Archive for July, 2011

Today’s Culinary URL

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

One often hears the phrase “as useful as a chocolate teapot.” Well, scientists being scientists, a group of same decided to test whether you could actually brew tea in a chocolate teapot, and the results may surprise you.

More observations on WordPress…

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

I’m continuing to go backwards in my WordPress copy of my Live Journal blog, and have gotten to mid-January 2011. Can you say “Timesuck”, kiddies? A couple more observations, now that I’ve done nearly 7 months of renovations.

First, it not only cuts off posts at accented characters—it also cuts them off at characters like the “£” sign (useful if you’re blogging from the United Kingdom) and even sometimes at single or double quotes. This last is not consistent, unfortunately. This means you have to read every single blog post. In addition, it seems to have cut off every single sermon I’ve posted so far. Why? Search me.

Second, the maddening thing about some special characters is that the “&” in them was changed to “&” in places, thus rendering the special character silly. I then have to delete the “amp;” and the character comes out OK.

Third, it is good to be able to correct the odd typo occasionally.

Fourth, once I’ve finished going through to make the thing readable, I shall have to go through it again to tag (=Wordpress “categorise”) each post. Strewth!

Fifth, I don’t seem to have enabled comments at any time. This is bothersome. The comments that were already there are still there; new comments are disabled. Probably not important for legacy posts, but if no one can comment on current posts why bother?

The question of “Why am I doing this?” has occurred occasionally. I guess it’s better than doing nothing. I think I can do about a month or two a day for corrections, and perhaps more than that for categorisation. We will see.

Happy birthday, momshapedbox…

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

…and many happy returns of the day!

Some musings on same-sex marriage in the United States

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Note: This post originally appeared in the Integrity Lightspeed email list a month ago or so. In addition, I’m not a lawyer.

One of the facts that turned the tide on interracial marriage back in the 1950’s and 60’s is the fluidity of the population of the United States. People get married in one state, go to live (and pay taxes) in another state, go to a third state and then adopt children, and finally in a fourth state, either divorce or one of the couple is widowed and has to pay inheritance taxes and do probate.

The backbone of the social fabric of the United States is the section of the Constitution that requires each state to give full faith and credit to actions of other states. Without that, a married couple (same-sex) in Massachusetts crosses the state line to New York and (for another month) is considered two single people living together. Their financial situation changes (they can no longer pay state taxes as a couple, for example) and their personal situation could change (adopted children might become un-adopted if the couple moved to Florida, for example).

If we change “same-sex married couple” to “first-cousin married couple” this would be an extremely common situation, as some states allow first cousins to marry, others do not. However, if first cousins are married in a state that permits it, and then they move to a state that does not permit it, they do not immediately become single people–their marriage is recognised.

When only relatively small states permitted same-sex marriage, the social consequences of moving from one of those states to another state were small. Now that a big state has legalised same-sex marriage, and in one stroke of Gov. Cuomo’s pen doubled the number of people living in states which permit it, the stakes are getting higher. If California’s Proposition 8 is invalidated, the stakes will be almost overwhelming.

If a same-sex married couple from Massachusetts moves to Texas and wishes to divorce, the obvious place for that divorce to happen is the civil courts of the State of Texas. If they were a mixed-sex couple, that is what would happen. For Texas to then arbitrarily say that marriages contracted in Massachusetts are of two different types, mixed-sex (which they recognise) and same-sex (which they do not recognise) is a legal nicety and certainly the proper subject of litigation.

Eventually (perhaps not the first time, or the tenth time, but eventually) the Federal courts will rule that Massachusetts (for the sake of example) has only one kind of marriage and other states will be required by the Constitution to recognise it.

And the simple reason is: simplicity. For states to keep two types of marriage around in order to uphold “traditional marriage” makes all sorts of social and legal interactions much more complicated. It clogs the courts (which courts dislike) and requires lots of legal picking of nits to support.

This is also the legal and social reason why civil partnerships (in the US sense of that phrase) are inferior. Texas could argue that civil partnerships (which Texas does not allow) do not have to be given the same legal status as marriages. I do not ignore the reason of natural justice and equal rights in saying that civil partnerships are inferior, but legally a civil partnership gives another state a good reason to not recognise it.

The historic argument that same-sex marriage somehow breaks or devalues mixed-sex marriage is being debased every time a same-sex couple marries in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, or (soon) New York. Mixed-sex marriage has not been devalued at all. The fact that mixed-sex couples in those states are still getting married, and see value in getting married, gives the lie to that argument. The fear of the Roman Catholic Church is that the more places where same-sex marriage is legal, and the more places in which it is seen as normal, the more pressure there will be for same-sex marriage everywhere. And once some states see that civilisation has not collapsed in those places, they will feel emboldened to follow the example of those places.

The sexual assault scandals in the Roman Catholic Church have also not helped. After discovering that bishops conspired to move around offenders rather than discipline them or protect minors from them, people wonder why on earth something as simple, edifying, and gracious as to allow same-sex loving couples to enjoy the same rights as their mixed sex brothers and sisters do is so reviled by the same clerics who allowed the rights and lives of young children to be ruined in the name of the reputation of the Church.

My prediction is that as more states allow same-sex marriage, the build-up of case law over social effects of marriage (divorce, adoption, taxation) will come to a height that the Supreme Court will be unable to ignore. To allow states to discriminate between marriages on the basis of who is married to whom is not going to be a good idea. The conservative justices will try to deny these cases on the basis of history, culture, religion, everything but the Constitution. My strategy (were I King of the World…) would be to get Obama re-elected, then after he appoints a few more justices, only then bring the test case. If the case comes to the Supreme Court too early, it runs the risk of being overturned on the first run, and then supported only 10 or 20 years later, like the sodomy law cases were.

On civil partnerships, by the way, they have been legal here in the UK from 2006. After five years, it is generally recognised in society that members of civil partnerships are married, rather than “civilly partnered”. People refer to HWMBO and me as married, do not do a double-take when I refer to him as my husband, and are generally happy to treat us in the same way they treat a mixed-sex couple. So, after only a few years, civil partnerships have been turned into marriage by society in general. The law is following after society in this case. I expect that the next “liberal” government will turn all civil partnerships into marriages and remove the distinction in law.


Monday, July 18th, 2011

I wonder why no one has coined the name “Hackgate” for the group of scandals currently convulsing the United Kingdom. You will probably be aware that News International’s first UK newspaper, the News of the World, is now defunct, closed by the company because various reporters had enlisted the services of private investigators and computer experts to hack into the voicemail messages of various people, from the Duke of Cambridge down to a schoolgirl who was missing and later found murdered. In the latter case, the hackers deleted some voicemails from the schoolgirl’s mobile phone so that more messages could be left. This gave her parents hope that she was still alive—a hope which was sadly mistaken. The Metropolitan Police arrested a reporter and an investigator a few years ago for hacking into the Royals’ mobiles, jailed them and took their notes, which they promptly filed in the police equivalent of the bin.

After other people determined that they had been hacked, sued the News of the World about it, and had large monetary settlements from the Murdochs, pressure grew on the police to reinvestigate what they had characterised as a small-scale crime, stopping at the two people who were convicted. Lo and behold, the police revealed that they’d retrieved 11,000 pages of notes from their bin, and were busily contacted everyone mentioned there to warn them that their phones may have been hacked.

The editor of the NoTW when the original hacking case was prosecuted had quit. It wasn’t his fault, mind you; these were rogue reporters. But the editor was ultimately responsible for the actions of his reporters, and resigned. Later on the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, one David Cameron, took the editor, one Andy Coulson, on as his Director of Communications. Then Mr. Cameron kind-of won the election in May 2010, and Andy Coulson became the government’s Communications Director. When this second group of hackings came out, Coulson resigned again.

Various personnel of the NoTW and News International have resigned, including Mrs. Rebekah Brooks, once editor of the NoTW and until last week the CEO of News International, and several other long-serving minions of the Murdoch family business. Father Rupert, son James, and Mrs. Brooks are all going to testify in front of a Parliamentary Committee.

Various personnel of the Metropolitan Police, including John Yates, the Assistant Commissioner who originally said that there was nothing further to investigate but who hired a former News International minion as a PR flack and then discovered these 11,000 pages of notes (Surprise!), resigned today. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Met, resigned yesterday. And these are not the last resignations, I’m certain.

A judicial investigation has been set up and that will get down towards the bottom of the cesspit.

The Grauniad has been keeping the fire stoked under these people for the past couple of years, off and on. If you want more detail, the Guardian is the place to go.

Hack is the UK slang term for a newspaper reporter, and hacker is a term that you should all be familiar with. Thus, Hackgate. I suppose that few people now remember those heady days of 1973 and 1974 when the break-in at the Watergate Apartments office of the Democratic National Committee, and the Congressional investigation into it, were at the top of the TV charts. We used to watch every afternoon, hanging on every word that dripped, honeylike, from Sam Ervin’s mouth, and cheering on Barbara Jordan. Since then nearly every political scandal has gained a name “{Something}gate”, except for this one. Well, I’m going to refer to it as Hackgate and that’s final.

Of course, the scandal still has months, maybe years to run. More scalps will be collected, more resignations tendered, more revelations will titillate us. But what will come out of all this?

First, the tendency of the UK tabloid press to do anything (legal or otherwise) to get a story, no matter how trivial, titillating, or privacy-invading, will be curbed in one way or another. The Press Complaints Commission, a toothless body that is financed by pennies from every newspaper in the country except for Richard Desmond’s stable, will probably be retained but given teeth (ie, the power to fine newspapers). You’ll be less likely to discover who’s shagging your favourite football player in the Sunday press, but any newspaper that transgresses and is found out will have the book thrown at it.

Second, politicians and other public figures who court the press (not including people who are interviewed for publication, but people who suck up to press proprietors in return for favourable coverage—they hope!) will be doing much less of it. Politicians and civil servants will be forced to record when they meet media moguls, whether it’s for a glass of champagne at a dinner party or a business meeting. These records will be public and toadying to the press barons will be discoverable. There will also be less cross-pollination between the press and politicians. You won’t see former newspaper editors being trusted to run the publicity arms of the political parties again anytime soon.

Third, the cozy relationship between the press and some police officers will be broken. Some of the officers are accused of taking bribes to pass information along to the newspapers.

The steady drip-drip-drip of revelations is at once both exciting and annoying. I think that most Brits just want it over, the miscreants punished, and life to go on. Until the truth is known, Hackgate will run and run.

Oh, and the absence of the News of the World, formerly the nation’s biggest circulation newspaper, has hurt more than just the 200 journalists who worked for it and are now on the dole (until the Sun on Sunday is started, perhaps in August.) This first Sunday in 168 years that the NoTW has not been on the nation’s newsstands saw a fall in the total number of Sunday newspapers sold. People who read the NoTW, it seems, don’t in general want to read other newspapers.

Today’s Photography Video

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Rube Goldberg, eat your heart out! Taking a picture never looked so easy!

Happy birthday, rozk…

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

…and many happy returns of the day!

The News of the World, rest, if not in peace

Friday, July 8th, 2011

The major news story here, to the exclusion of almost everything else that is going on in the world around us, is the implosion of the Murdoch-owned tabloid Sunday newspaper, the News of the World. For those who are not UK newspaper junkies, the background of the current story is fairly well summarised here.

Let me begin by saying that I have never read the NoTW. It prides itself on investigative journalism, and it has brought several important scandals to the fore, including the Max Mosley S&M scandal, the former MP Mark Oaten’s relationships with male prostitutes, and the match-fixing scandals involving the Pakistani cricket team. Note, however, that most of their exposés have to do with sexual or titillating subjects. It has subsidised a man who pretends to be a Middle Eastern sheik and traps people into making various embarrassing admissions, which are secretly recorded and played back to the NoTW‘s adoring public.

However, in doing these things it made some real enemies. It’s been sued (and lost) several times. All this being said, it’s the most widely-read newspaper in the United Kingdom, with a circulation of more than 2 million copies every Sunday.

Except, this coming Sunday will be its last ever issue. James Murdoch, the son of Rupert, announced yesterday that, because of the phone hacking scandal, the NoTW will cease publication this Sunday. No commercial advertising will be printed in the paper, and all profits will be donated to charity or good causes.

This has come at a bad time for News International (the Murdoch company that owns all of the newspapers and media outlets that the Murdochs control) as they have been trying to get government approval to buy the portion of BSkyB, the satellite TV broadcaster, that they do not own. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable (a Liberal Democrat and perhaps the most able UK Cabinet minister), was tricked by the Daily Telegraph into admitting that he was not going to approve the sale, and thus he had to recuse himself. The “Minister of Fun”, Culture, Media, and Sport Minister Jeremy Hunt, will be the Cabinet minister who deals with the matter. He is believed to be very much in favour of News International and the Murdochs, and has said that he is “minded” (in that quaint English phrase) to approve the deal as long as BSkyB sells Sky News.

There is growing public sentiment against this deal because of the sleaziness of the Murdoch family and its media outlets here. It is still possible that the deal will be blocked, not least because News International’s share price has tumbled and his shareholders might be minded to tell Murdoch to quit trying for the purchase.

But, there’s more! The editor of the NoTW at the time the phone hacking was going on is one Andy Coulson, who loyally resigned when two of his reporters were convicted of hacking the phones of Princes William and Harry. Mr. Coulson later became a media advisor to the Conservative Party, and moved to Downing Street as his Press Secretary when David Cameron became Prime Minister.

When more hacking accusations were made, and News International paid off those whose phones were hacked, questions were raised as to whether Mr. Coulson knew about the hacking as editor. He says that he was blissfully ignorant of all these goings-on, but resigned as Press Secretary anyway, just in case.

Today he was arrested when he attended a police station in central London for questioning on the scandal. His predecessor as editor, Rebekah Brooks (née Wade) was promoted to CEO of News International relatively recently, and there has been much speculation as to how much she knows about it.

Some of the sleazy hacks that have been uncovered affect regular people, not politicians, movie stars, sports figures, or celebrities. For example, a schoolgirl was murdered around ten years ago. Her name was Millie Dowler. When she disappeared, a private detective working for the NoTW obtained her mobile number and hacked into her voicemail, which was, of course, full of worried messages from her family and friends. Then her mailbox filled up, and no more messages could be left. The detective then deleted some of the messages so that new ones could be left for him to listen to. Of course, the family had realised that her mailbox was full, and when it suddenly became available again, they assumed that she herself had deleted the messages (why would they assume anything else?) and thought that she was still alive, even though in reality, she had been dead for days and her body disposed of by the murderer.

Millie Dowler was not the only murder victim or victim’s family member who was hacked. When the schoolgirls Holly Welles and Jessica Chapman were murdered in Soham quite a while back, the private detective obtained the mobile phone numbers of her family members and hacked into their voice mail.

Some of the victims of the July 7th bombings here in London, 6 years and one day ago, had their phones hacked by NoTWdetectives in the aftermath of the attacks.

Now, in a way, no one minds if people who are legitimately in the public eye and who are thought to be sleazy (like politicians) are exposed as hypocrites (or worse) by newspapers, no matter what methods they use. However, when non-celebrities are spied on in this way, people think, “Geez, it could happen to me!” and get pretty upset.

But, there’s MORE! The NoTW has admitted to paying off police officers in return for information. I call that offering bribes. It also might explain why, when the original accusations were made and the original court case about the hacking of the Princes’ phones came about, the police then said that there was nothing further to be discovered and closed the case, even though all the material in which they are now finding these hacking cases was already in the possession of the police.

It is amazing. The NoTW-animal, wounded, is expiring while the vultures are circling around, deliriously happy that, at last, they will be able to rip it to shreds and devour it. Two-hundred employees of the NoTW, many if not most of whom are innocent of any wrongdoing, are out of jobs. The British public, always thirsting for scandal, is now drinking it in continuously. BBC Radio 4 is almost “All Murdoch scandal, all the time!” The Government may be severely affected by association with Coulson and Murdoch, because, did I say there’s MORE? The current News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, is a personal friend of the Prime Minister and often dines or lunches with him and his wife, along with her husband. And she is deeply involved in this.

Meanwhile, Rupert is in Idaho hobnobbing with other moguls and nabobs. He’s kept a low profile, we understand. Long may that continue. This story will run on and on—it will only end when someone is jailed nice and hard for it, and the media officially loses its struggle with the politicians for independent oversight.

And that’s why this is bad for the media. When they do true investigative journalism, and find things out legally and print them, they perform a public service. Politicians and celebrities are happy today because it’s unlikely that the tabloid press will be able to write and investigate with the same effectiveness as they have previously. And that means that the politicians can breathe easier, since the newspapers will be hampered in their role as shit-stirrers.

How the Metroliner was born

Friday, July 8th, 2011

My friend Joel (not a meatspace friend, but an online friend through our shared admiration for Jean Shepherd) was one of the “Mad Men” who made advertising interesting up until the pre-lunch Martini was banned. Being a train buff, I was stunned to discover that his prodding got Amtrak to provide the Metroliner from New York to Washington in 2 hours and 59 civilised minutes. His blog is well worth a trawl, by the way.

Thanks, Joel!

The computer’s part buggered again…

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

I have not set London Stabbie on this one because the computer was a gift, assembled for me by our friend in Singapore. HWMBO carried it on the plane all the way from Singapore to London. And, for about 6 months it’s been my main computer while I try to get some stuff off the old one and onto the new one.

Of course, I’ve been backing it up daily, which seems to have been, in hindsight, a very good idea. Last night the larger 1.5TB hard disk crapped the bed. I am still able to use the computer with the smaller SSD disk, and if I need to save anything I can do that to a SD card while I consider what to do.

I am tempted to buy a 2 TB hard disk and swap it into the computer. However, I suspect that one of the fans is not very efficient or something of the sort, and thus the new one will follow the old one into hard disk hell.

I am considering the “cloud” (this year’s buzzword), but am not convinced that my data will be safe, secure, and instantly available when I want it.

I’m also somewhat vindicated in my former stance that buying a computer from a vendor (who can then be relied on for at least a year’s warranty) is somewhat safer than building your own machine. Fine words butter no parsnips, though—I need to think about this quite seriously.

Any thoughts? How should I provide myself with good, comprehensive computing ability? Is the cloud the only way forward?

Happy birthday, babymicrophone…

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

…and many happy returns of the day!

Today’s Episcopal story

Friday, July 1st, 2011

From today’s Church Times comes this story about the Bishop of St. Albans, here in England.

HE LISTS gardening as one of his hobbies, but the green-fingered prowess of the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, so impressed on­lookers recently that he was given the chance to turn it into a full-time job.

Dr Smith told his diocesan synod last weekend that, while visiting an aunt’s house, he decided to sort out her somewhat messy garden. He spent the morning gardening, and, while he was working, noticed a woman walking past a couple of times and watching his progress. Then, he said, the same woman’s head popped up over the wall and said: “Excuse me, but I’m looking for a gardener.”

He said: “So I suddenly feel my prospects are looking up, but I said to her: ‘Thank you, it’s very kind of you, but actually this isn’t my full-time job. I have a full-time job.’

“She says: ‘Are you sure you can’t fit it in?’

“I said: ‘No, no, I’m sorry.’

“And she said: ‘What do you do?’

“I looked up, and said: ‘Well, I’m the Bishop of St Albans.’

“And she looked at me in total disbelief, and said: ‘Huh, well, I’m the Queen of Sheba.’”

The anecdote was greeted with laughter by synod members.

Dr Smith said: “You just can’t make it up, can you? Well, you don’t need to, when things like that happen.”

A diocesan spokesman said that Dr Smith was a keen and ac­complished gardener, and had trans­formed part of the garden at his home since he arrived in St Albans in 2009. “He does say that you can tell a lot about someone’s ministry by the state of their garden.”