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January 31, 2006

What colour is today?

In my perception of the world around me everything is associated with colours, even things like days of the week, months or numbers. For example, Wednesday is orange and Friday is yellow, March is a light shade of blue, June is green and August red, the numbers between 0 and 19 have individual colours whereas the twenty's are different shades of blue, thirty's are orange, forty's are yellow, and fifty's are green. It took me years (decades really) to find out that this is not the usual way to see the world. Very few people - one in 2,000 - make this connection between abstract terms and colours. They are called "synaesthetics" (from the Greek syn = together and aisthanesthai = to perceive) because an external stimulus will provoke - automatically and at the same time - the response of two different sensations.

Most common is apparently the above described "colour hearing". It was studied systematically and described by the British physician Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, as early as 1883. He found out that synaesthetic abilities are individual, meaning that no two people associate the same sounds with the same solours, and that they are hereditary.

Already in 1904 an article was published about this phenomenon in a German Scientific Journal (Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau, 29 (1904) 375). It described the associations of vowels with colours made by a female person:

A: red-brown, E: white, I: blue, O: yellow, U: dark green

Consequently combinations of vowels yielded the following combinations of colours:

Au: left field of vision red-brown, right dark green
Ei: left white, right blue
Ai: left red-brown, right blue to violet
Eu: left white, right dark green
Oi: left yellow, right blue and so forth.

Nowadays we know that synaesthetics do not suffer from hallucinations. Modern technology has revealed that on reading or hearing letters or words that stimulus is not only processed in the primary auditory but also the primary visual cortex. It's just the wiring in the brains of people with synaesthetic abilities that is a bit different after all. Otherwise we are perfectly normal.

Posted by Mausi at 05:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 30, 2006

Which Doctor Who am I?

You scored as The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann). The
Eighth Doctor struck a chord with you after only one adventure. Maybe you are a fan of his audio adventures, or you just came to Dr Who quite late. Hope it wasn't just the special effects that impressed you.

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)


The First Doctor (William Hartnell)


The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)


The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)


The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davidson)


The Ninth Doctor (Christoper Eccleston)


The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)


The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)


The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)


Which Doctor Who are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

I found this over at the Laughing Wolf and couldn't resist trying it out. OK, so I like the thought of having a Tardis to hop around the universe in. I'll pass on the Darleks though.

And yes, I did come to Dr Who late!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:35 PM | TrackBack

January 29, 2006

Happy Year of the Dog

Tonight I am off to a party to celebrate the Chinese New Year - the Year of the Dog - with some friends. It will be fun because they are Chinese and plan a real Chinese feast to celebrate. Come to think of it - I was born in the year of the Dog. And no, I am not about to say which one! So really, this is going to be my year for fun.

So, having been reminded of this, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year for the year ahead. May it bring plenty of good luck, and happiness.

Every dog has his day they say, this one just got handed a whole year!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Half full; half empty - it's all a matter of perspective

The sign, they say, of an optimist is that he or she sees a glass that is half full, when a pessimist sees a glass half empty. I recently rediscovered a link to a blog entitled "The Nice Jewish Website" and the first post I discovered there reminded me of this. The post is entitled "G-d damn it!" and he goes on to say that most people using that expression and "Jesus C****" are actually using it to express something good!

So why not say "G-d bless it"? Perhaps it is sheer idleness of speech, perhaps it is something else and perhaps it is just the way we express our surprise, but this lad is absolutely right about one thing - we should be thankful for everything we usually say "G-d damn" about. I recommend that you take the time and the effort to visit this site and ponder on his thoughts on this little issue. In fact, to wet your appetite, I am going to include a little bit of his writing ...

I cringe every time I hear it. All the same though, I just bite my tongue. I really don't understand why it is such a hot phrase. It's even more popular then yelling out "Jesus Christ!" all the time. Now don't get me wrong. Yelling "JC!" is still a popular local colloquialism for both non-Jews and Jews. I learned everything I know about Jesus from my Jewish mother who won't admit it, but yells it all the time. Even in Israel this summer there was a very sweet Jewish girl I was following around and whenever she saw something amazing like ancient ruins in Jerusalem or five thousand year old Torah texts her first reaction was "Jesus Christ!" He'll save you, babe, I would tell her. She always smiled big afterward.

So what is the deal with that? If you look at it right, all the G-d damn things people seem to be bitching and complaining about are really, Baruch Hashem, God blessed things. Beer? What a blessing that is. Your girlfriend? God's most gorgeous gift in the world. Television? Okay, often times it is a curse, but God gave us freewill and we can turn it off whenever we want. The Democrats? Thank God for them. They are the reason I am a Republican. I could go on and on.

This is the sort of attitude we should applaud, it really does make a difference to the world and to everyone you meet. I would dearly love to have been a fly on the wall when he told his girlfriend that Jesus would save her! Especially in some of the places it would have been said. And her a good Jewish girl too!

Reading this guy's ramblings I could not help but draw a contrast to the rantings from the Iranian government which has now decided to make a very public and International declaration that the Holocaust did not happen, that it is a "Western Conspiracy" and a "Zionist Fabrication". All I can say is that I find their rantings less and less palatable, and less and less rational. Their glass is definitely in the "half empty" category and will continue to drain away as more and more people find their behaviour and attitudes unacceptable.

I agree entirely with the author of "G-d damn" when he says that everything we have, every waking moment and every contact is a gift from G-d, and one we should give thanks and praise for. Perhaps if we can persuade enough people to join in with that action and the sentiment that underpins it - we can finally drive the advocates of hatred and distrust out of the limelight and out of power!

As all Jewish blessings begin, let us continue ...

Baruch atah Adonai, Elohaynu, melech ha-olam (Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe,)

Saying together,

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe,
for you have given us life, hope, love and fellowship.

What more do we need?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 28, 2006

LibDem meltdown?

It is always edifying when politicians start to show their true colours, but the LibDem's seem to have taken this to a new level of vituperation. The daily press seems to have done a bit more than the usual muckraking as well, but perhaps it also explains why the Liberal Party, now morphed into the Liberal Democratic Party, has not been able to get itself elected as the party of government since 1918. Their previous record speaks clearly for itself, this is, after all, the party that invented the Civil Service, that invented Income Tax and which has, since they were last in power, done nothing to encourage voters to believe that they would be any better now than they were then.

In fact, if one looks at where they do have some power and influence, at local government level, they are very often the worst of all choices for local taxation, local management and local democracy. One prime example is the Council of a city near me. Their "Traffic and Planning" Committee has recently decided, without any consultation, to "phase out" residents parking permits for resident's at city centre blocks of flats. At a stroke they have rendered all these flats (apartments for my US readers) unsaleable. Who wants to buy a flat where there is nowhere to park your car? Even better, they have decreed that no new developments in the town centre will be permitted to include provision for parking private cars! Instant unsaleablility!

Add to this the fact that these are the same party members who have saddled this city with a huge debt, because they decided to sell off assets and borrow heavily on speculation to pay for massively expensive and totally unworkable pet projects. The now defunct "Noddy" Train which was supposed to ferry you from your car parking (miles from any shop!) to the shopping precincts, will not be forgotten by those still paying for it! In fact, probably the only thing which keeps these idiots in the council is the fact that there is a large student population from the local university who vote for them in preference to the alternatives primarily because the LibDems want to raise taxes to pay for a free tuition programme for students.

So far, the only candidate in the leadership "contest" who does not seem to have some "skeleton" in his closet is Sir Menzies Campbell, but I am sure the Sun or the Daily Mirror will find something sooner or later. Sadly, the only winners in all of this will be Labour and the usual backroom grubbers who make a living destroying reputations and characters.

Perhaps the LibDems real problem is that politicians in general have become so isolated from the realities of everyday life that they fail to see that the public opinion of them is so low that nothing surprises us anymore. The more they deny wrongdoing, peccadilloes or filandering, the more we believe they are up to something. I have no doubt that they will survive this unedifying swathe of dirty linen currently being hung out in public. It may be of some interest to those who revel in the discomfort of others, but is it really telling us anything we did not already know, or even need to know? I rather suspect not.

At least, if the LibDems carry on with their apparent desire to commit collective hari kari, we can perhaps expect to see the next elections being conducted without their usual pact with Labour and a more balanced view from the electorate - those who bother to vote anyway.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2006

Opinions differ ....

A few days ago, while having my morning caffeine "hit" and trying to get both brain cells pointing in the same direction, I turned on the telly. I know I shouldn't do this, because there is almost always some prize twit who manages to annoy me and I spend the rest of the day with a desire to rip someone's throat out - with my teeth!

The recent debate sparked by the "don't smack children" campaigners had reached the morning news room of ITV. Someone there obviously thought it would be a good idea to get the leader of the bunch of arrogant, nannying nitwits who want to make smacking a naughty child a criminal offence, and someone who holds a different view, together on their programme. So we found ourselves watching a slightly uncomfortable newsroom "front" team putting questions to an older gentleman of Afro-Caribbean descent neatly dressed in a open necked shirt and comfortable slacks and a large white lady of extremely patronising attitude dressed in the West African style popular in countries like Nigeria. It was obvious that she thought she alone had the welfare of children and society at heart, and that only her view was correct. She neither listened to the gentleman who put, very clearly, his views on the lack of discipline among the young and how this could be tied back to the interference of the state and "children's welfare" groups and their perpetual interference in the parents attempts to keep children on the straight and narrow. He pointed to the "rights" without "respionsibilities" and made a very good case for children to be held responsible when they transgress, stressing that they inevitably hide behind the armies of social workers and children's support groups who invariably portray all parents as criminally inclined child abusers.

The Child Commissioner representative swept all of his carefully considered points aside insisting that a smack is the same as a full bodied assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and that "violence simply begets violence". According to her argument all the world's ills and all the breakdown in discipline and law and order is due entirely to children being smacked for disobedience.

I'm afraid that, for me, the fact that she chooses to dress in the flambouyant and colourful outfit that best suits the African climate and the African culture to go on morning television, probably sums up where she is coming from on a wide range of subjects. She would not even consider that it merely shows that she is from the very worst end of racial prejudice, one which denigrates everything of her own culture, espouses what she imagines is the best of another, but takes all of her rose tinted ideology from her own background and tries to package it as coming from the culture she wishes existed elesewhere. And in so doing, she succeeds in patronising those who are from that ethnic group and culture. That she neither understands that, nor wishes too, is also self evident from her manner of speaking to people who are from those cultures.

My coffee almost boiled afresh in my hand as I listened to her lecturing the studio crew, the other speaker and the TV audience. Her accent told me that she is Oxbridge, her vacuous arguments told me that her degree is no doubt in sociology which is neither art nor science and her attitude made me want to decorate several bridges with her and her cronies heads on pikes. Since she patently has no children, or, if she does, they are probably cared for by an army of nannies with strict instructions to coddle them no matter how repugnant they may be, I take leave to doubt that her contact with reality is in any sense valid. If she is a typical member of the "Commissioners" then God help us all!

My heart and agreement lay entirely with the Afro-Caribbean gentleman, whose face said everything it has taken me this long to write! His polite, quiet spoken and very valid points made much more sense than all of the Commissioners blather - but she got the final word, probably under orders from the ITV bosses!

Where do these morons come from?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2006

Flat refusal to stop being naive

As part of my new job I've been receiving customer service training. It occurred to me pretty early on that if everyone was naturally polite and hard working, training would be unnecessary. Everything would be done right on the first try (and occasionally on the second, because we're human) and staff wouldn't need to be trained to deal with abusive customers (who despite the old adage, are NOT always right!)

I know, I know; I'm hopelessly naive, but I think that a certain level of naivety is healthy in a human being. If nobody was naive, who would have the ability to be idealistic?

And now for something completely different:

I found a better article on Takashi Murakami at: http://www.assemblylanguage.com/reviews/MurakamiMoT.html

And Gray Monk may turn up higher than page 4 on google as a result!

(Marketing 101 y'see).

And here's an entry that made me laugh: http://projectebola.typepad.com/project_ebola/2006/01/grammar_commits.html

Posted by The Postulant at 07:56 PM | TrackBack

"Big" is not always better!

A little local debate reflects a much bigger and often less open agenda driven by the Whitehall belief that to be "efficient" every service must be "bigger". It is reflected in their belief that Fire and Rescue Services, Police Services and Hospitals - and even Doctors Surgeries - are only "efficient" if they are employing thousands, protecting millions and "serving" the political agenda which happens to be flavour of the moment. Sadly, their passion for "big" is more about centralisation of control than it is for the actual delivery of whatever service, and it usually costs twice to three times as much as the smaller units it absorbs.

The debate around my County at present is over the provision of Primary School places and schools. According to County Hall and Whitehall we have 1500 places too many and these must be cut from the provision. This means that some of the smaller schoools will have to be closed and the pupils (this is after all a rural County) bussed considerable distances from their homes to larger less personal and more intimidating schools elsewhere. Listening to the usual bunch of self important and self righteous politicos and their public servant paper shufflers, you would think that this will be good for the kids, but when pushed, they slide away from the question of who has studied the impact on small children of long journeys too and from schools and the need to cope with the stress of being a long way from their parents if hurt, sick or otherwise in need of care?

One woman on the radio today argued that this was not a problem - until it was pointed out rather forcefully by a parent that the bulk of the parents at the school they were planning to close did not have cars and would be unable to fetch their kids from the proposed enlarged school some twelve miles away! Then she self righteously declared that this was not a problem the County Education Authority needed to consider, it was one for the Transport Committee and the parents to work out.

The fact is that these "super schools" are very much part of the problem when it comes to indiscipline, truancy and failing education standards. When you look at the best performing schools you soon realise that there is a correlation between pupil numbers, teacher to pupil ratio and the total number of students in the school! Looking back at my past I realise that I was lucky to have gone to a school where the total number of pupils was a little over 600 - in buildings designed for 250 admittedly - and the Masters knew all the students. They may not have known our individual names (the class Masters certainly did!) but they certainly knew all our faces and it was not unusual to be pulled up in the street even out of uniform (yes, we wore those too!) by a passing Master if you were behaving badly or inappropriately. That was the secret, they knew who we were, they knew our parents, they knew where we lived and they cared. That link vanishes swiftly as soon as a school exceeds around 700 pupils and once it exceeds 1,000 the teachers haven't a hope of knowing all the children. That has certainly been my experience and observation of the schools my own children have had to attend courtesy the ideological mess the politicians and civil servants have made of the education system. It would be really interesting to see the results of a major study on this topic, I rather suspect it would require a major change of thinking to address the probably outcomes!

Having worked in organisations whose employees number thousands, and others delivering the same service, whose employees numbered hundreds, I can say categorically that the smaller organisations are always operationally more efficient than the large ones. This is, quite simply, because the communication chains are shorter and more direct, the operational information is circulated much faster, problems are identified and dealt with quickly and there is nowhere to hide or room for "empire" building. Managers manage in small organisations, they cannot hide in committees and meetings and when they delegate something they are able to communicate it directly to someone and get immediate feedback rather than having to do it through a committee and then listen to hours of excuses and debate as the goal posts shift in accordance with whoever's empire is being threatened by the work required. The so-called "efficiencies of scale" are a myth, no money is saved by going into a super organisation, in fact the opposite, the "economies" turn out to be vastly more expensive.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, the only advantage of a "big" organisation is that it concentrates all power for decision making in a small number of people at the centre. Power is removed from a "local" level and people are unable to communicate with the "management" or to influence any change of culture, direction or improvement. Even the supposed "devolved responsibilities" are so restricted that they are not "devolved" powers at all. Look about you at the waste in Whitehall, the corruption that lurks beneath the surface as incompetents waste money, divert resources or simply cover up the failures. One prime example is the "Preferred Tenderer" system of awarding contracts which by-passes the tendering process altogether. The theory is simple, choose a supplier from the "Preferred Tenderer" list supplied by HM Treasury and you do not need to go through the tender process, you can accept whatever bid is offered and, if the budget is available, spend the money. The only wriggle is that the "Preferred Tenderer's" price is usually around 20% higher than what would have been obtained on open tender. Nice little earner if you can get on the list - but that is another story! Perhaps now you see why we all need to say a very firm NO to any further centralisation on any front! Particularly when it comes to depriving communities of a school, a hospital or a police station. Everything the Civil Servants and their appointees touch immediately costs far more and delivers less!

Local people and local services are far more efficient and - in the long term less costly - than the dwellers in Whitehall, Westminster and many County Halls will admit. The real problem is that they cannot control them - and they hate that!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 25, 2006

Political influences

There is something deeply disturbing about the fact that an Australian billionaire with US citizenship, is able to control the UK's media in such a way that he is able to dictate the editorial political support of those media. Rupert Murdoch does not live in the UK, he does not pay taxes in the UK, yet he considers it entirely appropriate to play the eminence grise in British politics and to use his newspapers and television channels to promote a political philosophy and a party of worthless wasters to an electorate stupid enough to be swayed by him.

You will note that he does not live under Blair's nannying dictatorship and he makes little, if any, contribution to the vastly expensive and wasteful machinery that every Labour government in history has produced. Nothing of his personal fortune is paid into the UK Tax system, and his companies all have "offshore" holding companies which reduces the tax they pay as well. Very neat, one could almost say, the perfect Socialist solution - control a government without having to live under it's control and without havibng to contribute money to its excesses. Tough for the peasants, but what a lovely earner for the promoter.

This sort of situation raises several interesting questions about the conduct of the media in its role as "informers of public opinion". Many will recall the outrage caused by a stupid and rather obvious "endorsement" of a candidate in the US Presidential election a few years ago by one of our political leaders, yet Blair and his media mogul did exactly the same thing - with less of an outcry - in the last election. Perhaps the difference was that it was a left-wing socialist endorsing the nearest thing to a left-wing socialist in the US that makes it acceptable?

Given that Mr Murdoch is now in the UK and saying that Mr Blair is taxing us far too highly, restricting freedom far too much and - horror of horrors - placing burdens on business and enterprise, is a sign that he is having a rethink. Somehow I doubt it, Tony will find some way to reward his mouthpiece.

Another question which needs to be examined concerning the media is the spectacle raised by the treatment of the deposed Leader of the LibDem Party and of the candidates for his job. Charles Kennedy had at least the guts to admit he had a problem, but the sanctimonious, and, frankly, utterly hypocritcal press, went for him in a manner which suggested that they were hoping to see him throw himself off St Stephen's Tower in a spectacular suicide. Their muck raking on one of the candidates is equally sickening - yet it is excused by their bland statement that "anyone in public office should exopect to have their actions placed under greater scrutiny". And just who scrutinises the scrutineers? Why, themselves of course! So the pot is free to call the saucepan black and get away with it, because they control access to the presses!

Then there is the dubious practice of masquerading as something or someone else, in order to entrap a "celebrity" into saying something that will damage their career. One of Mr Murdoch's papers has just pulled off the "spectacular" of planting a conterfeit "Sheikh" at a reception where he succeeded in getting the England Football Team Manager and Coach to admit to some pretty damaging opinions. If a police officer did the same thing to a criminal, the courts would, rightly, reject the evidence and censure the police, yet the press routinely do this with impunity! Again, had this been a police "trap" the very same paper would have smeared the policemen's reputations and been howling for a Chief Constables head on a pike. It seems that sauce for the geese is not, in the eyes of certain elements in the press, sauce for the gander.

Press freedom is an essential in any free and democratic society, but the control of our media services by a very few, very powerful men is not a truly free press, the editors are obliged, or are specifically appointed, to reflect the views of their employer and no one else. The tactics they employ when attacking personalities or attempting to influence policy are frankly anything but a reflection of a free, fair and just society, they are an abuse of freedom and justice and it is time people woke up to this fact. The classic example of the manner the press abuses its power is the case of the disgraced pop-star "Gary Glitter". One of Mr Murdoch's newspapers has spent quite literally thousands, if not millions, pursuing this pathetic little man around the world and, despite their avowed opposition to the death penalty for murder here, made sure, by means of lucrative payments to the victims, that he would be accused and tried for sexual offences in a country where they knew full well that he faced the death penalty if convicted. Newspaper justice and trial by media.

I suppose that the reality is that, one way or another, we have the government that business, the media and the pressure groups elect with their money and their lobbying. Democracy is, after all, a mere chimera - or it has become so since the cynical control of the media and of the organs of economics have all been vested in a favoured few over the last half century. But then, this is the classic symptom of a political system in decay - or so Plato said in "The Republic" almost 2,500 years ago.

It seems that nothing changes - except the faces in the pictures and on the statues.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 24, 2006

Heavy bells

One of the unique things about the British - or more properly the English - rural scene is the sound of church bells. Unlike the bells heard on the continent, or especially in Italy, which are often rung by a single "Ringer" using a keyboard arrangement which allows him or her to "play" the bells, English bells are hung for ringing by a team. As I have described in the past, this is called "Change Ringing" and is a somewhat unusual and rather skilled art.

The bell frame in Tewkesbury Abbey, with the bell "stays" - the wooden post - visible above the yoke which secures the bell in it's trunions and holds it to the frame.

Bells hung in this manner do not play tunes, and the process of ringing a full peel of changes is highly complex and follows a mathematical progression as the bells change places in the order of the ring as the "change" progresses. A full peel can take several hours as it involves an very large number of permutations in the "changes" during the peel. The more bells you have, the greater the number of "changes" that can be rung in a peel. If you visit the Stoke Poges site, you can see an animated graphic which shows how the bell is controlled - and you can get a lot more information about the patterns for ringing. Even better, with a sound card you can hear their bells ring Grandsire Triples and Grandsire Doubles!

There is technically no limit to the number of bells that can be used for a peel, but the smallest number is usually four. The "Ring" at Tewkesbury is one of the bigger rings in England (there are only around 1640 "Rings" of bells hung in this way worldwide and a little over 1600 of these are in the UK) with twelve bells hung for ringing. Another four, all cast in the late 1690's are now the bells on which the clock strikes the hours and quarters, and a further small bell is hung as the "Sanctus" bell, rung during services at the consecration of the elements during a communion and at twelve noon daily for the "Angelus".

Those who look closely will see that the large wheel has a single rope secured to the "spokes" which passes through the rim and draws along a groove cut into the rim of the wheel. It is this that is used to swing the bell into the "set" position with the "stay" downaward and the bell mouth upward. A sharp tug on the line is then all that is needed to swing the bell 360 degrees allowing the clapper to strike once as it swings. The rope is used to check the swing and hold it on the opposite stay until it is swung again in its new position in the "change".

A fascinating art and a fun pastime for those interested in giving up hours to learn the art and practice the huge variety of "changes" that go into "peels". If you want to learn more about this - or perhaps find out where to join a group near you, try the Central Council of Bellringers website by following the link.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 23, 2006

Spare the rod and spoil the child .....

The arch-nannies so beloved of Mr Blair's Labour soviets are making noises again, this time it is the four "Children's Commissioners" who are demanding that smacking a child be made criminal offence on a par with assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. According to this group of expensive and unelected Labour Appointees, children MUST be given the same "rights" as adults - but not, of course, the responsibilities that go with them.

This group of - and here I am struggling to find a printable adjective and pronoun - control freaks wish to see parents who smack a child that is running out of control charged with the same offence as a group of yobs (assuming the Police bother to pursue a group of yobs!) who kick a pensioner insensible in order to steal what little he or she may have. They also want to bring in "parenting classes" to ensure that "parents are taught alternative methods of persuading children to accept boundaries". These would, naturally, be compulsory, and no doubt too, any parent who dared to "fail" would be immediately under threat of having their children removed by the State and put out for adoption or fostering.

This group have consistently refused to acknowledge that two parent families generally have less trouble bringing up children than single ones, that children from families where there is a lone parent who works, or a lone parent who is on benefit and doesn't have a history of employment, are much more likely to run out of control and bring misery to a neighbourhood than any other child. In fact, the worst behaved and most problematic children are generally those from homes where the parents have never been disciplined and who feel that they and their children are somehow "owed" everything by the State. It does not seem to have occured to any of them, and least of all the Government itself, that these "Rights" without the "responsibilities" are 99% of the problem of criminal behaviour among young people. It is precisely because there is a total absence of penalties for criminal behaviour or even sanctions for bad behaviour that children now think they are untouchable and unpunishable.

It is this group of "Commissioners" who have consistently fought for the erosion of parents rights to bring up their children in a manner best suited to their circumstances and the childs own character. And it was this same group of visitors from the Planet Ming who recently demanded that more "Middle Class" parents be required to attend "Parenting Classes" because this group was "under represented"!

Well, in perhaps the first, and possibly the only, sign we have seen to date that Blair and his cabinet of power hungry closet communists, have noticed that the populace at large has had enough of this sort of garbage. They have rejected the call saying that "it would be hugely unpopular (You're telling us!) and unenforceable". Only one problem, the Commissioners" aren't listening and are now planning a trip to the European Court of Human Rights.

Time someone took them out and introduced them to a space ship with a one way ticket back to the Planet Ming.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2006

Old Houses

The Odenwald (Odin's Wood) is an area in the South of the Federal State of Hessen, where I live. It's a lovely landscape with soft sloping hills and, of course, a lot of woods and forests. Over the centuries it has always been a favourite hunting ground. It also offers a grand view into the valley or rather the plain that is occupied by the River Rhine.

One of the most famous and beautiful towns of the Odenwald is certainly Michelstadt. "Michel" is an old German word meaning "big". It seems quite small, however, nowadays and you can easily walk along the city wall around the old town. It is beautifully kept and restored and the half-timbered houses are quite a sight as I found out last summer.

The most famous building of Michelstadt is the Old Town Hall. It was built in 1484 and it is still in use! What really intrigues me is that it was actually built eight years before Columbus discovered America! The oak beams that form the structure of this building are more than 500 years old! And they still look good.


Market place with the Old Town Hall

The lower open hall was used as a court hall. An iron rod the length of an "Elle" (yard) is incorporated into the left oak pillar. So disputes about the correct length of a piece of cloth could be settled on the spot. In bad weather the market stalls would move in there as well.

The upper hall was used for various purposes: council meetings, Catholic Church (the one behind the town hall is Lutherian), hospital, school room and others. Council meetings took place in there as late as 1973. Then the room became too small. Nowadays it is used for representative purposes and as a registrar's office.

I hope the oak pillars and beams will carry on another 500 years! Houses like this make you aware by how much history you are surrounded.

Posted by Mausi at 05:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 21, 2006

London Transport (an oxymoron)

We've been warned in the papers over the last few days that train companies in the UK are campaigning to be allowed to set their own fares. Their reasons sound quite sensible - they want to raise more money to improve service and the government won't have to subsidise them as heavily in future. It sounds absolutely great - finally, privatisation will start to work and all of that free market stuff will improve consumer choice, right?

One example given by the papers is that a cheap day return fare between London and Manchester, which currently costs around GBP 35.00, will be raised to over GBP 200.00. That's not a big deal if you don't want to go to Manchester, but considering that there are coach companies offering the same trip for less than GBP 35.00 and that a train can carry as much as 12 times as many people, GBP 200.00 seems a bit like profiteering.

It gets worse though...

What about all of the people who can't afford to live in London? They commute from Reading, Maidstone, Southend and even Brighton. Will they be paying GBP 100.00 a day? Most Londoners don't even earn that much in two days. Will employers subsidise or pay for employees to get to work? Will they raise salaries to compensate? Of course not. We all know that increases in salaries lead to inflation - or at least that's what I'm always told when I ask for a raise! Seriously though, a salary hike for everyone in London wouldn't solve anything. The supply of homes isn't meeting demand and the government isn't interested in addressing the problem.

I currently pay one tenth of my post-tax salary to the train companies for the privilege of getting to work. I can expect 7/10ths of my salary to be poured into the black hole that is rented accommodation (as and when I have enough money for a deposit on a flat plus the first month's rent). That includes council tax and amenities. That means that approximately 8/10ths of my salary is already paid out on a place to sleep and a means of getting to work. The rest of my income having to go on health insurance and a pension, despite the fact that I pay over GBP 200 in National Insurance to pay for other people's pensions and unemployment benefits is a topic for another day.

So you can see the problem - where is extra money for transport going to come from if fares keep rising?

Some won't have any choice but to slip further and further down the social scale. Most cleaners already live in social housing and work as close to home as possible to avoid wiping out nearly an hour's pay on transport costs. Any fare rise will reduce their take home pay quite sharply. Some young people get stuck at the bottom of the organisational ladder and don't make enough money to save. If it now costs them more to leave London they're doubly trapped.

A surprisingly large number of people who work in London are already struggling to make some sort of life for themselves. We're "too well off" to be given any benefits or housing assistance and too poor to provide what the state provides for those poorer than us for ourselves. People who fall into this category are the most likely to leave - taking the IT, admin and customer service skills that the city needs but won't pay for with them.

My final point is that the transport companies can raise fares as much as they like, but they will never offer a good service as long as they refuse to employ conductors on buses and ticket inspectors on trains. The current practice is to send a gang of ticket inspectors to various train stations, probably for their own safety - at least I would find that understandable. It could also be because the trains they want to check on are too packed for anyone to move through the train checking tickets, but it's more likely that the inspectors have had too many people accost them about the price of the poor service. Their retreat from trains and buses allows people to get away with truly awful behaviour.

For example, I got on a bus this evening (shortly after 9pm), which contained the following:

A gang of young men rolling up a spliff with the most powerful marijuana I've ever smelt. Plenty of people were looking at them disapprovingly, but no one was brave enough to say anything (least of all me).

Another gang of young men who drank enough spirits in their short journey to cause them to fall down the stairs of the bus when they nearly missed their stop. (Alcohol is banned on buses).

So much graffiti scratched into the glass windows that I had trouble seeing where we were and where we were going.

A gang of teenagers arguing loudly - not terrible, but a bit annoying.

And worst of all, having paid GBP 3.00 for a round trip of less than 4 miles (in a packed bus), 2 people barged onto the bus as I got off and tried to hide out of sight of the driver.

The driver saw them, but he's just one man and isn't allowed to leave his cab. His choices are either to refuse to move the bus until they leave, delaying and annoying a double-decker bus full of people, or ignore them and drive on. A second uniform stood at the second set of doors would have made them think twice.

Just one man at Elephant & Castle Underground station manages to keep the crowds calm in the morning. He has colleagues quietly manning the ticket barriers, but the fact that he is there to politely remind people to be more considerate about using the lifts makes everyone's journey easier. If people like him were employed to patrol trains and buses, the service would improve immediately. I certainly notice the difference when he's not on the morning shift.

So, the answer for transport companies wanting to make more money is to employ enforcers on every train. Make sure that all of your security cameras work and don't leave your drivers alone in a bus on a route that routinely attracts fare dodgers and graffiti artists. If safety is a concern, hire ex-soldiers instead. I'll guarantee there'll be a 0% reoffence rate. I'll bet that once you make fare dodging difficult and scary, your revenues will increase without squeezing your honest, law-abiding customers. Surely the money that bus and train companies would save on constantly replacing windows alone would pay for the staff?

Posted by The Postulant at 10:10 PM | TrackBack

Defining "Britishness"

Probably the most difficult thing of all to do, is to define what is meant by "Britishness". Certainly many have tried, but I think this response to a newspapers request for readers thoughts on the subject is absolutely priceless - particularly given the contributers own nationality! This was sent to me by my eldest daughter ......

One of the British national daily newspapers is asking readers "what it means to be British?"

Some of the emails are hilarious but this is one from a chap in Switzerland...

Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a
Belgian beer, and then travelling home, grabbing an Indian curry or a
Turkish kebab on the way, to sit on Swedish furniture and watch
American shows on a Japanese TV. And the most British thing of all?
Being suspicious of anything foreign.

What more can one say?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 20, 2006

Beware the Jabberwok!

The hysteria in the Press over the discovery that a teacher with a conviction for a sexual offence, committed with a 15 year old girl he later married - when she was a year or so older - gives almost the impression that every school is populated by potential paedophiles and that every child attending them is at risk of sexual assault. As was pointed out in a Radio Talk show on my way to work, this is a vast exageration of the problem, and most children are far more at risk from other far more lethal events than they are from any paedophile teacher. As ever, the real target here of the mass Media is not the paedophiles, but the Education Secretary and there is nothing that sells newspapers like a good political scandal. A pity that the result will be an even more draconian solution from the politicians to a problem that seems to me to be blown out of all proportion, and a population living in fear of molestation.

It sometimes seems that "sexual offenders" have become the new "witches" in the ongoing hunt among certain classes to find someone to blame for all the problems in society. In the 16th and 17th Century (and in some African and third world countries today) it was "witches". All one had to do to be branded one was to have a wart or a birthmark in the wrong place, to have fallen out with someone who subsequently managed to injure themselves or to get sick - easy enough in that unhygenic age! - or to be old, alone and unloved and suddenly you were responsible for all the ills in the village. Off to the stake and the purging pyre with you! In fact, it sometimes seems that even daring to question the perceived prevalence of this issue in any sort of "public" forum makes you a suspect "witch" as well. If viewing a particular type of pornography is viewed by the "moralist/protectionist" lobby as being the same as committing the act, one can only suppose that voicing doubt about the manner in which the "Witch Trials" are conducted and the "evidence of crime" that is employed is anything to go by, questioning the conduct of these "trials" is fraught with the peril of being accused of the crime oneself!

It does seem strange that in an age obsessed with "Human Rights" a murderer can be considered "rehabilitated" if they admit their fault and demonstrate contrition and reform, but someone accused of any sexual impropriety may find themselves permanently barred from any number of activities because they are on an indelible "Register" for life. This paranoia extends to parents being forbidden from filming their own children in the bath - sick, paedophile imagery of naked children according to the Whitehall nannies - or of school plays or nursery school pageants because the images might provoke someone to have a paedophile orgy on the images. What about someones "right" as a parent or grandparent, to enjoy photographs and videos of the highlights of a child's development? What of the supposed offenders right to rehabilitation and to being spared "cruel and unusual punishment"? Surely the sort of mind that can conceive the idea that every parent or grandparent photographing their children in swimming costumes, on stage or in the bath as potentially "perverted" are the really sick and perverted minds? Surely it is they who desperately need to be locked away and treated since only a truly disturbed mind can turn something innocuous into a vision of sick perversion!

Following their logic through to a natural conclusion, no man should ever be asked to change a baby's soiled nappy! Who knows what might result from his being confronted by soiled baby backsides!

Yes, there certainly are some very sick individuals out there in the real world, but the Whitehall/Westminster response so far has been to criminalise everyone who touches a child, who tries to discipline a child or who may, at some stage have to work with children, rather than to find some effective means of identifying and dealing with the real offenders. The "vetting" process for those who work with children is one of those amazing pieces of bureaucratic form filling which actually serves almost no useful purpose other than to put anyone off actually putting themselves forward to work in any number of youth and youth related organisations. Every organisation which has anything to do with children's work now has to have a "Children's Officer" and "Children's Policy" and pay through the neck to have everyone who has even the remotest contact with any child vetted. And yet, the Government itself, in fact a Cabinet Minister no less, manages to by-pass the system and approves the appointment of not just one, but several of these supposedly evil and dangerous predators to posts in schools. It does make one wonder!

What does seem to be a rather worrying development in all this is that some of those on the so-called Sex Offenders Register are there for having at some stage accessed pornography of a certain type on the internet. They have not in fact committed any act which would be prosecutable in a court, but that does not seem to matter to the Whitehall-Westminster Witch Finders. To look at images they deem inappropriate is to be declared a "Witch"! Not only that but there seems to be no appeal and certainly no remission once accused. One has to ask how they would know, and it transpires that a considerable amount of money and effort is focused from our very scarce police resources, on monitoring certain web addresses and capturing the URL's of anyone who visits them. After that it seems that a dawn raid on your address is inevitable and a period of extreme embarrassment ata police station is then followed by a lifetime of restriction. That has deeply worrying implications for our entire justice system, smacking as it does of the sort of "justice" meted out by Judge Dredd and his fictional ilk.

Even more worrying is that this hysteria has created an atmosphere of fear among parents and children and is stunting the development of responsible attitudes among the young. Because they have no experience of taking care of and looking out for themselves they are increasing reaching adulthood with no concept of responsibility for their own safety. Now that may be something the Whitehall nannies want - after all it gives them more and more reason to argue that the "State" (read Civil Servants and "Protection Lobbyists") should have complete control over every aspect of everyone's life. This is certainly where the Health and Safety mania is going!

The hysteria over sex offenders teaching in schools - and I would be prepared to put some hard earned money on a bet that it is no more than five at most - is masking several other and far more serious problems. Children are of the order of seventy times more likely to be injured or killed in a road accident than to be molested at school. They are a hundred and fifty times more likely to be bullied and at least a hundred times more likely to be offered drugs, yet none of these issues get anything like the attention and don't attract anything like the penalties. Selling a child drugs is likely to get you five years at most, killing one in a road accident probably no more than eighteen months or a fine. So why is sex seen as something so peculiarly unique as an offence.

In part I suspect it arises from a very puritanical approach to anything to do with the human procreative organs. Yet here too, we have the ultimate contradiction between the youthful activities of those now imposing their "moral code" on the world, and the world they say they are trying to create. On the one hand they assign "rights" and on the other impose "restrictions" dictated by their own "moral" code which they apply strictly to everyone but themselves. They deny that there is a "Higher Authority" or a God given Code of Conduct, yet seek to impose an even stricter version of the base codes in many religions than the religions themselves expect.

Look closely at any statement emanating from the Moral Righteousness Political lobby and you soon begin to notice a trend. It is always wrapped in a "moral" stance, but the effect of what is proposed always draws more powers to the proposer and steals yet more freedom of choice and action from the individual. A good example is the mantra that "guns kill people!" Yes, they do, but generally not on their own and the banning of the ownership of handguns in the UK was precisely the sort of hysterical reaction certain lobbies thrive on. Instead of putting in place the proper vetting and checking procedures for gun ownership, they banned their ownership outright - and gun crime has soared as a result. Nor is this the only area in which the hysterical responses to a relatively small number of incidents which have become the latest focus of the "righteous guardians of public morality". The Jabberwok is loose among us and his Jabberwokian double speak is meant to intimidate and confuse, to frighten and subdue, and once he has subdued and frightened his victims they are as putty in his hands as he strips them of their rights, their independence and their ability to think for themselves. A recent commentator on this blog quotes the situation faced by a teacher recently. It is educational and instructive and it certainly makes one wonder what sort of world we have allowed the Press, the Politicians, the "Issue" lobbyists and the Civil Service to create. As I said, the real irony is that these are the same bunch of left-wing loons who spent the 60's and 70's smoking marijuana, talking about "free love", screaming for "freedom" from the morality of their parents and blockading universities because they didn't like what the teachers and lecturers said or did. Freedom of expression, action and thought is obviously, in their sick minds, only for those who agree with them and their vision of the world.

Beware the Jabberwok, he has you in his sights!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 19, 2006

More painting instead of work ....

I have long wanted to attempt to do a painting of a photograph of this ship from my collection. The lead ship in the painting is the former HMS Loch Boisedale, renamed on being taken over for the SA Navy as HMSAS Good Hope. Her sister, which I have included in the picture, is the former HMS Loch Ard, renamed HMSAS Transvaal. A third ship, formerly HMS Loch Clee was also acquired and became HMSAS Natal. Three further ships, all ex-W-Class Destroyers were also acquired by the then growing SAN in the immediate Post War period as the SA Navy re-equipped to take on a defence role in the South Atlantic on behalf of, and in support of, the RN.

These were HMS Whelp (HMSAS Simon van der Stel), HMS Wessex (HMSAS Jan van Riebeeck) and HMS Wrangler, renamed as HMSAS Vrystaat. This last underwent a major refit and rebuild which completely altered her appearance and she spent a considerable part of her subsequent career as a "Training Ship" or as the official "Yacht" for the Governor General and later the State President. HMS Whelp had the distinction of having been the seagoing command of a certain Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Consort of HM the Queen.

My rendition of the frigates HMSAS Good Hope and HMSAS Transvaal at sea.

Post the adoption of the Republican constitution and the countries departure from the Commonwealth, all ships in the SA Navy dropped the "HM" part of their names and became simply "SAS". The SAN acquired the three "Loch Class" escort frigates towards the end of the second World War, and a former "Flower Class" corvette, the former HMS Rockrose. This last became the navy's Hydrographic survey vessel under the name HMSAS Protea.

Protea was the first to be scrapped, being replaced as survey ship by the Natal, who was herself replaced in the late 60's by a new Protea which is still in service. Gradually the older frigates disappeared, to be followed by the converted destroyers as the Type 12's came into service, their service lives extended slightly by the Wilson government's reneging in the Simonstown agreement when they seized the last of the Type 12's instead of delivering it as promised.

These old ships underwent considerable modernisation during their service and their final appearance was considerably different to their original looks and armament. The two ex-W's in particular were given a makeover which included a helideck and double hangar aft, an enclosed bridge and completely different mast and radar arrays. They were all good sturdy seakeepers, but the three former "Lochs" in particular were very sound ships and with their enhanced armament which gave them the Bofors and twin forward gun mounts, became quite formidable ships. Like the ex-W's they underwent several modernisations during their service lives which kept them as effective defenders of the Cape waters long after their sisters had vanished from the RN.

They had many roles, and served in many places, but I like this picture of them best.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:59 PM | TrackBack

January 18, 2006


Mr Samuel Johnson, the great 18th Century philosopher, curmudgeon and lexicographer - English spelling is mostly his fault - once said that patriotism was the last resort of the scoundrel. He wrote this in 1775 as things were boiling to a head between the North American Colonies and the then Government in Westminster. At the time, he had a point, patriotism was then being trotted out and stoked up for the looming conflict with the Colonial "rebels" who had the audacity to want democratic representation in the Parliament that sought to impose taxes and laws on them.

One is forced to wonder whether Mr Brown's sudden interest in patriotism is fueled by the realisation that, as a Scottish MP, his role as Prime Minister of a United Kingdom in which he would be effectively a "foreign" dictator ruling over the English now that Westminster no longer governs Scotland, might be untenable. This is the conundrum once described as the "West Lothian question" by one of his own MP's when the subject of the devolution of government to Scotland and Wales was first mooted. Why should the Scots and the Welsh continue to elect members to the Westminster Parliament to vote on matters pertaining to the English Nation, when they were, in essence, no longer ruled by their own decisions? Surely this makes all the Scottish and Welsh MPs "occupying powers" in an English Parliament?

It is interesting too, that Mr Brown's own party has for years supported the Trade Union view that Patriotism equals Nationalism and is to be suppressed in favour of the rights of International Law and Labour movements. Multi-culturalism is one such child of that unholy mess - the truth being that it can flourish only where there is some cement that binds the disparate "cultural" groups together as one people and one nation. Take a look at the USA, it may not be fashionable to take any lessons from there, but in all seriousness it is the patriotic fervour that permeates that nation that binds all its peoples together, nothing much else!

Here, for years, Mr Brown's own Party has promoted Scottish, Welsh and any other "Nationalism", while decrying anything that might be said to be "English" Nationalism. This is why the likes of the British National Party have flourished, create a vacuum, deny one group the right to an identity and something will arise to fill that vacuum. Like it or not, we are still tribally oriented, and we need to acknowledge that in one form or another.

Many of us do feel patriotic, not in the great, flag waving, "my country, right or wrong" kind of way the left usually deride us for, but a sharing of identity and pride in our values and our achievements. Messrs Blair, Brown and the rest of their cronies hate that, they detest us for not agreeing that we are a horrible, old fashioned, out dated bunch of closet conservatives who do not share their vision of a Socialist paradise. They have consistently denied that the English should have a national day alongside St David's Day (Wales) St Andrew's Day (Scotland) and St Patrick's Day or the Commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne Day (Ireland [Catholic] and Ireland [Protestant])! Labour councillors consistently refuse to permit the celebration of St George's Day - a day I used to mark with a red Rose in my lapel, until Blair and his scoundrels stole the Red Rose of Lancashire and St George as a Party token.

Try applying for permission to erect a flagpole in your garden - as is common in many EU and Western countries - anywhere in Britain. You are unlikely to get planning permission because the planning laws and the enforcers of these are all Socialist sympathisers who detest any display of British pride or patriotism. In fact, flying a Union Flag in many of our inner city areas is likely to get your house petrol bombed - again a product of the years of propaganda put out by the Labour Party and its loony left. (An oxymoron I know - the Labour Party is the Loony Left!)

What worries me about this call to become patriotic and to return to being proud to be British, is that it is being made for all the wrong reasons. We should be proud to be British, but I find it hard to be proud of the Britain that Blair has created, a place where we are weighed down with unnecessary laws, surrounded by ignorant bureaucrats who bleed business dry with their unproductive costs and bureaucratic burdens, who destroy every public service they are supposed to deliver and whose thirst for power rivals even Mr Brown's!

Brown has rabbited on about "our National Symbols" which should unite us. It is noticeable that he has omitted one - the most important of all - the Crown. That, for me, rather says it all. This is merely another stunt by a bankrupt and corrupt Party to entrench themselves in power. It is time they were gone, from power and from public life.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Superflat society

While wandering around the internet, doing research for a silly book that I'm writing, I've come across two interesting people. The first is Takashi Murakami (not dead yet), a Japanese pop artist and the second is Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Danish philosopher.

At first glance, these two people don't have a lot in common; Japan and Denmark have completely different traditions and have played very different roles in world history.

Where they converge is on their perception of the societies that surround them...

Takashi Murakami is the creator of art that most readers of the Gray Monk would probably think is silly and quite frankly, it is. Japan is well known for it's obsession with cartoons and this obsession has spread to the West and even to some of my sensible friends.

Murakami's work parodies aspects of Japanese cartoon culture, sometimes in a grotesque way, because his point is that Japanese culture has become flat and meaningless. In a country where even police stations have life-size models of cartoon characters on their doorstep as mascots, he's trying to turn the obsession on it's head and say "grow up!."

The response from the art world is predictable: galleries and museums all over the world wax lyrical about his creations and can't get enough of the merchandise. His work is idolised in Japan and has been turned into toy figurines, wallpaper, posters and various other commercial items. He also designed the colourful Louis Vuitton bags that are so popular in knock-off market stalls all over Europe.

The irony is that he is one of a group of artists in Japan who call their art "superflat". To quote from BT Monthly Art Magazine (found at http://www.imomus.com/thought280600.html)

"Superflat is a concept being proposed by artist Takashi Murakami, whose paintings deal with two dimensional spatiality rendered somewhere between traditional Japanese painting and modern anime. The phrase, though coined by Murakami for his art, has recently drawn attention from young scholars due to its connotations: 'devoid of perspective and devoid of hierarchy, all existing equally and simultaneously."

Murakami also has an interesting habit of only giving a small part of his theory at a time to anybody who tries to interview him, so the interviewer who managed to track him down for a documentary that was shown on UK TV recently had to be persistent to get any more of the superflat theory out of him. He seems to want to avoid becoming a leader of a counter culture.

In that he is similar to Søren Kirkegaard. Kirkegaard not only published several books under his own name, but also published books that contradicted him under pseudonyms. He wanted to avoid anyone turning his ideas into a "philosophical system with systematic infrastructure." (taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%B8ren_Kierkegaard)

Now lets look at what Kierkegaard wrote well over a 150 years ago:

"The present age is essentially a sensible, reflecting age, devoid of passion, flaring up in superficial, short-lived enthusiasm and prudentially relaxing in indolence. ... whereas a passionate age accelerates, raises up, and overthrows, elevates and debases, a reflective apathetic age does the opposite, it stifles and impedes, it levels. In antiquity the individual in the crowd had no significance whatsoever; the man of excellence stood for them all. The trend today is in the direction of mathematical equality, so that in all classes about so and so many uniformly make one individual.... For leveling to take place, a phantom must first be raised, the spirit of leveling, a monstrous abstraction, an all-encompassing something that is nothing, a mirage — and this phantom is the public..."

Another way of describing superflat culture, n'est pas?

And now, because I'm an intellectual omnivore (I'll devour any old rubbish), let's skip to a recent Western animation: "The Incredibles"

For those of you who have missed it, the idea behind the film is that all of the superheroes have to go into hiding, because people keep suing them for injuries sustained while being saved. This results in super people trying to raise their children to be ordinary.

Son: I thought you said I was special!
Mother: Everyone's special...
Son: That's just another way of saying everyone's the same.

To me, that exchange sums up the thoughts of Kirkegaard and Murakami quite nicely. It also explains why we will never have another Leonardo Da Vinci in this day and age.

Posted by The Postulant at 12:29 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 17, 2006

Patriotism? Surely not Mr Brown?

It never fails to amaze me that politicians seem to be able to change their beliefs almost as easily as the rest of us change our clothes. The left wing Labour mantra of the last sixty years, that the Union Flag is a "flag of oppression" to be derided and despised, and that patriotism, particularly English patriotism, is the root of all oppression and evil, has been ditched, officially, by no less than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That he did it in a speech to that most left wing and possibly treasonous group (if you take their support of the "International Brigade" in the Spanish Civil War, defence of Filby and the other "Atomic" spies and espousal of all things Soviet for most of the last Century into account), the Fabian Society.

Some of their precious members must have needed reviving with stiff glasses of whatever is their fashionable tipple at the moment! Patriotism must be rediscovered says Mr Brown! Shock, horror, the vile "P" word, derided by them and their predecessors and mocked as the root of all "institutional -isms" for two generations at least, is now to be promoted as a "good thing"! I'm surprised they didn't need every Intensive Care bed in the country for the heart attacks these champagne socialists will have suffered on hearing this!

According to Mr Brown, the Union Flag must be seen as something that unifies us, something that is quintessentially "British" and marks us out as a "Nation". Considering that he and his party have spent almost sixty years trying to divide us and to promote the idea that the Scottish and the Welsh are somehow superior to the English - who, incidently, are supposed to be happy to cough up loads of tax money to fund their independent Parliament and Assembly while still having their MP's vote on matters "English" - and have, at every turn, tried to prevent anyone flying it from civic buildings - or government ones for that matter. Go North to Scotland and it is never seen - only the Saltire is ever flown there - and across the Welsh border and all one sees is the Green, White and Red Dragon flag of the modern Wales. Never the Union Flag.

But now, a volta face! Our Scottish Chancellor, who refuses to wear a dinner jacket in England, but dresses up for parties in Scotland, now wants the Union Flag to fly at every opportunity. Why? Because, he says, we have to take it back from the British National Party. Because we need a "National" symbol. Because "Patriotism" is essential for our nation to move forward in unity!

Coming from a man and a party that has done more to destroy this nation than any enemy could conceivably have achieved, that is rich! The BNP and their like have been able to highjack our national symbols, the Union Flag and the Cross of St George, precisely because Labour and the rest of their traitorous cronies have refused to allow their legitimate use. For years now, anyone daring to express a patriotic opinion has been immediately branded a "Fascist" or a member of the BNP! The Trades Unions are equally guilty of this, with open declarations by one union, that "patriotism" is equal to apartheid!

Still, it shows that there might be hope for this nation and this country after all. Coming in a week when we have heard Mr Blair admit to smacking his children and have had a report published which rubbishes the Politically Correct movement, we may just be seeing the pendulum stalling at the end of its swing to the extreme left. I just hope that it now swings back fast enough to decapitate all those who have promoted PC, multiculturalism and all the rest of the Anti-British (read Anti-English) claptrap Blair and his party stand for.

We live in hope!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:32 PM | TrackBack

January 16, 2006

Entertaining slogans

I recently saw a Furniture Removals truck with an interesting legend emblazoned on it's sides. The company name was given as

Patel & Son

and below this was the legend:

"You've tried the cowboys - now try the Indians!"

Next time I move house, I'll definitely give these "Cheeky chappies" a try! Anyone who can poke that kind of fun at themselves to advantage, definitely gets my support. I hope their business thrives.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mice and other small fry

Believe it or not - before I moved in with my humans they didn't know the first thing about mice. Everything small and furry with a naked tail and long front teeth was a mouse to them. That's not true, of course, and I saw to it that they learned quickly.

First, we have to distinguish between genuine mice and mouse-like creatures. The voles, for example, fall into the latter category. Each kind of adult mouse is characterised by the length of her body, her tail, and the colour of her fur. Being a forensic scientist myself I gave my humans an introduction to crime scene work teaching them to make proper use of measuring tape and camera. I often went hungry myself in those days, leaving a lot of material for them to practice on. It's been worth the effort, however - now they are able to identify most of the little buggers correctly.

  • House mouse (mus musculus domesticus) body length: up to 10 cm tail length: 10 cm fur colour: greyish
  • Harvest mouse (micromys minutus) body length: 7 cm tail length: 6 cm fur colour: (reddish) brown I found one this floating belly up in my water bowl in the garden once - aaaaargh!. It had gone there for a swim just because it was a very hot day.
  • Ear mouse (mus musculus musculus) body length: 8 cm tail length: 7 cm fur colour: greyish brown, white belly


  • West clipping mouse (arvicular sapidus)
    body length: 22 cm
    tail length: 14 cm
    fur colour: greyish brown
  • Common vole (microtus arvalis)
    body length: 11 cm
    tail length: 3.5 cm
    fur colour: brown and of a plushy quality
  • Apart from mice there are others that occasionally get hunted down.

  • Mouse weasel (mustela nivalis) body length: 23 cm tail length: 6.5 cm fur colour: reddish brwon, white belly Hunts mice and is therefore not allowed in my garden. So far, two of those refused to leave my premises upon being told to do so.
  • Mole (talpa european) body length: 13 cm tail length: 3 cm fur colour: black I am really sorry to having to kill that one. But it was digging big tunnels in the garden and it wouldn't go away voluntarily.
  • My people say there's nothing like a cat for giving you an education. I take that as a compliment. Nevertheless, it's quite true: once you start looking into things and at details as I do in my profession there's just lots more to be learned and discovered.

    In case you ever wondered what I really look like - The Gray Monk has kindly given this sketch to me.


    Posted by Mausi at 10:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 15, 2006

    Religious tensions

    I note that Ozguru has posted a well presented and well thought out piece covering the territory I raised on the subject of the Australian Beach Riots. It is very well put and, coming from someone who is both an Australian who traces his orignins back to the First Fleet and one of the most fair minded people I have the privilege of knowing, I recommend that you visit his site and read it.

    This is not a phenomenon confined to Australia, in fact I am readily prepared to predict that Europe is about to suffer the same sort of intolerance from it's many immigrant cultural alternatives. As Ozguru points out, only one culture (read religion) seeks to impose its vision of decency upon non-believers. This is what will make the enforcement of much of the UK's well-intentioned, but frankly insane, sex/race/religious/hate legislation. You simply cannot create fairness with legislation. As a Barrister friend frequently tells his clients, the law is an extremely blunt instrument, at its best, it achieves balance, at its worst, it creates injustice.

    That is what we face when the Politically Correct Brigade start to abuse us with their twisted visions of fairness and dignity. I wonder if Mr Blair or any of the other promoters of this biased view of society will take any notice of the recently published report from a well respected "think-tank" which states that Political Correctness, far from having made anything better, has actually widened the gulf between communities and promoted the creation of ghettos for people of different cultures. The real problem with the laws introduced to promote PC is that they invariably are dishonest in their intention. The public is told that these measures are for one purpose, but are then written in a way which imposes legal restrictions and gives powers to enforce these to the central organs of the state. In this way our much vaunted "freedom of expression" - one of the supposedly "basic" "Human Rights" we hear so much about, has been so eroded that we are in fact not permitted to speak freely or express our opinions - unless, of course, they happen to be in accord with what the Thought Police think they should be. I confidently predict that the next UK flashpoint between the moral code of Islam and the secular "Rights" of our Society will in all probablity be in one of our major cities and involve the Gay bars and clubs. Islam's moral code simply does not tolerate the existence of "Gays".

    The tensions between Christianity and Islam run very deep indeed, as shown by the trial - under Mr Blair's "Promotion of Race Hate" laws - of Abu Hamza, the terrorist Muslim cleric who used to preach his hatred freely from the Finsbury Park Mosque - until someone had the guts to bring charges. After 7/7 as it happens! But there is a further problem, for, as Ozguru points out, Christianity has grown up quite a bit in the last 1,000 years. We may not like what we see happening around us in society in terms of the apparent breakdown of morality and the absence of respect, but we have learned that, if it offends us, we should walk away and make our protest known through peaceful channels. We have learned that we cannot impose our views and our moral code on non-Christians and that we have to live with that. Islam does not share that view - in Islamic countries their moral code is imposed on everyone, and now they wish to impose it even on non-Muslims in the West. Abu Hamza's statements on his recorded addresses make chilling listening even if a majority of decent Muslims reject these statements out of hand, there will always be those who agree with him. No law passed by our Parliamentary Puritans who have no "Christian" allegiance but who have not learned that morality is not a legal matter, but a personal one, will ever address this.

    The law cannot create a "moral" society, simply because morality has to be founded in a belief code which supports those who strive to live a moral life. Our society does not. It has replaced faith with State dictat and a new puritanicalism which seeks to replace belief in God and in God's supreme law, with a mishmash of psycobabble, Humanism and New Age Tarot reading - and tries to pass this off as a free and fair" Multi-cultural Society when it is none of those things - hence the explosive tensions which erupted in Sydney recently.

    We live in a secular society, perhaps we always have, but at least, in the past, those who made moral judgements, made them from a convistion based in faith and their religious leanings. That is no longer the case, the laws which Christianity brought to fruition in the West, founded on the principles of the Law of Moses are now being perverted by those of no faith, who try to drag everything down to a secular understanding of life - that it is short, brutish and full of strife - unless everyone bows down to their vision of a just and fair society ruled by an all-powerful Socialist elite.

    This will not heal society, it will further divide it.

    If our culture of freedom of expression, freedom of worship (or not) and freedom of choice is to survive, we need to rediscover the origins of the principles of freedom, of fairness and of justice, based not on the whim of men and women, but upon God's teaching and upon genuine desire to live in a free and fair world where all are treated with equal dignity and respect. The current attempt to promote Gay, Islamic, Minority, or Racial equality by draconian laws to "prevent" the incitement of "hatred" will end in failure and in further polarisation of society.

    The very opposite of what they intended. And it will be a tragedy!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 14, 2006


    It appears that our Illustrious Leader grows ever more desperate as one after another of his "Flagship" initiatives crashes to the dust and burns on the flames of failure. Earlier this week he launched yet another grandiose publicity stunt policy "initiative" at a cost of vast amounts of taxpayers money declaring that he intended to reform the youff culture of yobbism he and his touchy feely mob have created. Scenes of him jet washing graffitti off a brickwall in his sharp suit and carefully stage managed setting in Swindon almost provoke laughter. Sadder though were the comments of two policemen hauled off their normal duties to watch and protect this complete twerp from his "adoring" public.

    Policeman One pointed to the large crowd of lounging "youff" and said candidly to the assembled press that he didn't think the watching graffitti artists were much impressed. Policeman Two told the press that the real problem was that Blair and his minions have hamstrung the police, stuffed the courts with people who simply do not consider any punishment is appropriate for bad behaviour and constantly let hardened young criminals go without any penalty at all.

    The much vaunted ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) is, according to Mr Blair, working and just needs to be tightened up. According to the police it is the latest "Badge of Honour" for young thugs, you have no street-cred if you have no ASBO. Given that around 1600 have been issued since they came into the legal arsenal you would think they might have made some impact, but no. Largely because the courts rarely enforce them and if the offender is dragged into court for breeching it, they are usually cautioned and no further penalty imposed.

    The latest proposals include "Parenting Orders" which are supposed to force parents to discipline their kids, attend "parenting classes" and a range of penalties for parents who fail to control their children. Given that most are on benefit (second or third generation of benefit takers who have never worked many of them!) and could now be threatened with eviction from homes and so on, I predict that there will be an instant redress to rehouse in some other area as to refuse to do so would be a breech of the "Human Rights". Never mind anybody else who may be the victim of these abusive thugs - Blair and his cronies live in areas and places protected by regiments of security guards and police the rest of us don't have recourse to, so, as long as it's not on their doorstep, its OK.

    But, wait, Shock! Horror! Our Illustrious Leader has also confessed that his elder children were smacked when small! Send in the Social Services Gaulieters! Haul him into a Family Court! Let's see him defend his party's attempt last year to criminalise parents smacking their children now! Ah, but he's given that all up now that he has a younger child and has "given up disciplining him!" Ah, so perhaps he now needs a "parenting Class"?

    When you look carefully at the fine print in this latest piece of nannying, you quickly discover that future parents will find themselves under the close supervision of all the Politically Correct social workers, home visitors and midwives who must now supervise new parents, "educate" them in "correct" parenting and "parental responsibility". The fact that most of these people are "experts" in other peoples children, never having had time (or perhaps having the sense not to have) their own. I once had the dubious pleasure of having to discuss parenting with a woman young enough to be my daughter who held soime very definite views on how to bring up children - but had none of her own. All her "experience" came from her ideological brainwashing and from interfering in other peoples lives. This is the barmy army Blair plans to unleash on parents! This is how he plans to introduce State interference right inside that most impregnable place in English Law - private family homes!

    Most amusing of all is his "fond remembrances" of the Govan home of his grandparents "where people had respect for their elders and betters". Really Mr Blair? Perhaps the backward looking Rose Tinted hindsight glasses are a little flawed. Govan a hundred years ago was rough, tough and shipbuilding navvy territory. Respect was due to the Gang Bosses and Foremen and to the Owners who paid the wages. Kids learned to respect elders - or get a smack around the ear or - literally - a belting across the rear end if they did not. Idylic it certainly was not - unless, like the Blairs you were in that comfortably well heeled bracket of Doctors and Lawyers with servants and enough money to buy respect!

    The real problem which Blair and those like him seem totally unable to face, is that they and their toadies have taught, for the last forty years, that young people have to challenge everything and everyone. They have promoted the idea that "youff" is wise and burning with the desire to "modernise" and for "fairness". They simply cannot face the reality that children, like adults, need order. They need to know that their inexperience means that they have to learn from those who are older in order to avoid falling into the same traps. They need to learn where the boundaries are, what is permissable and what is not. If they are not taught this early, it is too late to try when they reach their teens!

    So, now that Mr Blair and his cabinet of "ex-rebels" and "ex-Hippies" are the people in power, what is their vision for the future Britain? A workers paradise? Perhaps, but only if you have a vision of paradise that includes State interference and control in every facet of family and personal life. Watch this space, Soviet style Marxist/Leninism is not dead, Mr Blair and his cronies are introducing it here by stealth. He knows that he cannot win the already lost battle against the yobs, so now he is going to try, as he has done with his laws on homophobia, Islamophobia, "race hate" and "sexism", to bring in a legal requirement that people show "respect". The question is, respect for whom?

    You may rest assured it will not be for the ordinary people of this country, it will be for Blair's yobs, Gauleiters and cronies. The rest of us don't count in this once green and pleasant land now firmly under the heel of the most oppressive collection of dictators since Cromwell's Puritans.

    "Respect" will become yet another of the words this nasty little dictator has debased in our language, it will join "integrated", "modernising" and "institutionalised" in the collection of landmarks that mark his failures. Let us hope for another Glorious Revolution to throw these quasi-Presbyters and Puritans out of office forever!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 13, 2006

    A medal of honour?

    It would seem, on the face of some reports, that the "award" of the Iron Cross, a German military decoration with a long history, was not confined to members of the German Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine or Luftwaffe as one would normally suppose. During the second World War it was "awarded" to a British Sergeant Major, Sgt Major Charles Coward, for his services to both sides while a POW. As ever, the truth is a little stranger than the fiction!

    The "award" was actually made to him because he had been mistaken for a German soldier - he was actually wearing part of a German uniform over his own and had been wounded so was appropriately blood stained - and, when ordered to "get treatment", replied, in German, that he wished to stay at his post. The real reason for both the disguise and his desire to "stay at his post" was that he hoped to be able to escape back to his own side as soon as things calmed down a bit. The partial disguise as a German soldier was a risky, but useful, fiction he was trying to maintain, but the officer heard of this "brave fellow", went back to see to it that he accepted treatment and reported his bravery! The result was that the fictional "soldier" was recommended for the award of an Iron Cross. I have not been able to discover whether or not it was ever actually awarded, because his disguise was discovered in hospital. He had actually collapsed in the field while still insisting that he didn't need treatment and was taken unconscious from there to a field treatment station and then hospital. It must have been quite a serious wound because he was unconscious or delirious for some time. He was also a fluent German speaker. He was, I suspect, extremely lucky to have escaped being shot!

    There is a further irony in this, for, after the truth emerged and he was sent to a PoW camp, his command of the German language made him a natural for a plum job as the Camp Liaison Officer; a job he filled very effectively - but with a motive! While he was acting as the camp's liaison officer, he was actually gathering information and items useful for escape attempts!

    He was eventually sent to Auschwitz PoW camp, adjoining, but not part of, the more notorious camp, where he soon became involved in a humanitarian effort. Having heard that a fellow British PoW, a Doctor, had been incarcerated in the "other" camp, he managed to disguise himself in a work party and infiltrated that camp in an effort to rescue the Doctor. He failed in that, but became the instrument by which others did get rescued. In this he is directly credited with assisting 400 people to escape the extermination programme. A double irony perhpas that his 'award' could be said to honour.

    By all accounts a most unusual man, a most unusual "award" and an even more unusual place in the rolls of honour. Even if his "award" was not official, it does perhaps reflect the recognition of a man with remarkable courage!

    The story was made into a rather silly film in the 1950's with Dirk Bogarde in the lead role. It is said that the real Sgt Major was polite about it.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 12, 2006

    A new dictionary definition from the OED!

    The compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary have made an important addition to the vocabulary catalogued in the definitive comiliation on the evolution of the English language. It joins a number of new words including "Bling" - a "Gangsta" speak word that means - as far as I am able to determine, jewellery, particularly gold and sparkly, totally over the top, jewellery.

    The new "Word" approaches the German word creation referred to as "Schlangenworten" or "Snake words", a combination of words which, together give a sucinct and very accurate description of the subject. The new word in the OED is a good example of English snake words, even though it is only a combination of two words. It is:


    management-speak, n. DRAFT REVISION Jan. 2006 [< MANAGEMENT n. + -SPEAK suffix.]

    Freq. depreciative.

    A form of language considered typical of business managers or consultants, esp. in being obfuscatory, needlessly complex, or empty of useful meaning. Cf. MANAGEMENTESE n., NEWSPEAK n.

    I would say that the compilers got it exactly right. The only thing I would add to that is the civil service which is, I suspect, the origin of all obfuscatory and meaningless language. It fits very well with the Civil Service dictat that replies to any question by a member of the public (or an MP for that matter) must be:

    1. Polite,
    2. Accurate, and
    3. Add nothing to the sum of knowledge the enquirer already holds.

    Classic "management-speak".

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:32 AM | TrackBack

    January 11, 2006

    Epiphany at the Abbey

    A sense of deja vu crept over me on Sunday as I gazed upon this years displays for the candlelight layouts that accompany our annual Epiphany Carol Service. The team that do this always keep their designs under tight wraps until the day they lay them out in the Ambulatory Chapels, Presbytery and the Lady Chapel - so I had no hint that they would be attempting to illustrate the carol I wrote about only a few days ago!

    To do this, they use around 2,500 coloured "votive" candles - rather like big tea-lights in coloured plastic tubes - and several dozen ordinary candles of various sizes and shapes. These last are laid out in niches, on ledges, on corbels once graced by statues of saints or angels, in the tomb alcoves and among the effigies and on candelabra stands around the Abbey.

    This year the Presbytery held the start point - the Partridge in the Pear tree, from there you had to go through the Beauchamp Chantry and round to St Edmond's Chapel for the Two Turtle Doves, then St Dunstan for the Three French Hens, St Faith for the four Calling Birds and the six Geese, Edward Despenser's Chantry of the Holy Trinity held the five Golden Rings, St Catherine and St John, the seven Swans and the eight Maids, with the floor of the South Transept Lady Chapel holding the nine Ladies, ten Lords, eleven Pipers and the twelve Drummers. Huge fun and a very much appreciated display for the congregation who came from all over Gloucestershire and from all sections of the Christian community.

    The partridge in a pear tree - the centre piece in the Presbytery as seen from the Milton Organ's playing loft.

    This year the Lord Abbot had made sure that this service was widely advertised on local and regional radio - and the size of the congregation certainly showed the result as we had filled every seat by the time the service started with the choir singing an ancient carol from the East end of the Ambulatory. With the nave and the aisles full to capacity and the Quire seating in the Presbytery filled with visitng clergy - again representing the full spectrum of denominations and the Diocesan heirarchy - an estimated 800 people joined in the worship. Our Bishop graced the service with his leadership and we processed and sang so that every part of the congregation had, at some point, the focus of the music and the worship.

    Three French Hens strut their stuff in St Dunstan's chapel.

    One element which still surprises some of our visitors is the blessing and use of chalk at the end of the service. The Blessed chalk is used to inscribe the threshold of the church door with C*M*B 2006 and four crosses. The initials stand for the medieval names of the "three" wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar - whose supposed remains are contained in an elaborate reliquary on display at Cologne Cathedral - the year since their visit to the stable in Bethlehem and the crosses mark the traditional emblems of consecration for a church or any sacramental furnishings. The custom comes from the Eastern Orthodox hurch and is one the Lord Abbot likes to include. After the service everyone is offered a piece of chalk to mark their own entrance doors in this way - a tradition again from the East to show that God is welcomed into our homes and visitors will be treated with Christian hospitality.

    Fantastic music, great fellowship with all our congregation and a wonderful period of worship and renewal. What more can anyone ask? Now all we have to do, is retain this spirit of unity through the coming year.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:07 PM | TrackBack

    January 10, 2006

    Fascinating "Pi"

    I think the number Pi is known to all of us. It is the all important factor necessary when calculating the area of a circle and circles have been fascinating people for thousands of years.

    Ancient civilizations knew two perfect geometric figures: square and circle. Both figures were of mystical importance and a circle in particular because it has no beginning and no end like the sky that encircles the earth (or, as some believed, the disc). Both sun and moon are of circular shape as well and, owing to an apparent whim of the gods, they appear to be of the same size, as the moon will completely cover the sun during an eclipse. The square on the other hand is like a symbol for the four directions North, South, West, and East. With the help of a ruler and a pair of compasses all other geometric figures can be derived from these two: triangles, polygons, trapezoid, rhombus, cube, pyramid, sphere and cone. If you put two squares symmetrically into a circle and the diagonals of the squares equal the diameter of the circle this will result in an octagon. Octagons have quite often been used as a layout for ecclesiastical buildings.

    By about 2000 B.C. clever mathematicians could calculate the area of plane geometrical figures and the volume of three dimensional ones like cubes, but the area of a circle eluded them. If the circle wasn't too big they could use a piece of string to measure the circumference, but, its area, was a totally different matter. The first idea was to find a geometrical procedure (only ruler and a pair of compasses allowed!) to turn a circle into a square of the same area - easier said than done! The first approach was to put a square into the circle. Its diagonal equals the diameter of the circle. One glance tells you that the area of the square is smaller than the area of the circle. You can also put a second square around the circle so that the length of the side will equal the diameter of the circle. Now the area of the square is of course much bigger than the that of the circle. Clearly a different approach needs to be taken.

    Around the same time mathematicians found out that the ratio between circumference and diameter is constant regardless of how big a circle is. The circumference is always slightly more than three times the diameter of the circle. So Pi (the Greek letter equivalent to the Latin "P" was first used in the 18th century) was slightly larger than 3. "Slightly larger" meant between 1/8 and 1/4 of the diameter resulting in 3,125 < Pi < 3,25. But the question was how to determine exactly where between these points is the value of Pi?

    If you cut up a circle into an even number of equal segments you can put the segments together to form a rectangle. You can easily calculate the area of a rectangle. The more segments you use the greater your accuracy will be. This is how the equations for determining the circumference (Pi times the diameter) and the area (Pi times the square of the radius) were originally found. The problem was that this didn't help much as the exact value of Pi was still unknown.

    By 1800 BC the Egyptians had come to the conclusion that the area of a square whose side equalled 8/9 of a circle's diameter equalled the area of the circle. Well, it does, but with an error of only 0.6%!

    Euclid (340-270 BC) calculated the value of Pi to be smaller than 270/70 (3.1428) but bigger than 270/71 (3.1408) which would yield a mean value of 3.1418.

    Archimedes (287-212 BC) devised a method of putting polygons inside a circle to calculate the area. A polygon can be divided into isosceles triangles, each triangle having two sides of equal length. Archimedes did not calculate the area of the triangles, but of the length of the bases. Adding up the sum of the bases of the isosceles triangles inside the circle would lead to the circumference of the circle. In this way he calculated Pi to have the value of 3.1419! No better value for Pi was found for hundreds of years.

    With the decline of the Roman Empire at about 400 AD, the leading role of scientists from Greece and Alexandria came to an end. Europe plunged into difficult times of wars and religious conflicts which had no place for science or scientific discovery. Small wonder that from now on scientific progress took place in Arabia, India and China. So our story moves to about 500 AD when the Chinese mathematician Tsu Chung Chi used polygons with 24576 sides and calculated a value for Pi of 3.1415929!

    Towards the end of the 12th century the Italian mathematician Fibonacci brought a value for Pi of 3.1418 back to Europe from Arabia, reviving interest in mathematics in Europe, and in particular the calculation of the area of circles.

    One of the last "polygon calculators" was Ludolph van Ceulen (1539-1610). In his methodology he used polygons with more than 32 billion (!) sides. Using this laborious methodology he was able to calculate the value ofPito 32 decimal places. This will have taken up so much time that he must have spent all his working life calculating Pi! Advances in mathematics from the end of the 17th century also marked the end of all attempts to calculate Pi with geometrical methods.

    From now on analytical methods could be employed to calculate Pi and an ongoing competition started between mathematicians to see who could calculate Pi to the highest number of decimal places. In 1948 1000 decimals of Pi were identified, this was pushed to 2000 in 1950 and this has been pushed to a billion today! Such enormous numbers are of no practical value, of course, but seem to provide mathematicians with a lot of fun.

    An interesting fact about Pi is that it has an infinite number of decimal places. Moreover, all numbers between 0 and 9 appear with the same frequency but their sequence is totally accidental. If you pick one decimal the mathematical probability for the following decimal to be any number between 0 and 9 has the same "chance" as you would have gambling with throwing a 10-sided dice. This is, in fact, a definition for a transcendental number. Another example for a transcendental number is "e" the base of the system of natural logarithms. Transcendental numbers are always connected with laws of nature which is probably not accidental.

    So how big is the value of the proportion between diameter and circumference? How big is infinity? Fascinating, isn't it?

    Posted by Mausi at 10:00 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    January 09, 2006

    Oh dear, another of Mr Blair's little mistakes.

    Our Illustrious Leader and his team of bully-boy ex-hippies have had the embarrassing experience - again - of having to confront the fact that they have seriously misled the public. This time the consequences may not be immediately apparent, but rest assured these will come home to bite, savagely.

    The previous Home Secretary, against all advice but his "Special Advisers" and certain Chief Constables and a Commissioner of the countries, once, model police force, downgraded cannabis (marijuana, ganja, dagga or grass) from a Category B drug, possession of which could land you a nice spell "at Her Majesty's Pleasure", to a Category C. The argument was that this would reduce its appeal to the younger potential user and thus its consumption, and it would allow the police to focus on the harder drugs such as Cocaine, Heroin, Crack Cocaine and so on. A certain "Commander" of the worst affected area made it a policy statement even before it was legal - with the full backing of his Commissioner and all the Labour politicians - to "lay off cannabis" and focus on "encouraging" people not to use it.

    Medics, especially those dealing with psychiatric ailments, were horrified! And rightly so, there is a huge amount of evidence which shows that far from being "harmless" the cannabinoids in the drug cause permanent changes in the brain. Even better there is a direct link between cannabis use and schizophrenia in young men and women. But it doesn't stop there either, anyone who has ever smoked cannabis is far more likely to suffer Clinical Depression than someone who has not. This is not "new" evidence as Mr Clark, the current Home Secretary is trying to present it, this evidence has been around since the 1950's!

    Arguments that the cannabis smoked by young people today is "not as potent" and "more refined" are purest garbage. What is on the streets today is a genetically enhanced version of the most powerful strain available in Africa - and this stuff is really potent! But, even worse is the fact that there is now evidence that cannabis is a "gateway" drug. The evidence is slowly emerging (no one was really prepared to admit this before, but the evidence was there then!) that drug dependency almost invariably begins with cannabis use.

    And the usage has not reduced as Mr Blunket claimed it would - it has soared!

    When taken with the fact that almost every five pound note in circulation in London for more than a few days will give a positive result when tested for cocaine and you begin to see a truly alarming picture emerging. Drug usage is rising and rising fast, a fact born out by a newspaper reporter who used a commercially available test kit to take swabs in toilets, pubs and clubs across the capital - and 90% gave a positive result! Going soft on drug use has not solved the problem it has exacerbated it, something the Dutch are now admitting and having to try to reverse the liberalisation of laws on cannabis use!

    Mr Clark's statement earlier this week that "they may have misled the public on cannabis in the light of the medical evidence now available to them" is disingenuous to say the very least, in fact its a blatant lie. The evidence was there all the time; they were presented with it when they first mooted changing the law, but, in their usual arrogant fashion brushed it aside. Now they are confronted with the reality they have a problem.

    I am not so uncharitable as one of my colleagues who thinks that the original motive for attempting to legalise its use had more to do with "multiculturalism" and "granting freedom to the Rasta Brotherhood" of their "religious" use of "ganja" than common sense. I think it was just plain ignorance outweighed by complete arrogance.

    Well, as Stan Laurel used to say to his friend; "here's another nice mess you've gotten us into!" The question Mr Blair and Mr Clark, is; "how do you propose to get us out of it?"

    Answers in public please and in plain English, starting with "We have caused untold damage to the British Nation by our arrogant stupidity ...."

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:19 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    January 08, 2006

    Painting for pleasure

    One of my hobbies, for which I have far too little time these days, is to paint. I am not an artist, I daub, others paint, others may produce works worthy of the Turner prize or the like, I daub. The thing is, I find it fun to plan a painting, to try and find ways to create the image I want to produce and to get it to look like something realistic.

    For some time now I have been pondering the idea of trying to reproduce as a painting a rather nice photograph from a book of a ship most South Africans would know and recognise, the SAS President Kruger. She was a Type 12 Anti-submarine warfare Frigate built on the Tyneside for the SAN in the 1960's and was, with her sisters, SAS President Pretorius and SAS President Steyn, the pride of the South African fleet. Sadly she was sunk in an accident off the West coast of South Africa on 18 February 1982 when in collision with the large Fleet Command and supply ship, SAS Tafelberg. Sixteen Petty Officers and other ranks were killed in the accident when the Kruger cut across the bows of the Tafelberg, and the Tafelberg's ice re-inforced bows smashed into the Kruger's Portside exactly on the Petty Officer's Mess, located below the motor launch slung on davit's in the picture.

    My painting (Acrylic on artist's board) of the SAS President Kruger putting on speed during an exercise.

    The two surviving frigates did not fare much better. President Steyn was decomissioned in 1980 and canabalised for spares for the other two and the President Pretorius had to be decommissioned in 1985. They swung around bouys in Simonstown as rather sad reminders of what might have been for a number of years and have only recently been broken up and the hulks sunk, as is naval practice, as targets for the new weapons and warfare systems on the ship's which have replaced them. The four new replacement ship's are from German Yards and are based on the joint European MEKO design. The PK, as she was affectionately called, was always known as a "happy" ship to her crews and her loss was a serious blow to morale and to the fleet as a whole since there could, at the time, be no prospect of replacing her.

    Why this picture? Well, I just happen to like the look of the ship, the setting and the apperance of efficient preparedness that she presents as she builds up to her full power.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:49 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    January 07, 2006

    Creating a storm

    I stumbled across a story recently that should sound warning bells for everyone in Europe and the Western world - particularly those who value what little we have left of freedom to express our opinions on a variety of issues. It seems to me to be a perfect case of over-reaction in every direction and one which highlights the idiocy of the advocates of politically correct meddling in some aspects of our lives.

    The story begins in September with the publication by a Danish newspaper - quite a small one with a small circulation - of a series of twelve cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed in a slightly less than complimentary light. Given that the total population of Denmark is no more than 3 million and the Muslim immigrant population is around 3% of that, you would think that most people would simply shrug their shoulders and that would be that. Not in this case.

    The first problem is that the Koran (or Quran) expressly forbids any depiction of the Prophet. This is probably based on the sound principle that an image can very easily become an idol, so it has a practical purpose, but it is also taken extremely seriously by adherents of Islam. In fact there are a number of images of the Prophet available in Islamic countries, mostly commissioned by the Caliphs and Sultans who ruled most of the Muslim world for near on 1200 years. That doesn't stop the fanatics, though, from yelling "Jihad" and demanding that Denmark "punish" the cartoonists and the newspaper. Apparently even a "Fatwah" or two have been issued.

    Eleven ambassadors demanded an audience with the Prime Minister, who refused and told them he was not about to interfere with his countries democratic principle of freedom of expression. That is where it starts to get out of hand, because Brussels jumped on the bandwagon and made some equally silly demands - which the Danes basically told them to poke somewhere painful. But, in parallel, the Islamic press has whipped up a storm about this "attack" on their faith and it has even resulted in a general strike - in Kashmir!

    But, the teacup had not yet reached full blown hurricane, so - enter the UN with a demand that Denmark be investigated for "growing racism". Now we have a full blown hurricane, which could have been avoided if people of sense had simply taken the line of least said soonest mended. The cartoons probably are tasteless, but are they really worth a major international row? Are they really worth whipping up such a passion that we now have threats that a Jihad will be launched against anyone and everyone who dares to support the Danes on this?

    One commentator asked how Christians would re-act to a blasphemous depiction of Christ, and went on to say that he knew of "no such assault on Christianity". Well, I don't know what planet he lived on when "The life of Brian" which even has the hero being crucified was launched. Or where he was when the "Da Vinci Code" was published. I certainly don't know where all the brouhaha is about some of the sillier depictions and jokes that float about with Christ as the butt of them. This is what is so very wrong with the entire political correctness agenda - it is hopelessly slewed by the lie that Islam is in some way the "victim" of Christian aggression. Given that whenever it is a Christian leader who complains the same bunch of PC morons in Brussels either ignore the complaint or pour scorn on it as being "counter to the EU's desire to be inclusive and put aside the wrongs of the past". Indeed.

    Personally I am sick of this stupidity, it really is time for sensible people everywhere to say enough! You do have to wonder just how much of a fuss this would have caused if the Ambasadors had taken the trouble to write a polite note to the Editor of the paper concerned pointing out that they found this offensive and left it at that. What they have now is these cartoons on the internet and the world aware of just how silly their reaction looks.

    An "own goal" if ever I saw one.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 06, 2006

    It's a Cat's Life

    Life is not easy for a cat at this time of the year. It starts with growing a thick fur in late autumn which makes you feel uncomfortable inside the house when you come back from a hunting expedition. Sometimes I wish I could hang my coat on a peg just like my people do. Talking about hunting expeditions: there's not much to hunt anyway, with all the mice hiding deep down in their burrows and enjoying the comforts of a geothermal central heating! That leaves only tinned mice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the odd snack in between. Aaargh!

    The next drawback about the season is this white fluffy stuff called snow. It easily comes up to my belly where I live which makes me feel rather uncomfortable. And it's far from easy to find a dry place to have a proper look around.


    My observation post in winter

    The worst, however, is that my people flatly refuse to have a cat's toilet inside the house. Have you ever huddled in a snow drift with the wind howling around you and blowing snow into your face? Believe me, you wouldn't want to find out.

    And the tricks they think up to lure me outside! Like an invitation to a game of chasing snowballs. Mind you, I sometimes do it to amuse myself on a particularly dull day. But a few days ago they even left a window open and counted on my curiosity to go outside. I smelled that rat soon enough and came back before they could close it on me altogether!


    Nice try, folks!

    Posted by Mausi at 03:28 PM | TrackBack


    Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the twleth day after Christmas in the Western Church, the day that many Eastern Orthodox countries celebarte as Christmas. A discussion on the radio this morning reminded me of the "old" carol "The twelve days of Christmas" and I wondered how many of those who sing it lustily - frequently in many Protestant Churches - these days realise that it is in fact a very clever allegorical rendition of the Catholic Catechism!

    The symbolism is very interesting as it refers us to the message of the Gospels and to the teachings of the Church and the creed. It was dressed up as a "Love Song" for use by Catholics in 16th, 17th and 18th Century Britain where the practice of the Roman Catholic Faith was proscribed in law until the Reform Acts of 1836 gave Catholics the right to freedom of worship and religious practice. It was taught across Ireland for the three centuries of Catholic suppression, and in England, Scotland and Wales, by the "Hedgerow Priests" who risked imprisonment at least, and death at worst, to keep the Catholic Church alive in the hearts of those who refused to accept the "new" forms of worship decreed by the Protestant Reformers. An example, I think, of how Christianity needs to rediscover the faith and the fact that it can and does survive when it is centred on homes, families and the hearts of it's faithful.

    The allegorical references are plain if you look for them - and I find it difficult to believe that some at least of the Protestant churchmen and rulers didn't grasp the message. Perhaps that explains its popularity today. Many of you will have heard the wonderful spoof version of this which has a lawyer writing to the sender portesting at damage and threat to the health and mental wellbeing of the recipient - perhaps a truere reflection of how people respond to the message it represents today.

    The references are as follows:

    My true love is God,
    The Partridge is His Son, Jesus Christ,
    The Two turtle doves are the two sections of the Bible, the Old and the New Testaments,
    The three French Hens are the three "Theological" virtues which St Paul wrote about in his letters - Faith, Hope and Charity,
    Four calling birds are the four "Evangelists" - the Gospel writers,
    The five golden rings are the first five books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch" of the Jewish canon,
    Six geese give us the "Six Days of Creation" from Genesis,
    Seven Swans refer to the seven sacramental gifts of the Holy Spirit,
    The eight milking maids are the eight "Beatitudes" from the sermon on the Mount,
    Nine Ladies dancing is a reference to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit,
    Ten Lord's leaping remind us of the Ten Commandments (in the 16th to 18th Centuries the Lord's was the primary Legislative House and the seat of the entire Judicial process!) thus a perfect reference to the Law of God.
    Eleven Pipers was a way of remembering that eleven disciples were faithful to Christ and became the first Apostles, and finally,
    the Twelve drummers, recall the twelve points of Doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

    Neat is it not? A wonderful summary of almost the entire Catechism in a form which was (and is) enjoyable to recite and formed the basis of a memory aid to the recall of all that was necessary for the schooling of children in the Catholic Faith. In an age when the vast majority had no ability to read, nor access for the most part to books, this fun rhyme gave them the opportunity to expand their knowledge and to practice their faith.

    Today we greet the first of the Gentiles to recognise Christ, their coming signalled to the world that this was a gift from the God of all Creation to the whole of mankind. The waiting was over, salvation had arrived.

    Perhaps we need to look again at the way the Catholic faith was kept alive in England and Ireland by use of fun devices such as this carol, and rediscover the real meaning of the season we celebrate at this time. We certainly need to assert the faith and constancy of our forebears as they struggled to keep the faith they held.

    On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me A partridge in a pear tree.

    On the second day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the third day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the fourth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the fifth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the sixth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the seventh day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the eighth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the ninth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the tenth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Ten lords a-leaping,
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the eleventh day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Eleven pipers piping,
    Ten lords a-leaping,
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the twelfth day of Christmas,
    my true love sent to me
    Twelve drummers drumming,
    Eleven pipers piping,
    Ten lords a-leaping,
    Nine ladies dancing,
    Eight maids a-milking,
    Seven swans a-swimming,
    Six geese a-laying,
    Five golden rings,
    Four calling birds,
    Three French hens,
    Two turtle doves,
    And a partridge in a pear tree!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 05, 2006

    Intelligent design?

    The great debate in certain circles in the US centred on the teaching of the Theory of Evolution versus "Creationsim" or "Intelligent Design" has just been underscored - and not for the first time - in a court room battle. Happily I think, the Judge ruled that Darwin's Theory has more scientific credence than the alternatives, but equally happily, he also declined to rule on what people may or may not choose to believe.

    Speaking for myself, I find it incredible that there are still a seemingly very large body of otherwise intelligent people whose "faith" in God seems to hinge on whether or not the world was created in a matter of days 6,004 years ago (A 17th Century Irish Prelate calculated this by adding up all the ages of the people in the old testament and then adding the "post Christ" number of years. I suspect though that he used the Julian and not the Gregorian dating so was probably a few more years out in that as well!) or came into being over a much longer period involving a lot of accidents, huge galactic forces and something like 5 billion years to get to where we are today! Does it really matter? Is this really what the entire Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths hang on? Of course not, the creation story in Genesis is a very poetic description - an explanation for nomads - of vast events which even now we do not fully understand! The more we learn, the less we really know, or think we know. The study of genetics is unwrapping ever more enigmas, and ever more proof that Darwin's theory - and a scientific Theory is something that is accepted only after rigourous testing, challenging and quite a lot of evidence - is probably, give or take a few deviations here and there, largely spot on. Life has evolved and is still evolving.

    Look back through the fossil record - and no, I do not accept that they were put there by God to confuse us, or by the Devil to distract us - the earth has been several degrees warmer than it is now, and a whole lot colder. Polar Bears evolved during the last ice age and the warming of the oceans and melting ice caps will probably spell extinction for them and us, but God's purpose and His ongoing creation will see the evolution of new animals adapted to the new age and climate - and these will adapt and change again as the earth moves away from the sun in another 10,000 years or so and cools once more. The orbit is eratic, the heat output from the sun changes and this planet is habitable to us in our present form only as long as our climate stays within the parameters that allow us to have liquid oceans (water is actually a gas when you think about it!) and a moderately narrow temperature range. If we were to lose the moon, the earth's balance would be disturbed and we would develop a severe wobble which would give us such extremes of temperature at the poles and the equator that human and animal life would be almost impossible. Is this proof that there is no God? Of course not, but neither does it "prove" that there is one!

    Those who prefer to keep their ideas on the creation of the planet and the rise of the species we belong to and are familiar with, simple, should consider carefully the evidence around them. The argument for a "Creator" using "Intelligent Design" is a blind alley, a distraction from true understanding of God and of His creation. It's major flaw is that it assumes that humans have reached their evolutionary peak and can get no better! What does it matter that He chose to throw a galactic chemistry set on the ground and stood back to see what emerged? Did he "engineer" our genes? This is stepping perilously close to the "Aliens from outer space impregnated monkeys to create humans" argument - and about as valid.

    Reading the book Darwin's Watch by Terry Pratchett and a pair of scientists has been very entertaining and very enlightening, everyone should read it, because it does put the science into a language stripped of all the media hype and gives a case we can all understand quite easily. The protagonists of "Intelligent design" might also learn to their advantage to consider a little more carefully the flimsiness of the argument they advance. In fact, they might begin to look afresh at the "logic" applied by the 17th and 18th Century theologians who devised it in an attempt to stem the tide of "Enlightenment" as pure sciences began to move the discovery of how the planet actually functioned forward.

    It is popular today to blame the mainstream churches for this promotion of the untenable, in fact it is not strictly true. The Catholic Church has long sponsored scientific studies - Copernicus was a priest and very highly regarded in Catholic circles, as were many more of the leading "scientists" of the Renaissance. Much of their work was suppressed in the sense that it was not widely published, because it was felt that, like the Theory of Evolution, it would serve only to alarm the general populace. Unfortunately it is also true that many of the leaders of the Church of England and other "mainstream" Christian "Reformed" churches were so prejudiced against the Catholic Church that it was a case "if they think that, we have to think the opposite!" Hence the attempts to beat science at it's own game by evolving a "theological" explanation which does not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

    The problem with God, according to some writers, is that He resolutely refuses to "prove" His existence - thereby frustrating everyone, both believer and unbeliever!

    Frankly, I think this is a debate which is both pointless and a distraction from the real issue, that the Church - in its widest sense - exists to provide a vehicle through which we may discover our own routes to God and begin to understand the greater meaning of the Gospels. There is, as Pratchett's Wizards remark, an absence of "Deitivium" and "Narativium" in our world - both "elements" in abundant presence in the Discworld. Because of this lack, we have science.

    A much wiser head than mine once said that science is what we use to explain the explainable and to seek explanations for the bits we can explain but not fully understand. Faith is for the gaps between. I know what he meant and it does not shake my faith one bit knowing that I have evolved from a "proto-hominid" who lived in Africa some 3.5 million years ago. It doesn't worry me that that homonid may have evolved from something that crawled out of some warm ocean 20 million years before that. I know that dinosaurs walked the earth for several million years before homonids even began to evolve, I also know that asteriods have crashed into this planet and wiped out promising evolutionary strains several times - and that doesn't bother me either.

    I am a man. I cannot know the mind of God and I fully accept that I may actually be simply yet another stepping stone in a vast experiment which will ultimately give rise to yet another chain of beings adapted to the conditions of a changing and evolving planet. My faith is founded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not in the creation stories put together for shepherds and wanderers a little over 3,000 years ago.

    That faith tells me that, as a Christian, and as one of God's created sons, I can expect to be welcomed into a new and hopefully less fraught life at the end of this one. That, and that alone, is what really matters. Any arguments about whether Darwinism is "scientific" or whether "Intelligent Creationism" is more accurate, belong in the same dustbin of history as the wonderful "element" many learned gentlemen argued over in the "Age of Enlightenment" - Phlogiston.

    It really is time for all men of real faith to put aside their nice comfortable "Sunday School" images and embrace the real challenge of faith - to learn to know God through prayer, deed and understanding of everything we can learn about the creation we are a part of. Let us hope that the promoters of "Intelligent Design" stop flogging their dead horse and look at how God is really working in science for the good of us all. If they really believe that God is present in everything, then prove it, by looking at how He is working through ongoing evolution in everything - including us!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:51 PM | TrackBack

    January 04, 2006

    A bad start?

    Looking back to this time last year, the world was still reeling from the shock and horror of the tsunami in South East Asia. We didn't know then, and we probably still don't know, the full scale of the death toll, or what it's long term impact will be. This year it seems to be someone elses turn to suffer the disasters.

    South Eastern Australia has been in the grip of a severe drought for several years, and now is ablaze with bush fires sweeping through NSW, Victoria and South Australia. Homes are being destroyed, towns threatened and there seems little chance of a respite, until there is some really decent rain across the entire region - something it seems, that remains a remote hope! In the last few days there has also been the news from Germany, first of an avalanche that has killed two, possibly three, members of a party of skiers near the Austrian border, and, near Munich, the snow laden roof of an ice skating rink collapsed and has killed at least eleven and maybe more, with many more injured.

    Add to that, the Russian Federation's little dispute over gas supplies to the Ukraine - which impacts on the EU members who buy their gas from Russia - and there is a strong possibility that 2006 will see some serious life loss in the Ukraine due to lack of heating fuel for thousands of Ukrainians.

    Not really an auspicious start to the year!

    The optimistic way of looking at it though, would be to look at all the good things that have happened as well. Certainly the tsunami evoked a relief effort and an outpouring of aid from the developed world that is surely unparalleled. The Hurricanes in the Southern US also saw a huge relief effort and again a rush to send aid and to make donations to aid agencies which must surely be unequalled. Help has been given too, to many other nations, Niger, Sierra Leone and many others have received help when they needed it, and will continue to receive help until they sort out their problems.

    Others would also say that the elections in Iraq, the news that Western troops will soon begin withdrawing and the release of the hostages taken in Gaza were all good news events as well. And, yes, they certainly are. So, perhaps we should take a different view.

    Perhaps we should look at the disasters and admit to ourselves that the world is a dangerous place, one in which life exists in a pecarious balance which is easily upset. One stone or one snowball do not make an avalanche, but may well be the trigger for one. And just as easily not. We do have a tendency to see only the disasters and to overlook the things that don't go wrong on a daily basis. Perhaps that is because "good news" is "no news" as far as the media are concerned. Good news never sells a newspaper.

    Well, we can wallow in the bad news, or we can look back at these events and tell ourselves that we can learn from them and move on to try and avoid that mistake a second time. Alternatively we can say to ourselves, "well, it's not a good start, but it isn't as bad as 2005 and it can only get better!" Neither extreme is a good position, as such an attitude will evoke either an over-reaction or no reaction at all. Surely we should be looking at these events, learning the lessons and then moving forward in hope and in the knowledge that we have done what we can to mitigate the effects of such disasters, while at the same time recognising that we can never completely eliminate the risks that go alongside daily living.

    So, I look forward to this year in hope that we will be able to steer a path through the year which will allow us to reach the next one older, wiser, perhaps a little more dented than we are now, but still intact and enjoying the journey. That is the key. That and to look to see what God intends us to learn from all of this, for He is there, in the midst of our tragedy, weeping with us, and there in the midst of our joy, when we don't look for Him as we forget that He is part of both joy and sorrow to us.

    With apologies to a brother in law who sent me this some years ago, here is my philosphy for the years ahead ....

    "Life is not a journey to the grave to be undertaken with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the finish line broadside on, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil and shouting GERONIMO!"

    I salute all those of my friends who did just that in the year past, and all those who, like me, continue the race to the finish in the year ahead! I'll see you through the year - or through a window somewhere! Have fun and enjoy the ride - and above all, remember that God is taking the journey with you.

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:11 PM | TrackBack

    January 03, 2006

    Traces of the Vikings

    One of the most famous Vikings is doubtless Erik den Røde (Erik the Red), father of Leif Erikson who discovered the North American coast (Vinland) around 1000 A.C. Erik den Røde was born in Norway but soon ran into trouble there and was sent to Iceland in 950. There was trouble again in 982 when Erik was charged with manslaughter and had to leave Iceland. As he couldn't go back East to Norway he sailed West and eventually found a new home in the South West of Greenland. He died there about 1007.

    Around the year 1000 the climate was a bit warmer in Greenland and the settlers were able to keep even cattle there. It must have been a hard job, though, keeping the animals alive during the winter. Nowadays only sheep "thrive" in the South West.


    Greenland sheep

    They are hardy little beasts who look after themselves most of the time they are out in the open. They spend the winter indoors of course. They strongly reminded me of European mountain goats because they are very good climbers. I've was told that their wool is not very good quality, not to be compared with wool from Iceland anyway, but their meat is quite nice.

    While hiking through the Vatnaverfi, a beautiful part in the South West of Greenland consisting mainly of hills and lakes, we would occasionally come across ruins of the Vikings' settlements there. As at the time when we were looking forward to a day of rest in a little village. You'll probably be able to spot some buildings on the photo below.


    The little village is only five hundred meters away - straight down the hill.

    We came to the village after having walked through the rain all day. It is not easy to find shelter from the rain, e. g. during your lunch break, because in Greenland the trees are smaller than the mushrooms. Having watched puddles forming in our margarine pot at noon and feeling thoroughly drenched by the end of the day we were very much looking forward to a bit of rest.

    Luckily enough, the next day was warm and dry and we wandered around the village exploring.


    Ruins of a Viking settlement in the foreground

    There was also time to visit the little village church.


    Inside the village church

    The day ended with a scrumptious meal: rainbow trout, freshly caught in the morning by a member of our group, fresh rolls, and the best leg of lamb I have ever eaten. I think Danish people are naturally born cooks and we had six of them in our group of eight!

    Posted by Mausi at 06:28 PM | TrackBack

    January 02, 2006

    Galileo ascends the heavens

    So the European Space Agency has managed to get it's Galileo satelite aloft at last. At 3.4 billion Euro something of a snip, even if it had to be launched on a Russian rocket. The project is aimed at providing an alternative service to the US Based GPS and one of the spurs to this is the fact that GPS is essentially a military tool which does not offer the same accuracy to civilian users as it does to the military - or so they say. Frankly, my little car mounted GPS unit is accurate to within about thiry feet as far as I can see which is as accurate as I need it to be!

    I can't help wondering what Galileo himself would have made of this, particularly what he would have made of his name being given to a space craft which will carry out a task which, if one is strictly correct, will refute the principle he initially espoused, of our place in the centre of the Cosmos. I wonder if he and Nicolas Copernicus have finally agreed their theories on this? After all, both drew on Aristotle and on Plato, although Galileo intially favoured the Platonic vision of the world being the centre of a spherical universe. I suppose in a sense he is, in the fact that we now have a network of geostationary satelites hanging about above our heads, and few not so stationary ones which do revolve around us, right. We are now at the centre of a small universe created by our technological advances in the last half century.

    Leaving aside the realms of fantasy, one can only applaud the achievement of the ESA in getting this satellite aloft. It will enhance the global navigation systems, and it will also provide us with a great deal of useful information as it whizzes around above us. It is also an example of how well certain sections of the EU dream work. Co-operation between scientists and other technological efforts and agencies is a great way forward, a pity that it seems to have to carry the burden of a useless and expensive political bureaucracy as well. Let's face it, the politicians and the bureaucrats are simply a drain on the enterprise that things like the Galileo project epitomise - and quite often jeopardise by their stupidity and strict application of "rules" written by idiots in offices with no understanding of what is to be achieved by someone else.

    As a UK resident, I am saddened by the fact that no British Scientists or UK based technology companies have had an input into the satellite, not all that surprising as Whitehall has notoriously cut and restricted funding for all our ventures in the direction of space. If half the money wasted on some of Mr Blair's attempts to socially engineer society were spent on more projects like this one, the investment in the economy and in technology would create a major jobs boom. A pity therefore that Galileo must be seen as something achieved by men of vision in France, Germany, Spain and Italy - but not particularly in the UK. It would be nice to think that, with the UK, Germany and France being the three big funders of the EU, a little of that funding to the ESA would have come to UK based firms or scientists, but it seems that, thanks to the shortsighted policies of Labour and the Civil Service, it has not.

    I suppose we should all rejoice that the EU is at least in this area, much more forward thinking than the UK. Perhaps this success will kick a few of the closed minds of Westminster and Whitehall into realising that the exploration and exploitation of space is very much part of the 21st Century. But then, pigs might fly one day!

    Personally I salute the achievement of the ESA, and I hope that Galileo will not prove as controversial as its namesake!

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:56 PM | TrackBack

    January 01, 2006

    Happy New Year

    Where, oh where, did 2005 go? Either time has started to speed up or I have just been so busy that I barely noticed it disappearing into the sunset!

    It has been a very mixed year in many ways, there has been a lot of fulfillment, but there have also been more than a few moments of pain and bereavement. MommaBear died at the end of October after a long a difficult fight against cancer, my first wife's father died, also of cancer only a few weeks before that. The list gets longer and one gets ever more conscious of the fact that the generation ahead of one is now almost all gone - and one's own generation is now, to use a rather Pratchettesque metaphor, the group of aging Mayflies hovering just above the water which hides the trout .....

    On the upbeat end is the fact that I have added a couple of qualifications to my professional quiver, I have been made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Fire Fighters and have enjoyed the love and support of a range of friends all over the globe. What more can a man ask for? Well, several things, but that would be pure greed. No, the things I would really like to see in the new year all concern my many friends. I would wish for them to have the joy, love and support they need as they struggle to deal with the things which have given them trouble in the year now past and which will not simply go away in the year ahead.

    Some will need help as they cope with children growing up with disabilities, some with coping with marriage failure and their own failing health, others who face the new year alone through the loss of partners or friends. Many face financial hardship as incomes become less certain due to a wide range of factors. For them all, I pray that the Lord will give them all they need in the year ahead. And not just for them , but for everyone I know.

    The year ahead promises to be busy, to be challenging and to bring plenty of tears as well as laughter and joy. It was, as someone once remarked, ever thus! For myself the schedule includes a lot more travel, a lot more work, but it also has several things for me to look forward too. Visits from friends, a planned holiday and new friends to make. It will be busy, but it will also be fun.

    My friends and all who chance this way in the blogosphere, I wish you all a very happy new year and everything you hope for yourselves in the year ahead.

    Prosit Neujahr! to all of you
    from Mausi and Gray Monk

    Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack