Friday, 29 June 2007

More thoughts on the bombs

Ok, I know the revelation that there was, in fact, a second car bomb found today should make me feel a greater sense of gravity about this situation. But I couldn't help having an incredulous chuckle when I read this:

The second device was found in a blue 280E model Mercedes. It was given a parking ticket at 0230 BST on Friday after being found illegally parked in Cockspur Street. The vehicle was then towed to the Park Lane car pound about an hour later.
Traffic wardens are often accused of being over-zealous, but this has to take the biscuit for excess bureaucracy.

In all seriousness, though, the fact that the second car was originally in Cockspur Street makes me feel more convinced that the destination of the first car was Whitehall. Cockspur Street is the home of DCMS. Whitehall is the home of many more Government departments. It seems widely accepted that the timing of this just after the changeover of power and the formation of a new Cabinet is no coincidence. Whether the intention was structural damage, or loss of life, I really couldn't guess. I wouldn't even be surprised if it turned out that behind all of this was not an organisation, but an individual with a grudge.

Ah well. At least it's Saturday tomorrow.

Final Score

Wow. Oceans FC are clearly far superior to their opponents in 3-way football.

Ginger's Guide to Commuting in the Midst of a Terror Alert

  1. Discover that an area of central London is closed off due to the discovery off a bomb.
  2. Realise that this will cause chaos for the part of your journey that involves the tube or a bus.
  3. Look out the window. Note that it's bucketing down. Rule out walking.
  4. Think, 'Sod it', and go back to bed until the rush hour and rain are over.
  5. Proceed with journey as normal, experiencing no difficulties at all.

Glad to see I'm not the only Londoner feeling fairly unconcerned about things.* You have to just get on with it really. Otherwise 'they' will have won. Whoever 'they' are.

For what it's worth, I reckon that Haymarket wasn't the intended target. I mean, I once had a not very nice evening in Tiger Tiger, but I don't think it's bad enough to be detonated. I personally reckon the car was headed for somewhere more prominent (Westminster?) but that the bomb started to malfunction (reports say the car was found filled with vapour) and the driver got scared, dumped the car and ran. We shall see.


*If anything I'm more upset by the news that, when I documented my failed attempt to visit Fopp last week, it seems more was afoot than mere stocktaking. The chain has closed permanently. :-(

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Quotation of the week

I was vaguely aware of someone called Tony Campolo before, but I've found out more about him lately, having been reading stuff about a movement called 'Red Letter Christianity'.

Leaving aside a discussion of this movement for the time being, I thought I'd share a quotation I found by Campolo, which makes me think he's my kind of Evangelical:

"I've always been skeptical of those television healers who are bald. I mean, if I had that gift, that would be the first thing I'd fix."

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

How many eejits does it take to run a council?

Parking Meter
Originally uploaded by adambowie
Quite a few, in the case of Westminster, it would seem.

Whilst the media focus was on other aspects of politics in the area, the council were busy being generally daft. They've come up with a wonderful (*ahem*) new idea for replacing parking meters. Instead of putting coins in a machine next to the parking space, you phone up a number, enter your credit card details, and a code for the area that you're parked in.

Aside from the bleedin' obvious issues of 'what if you don't have a mobile phone?' and 'what if you don't have a credit card?', there is just so much wrong with this idea. What if the number's constantly busy? What if the system that's supposed to update the attendants' hand held computers crashes? (Do you really think motorists will be given the benefit of the doubt?) The article says that for those without mobiles can use a pay and display system nearby, but a TV news report I saw said that this would also be card based. Never mind the fact that it's not especially difficult to use an intercepting device to obtain information from mobile phone calls, and thus obtain someone's card details. I must say, it takes quite a lot of skill to devise a scheme so thoroughly riddled with problems.

Oh, and I also found out that a friend who organised a charity concert at St John's, Smith Square, has had £250 deducted from the proceeds by the very same council, on the grounds that they were 15 minutes past the end of the license when they were packing away equipment. Niiiiice.

PS. I must say, I am amazed at just how many photos of parking meters there are on Flickr's Creative Commons site!

If you were Tony Blair...

... wouldn't you have been tempted to stand up at the beginning of PMQ's and say, 'Actually, Gordon, I think I've changed my mind..."?

Glad to see Cherie being as gracious as ever. Honestly. Is she really a QC?

Monday, 25 June 2007

Foul Play

So you're in charge of a football club. Both your men's and women's teams are in the highest leagues in the country. The women's team in particular are very successful - they finished third in the league and were runners up in the cup.

In contrast, the men's team have been slipping over the last couple of years and come the end of this season they actually get relegated. It's probably not entirely a bad thing - they could do with a year with less pressure in order to sort themselves out. It means a drop in income, but they've never been the sort of team to be wildly extravagant in their spending.

Nonetheless, the powers that be decide that they need to raise some more money for the next season. There are some good players that will be sold, because they can't really justify keeping hold of them when they're not in the top flight. But still they want more money. So what do you do? Get rid of the entire women's side. Everything from the title winning first team down to the training academies at the bottom.

Sound a bit daft? Well, it's exactly what Charlton Athletic have just done. As the (now ex-) captain of the women's side said, "the men get relegated and we get punished".


Saturday, 23 June 2007

Sex and the Single Christian

There was a story in the news recently about a 16 year old girl who has been trying to take her school to the High Courts for discrimination against Christians. She claims that the school's banning of her wearing a purity ring as a symbol of her faith-based commitment to celibacy is an impingement of her right to freedom of religious expression.

I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm a committed Christian, and I support the church's teachings of 'chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within'. But I think the school has acted perfectly reasonably in this instance, and that the girl is wrong to pursue her case to this extent.

Don't get me wrong - good on her for having principles and being willing to be open about them. I don't know if I could have been so forthright at her age. But there are many values that Christians are called to uphold, aside from sexual purity. Obedience and respect, for example. In Romans 13:1-7, for example, Paul teaches that Christians should submit to governing authorities. His reasoning is that authorities have been instituted by God and thus rebellion against them is rebellion against God. Now, I'm not saying your average head teacher is God-appointed (can you imagine the kind of ego-trip that might induce?!). Nor am I suggesting the St Paul had school uniform policies in mind when he wrote that. Or that any kind of political protest is wrong, if we see authorities acting unjustly. But the passage goes on to say:

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.
I think the underlying message here is that respect and submission to authority where its due. If a school has a uniform policy then you don't disobey that without very good reason. I don't think wanting to wear a purity ring constitutes a very good reason. If the school banned her from discussing her values with other people, or publicly ridiculed her for her beliefs, then that would be an issue that needs addressing. But not wearing a purity ring doesn't diminish from one's commitment to chastity.

Wearing a purity ring isn't an integral part of Christian faith expression. Even wearing a cross or crucifix isn't required in order to be a 'good Christian', although it's sufficiently common that it is a universally recognised outward sign of faith and, as such, I felt that the case of the BA employee who was told to remove hers was a slightly different matter. I hope that the girl stays true to her proclaimed values, and isn't being coerced into any of this by other people. I hope that she still finds the courage to stand by her views without the reassurance of physical symbols. But I also hope that she and her family have the grace and humility to stand down on this challenge and divert their energies to more pressing concerns.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Ginger's Guide to London Streets #1: Earlham Street, WC2

One of my favourite little random features of central London that I first discovered a couple of years ago is Seven Dials. It's an unusual arrangement featuring a sundial in the middle of a junction where (unsurprisingly) seven roads meet. Probably the only traffic roundabout on which people will mill around drinking a pint on a summer's evening. Well, without ASBO-waving police moving them on, anyway.

Anyhow, seemed like a good starting point, especially as, despite my supposed affection for the area, I only ever walk down two of the seven roads. Today I ambled down one of the others for a change.

Walking down Earlham Street is probably the most direct route to Seven Dials from Shaftesbury Avenue, if you're coming from Charing Cross Road. I was heading that way in the hope of going into Fopp, but it was closed for stock taking. Nonetheless my disappointment was brief, as I discovered some previously unknown delights.

Magma is a bookshop predominately given over to graphic design books and the like, although does have things on a number of other subjects. I was rather taken, for example, by 'World Changing' but wasn't entirely convinced that I had enough energy to lug it home. I settled, instead, for the rather lighter (in many ways) 'Pictures of Walls'. Fairly self explanatory really, although perhaps I should add that it wasn't simply a paean to grouting, but featured a lot of unusual and subversive graffiti. Inevitably there is a website with further examples. Excellent - something else to waste my time browsing!

A little further down is another artsy/graphicy place, The Dover Bookshop, seeming to heavily feature books about patterns. I was very much tempted by their range of colouring books, of various geometric designs, but I figured one impulse buy was quite enough for today!

I then spotted The London Bead Shop. I already know of a couple of similar suppliers within a few minutes walk of there, but I thought I may as well investigate. I had no need or desire to buy any beads, but my magpie-like tendencies provided a strong pull, so I permitted myself a couple of minutes browsing before escaping in fear that my purse should find its way out of my bag and head counter-wards.

On the street, there also seemed to be a mini-market, if you can call 3-4 stalls selling the usual array of T shirts such a thing. I wouldn't bother counting it on any list of London markets! I guess it added to the general randomness.

It wasn't until I looked up the place on a map just now that I realised that Earlham Street actually extends across Seven Dials and thus provides two of the seven spokes. Exploration of the other part will have to wait for another day...


PS. It wasn't till I went back to take photos that I noticed this wonderful shop frontage that I'd managed to walk straight past first time around. The sign above reads:

Established 1835.
F.W. Collins
Elastic Glue Manufacturer
(Sole Inventor 1857)
Leather Grindery
General Ironmonger

Ginger's Guide to London's Streets: Foreword

I've mentioned before that I love London. One of the things I enjoy greatly is just wandering around and discovering the hidden delights of side streets, and side streets of side streets, and so on.

Given that a blog seems ideally designed to as a way of enthusing about things you get excited about, and ranting at things that annoy you, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share with you my observations and discoveries gleaned from ambling around my wonderful city.

There are no criteria for inclusion in my guide, save for me being able to think of something to say. I have no plan, no strategy. I simply intend to take on board
Nick Drake's instruction: "Saddle up, kick your feet and ride the range of a London street." Well sort of. I ain't going on horseback. But it's a great lyric.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Unusual Snail Mail

I got a letter through the post yesterday from the British Humanist Association. They were trying to get me to support them both ideologically and financially. It is probably the strangest bit of unsolicited mail I've ever received.

Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against Humanists as such. I might even be a follower, if I wasn't a monotheist. But unless someone convinces me that this Jesus bloke was just a myth and Him upstairs doesn't exist, I'm not planning a change of ideology anytime soon.

Jehovah's Witnesses aside, I can't recall ever having come across a comparable marketing drive from any other belief system (certainly not 'from the top' anyhow). I can't for the life of me fathom where I must have ticked some box that got me on their mailing list in the first place. Perhaps I am registered somewhere out there as being a scientist, and the erroneous assumption was made that this indicated I was likely to be disinclined towards Theism. From whence my invitation sprung forth, I may never know, but I feel tempted to paraphrase Groucho Marx and suggest that "I refuse to belong to any club that will accept [Richard Dawkins] as a member." ;-)

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Quotation of the Week

Well, actually, this was from last week, but I never got around to posting it then.

I've already expressed my dismay at the new Olympic logo on my blog, and I still retain some hope that it will be ditched. But you can't beat Ken Livingstone's 'tell it like it is' approach to life. He tried to encourage people to get some perspective on the issue thus:

It is not the meaning of life or a secret code that will identify the bloodline of Mary Magdalene. It is a logo that will grow on you.

Fair Point!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Turning a blind eye

A report came out today saying that the BBC was guilty of not being sufficiently impartial for a public broadcaster. I can't say I'd noticed a bias particularly, although that's not surprising given that (a) I'm a bit of a lefty and (b) I'm not that media savvy.

Makes sense that a broadcaster funded with public money should be impartial on political issues etc. Wouldn't want it to be coerced into favouring a particular political position. But there was one part of the report I wasn't so sure about. There was a lot of criticism of the way the Make Poverty History movement was presented. I realise that, according to this enquiry, this did break/bend their rules that say charitites shouldn't be endorsed, but I can't help but wonder if it's that bad a thing that it happened. Surely impartiality can't be that damaged by the highlighting of the fact that a significant proportion of the world lives in obscene poverty.

That's my view anyway. I'd be genuinely interested in hearing from anyone who disagrees and thinks that the right call was made on this particular aspect - I fear I might be being too blinkered on this one, so I'd appreciate alternative perspectives. But I do suspect that I shall remain committed to favouring turning a blind eye to the odd bit of journalistic rule-breaking rather than missing the opportunity to try to get an important message across so powerfully.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Film Review(ish): Who Killed the Electric Car?

GM Killed The Electric Car
Originally uploaded by vaXzine

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too cynical. Then something will happen that makes me realise I'm not nearly cynical enough.

'Who Killed the Electric Car?' is the tale of the humble EV1, manufactured by General Motors, and first made commercially available in 1996 in California. By 2005 not one was left on the road. Not because they were faulty, or that no-one wanted to drive them. The film sets out to uncover the reason for their untimely demise.

Electric cars actually date back as far as 1890, which was a bit of a surprise to muggins here who associates 'electric vehicles' with milkfloats rather than snazzy little motors. They were even picking up speeding tickets by 1903. They were eventually superseded by the rise of the internal combustion engine, but have ticked along quietly in the background ever since.

So, fast-forward to 1995 when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) introduce a 'Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV)' mandate, designed to encourage car manufacturers to increase the market share of zero emissions vehicles over the years to come. General Motors released the EV1 for lease from 1996, and the future of this car seemed rosy.

But meanwhile, there was increasing unrest in the oil industry. Electric vehicles mean you don't have to buy petrol. Yes, they use energy, but the oil chiefs aren't going to have the same stranglehold over privately used vehicles that they had. Plans are hatched, and, lo and behold, CARB's ZEV mandate is relaxed a bit. And then repealed when legal action is threatened. Oh, look, Federal Government's been dragged into the equation. General Motors don't seem desperately upset about the lowered incentives to produce electric vehicles. After all, they've bought the Hummer brand, so they'll probably be able to cope. Hmmm...

Ok, so the oil companies get panicky about the threat to their industry, and throw their weight around to try to damage the reputation of electric vehicles, and to reduce the incentives for their production. So far, no big surprises. What I found quite shocking about the film was the fate of the existing EV1s. They were never actually sold to customers in the first place; they were simply leased. So, around 2004, when happy customers wanted to renew their leases, they were told that it wasn't possible, and that the cars were being recalled. Customers who refused to co-operate had they vehicles towed away. And the fate of the cars? Not to be recycled for parts as one company spokesman claimed. They were taken into the desert and crushed. Enthusiastic drivers managed to track down an enclosure of 78 cars that had yet to be destroyed, and offered $1.9 million to buy them from General Motors. But such was the company's desire to obliterate the cars from the public consciousness, they declined.

Apart from being incredibly wasteful and unnecessarily spiteful, this move struck me as very naive. Did GM really think that destroying the cars would remove awareness of them altogether, so that people would remain unaware of the potential of electric vehicles? Did it not occur to them that web-based campaigns would spring up, and that video footage would be retained and circulated? Or that a DVD might even be made, which I stumbled across, watched, and now you're reading about? Corporate secrecy is increasingly difficult to maintain in the internet age.

So, what now? Who did kill the electric car? The film concludes that a number of parties were implicated; in fact, all but the batteries themselves were declared in some way guilty. But the potential for exploitation of a market niche hasn't disappeared. There is still demand for the vehicles, and an even more significant necessity. As one of the participants said: "The electric vehicle is not for everybody; it can only meet the needs of 90% of the population." Whilst that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are certainly a lot of journeys that could be carried out using vehicles of this sort. There are various hopeful lines of development for the future, but I think I've talked enough already.

Watch this film. Or, at the very least, watch the trailer and read around on the website. Have a think about the oil industry. Read about Peak Oil. And use your consumer powers wisely.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Britain's Finest Minds

There are certain expectations when you tell people you're doing a PhD that you're reasonably bright. I think a fair number of tax payers would be rather dismayed if they knew the reality. Someone came to service one of our centrifuges at work yesterday (comme ça). It's been playing up rather. We presented the technician with a list of problems, and hoped that he would be able to fix them. When he was finished, he called us in to explain what he'd done:

  • The reason the display was in German, not English, was most likely because nobody had ever read the manual to see how to change it from the factory settings.
  • The reason that the display was also virtually unreadable was not that the backlight had gone - someone had probably lent on the button that adjusts the contrast.
  • It helps if you clean/oil the parts. Maybe weekly as he suggested. EVER would be a good start.
  • He also retrieved a shard of plastic and a couple of wooden beads from the interior. The former may well have come from the time I set the machine spinnning without realising there was a loose tube inside. The latter was definitely from when one of my colleagues changed the sticky mat next to the machine and jumped up and down on the clean layer* with such enthusiasm that her necklace snapped.

All things considered, I'm not sure that the future of biomedical research is in safe hands.

*It sounds childish, but I bet you'd do the same if you were there.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

"I know what you're like, Pestilence - you're always pulling stupid faces in photos"

"G8, keep your word; all our voices must be heard..."

So went the cry when I spent around 45 minutes last Saturday on the banks of the Thames, opposite the Houses of Parliament, helping to make a racket. The purpose? To give Tony Blair and the other G8 leaders a 'wake up call' prior to this year's summit, to remind them of the promises they made on debt, trade and aid 2 years ago.

Why bother dragging all that up again? Didn't 'Make Poverty History' and Live 8 sort all that stuff out? Well, no, not entirely. Most of what was promised has yet to be achieved.

During those 45 minutes, if the statistics are correct, 156 children will have died from drinking dirty water. 45 women will have died in childbirth (most in circumstances easily preventable). 1.2 billion people are surviving on less that one dollar a day.

These things take time, of course. But without public pressure, is there a risk that the issues get sidelined? Looking around, it was quite depressing to notice the chronology of campaigning. The instruction was to wear white, so I turned up in my Make Trade Fair T shirt. I blended in quite well with those wearing Make Poverty History T shirts, or Drop the Debt or Jubilee 2000 T shirts. Successive campaigns that have yet to fully achieve their aims for social justice. Maybe this time?

On a lighter note, people-watching provided a fair amount of interest. We were 'entertained' by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, whose antics gave rise to one of the more amusing overhearings I've ever had (see title). Later, when I was leaning on the river wall, 'Death' sidled up to me and, in a voice creepily reminiscent of Alan Rickman's Snape, said, "Would you like to sit on the wall? You'd get a much better view. I could help you up there".

I declined.

I've graduated!

So. My New Blog. Isn't it shiny?

I decided it was about time to get myself a proper blog. My MSN space was ok, and all that, but I fancied something a little more customisable. And without the annoying banner ads.

So here we are. Same name, same uninspired prose. I can't see a way of importing the old content, so I'll leave Blog the First up and running as an archive, and might also link back to some of the lists, as it was nice having them on separate pages. But this will be the main event henceforth. Watch this space...

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