wasn’t grinning. “Well, while I’m here get the Professor to prescribe another 2 weeks of amoxicillin as what I have will run out in a week.” He got that and I left.

I have said before that the greatest problem with the NHS is not funding, it’s communication. The denizens of the Health Service do not communicate effectively. Obviously the podiatrist hadn’t put the fact that he’d prescribed amoxicillin last week into my file. When the nurse saw that this bug was still present, he thought I wasn’t taking any antibiotic and called me in.

So I went home and had a bourbon and Diet Coke. Some situations call for extreme action. I thought of calling London Stabbie in on this case, but he just can’t be arsed to deal with cold-call ambulance chasers and incompetent nurses and podiatrists. They are beneath his dignity.

Today’s Episcopal Writings

August 30th, 2011

In the US Episcopal Church, today is the commemoration of the Rt Rev’d Charles C. Grafton, II Bishop of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He was an Anglo-Catholic (as we would term him today) and was somewhat infamous for the vestments he and fellow bishops wore at the consecration of his coadjutor, Reginald Heber Weller in the year 1900. The picture is referred to as the Fond du Lac Circus and is reproduced below:

On the occasion of the Consecration of the Rt Rev’d R.H. Weller as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, 1900.

This is the first known photo of Episcopal bishops wearing copes and miters rather than the usual rochets and chimeres. The dioceses from which these bishops hailed are now referred to as being in the Biretta Belt.
Seated (l to r): The Rt Rev’d Isaac Lea Nicholson, Episcopal Bishop of Milwaukee; the Rt Rev’d Charles Chapman Grafton, Episcopal Bishop of Fond du Lac; and the Rt Rev’d Charles P. Anderson, Episcopal Bishop Coadjutor of Chicago. Standing (l to r): the Rt Rev’d Anthony Kozlowski of the Polish National Catholic Church ; the Rt Rev’d G. M. Williams, Episcopal Bishop of Marquette (now Northern Michigan); the Rt Rev’d Reginald Heber Weller, the Rt Rev’d Joseph M. Francis, Episcopal Bishop of Indianapolis, the Rt Rev’d William E. McLaren, Episcopal Bishop of Chicago; the Rt Rev’d Arthur L. Williams, Episcopal Bishop Coadjutor of Nebraska; St. John (Kochurov) of Chicago, protomartyr of the Bolshevik Revolution, Fr. Sebastian Dabitovich, chaplains to the Russian Bishop—St. Tikhon, then Orthodox Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

Why do you have all this to say about a long-dead bishop? you may ask.

Well, among his writings is the below-reproduced letter to a bishop (unnamed). You may find some of the sentiments Bishop Grafton expresses a bit, well, quaint in one way but, in reference to the Leper Colony—er—the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Anglican schismatics who have buggered off to Rome, timely as well. Any emphasis below is mine.




In addition to the two enclosed cases Bishop —— deposed the Rev. ——, educated at Sewanee, a College graduate, in middle life, married, and who verted to Rome. He married a woman of large means, and the consequent worldliness and luxury, together with disappointed ambition, led to the loss of his priestly vocation. This is one of the many cases I have known where marriage, for various causes, has led to a priest leaving our church for the Roman communion. The wife sometimes wants her husband to give up a life which involves such self-restraint and denial.

And now let me, my dear and younger brother, fraternally say that college education has nothing to do with a man’s loyalty to God and the Episcopal Church. Some of the most pious, loyal, useful, and God-fearing priests in my diocese have never been to College. Marriage is found to be no security against sensual sins, and in a diocese like mine in many cases it just halves the priest’s usefulness and doubles his cares. (emphasis mine)

The true reasons why so many men leave the ministry are: first, that they have never understood or felt the enormity of sin, or realized their own fatally lost condition, and have been most superficially converted. This I am forced to believe is the condition of many of the clergy, and that the sayings of some of the Fathers is true, that a number, it may be a large one, of the Bishops and priests will be eternally lost. Again, in our seminaries, the students are not taught what vocation signifies, how it is to be discerned and preserved. Their conversion is assumed. The sanctity of the priestly life is not aimed at; they are not properly trained in the art of meditation and prayer. Especially they are not taught that in Holy Orders the indelible stamp of priesthood is put on their souls, which shall shine forth forever in heaven, or burn on in intolerable torture in hell.

With my sincere and fraternal regards,
Yours in Christ,

I find this letter refreshing in its frankness. I do wonder, however, whether the Ordinariate’s priests have swum the Tiber because they found marriage an irresistable state, or because they went to college.

An alternative view of Irene

August 29th, 2011

I am glad that all my friends from whom I’ve heard have emerged from the hurricane relatively unscathed.

Here’s an alternative view. Note that the language is pretty salty from the get-go so if you’re easily offended by that kind of language you might want to go to the next post.

There will always be a Marblehead, Police Log Department

August 28th, 2011

I took a look at the most recent date that was posted, and found that, yet again, Marblehead has the most trivial yet interesting and even poignant police activity entries.

Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011
2:02 a.m. Investigated suspicious activity reported on Humphrey and Doane streets. Person was transported to Salem line.
6:43 a.m. Caller reported crane was operating at Parker’s Boatyard on Redstone Lane. Officer found all was quiet, and no one was there. Caller called back to say that it was running again and was informed that it was not unreasonable, given the impending hurricane.
8:09 a.m. Suspicious man reported on Santry Road. Water and Sewer Department confirmed it had a meter reader in the area.
10:59 a.m. Caller at Marblehead Trading Co. on Cliff Street reported that vehicle that had been parked in the area for a few days would be blocked in by boats coming out of the water. Dispatcher attempted to contact the vehicle’s owner.
1:20 p.m. Resident reported that nanny had been stealing from home.
2:06 p.m. Caller reported that a van had backed out of a driveway on Green Street near the Little Store and struck a car, after which driver parked the van and walked off. Officer assessed damage at under $1,000 and found that driver of the van had left his information and that the vehicle that had been struck had preexisting damage.
2:29 p.m. Motorcycle going up and down the street reported on Tidewinds Terrace and Knight Avenue. Officer found the motorcycle on private property and advised owners against using it while it was unregistered.
4:33 p.m. Caller on Pleasant Street reported long-standing problem with phone service.
4:50 p.m. Village Market employee reported person had shoplifted a soda.
5:21 p.m. Disabled truck reported on Puritan and Overlook roads.
6:27 p.m. Caller at Spirit of ’76 bookstore reported that a small child had come into the store crying. Child was afraid that his mother would be mad at him for buying candy instead of books.Young man, I salute your sentiments. When I was your age, I used all my money to buy sweets and borrowed books from the library. Your mother should get you a library card and cut your allowance.
7:11 p.m. Two men rummaging through a vehicle reported on Atlantic Avenue. Officer eventually determined that vehicle’s owner was one of the people seen rummaging through it.
8:05 p.m. Caller reported that a young man had knocked on his door soliciting for the football program and said he thought it odd that a kid would be going door to door so late in the evening.
8:20 p.m. Caller who was headed out for a jog reported having been accused of being a private investigator by man in the back of a vehicle with a toolbox on Gilbert Heights Road. Man was still in the vehicle when he returned from his run. Officer found vehicle empty but ultimately determined that “everything checks out.”
9:15 p.m. Screaming and “goings on” reported on Tidewinds Terrace. Officer found there was nothing going on at the residence other than parents playing with kids.

Sometimes I miss living in Marblehead.

Magritte and welcome to it

August 28th, 2011

Well, it’s been kind of a rollercoaster week. I did virtually nothing until Friday morning, when I came down with fever and chills of a major variety. I was very upset about this, as on Saturday we were due to travel to Liverpool to see the Tate Liverpool Magritte exhibition. We were to travel with our friends Daniel and Pei, and then meet up with our friend Nicky from Manchester at Liverpool Lime Street Station. Nicky was happy to travel to Liverpool that day as Manchester Pride was on and he wanted to avoid the congestion.

So, I thought good thoughts and prayed some prayers and woke up on Saturday morning a bit woozy, but fit to travel. We discovered before we left the house that the Bank branch of the Northern Line was closed for maintenance this weekend, so we took a 168 bus which flew (nearly literally) direct to Euston Station. We got on the 0907 Liverpool train and settled into First Class, where we were expecting some analogue to breakfast.

Well, there wasn’t much in the way of breakfast. We got free coffee, biscuits, and WiFi, but nothing more nourishing. Daniel and Pei are splendid travelling companions; Pei with his iPad2 (a WHITE iPad, no less!), Daniel with his smartphone looking up questions we had about the areas we were travelling through, and HWMBO for being, well, HWMBO. We won’t waste money on first class next time we travel in Virgin Trains. I suppose they’ll put up the fares so that Branson can rebuild his Caribbean hideaway home.

Now I have taken a day trip to Liverpool with Nicky a couple of years ago. We did the Anglican Cathedral and the RC cathedral and walked through the historic areas. But there wasn’t much else to recommend it. So we were going to go directly to the Albert Docks area, eat lunch, then hit the Tate.

Whatta pain it was walking there. The route is pretty direct, but about every five minutes the heavens opened and it pelted down buckets. We’d shelter, and then stumble on when the rain let up. Standing in front of John Lewis, we were waiting for a momentary lull when a rather obese woman stood there, tapped her feet a few times and said, “Can you please step away so I can walk through without stepping into the puddle?” We duly stepped into the puddle to allow Her Highness to waddle through.

It was Street Music weekend in Liverpool city centre, and every so often there was an upright piano in dubious tune that were available for street performers to play either as soloists or with a group. We urged Pei (who is a concert pianist) to tickle the ivories but he strongly resisted the urge to tickle, unfortunately.

In the downtown area there is a Liverpool One development that has a “restaurant row”. We were glad to find it, but dismayed that at 1145 hardly any of the restaurants were open. I hankered for a burger, and a Gourmet Burger Kitchen beckoned. The info was that it was open from 1100, but there was only us and someone forlornly tapping at the window. So we soldiered on through the mists and rain, and through a bus station, until we arrived at the Albert Docks. By this time we were desperate for a respite from the intermittent storms and wanted our lunch before venturing into Tate Liverpool, so the “World-Famous Pump House Inn” beckoned We went in, found a table, and ordered.

Well. I don’t know what it was world-famous for, but perhaps it was dyspepsia. Pei had a curry that was quite forgettable. Pei and Daniel shared “Duck Spring Rolls”. Well, one would expect 4 or 5 spring rolls but the only reason they could advertise it as “Spring Rolls” is that there were two of them, and both Daniel and Pei were of the opinion that they were not great. Daniel had a Steak and Ale pie which seemed to be OK, according to him. HWMBO had roast chicken, and gave it 5 out of 10. Nicky had ham and eggs, and said it was OK. I had a Burger Platter, which advertised 6 “mini-burgers”, some onion rings and fries/chips. I also got an order of deep-fried dill pickles (no, I’m not expecting). The burgers were dry and made from English beef, which does not taste right to me. Overall, a forgettable “culinary” experience. Oh well, live and learn.

On to Tate Liverpool. I have always been ambivalent about Magritte. Some of it is very deep, and even philosophical. The work “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, which consists of those words written under the image of a (tobacco) pipe, says a lot to me about what exactly a picture is. It’s a very Lewiscarrollian idea, somewhat like Humpty Dumpty’s opinion about the meaning of words.

And some of it, such as the one I call “Raining Men”, doesn’t say much to me.

Magritte had a bowler-hat fetish, it seems.

In any case, if you can get to Liverpool, the Tate Magritte exhibition is a good one to see. There’s even some smutty pictures, which the Tate terms “challenging”. The one of the Sacred Heart was quite interesting indeed. A perceptive review of the exhibition is here.

So after the exhibition, which was free to four out of the five of us through our Tate membership (I bought one ticket for the fifth member of our party), we had a quick coffee in the Tate café, which was as unfortunate as many of these cafés are, and then walked around the little enclosed wharf area to escape the rain. There are lots of twee shops and restaurants there, some of which might have been better lunch destinations. Then, back to Lime Street station and onto a train at 1619.

One additional observation about Liverpool: it is probably one of the lung and throat cancer hotspots in the British isles. Liverpool-football-club-shirted men spilled out of every pub with fags hanging out of their mouths. The sidewalks were littered with cigarette stubs gently marinating in the rain puddles. Even in the railway station, where smoking was officially banned several years ago, an old hag wandered by with a lit cigarette in her hand looking for and eventually finding her grandson. No doubt he’ll be coughing up his lungs when he turns 16.

Now when we got back to London, there was the question “What shall we do now?” It’s always difficult to decide where and whether to have lunch or dinner when you’re in a group. This is made less difficult, but still challenging, when you have two couples trying to decide those questions. We finally decided on a family-run Italian restaurant around the corner from Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. They said that we could have a table at 1915 if we promised to vacate by 2030, which we duly did.

Now the starter was good (my usual Italian restaurant starter, Insalata Tricolore: mozzarella, tomato, and avocado in olive oil and balsamic vinegar), but ordering spaghetti and meatballs was a mistake. Mother Hansen’s Spaghetti and Meatballs was miles better than that. The meatballs were veal, which doesn’t particularly appeal to me, and the spaghetti, which was somewhat more dente than I like, was seemingly dipped in sauce then drained, so there was hardly any sauce left on it. Oh well.

Home and to bed.

Marblehead police log for last week

August 24th, 2011

I occasionally excerpt some of the gems from the Marblehead, MA police log. Somehow, it wasn’t really as funny this week, although there are some interesting items. It seems that someone has been breaking into cars on an industrial scale this week.

Monday, 15/8/11

12:08 a.m. Employee closing up reported person knocking on the window at Maddie’s Sail Loft on State Street. The person knocking left soon thereafter, and employee was able to leave as well.
12:13 a.m. Investigated report of man trespassing and jumping in the bushes at the Philanthropic Lodge on Pleasant Street.
3:22 a.m. Investigated noise complaint on Farrell Court. Person agreed to keep the noise down.
4:07 a.m. Caller on Prince Street reported someone under his truck attempting to take the tire rims. Suspects could not be located.
6:45 a.m. Caller on Mechanic Street reported her vehicle’s glove box had been emptied overnight. She said she would call if she discovered anything missing. Officer checked area to see if any other cars had been entered.
7:30 a.m. Caller on Mechanic Street reported GPS unit had been taken from vehicle.
7:51 a.m. Walk-in reported his car had been broken into on Mugford Street.
8 a.m. Investigated report of purse on the ground with its contents dumped out on Pearl and Elm streets. Owner contacted, and she reported that her car had been broken into as well, with some loose change, sunglasses and a flashlight taken. Her husband’s car had also been broken into, with a flashlight and coins taken. She was concerned that personal medical information may have also been taken from the car.
8:14 a.m. Car break reported on Pearl Street.
8:15 a.m. Caller on Mechanic Court reported that her car had been broken into overnight. The person who broke in left the door open and reportedly took $25. She reported that a neighbor’s car had also been broken into.
8:17 a.m. Walk-in from Elm Street reported his family’s two cars had been broken into overnight, with a laptop taken from one and nothing from the other.
8:31 a.m. Caller on Mugford Street reported that when he got in his car, his glove box was open and things were scattered about. His wife’s car had also been broken into.
8:55 a.m. Walk-in from Mugford Street reported that her car had been broken into but nothing appeared to be missing.
9:27 a.m. Caller on Bradlee Road had a question about laws regarding property damage related to a July incident in which a pole was struck by a vehicle that drove away.
9:35 a.m. Walk-in from Mechanic Street reported that her car had been broken into. She believed nothing had been take but had found her glove box and another storage area open.
9:48 a.m. Low-hanging wire reported on Ocean and Atlantic avenues.
10:09 a.m. Traffic lights not working properly reported on Ocean Avenue and Pleasant Street.
10:27 a.m. Caller on Pearl Street reported his parents’ car had been broken into outside his apartment. He reported that it did not appear as if anything had been taken.
10:40 a.m. Two girls came into the station to report that the bikes that had borrowed from one of the town’s yacht clubs had been stolen from the driveway of the house where they were staying on Jersey Street.
10:58 a.m. Minor two-vehicle accident reported near Abbot Public Library on Pleasant Street. Parties had already exchanged information by the time officer arrived. Struck vehicle had been taking a left on Pleasant.
12:22 p.m. Well-being check conducted on man on Washington Street.
1:53 p.m. Caller reported finding knife around the area of Frost Lane, possibly related to the morning’s break-ins.
4:09 p.m. Walk-in reported car on Washington Street had been broken into overnight. Nothing appeared to have been taken.
4:40 p.m. Caller on Mechanic Street reported overnight break-in to vehicle with nothing taken.
4:42 p.m. Investigated report of two youths in a Ribcraft waving their arms and yelling for help on Marblehead Harbor. By the time officer arrived, the Ribcraft had been tied up to another boat to be towed to the Eastern Yacht Club. The Ribcraft had run out of gas.
5:25 p.m. Investigated report of possible sailboat in distress last seen heading out towards Halfway Rock. Harbormaster notified. Harbormaster found boater but no one in distress.
5:45 p.m. Caller on Pleasant Street reported that his car had been entered but nothing appeared to be missing.
6:32 p.m. Investigated report that set of golf clubs had been stolen from garage on Preston Beach Road earlier in the afternoon.
7:23 p.m. Walk-in reported husband had made threats. She was advised about her right to an emergency restraining order but said that she just wanted it on record for now.
7:31 p.m. Harbormaster called to inquire as to whether any reports had been made about a boat on the rocks along the Neck. There had been none. Harbormaster could not find any sign of boat.
7:47 p.m. Investigated Elm Street resident’s report that car had been entered with flashlight and change taken. Wife’s car had also been entered with purse taken, as previously reported.
7:50 p.m. Caller on Washington Street reported two cars had been entered the previous night but nothing was missing.
9:04 p.m. Investigated report of 15 to 20 kids fighting in circle on Broughton Road. Two 911 calls then directed police to the area behind the high school. One person was found bleeding from the head and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, which officer followed. Mother was notified.
10 p.m. Investigated report of two people with a flashlight on Roundhouse Road. They were walking from Heritage Way and just cutting through.

Tuesday, 16/8/11

3:25 a.m. Farrell Court residents reported tractor-trailer with engine running at Marblehead Charter School. Officer got driver to shut off engine.
12:32 p.m. Sandie Lane reported receiving annoying phone calls from person claiming to represent Publishers Clearinghouse.
12:44 p.m. Man came in to station wanting to press charges against person who had been harassing and taunting him on an ongoing basis.
3:15 p.m. Subject of no-contact order asked for assistance in delivering letter to person who had taken out the order. He was informed that police would not violate the order by delivering it for him. Man also reportedly refused to put out lit cigarette in station lobby until dispatcher informed him that an officer was coming to speak to him. Man reportedly asked two officers to deliver the letter, to no avail.
3:32 p.m. Wire reported down near Eustis and Cornell Funeral Home on Elm Street.
4:24 p.m. Caller reported that contractors working at the old Warwick Theater were in the middle of the street, causing traffic issues. Officer found that there were workers in and out of the fenced area of the site but nothing blocking the street. Officers planned to keep an eye on the situation, however.
4:25 p.m. Caller reported she had “bumped” into fire hydrant outside National Grand Bank on Pleasant Street with her vehicle. She reported that there was no water leaking and no visible damage. Water Department notified. Employee found that hydrant was broken and bagged it. Fire stations were notified.
6:36 p.m. Erratic driver reported on Ocean Avenue could not be found.
7:40 p.m. Officer was flagged down by worker at Marblehead High School who could not get an office window to shut. School maintenance department notified.
9:42 p.m. Vehicle broken into on Sunday night reported on Washington Street. Stereo faceplate had been taken. Driver’s door had been unlocked.
10:02 p.m. Investigated report of kids screaming using profanity on Green Street. Officer found no one around and all to be quiet.
10:40 p.m. Large group of kids reported in Chandler Hovey Park. Police moved the group along and closed the gates.
11:16 p.m. Two men having an argument and possibly a fight reported at Memorial Park on Pleasant Street. Officers could find no sign of the fight.
11:18 p.m.Walk-in reported seeing two suspicious men while walking her dog on Sewall Street. Woman said she startled one of the men, who was in the back seat of a car. The men reportedly separated and then met back up, which she found odd. Officer inspected car, which was locked and alarmed. Men could not be found.

Wednesday, 17/8/11

2:35 a.m. Investigated possible assault at Tony’s Pizza on School Street. Officer spoke to people involved, none of whom wanted to press charges.
7:14 a.m. Caller on Curtis Street reported that his vehicle had been broken into overnight and that his GPS unit had been taken. A computer was also missing from the car. Other property from the car was found in a nearby yard.
9:09 a.m. Investigated report that vehicle on Curtis Street had been entered and rifled through. Owner did not know if anything was missing.
10:33 a.m. Unregistered vehicle towed after traffic stop on Ocean Avenue and Pleasant Street.
10:54 a.m. Responded to the scene of crash between pickup truck and bicyclist on Gregory and Commercial streets. Cyclist suffered a possible wrist fracture and was transported to North Shore Children’s Hospital. Bicyclist “came out of nowhere” according to 911 caller.
11:59 a.m. Caller notified that workmen were grinding cement at Lafayette Convalescent Home, which caller noted might trip the smoke detectors.
12:46 p.m. Walk-in complained about LaRouche Political Action Committee supporters at post office on Smith Street, whom she found “creepy.”
12:48 p.m. Walk-in reported having been awakened at 3:30 a.m. to the sound of car doors slamming at the Marblehead Housing Authority complex on Rowland Street. She then witnessed three young men acting suspiciously. She said she did not call police immediately because she saw them leave the area prior to making the call.
2:22 p.m. Caller reported being involved in a fender-bender on West Shore Drive and Lafayette Street and expressed concern about the older people in the other vehicle, who may have experienced whiplash. EMS was not needed, however.
2:38 p.m. Checked home on Bayview Road after resident expressed concern about possible tampering with lock. All was OK.
3:14 p.m. Caller on Fountain Inn Lane reported having been assaulted by female trespasser who then left headed toward downtown on Washington Street. Woman was reportedly in her 50s and overweight with long frizzy hair, wearing a straw hat and carrying a clipboard. Police could not locate her.
5:31 p.m. Driver of vehicle “cruising the area” taking pictures reported on Leggs Hill Road. Police could not find the vehicle.
8:06 p.m. Investigated report of vehicle being driven recklessly and tailgating on Pleasant and Bessom streets.
8:29 p.m. Three-car crash reported at intersection of Pleasant Street and Mohawk Road. One vehicle had to be towed. There were no injuries. Highway Department called to scene for sand.
10:53 p.m. Loud group reported at Devereux Beach. Officer found all to be quiet.

Thursday, 18/8/11

12:43 a.m. Caller requested assistance in getting intoxicated woman out of home on Hawkes Street. Woman was picked up by another person.
6:40 a.m. Caller on Hereford Road reported that someone had put two planters through a car windshield.
7:31 a.m. Caller on Hereford Road reported having received a call from someone alleging to be with AMVETS, asking her to leave a check on the door to support care packages for Marblehead residents serving in the military overseas. Caller asked if the agency could mail some information. They declined, instructing her to write “for deposit only” on the check. Caller was told that the town’s veterans agent had been consulted, and he was not aware of any current fundraising drive.
7:56 a.m. Driver of white van picking through people’s trash reported on Pig Rock Lane. Vehicle could not be found.
9:56 a.m. An excerpt from the most recent edition of Marblehead Reporter columnist Dawn Bucket’s “Up for Air” column regarding the smashed birdbath behind the Marblehead Community Center was provided to police.
10:53 a.m. Calthrope Road resident reported that one of the family’s bikes, a “retro-style” girls’ bike with green-and-white frame and pink wicker basket on front, was missing.
11:09 a.m. Callers calling on behalf of three vehicle owners on Bradford Court reported that cars had been entered sometime between Sunday night and Monday. Cars had been gone through but nothing was taken.
11:35 a.m. Caller on Wyman Road reported car had been damaged overnight. He reported that it appeared a piece of PVC pipe had been used to smash the rear taillight. Caller had heard crash/noise outside the previous night but did not notice damage until morning, when neighbor pointed it out.
12:16 p.m. Caller reported that her car had “crapped out” in between two no-parking signs on Washington Street. She reported tow would arrive within the hour and wanted to try to avoid getting a ticket.
1:07 p.m. Investigated report of gas leak on Washington and Franklin streets. Gas company was on scene. Detail requested.
1:26 p.m. Walk-in reported bike valued at $350 had been stolen from Farrell Court.
2:59 p.m. Owner of Village Market on Pleasant Street reported shoplifting incident overnight, which was captured on security video. He planned to make a copy of the video on DVD and provide to detectives.
3:15 p.m. Assisted teen home alone with someone pounding on the door on Robert Road. Officer found that it was someone dropping off a package.
6:14 p.m. Manager of Atlantic Avenue business called to reported that one of her workers had been followed from Salem by a man in a car and that she had just seen the same car go by the business again. She requested that an officer be in the area when the employee left for the day.
7:32 p.m. Man was seen stumbling while walking before getting into a car on School and Pleasant streets. Vehicle could not be found.
8:32 p.m. Man came into station to seek advice after receiving a text message from significant other who had changed the locks of the house who also intended to obtain a restraining order. He said he would stay elsewhere for the evening.
8:40 p.m. Caller on Schooner Ridge reported hearing door rattling. Neighbors had checked things out and found no on around, but caller wanted incident logged.
9:30 p.m. Investigated report of hit-and-run in parking lot of Boston Yacht Club. Officer found it appeared to just be a “bumper tap.” Swampscott Police went to the residence of the striking vehicle. Owner of striking vehicle knew owner of other vehicle and said she would call him to discuss the matter.
9:44 p.m. A 39-year-old Marblehead man was arrested and charged with domestic assault and battery after police investigated a returned a 911-hangup call and heard a woman in the background yelling for the police to come after man answered the phone and reported that he and woman were having an argument. Man could not be transported to Middleton Jail due to his level of intoxication, according to the log, and also at one point fell out of his bunk without apparent injury. He eventually was taken to the hospital for treatment of a medical issue.
9:50 p.m. Woman upset and crying walking down the street reported on Gerry Street and Atlantic Avenue. She was located on Atlantic and Central Street and given a ride to another location in town.
10:26 p.m. Investigated report from Swampscott of overdue boat with two 25-year-old men on board on Marblehead Harbor. The 23-foot blue Whaler was reportedly experiencing engine problems and could be drifting anywhere from Nahant to Salem. Harbormaster notified. Swampscott had already contacted the Coast Guard. Police also received multiple reports of people in the water yelling for help. The three people managed to get onto dry land; boats were upside down, however. Log notes that caller from Sargent Road “had given great information as far as visuals and actual location.” A report of the three people having been in the water for three hours proved inaccurate. They had been on top of the capsized boat, which was in the water for three hours. All three refused medical treatment by EMS. One of the boaters went home with a parent, while the others were transported by Swampscott officer.
10:31 p.m. Well-being check requested on driver of vehicle leaving Corinthian Yacht Club. Driver said she was fine.
10:37 p.m.Suspicious activity reported in parking lot on Preston Beach Road. Caller reported that a white pickup truck seems to show up every Thursday night, where another SUV pulls up to it and three men get out of both vehicles and put something in the back of the pickup and leave. Caller reported that vehicle was there at the moment but no one was around it.

Friday, 19/8/11

12:38 a.m. Investigated report of loud banging “all night” on Elm Street. Officer reported that the alleged offender said she had just gotten home from work about 10 minutes earlier.
12:58 a.m. Caller on Mugford Street reported two men whispering outside her house who had taken off when she said she was going to call the police.
10:26 a.m. Caller on Cowell Street reported that her neighbor — an ex-cop that thinks he can do anything, according to the caller — is blasting music, and continues to do so even though she asked him to be quiet.
10:44 a.m. A report of a motor vehicle hit and run on Crestwood Road.
12:27 p.m. Caller on Farrell Court reported that her expensive steak knife was stolen from her residence. She said this is not the first time knives have been stolen from her.
12:38 p.m. Caller on Bubier Road reported ATM fraud
3:10 p.m. Caller on Village Street reported a dead crow in her neighbor’s yard that is attracting flies and is “gross.”
3 p.m. Several reports of trees stuck in wires around town
4:29 p.m. Report of water filling the street at Water Street and Arnold Terrace due to high tide and excessive rainwater.
4:46 p.m. Caller on Fountain Inn Lane reported that a suspicious female, who had allegedly assaulted the caller two days before, was currently walking down the street
9:20 p.m. Units responded to a large group of youths in the stands at Seaside Park. One kid had marijuana on him. His parents were notified to respond to the scene.
9:15 p.m. A group of five youths were reportedly smashing bottles in the entrance of the park at Wyman Road. One was placed under arrest.

English Riots, Round 2: The Aftermath

August 20th, 2011

Just after the riots, I blogged on some of the nonsense that was being tossed around about the causes and possible cures for the civil unrest. There have been new developments as those arrested by the constabulary during and after the rioting are brought to court.

In the remarks that follow, I except the assaults and murder charges, which are horrific and have not yet come to trial.

Many if not most of those accused have pleaded guilty, since the evidence is often overwhelming, involving not only testimony by the police but also CCTV recordings. When brought before magistrates, the sentences available range from a conditional discharge (“We’ll let you go if you promise not to do it again; if we catch you misbehaving, you’ll be looking at a spell in jail.”) to 6 months in prison. A good proportion of those brought before magistrates have been bound over to the Crown Courts, which have much greater powers of sentencing.

Some of the sentences already passed in the Crown Courts include:

  • A young mother of 2 who accepted a pair of looted shorts from a friend: 4 months in prison, reduced to probation and community service on appeal;
  • Two young men who made separate Facebook postings calling for riots to begin in Cheshire (not the most volatile of English areas); the only people who showed up for their riots were the police: 4 years in jail—being appealed as we speak;
  • A student who stole ÂŁ4 worth of bottled water was given a 6-month sentence.

The consequences of these tough sentences include an increase of 1000 in the jail population in England and Wales. The number of people incarcerated in England and Wales has now neared 87,000, and there are fewer than 1500 places left in the entire system. There are more than 2000 accused still to be sentenced. Prison governors (=US “wardens”) are fearful that overcrowding and the prison inexperience of those who are being jailed will result in increased assaults and tension among the inmates.

The politicians have generally either publicly applauded or quietly acquiesced in the severity of the sentences being passed on those caught up in the rioting. The hang ’em and flog ’em brigade in the Conservative Party is noisily crowing that those miscreants who have been sentenced are getting exactly what they deserve and only tough sentences will do.

What is apparent is that the long sentences being passed upon those convicted of riot-related offences will mostly be appealed. The principles behind sentencing here in the United Kingdom is that the sentences should be fair, should be proportionate to the offence, should be mitigated by cooperation with the police, previous criminal history, and guilty pleas, and should be generally similar for similar crimes. The long sentences seen so far seem to fail all those four principles and, upon appeal, have a good probability of being reduced.

What to do?

If I were in the government, the first thing I would do is ensure that, for offenses that would not normally attract prison sentences, the miscreants be sentenced to community work that helped to repair the damage suffered in the unrest. Putting someone who stole 6 bottles of water in jail for 6 months will solve nothing. The offender (who had no previous criminal record) does not need rehabilitation from a life of crime. He needs to assist in building his neighbourhood back up.

Second, I’d keep quiet about the effects of government cuts on the poor. Sounds a bit harsh, no? And yet, these cuts have virtually nothing to do with the current life situations of those caught up in the unrest. The cuts have not yet taken hold or been effected. Youth this year who are going to university will pay much lower tuition fees than those who will be going next year. There is, of course, some effect on people through the publicity given to cuts in aid and rises in costs. Politicians who bemoan government cuts as the cause of the rioting are jumping on a bandwagon of lies and half-truths.

Third, I’d mobilise the goodwill that showed itself in the gangs of broom-wielding people who turned up to clean up the streets and the shops after the rioting had stopped. This kind of goodwill almost always accrues after a serious civil calamity and, yet, the government thanks people at the time and makes little or no effort to keep that goodwill around and harness it for civil good.

Fourth, I would try to think of new ways to help bring about a more equal society. This is an almost impossible task, but worth pursuing. It does not have to be from a religious or spiritual source. And it does not have to mean equality of resources and wealth across the whole society. What it does mean is that equality of opportunity must be manifest in society. Those who are more affluent need to realise that some of that affluence comes from their own opportunities afforded by society, and should be plowed back into that society, whether through taxes or through contributions to voluntary charities working toward equality.

I’m not saying that I believe that this will happen overnight, or even within my lifetime or yours. If it doesn’t happen peacefully, there is a danger that it will happen forcefully, through crime and through unrest. Perhaps that’s the only way that it will happen, and that is not desirable, on many levels.

Today’s Decadent URL

August 16th, 2011

As a “mixologist”, I limit myself to simple concoctions such as a gin and tonic, bourbon and Diet Coke, or at most, a Manhattan. The ingredients required and the instruments necessary to make these are pretty inexpensive. However, I just got an email from a cocktail website that mentioned an ice pick. The blurb states:

Anvil Ice Pick – extra heavy duty ice pick with an anvil end for scoring ice. Perfect size for hand carving ice. For all international orders, due to weight, an additional $1.99 will be added per item to the total shipping cost.

Now you might think that such an implement might cost US$10, or perhaps at most US$19.95.

You’d be wrong.

The English riots

August 10th, 2011

We’ve had riots in England since last Friday night. The facts are quite murky at the moment, but what we know is this.

First, last week police made a planned car stop to arrest a passenger. A scuffle or disturbance ensued, and the police shot their target to death. A gun (modified starter pistol) was found in the auto, but had not been fired. The police say that they thought they were about to be fired on. The dead man had been known to the police, but his family claims that he had never been convicted of a crime. This doesn’t mean he’d never committed any, mind you.

Second, the family marched to the local police station (in Tottenham, North London) to demand answers. They waited outside the police station for several hours and no police spokesperson came to meet them. The crowd became restless and a riot broke out. Buildings were burned and shops looted.

Third, over the weekend and through Monday the unrest spread to other parts of London. Youths who had coordinated their activities through smartphones roamed through shopping areas smashing windows, burglarising shops (sports stores were most favoured, followed by mobile phone stores). A family furniture store in Croydon that had been in existence for 5 generations was torched. Shops along the Walworth Road (just around the corner from me) were targeted.

Fourth, an extra 10,000 police were deployed Tuesday night in London. Therefore, rioting broke out in Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, and various other northern cities.

Now there has been a shitstorm of comment about this, on Facebook, Twitter, and in various blogs. But there are several points I’d like to highlight.

First, people tend to refer to the youths as “animals”. Children are not animals. They are complex human beings with needs, desires, and aspirations. They may not be very nice aspirations (I want to be a gang leader, for example, isn’t a great aspiration), but aspirations they are. We cannot write these young people off as “animals”.

Second, the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade is talking about shooting looters, putting them away for long stretches in prison, and generally removing them from society in one way or another. Not a good idea in general. While those who have committed crimes should be punished, if even one looter is gratuitously shot and killed the situation will be made much worse. This is especially true of people committing crimes against property. Last I heard, the death penalty for burglary had been removed in the 19th Century.

Third, those who would excuse the looting as “youth protesting against the way society treats them” are seriously misled. Yes, changes must be made. However, the best way to change society is not to smash the windows of your nearest sports store and try on trainers to steal. The best way is to become politically involved, vote the rascals out (or in), contribute to civil society, and do your best to expose the inequities of society through publicity, not through looting. The best way to ensure that your voice will be marginalised is to do a spot of looting. My guess is that the looters who were old enough to vote last year didn’t bother.

There is a lot of excess energy around. If these youths had devoted as much energy to finding a job or a place in education as they have to running around town centres looting, they’d all be employed or in education today. This energy needs to be harnessed, somehow. The energy is like the wind, which simply blows debris around until you use it to turn a turbine and produce electricity.

Similarly, the government needs to do more than denounce the looters as criminals, animals, and thugs. Most of them are probably thugs (whatever a “thug” is) and those who have committed crimes are criminals. But as a society we seriously need to consider what to let these people do. If we don’t find something for them to do, we’ll end up having riots whenever people get bored.

Private industry too needs to step up to the plate and help by creating more entry-level jobs for people, giving them on-the-job training and a road up through the ranks. With the mad dash for continuously increasing profits, those types of entry-level jobs have disappeared to India or to computing. We need to bring them back here and find ways of recreating those manual labour jobs that used to be the poor’s ticket out of poverty. If Sony had created more jobs in Enfield with their warehouse, perhaps those workers would have protected the warehouse rather than become rioters burning it. Of course, much of the inventory in there was CDs and the like owned by independent producers and musicians, many of them rappers. It’s all gone now, melted into a pile of goo.

If we’re not careful, the rest of us will be melted into piles of goo, figuratively. The time to act is now—tomorrow may be too late.

To all my Singaporean friends

August 9th, 2011

Happy 46th National Day!

Today’s DIE-hard Football Fan URL

August 8th, 2011

A gentleman in Ohio named Roy Miracle died recently, and his family decided on a very unique tribute, pictured in this Daily Mail story.

Some feel that it’s a bit macabre, but even though I (of course) didn’t know Mr. Miracle, I think that celebrating his love of his football team is something that he would have enjoyed. After all, this gentleman was waked on his motorbike (yes, there is a picture), and this one stood for the entire time (also a picture).

Today’s Gay Nostalgia URL, New York City Department

August 7th, 2011

Coming of gay age in New York City in the 1970’s and 1980’s was vibrant. The availability of easy sex on the piers at the end of Christopher Street dissolved into the AIDS crises beginning in the early 1980’s. Bars opened, continued, and closed. Apparel and leatherwear shops opened, flourished, and closed. The Christopher Street Bookstore flourished too, along with Ty’s, Boots and Saddles, the Stonewall, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, Manatus, and all the rest.

If you were around Christopher Street in these days, you’ll find your heart and mind taken back there by this walk through the gay village. I am now mired in reminiscence, and thank Matt Rettenmund for the heads-up.

I remember the first man I knew with AIDS, who lived a few blocks north of Christopher on Bleecker. He had been a social worker, and we spent lots of time having coffee around the area, talking over politics, men, and AIDS. He died in around 1985 or so.

I remember the many years I attended and assisted at Integrity/New York’s eucharists at St. Luke’s in the Fields just south of Christopher on Hudson. The first week I attended, in February 1988, I circled the block twice before I got the gumption to go in. The President, Nick Dowen, was so welcoming that, although I had to run out as their speaker was someone from the leftwing political group I had belonged to, I returned the next week and became an Episcopalian in October.

I remember each Pride March I attended, every year, and the exhilaration of walking down Fifth Avenue and then turning on to Christopher Street and ending up at the Pride festival. What a privilege and a pleasure that was!

No other place I’ve lived except for London has as many associations for me as a gay man. I’m proud to have been a small part of it, and while I realise that time marches on and the gay village has moved to Chelsea, I would love to go back and have a lovely lunch at Manatus followed by a civilised drink in Two Potato, with all those whom I loved but see no longer.

What a wonderful evening yesterday!

August 6th, 2011

I am one of these people who rarely if ever wins anything substantial. Occasionally I’ll win a few quid at the lottery, and once I won a draw after answering a software testing questionnaire and got ÂŁ250 worth of vouchers. But lately my luck hadn’t been very good.

Last week HWMBO and I went to a concert by his favourite English singer, RaĂșl Malo, at Queen Elizabeth Hall. The opening act was by a group called the Lucinda Belle Orchestra, headed by a beautiful harpist and singer named, natch, Lucinda Belle. I had never heard jazz harp before (and her harp is something to behold, decorated as it is with a saying and various other pictures) and she has a way of magnetising an audience into participating. You wouldn’t think that a QE Hall audience would reply enthusiastically “Woo-ooo!” when the singer sang “Whoa-oh” but she got a very good response.

The only disappointment is that so many people were more interested in hearing Malo than in hearing his opening act: entire sections were empty. Those of us who attended got a card with a QR code to download some of her music. We then settled down to hear Malo (who is very good: this year we were much closer and could actually see him; last year we were in the last row and could only see a very tiny figure on the stage).

When we got home I duly scanned the code and got the music.

The music is quite good and well-worth downloading. After downloading, there was a competition: if you tweeted about the download and used a specific hashtag in your Tweet, you would be entered into a draw for a prize: free entry to Ronnie Scott’s jazz club to hear Lucinda Belle. So I tweeted.

And we won!

So last night we presented ourselves at the door and got two seats at the bar. Now, to be honest, the seats were pretty uncomfortable, especially for me and my foot. The wine (I had two small glasses, and HWMBO had one) was pricey for what it was. But the gig was great.

The opening set was by a guy named Earl Okin. He’s been around since Hector was a pup, it seems, and his website is, um, unique. He began with a few guitar and vocals pieces, and a few stories about people he’s met and worked with at Ronnie Scott’s. He’s very witty, and when he went to the piano and gave a lesson on stride and whorehouse piano, he was not only entertaining but a very good singer. You may want to turn off Flash if you go to his website. He does need a website designer, desperately; however, he is a good performer.

After the whorehouse piano lesson, he returned to the guitar and did some bossa nova with a Brasilian singer. I’m not an expert but his Portuguese accent was pretty good.

While Earl was up there, Lucinda walked by, sat on the barstool next to mine, and asked whether we were the people who had won her competition. I said that we were, and I introduced her to HWMBO. She is a very beautiful woman, with a lovely smile and a fabulous wardrobe.

Now we are lucky that we ate before we got there, as there was no place to eat where we were. But there were waiters galore, including one Hispanic (I believe) young man who was flirting with me whenever he went by. I expect it was just for fun, but it certainly warmed the cockles of my heart.

Lucinda Belle’s Orchestra went on around 8:30 pm, and she proceeded to sing and play the harp so well that you would think that the harp was a natural jazz instrument. Her dress was a flouncy number with a leopard-skin print that just swirled around the stage as she sang.

What did she sing? One song was about Valentine’s Day, which really got me as our anniversary is Valentine’s Day. Later on Lucinda answered my thank-you email with: “I think you may have found your song for your anniversary…” and I think she may be right. Her harp is named “Diana”, by the say, and she shlepps it around herself, at least until she arrives. The orchestra was more extensive than the one she led at QE Hall. There was a piano/accordion, a cello, a percussionist, a bass, a guitar, a clarinet/trumpet/flute/sax, and a trombone. They worked together really well in the space, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the music. Her song about a couple who robbed banks (not Bonnie & Clyde) was a real roof-raiser!

She’s signed a deal with Universal Music, and her album “My Voice and my 45 Strings” is out now, and, she says, available at iTunes (I can’t find it at the moment). When I’ve got my iTunes sorted (it’s a loooooong story) I shall download it.

Ronnie Scott’s was new to me. I’ve known about it for a long time, of course, as it’s just north of Old Compton Street in Frith St. in teh Gay Village. Normally admission is ÂŁ20 or ÂŁ40, and this just gets you a table (if you’re lucky). The food looked and smelled pretty good, but I’m told in reviews that it’s a bit overpriced for what you get. And I shudder to think of how much the tables in front of us (about 12 people) spent in food and wine. I enjoyed the ambiance, and would like to go again. As one of the flagship jazz clubs in the world, Ronnie Scott’s deserves more than one free visit. But the prices are such that the only people who can afford to go are City slickers with more money than brains, or rich tourists who want a night out with some good music.

We pushed our way through the Friday night West End crowd, with me muttering about “Damned tourists!” and HWMBO trying to keep me calm. Got home and I must say I was uplifted and enthused about the evening, in a way that nights out haven’t affected me for a very long time indeed.

There will always be an America, NRA Department

August 6th, 2011

The problem of guns in the United States continues on, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision that carrying a gun is a constitutional right. The difficulty is that some people take this to mean a Federal license to kill. A mother on a SEPTA bus in Philadelphia slapped her misbehaving son, and was reprimanded by another passenger, who threatened to turn her in for child abuse. She called her friends, who met the bus at a later stop. She got off, and they opened fire. Thanks to the SEPTA surveillance cameras, we can see it all. Make sure you watch when the elderly lady belatedly drops to the floor of the bus a second before a bullet whizzes through the bus just where she had been standing. Thanks to Ron’s Log for this.

Today’s Wise Words

August 4th, 2011

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”—James D. Nicoll

Today’s Hong Kong Living URL

August 4th, 2011

Hong Kong is famed for the difficulty people face in buying a flat. The video below is an example of what some people have to put up with. (It’s a parody, I’m afraid, but I’m told it’s very true to life). Next, London?

Today’s Wedding URL

August 4th, 2011

Those of us who have seen Four Weddings and a Funeral will remember the bumbling vicar played by Rowan Atkinson. Well, your vicar need bumble no longer during your wedding. This couple was “married” by computer program. Computing magazine faults the relatively simple GUI of the program, but as the couple says, the computer is their best friend so why no have their close friend do the honours.

The marriage, of course, was not legal until they went and signed the registers before a Justice of the Peace. But it’s the bit that counts, in this case Mr. Bit the robotic vicar.

Today’s 404 Video

August 4th, 2011

We all occasionally get “Code 404” when surfing the web. It means that the page we requested through a URL is not available for whatever reason.

Normally these 404 notification pages are pretty anodyne. There are a few that attempt to be mildly humorous. However, the page you get when looking for a dead page on Nosh is different, and includes this video.

Nosh: 404 from Firespotter Labs on Vimeo.

Marblehead police log—When is a “rock” not a “rock”?

August 1st, 2011

I haven’t posted a police log in ages. Not much crime goes on in Marblehead (pace the occasional murder, assault, or bank robbery) but what there is, is sometimes fascinating for its small-towniness.

Excerpts from the Marblehead police log for Thursday, July 28, 2011.

12:36 a.m. Car struck tree on Tedesco Street and Leggs Hill Road. The driver was not injured, but the car had to be towed. Police planned to mail citation for impeded driving.

1:40 a.m. Caller reported someone ran across street after striking her car with a rock in the area of Laurel Street. Car was not damaged, and officer determined object that had been thrown was likely not a rock.

1:54 a.m. Person running reported near Marblehead Community Center on Humphrey Street. The person could not be found.

8:29 a.m. Caller on Rockaway Avenue reported having an altercation with man who was picking through his trash. Caller thought the man might return and do something to his home or family. Officer was asked to look for man and speak to him about his behavior.

8:34 a.m. Investigated reported that contractor’s tools had been stolen from new home being built on Leggs Hill Road. Detectives called to investigate break-in to home.

8:36 a.m. Assisted with paper exchange after minor two-vehicle accident in Miller Plaza parking lot on Pleasant Street.

10:08 a.m. Attempted to keep the peace as woman came to Naugus Avenue to retrieve property.

10:10 a.m. Bass Rock Lane resident reported trash barrel and recycling bin that had been put out the night before were missing. They were later found “overboard” at the beach.

11:30 a.m. Beach Street resident reported receiving harassing series of misdirected collection calls. Officer spoke to bank and received assurances that the resident’s number would been removed from their system.

11:49 a.m. Investigated alarm with odor of burning in the area of the street on West Shore Drive. Burnt food was the source.

1:43 p.m. Caller on Evans Road complained about noise coming from rock breaker for three days. She was referred to the building inspector.

2:15 p.m. Man called to say that divers had pointed a spear gun at him while he was fishing off the shore of Magnolia. Dispatcher called Gloucester Police who said the man should not have been fishing there and would call him to follow up.

2:29 p.m. Suspicious man who remarked “not too safe here” to sunbather at the small beach/park at the far end of the causeway near Harbor and Ocean avenues could not be located.

7:23 p.m. Two drunken women about to drive away from Barnacle Restaurant on Front Street reported. One of the women, age 51, was taken into protective custody.

11:52 p.m. Loud party with fighting outside reported on Atlantic Avenue. Officer reported no fight and surmised that caller may have mistook playing around for a fight.