Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Philobiblon has moved

This is now the former site of Philobiblon; I won't be posting here any more, although I do plan to keep the site up for at least a while, possibly even in the long term, to keep links alive. The new site still needs a few tweaks, but is more or less functional.

Sorry, I know it is a pain, but could you please adjust your bookmarks and blogrolls? (The address is - so at least I've finally got rid of the annoying disparity between the name of the site and the address.)

I hope you'll like the new design - critical comments and suggestions will be most welcome.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fine play based on obvious ideas

There are some interesting characters in 15 Minutes, which has just opened at the Arcola Theatre. Maggie (Moira Brooker) is a veteran television documentary-maker battling to come to terms with the "reality TV" age. Her married (to someone else) boyfriend Robin (Tim Block), is a cynical old Fleet Street hack - a type I recognise all too well. Maggie's "subject" is Toni (Carly Hillman), a rebellious youngster who after a stretch in Holloway is trying, sort of, to get her life into line, not helped by her angry young man Mason (Ashley Rolfe).

These are familiar - perhaps too familiar - characters, but a combination of solid writing and excellent acting take them beyond the stereotypes. The problem with the play is clear, however, in its title. 15 Minutes refers - the programme explains - to the Andy Warhol quote about fame, something that has gone beyond cliche to the point of joke. The story here is of the exploitative and partial nature of "reality" TV. Yes? And it is about how subjects can sometimes turn the tables and become (for their "managers") all too active agents. Yes?

These ideas are simply too familiar, too obvious, to make an entirely satisfying evening. The writer, Christine Harmar-Brown, has a real ear for dialogue and an eye for dramatic movement, but she needs to find some bigger themes, bigger ideas, to explore.

That doesn't mean you won't have an entertaining evening at the Arcola. The acting is top class, and director Paul Jepson does interesting things with giant television screens that shift uncertainly around the stage. But don't expect to spend a delicious after-show dinner at the many excellent restaurants around the Arcola fervently arguing the issues it raises. You'll have said and heard it all before.

Links: The Arcola, with online booking. The production continues until May 13.

What to do with a swede...

My organic delivery box has held them for weeks, and they've been sitting at the back of the fridge, looking reproachfully at me whenever I opened it. I've tried straight boiling them, but they really don't taste great.

But I did find this recipe and while it is a bit fiddly for my taste, it does produce seriously yummy soup, and the sort of thing that is ideal for using the scraps around the place. (I skipped the celery and added sweet potato, and am using yoghurt instead of cream, although really it could do without a creaming agent.)

No this isn't going to turn into a cookery blog, but this was a real discovery!

How not to travel (and not to write about it)

After one brief, disastrous journey (to Bali as a green young Australian, with the sister of my boyfriend, who insisted I do the bargaining for her, then complained about the results), I've always travelled alone. Sure there are times when it is tough, but mostly it is wonderful - you talk to waiters, to people on buses, to passing strollers. You get enmeshed in the local world in the way that a couple - that self-contained unit - never do.

If I ever set out on a journey with the specific aim of writing a book, I'll certainly do the same thing. That intention was only confirmed by reading Frances Mayes' A Year in the World. The book is subtitled "Journeys of a Passionate Traveller", yet the only passion she seems to feel is for the husband with whom she travels. As a self-contained unit they sweep (not around the world, as the title misleadingly proclaims), but around the Mediterranean, like a couple cuddling in their living room watching a video.

The result is a book that reads like a school report of "what I did on my holidays". Well, that's a little unfair; there is a reasonably sophisticated account of the culture of the destinations - although the sophisticated habit of tossing in local words when English would do perfectly well does become irritating. And it seems every meal, even every instance of window-shopping, is recounted in agonising detail:

"We stop to gaze at a window arranged with trays of candied fruits, gleaming like jewels. The prince perhaps partook of cedro candito, those huge gnarly lemons, almost all peel, as well as the whole candied oranges and lemons, and the array of marzipan fruits, and piles of torrone bianco con fighi secchi, white candy with nuts, and dried figs."

The other irritating thing is the details of travels that we really don't want, don't need, to know. As the kids who gather at the youth club next to my house would say: "Duh. Too much information."

"Three hours later Ed becomes violently ill. I am alarmed at his fever and clammy skin. He spends the night in the bathroom throwing up. His stomach feels ripped and turned inside out ... he's so weak he cannot life his arm. I'm on the phone calling our doctor in Italy, who says this probably is simple food poisoning, not salmonella, since the heaving has stopped after only a few hours. I write names of medicines he recommends, hoping Hafid can help at the pharmacy... Hafid arrives and says Ed ate too much, it often happens when guests come to Fez because the food is so good.
By midmorning Hafid has found various pharmaceuticals, and Ed is sleeping as if in a coma. I try not to think of the man who dies in Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky, leaving his neurotic wife to become a harem prisoner."

To translate that, he got food poisoning. Everyone knows the symptoms. We can do without the description, and the hysteria. You feel absolutely lousy. Then you recover. With a bit of care you are about as likely to die as from a stubbed toe.

Mayes is well known for her memoir Under the Tuscan Sun, which is a decent-enough read about restoring an ancient abandoned house and living in a foreign country. But she's someone who should obviously stay at home; the road really doesn't suit her. If you'd like to really travel this part of the world, I'd recommend Tim Macintosh-Smith's Travels With a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah, with a writer who embraces the cultures and lives he encounters. And he travels alone.

Morning reading

Common sense on trafficking: police are threatening to report brothel customers for rape if they use the services of women they know to be trafficked.

Men who visit a sauna, brothel or flat where foreign prostitutes are working will be being asked to ensure the women are there of their own free will before they pay. If they suspect a woman is working against her will, they will be urged to contact Crimestoppers and provide police with the establishment's location.

I won't celebrate too much, however; I'll wait for the first prosecution, and the first conviction.
Proving that internet culture can break down even the most ingrained aspects of national cultural, The Times's Japan correspondent reports on the behaviour of his very own "troll".

Mr Kita (or “kitaryunosuke”, as he signs himself) plays a unique part in my life — he is my conscience, my nemesis and the closest thing I have had to a stalker. Early every morning, he logs on to the websites of the British newspapers and the BBC. He is interested in China, the Middle East and in coverage of Japan by foreign correspondents — especially, it seems, in articles written by me. These he carefully translates into Japanese and posts on to his weblog accompanied by the most violent and inventive abuse I have encountered in Japan.
It truly restores your faith in the Japanese language reading the things that Mr Kita writes about me, and his blog is an education. He’s called me a baka, of course, but that’s only the start of it. I have been denounced as a “charlatan”, a “rotten devil foreign reporter”, a “low-class foreigner” and — perhaps my favourite — “the private parts of The Times”.

"Good" schools get that way by selecting "good" pupils. Talk to any parent looking for a school for their child and they know this, but a survey has, surprise, surprise, found that head teachers even admit that they ignore admissions rules supposed to stop the cherry-picking. I do like the Guardian's angle on this bad behaviour:

Just about the only thing teachers and the government can unequivocally agree on these days is pupil behaviour. It's getting worse and something needs to be done about it. Yet the third Headspace survey of headteachers, carried out by Education Guardian and EdComs, administered by ICM and published today, suggests some heads might care to reflect on their own behaviour before pointing the finger at their pupils.
Less than three-quarters of the 822 headteachers who responded to the questionnaire said their school's governing body followed its admissions code of practice to the letter - 13% of secondary and 20% of primary heads said they "mostly" followed admissions procedures, while 4% of secondary and 2% of primary heads admitted they followed them only "to a limited extent". Astonishingly, 5% of secondary and 2% of primary schools claimed not to follow any part of their admissions codes.

So the pupils they reject all get dumped together in neighbouring schools, which then have problems. Surprise, surprise.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Do not adjust your set...

Yes, should you have happen to have had Sky News Live at 5 on at about 5.45pm British time, that was me on there talking about blogging. Almost as much of a shock to me as it was to you ...

The occasion was the six-month anniversary of their blog.

Reading and listening

Radio 4's Women's Hour serial this week is I Leap Over The Wall, by Monica Baldwin, about which I've previously blogged (here and here) - a brilliant tale from a woman who entered a sequestered order of nuns just before WWI broke out, then emerged in the middle of WWII. (You can only listen through the website - no podcast.)

And the Telegraph has a story with the words "sex" and "archives" in the same headline - and it is even worth checking out.

The plastic brain

A piece today in the Guardian about an address to the Lords by Baroness Susan Greenfield expressing far-reaching fears about the effect on the human brain of the digital world.

The brilliance of Baroness Greenfield's speech is that she wades straight into the dangers posed by this culture. A recent survey of eight-to 18-year-olds, she says, suggests they are spending 6.5 hours a day using electronic media, and multi-tasking (using different devices in parallel) is rocketing. Could this be having an impact on thinking and learning?
She begins by analysing the process of traditional book-reading, which involves following an author through a series of interconnected steps in a logical fashion. We read other narratives and compare them, and so "build up a conceptual framework that enables us to evaluate further journeys... One might argue that this is the basis of education ... It is the building up of a personalised conceptual framework, where we can relate incoming information to what we know already. We can place an isolated fact in a context that gives it significance." Traditional education, she says, enables us to "turn information into knowledge."

Now this is the comment writer's version of the speech, but on her account it does seem to be - as one commenter says - an astonishingly Luddite one.
That was the "basis of education" in the 20th-century, but a historically specific one. It was heavily text-based, but that was a function of relatively cheap print, a trend that began in early modern times, when the equivalent of the Susan Greenfields of the time were of course exclaiming about the dreadful effect on the human mind of all this flood of print.

The brain is an astonishingly plastic organ, and no doubt those of children and adolescents are developing different to they were a couple of decades ago. But it is developing in the world as it is now, FOR it is now. Damn good thing too!

But some aspects of the human psyche probably don't change much. An army major in Australia is commendably trying to save the memory of the men mentally crippled in the trenches of WWI, who suffered just in the ways that veterans of Vietnam and more recent conflicts do.

Madness and the Military: Australia's Experience of the Great War, by Michael Tyquin, is the first comprehensive study on mental illness in World War I. It shatters the stereotype of the tough Anzac, an icon that he argues Australians look up to today - but which never existed.
Major Tyquin says of the soldiers who were "mentally shattered" by the war - some of whom recovered, though many did not - "I think we've erased them from our public memory. We like to celebrate Anzac, and I use 'celebrate' now because I think we're getting away from the original intent.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Traditional 'wisdom' is anything but...

As the victim of an overweight childhood encouraged by the "it is only healthy baby fat", I was taken by this:

"BREAST-FEEDING mothers have been given potentially harmful advice on infant nutrition for the past 40 years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has admitted.
Charts used in Britain for decades to advise mothers on a baby’s optimum size have been based on the growth rates of infants fed on formula milk.
... breast-feeding mothers were wrongly told that their babies were underweight and were advised, or felt pressured, to fatten them up by giving them formula milk or extra solids.
Health experts believe the growth charts may have contributed to childhood obesity and associated problems such as diabetes and heart disease in later life."

Then, wives who work are 50 per cent less likely to see their marriages fall apart.

"Wives' economic activity... contributes to the continuing resilience of marriage as a social institution," the study concludes.
...Separate new research on single dads has challenged the accepted wisdom that a woman is always the best partner to bring up the children, with growing numbers of new men becoming self-sufficient fathers."

The demonisation of the young

I was at a party with a lot of lawyers last night, and there were some truly hideous ASBO stories floating around. (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: these direct people - in about half of the cases - children, not to do certain things, on the pain of their contravention making that action criminal - and imprisonable - when it would not otherwise be.)

Classic was the case of the female alcoholic - harmless, cheerful, but the neighbours didn't like to see her sitting on a park bench with her White Lightning (super-cheap cider, the preferred drink on the street). She got an ASBO forbidding her to have an open alcoholic container in the street; so the next time she sees a police officer she smiles cheerfully, raises her bottle and politely says "cheers" to him. Six months in jail - bang. And next time it will be two years. And soon she'll be spending life in prison for drinking in the street. (And they wonder why the jails are full.)

It is even worse when the targets are children - children as young as TEN - as the government's own "youth crime tsar" has complained today:

Professor Rod Morgan, the Government's chief adviser on youth crime, today issues a warning that children as young as 10 are being labelled with "the mark of Cain on their foreheads" because of the furore over anti-social behaviour.
Calling for a radical rethink in how we deal with unruly teenagers, Professor Morgan says that discretion should be exercised in cases where children are being sent to court for offences that would once have been dealt with by a slap on the wrist. ...
Record numbers of children are being sent to court, although the actual level of youth offending has remained the same over the past decade. Ten years ago about a third of the 200,000 children in the criminal justice system every year went to court. Today the figure is closer to half.

I was watching a group of local 12-year-olds doing something mildly destructive recently (what they were being destructive with was some already broken frames for temporary fencing, so I didn't intervene) and realised that the messing around they were doing would once have been regarded as perfectly normal, whereas now sooner or later someone was certain to call the police.

Until even very recently in London there were derelict sites, building sites, places where a group of kids would build a den and muck around, smashing up waste materials, making lots of noise, sorting out their own battles independently of adults. That involved, no doubt, more than the occasional nasty injury, more than a bit of bullying, and a level of risk that would be considered wholly unacceptable today. There are, however, now virtually none of those spaces left; they are boarded up, fenced off, guarded by security men and dogs. The kids are doing exactly the same things they used to do, but now risk being criminalised for them.

And yet, as this Observer story makes clear, children still find spaces to vanish into as runaways. But they are, I suspect more hidden, private spaces than in the past, and hence far more dangerous ones, particularly for the girls.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A right to housing

A neat little snippet from the latest issue of Green World, the Green Party magazine.
"In Wales, landless peasants would work round the clock to complete the shell of a "tai unnos", or one-night house, as a right of tenure would be gained if smoke was seen rising from the chimney before sunrise on the following day. The shell could then be finished off and added to as time and resources allowed."

Here's the BBC's version (which seems rather more doubtful about the legal position), and a bit on the archaeology of a settlement apparently so constituted.

Weekend reading

I've written elsewhere about theories that humans have been, until very recent history, as often prey as predator, and there's an interesting piece on this here. It also highlights how other higher primates remain vulnerable - was surprised to read:

Our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, are prey to humans and other species. Who would have thought that gorillas, weighing as much as 400 pounds, would end up as cat food? Yet Michael Fay, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Geographic Society, has found the remnants of a gorilla in leopard feces in the Central African Republic. Despite their obvious intelligence and strength, chimpanzees often fall victim to leopards and lions. In the Tai Forest in the Ivory Coast, Christophe Boesch, of the Max Planck Institute, found that over 5 percent of the chimp population in his study was consumed by leopards annually. Takahiro Tsukahara reported, in a 1993 article, that 6 percent of the chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park of Tanzania may fall victim to lions.

Janice Turner offers some sanity on the Cherie Blair hairdresser story. It is simple really. If the media would stop writing stories about Cherie's appearance, she could stop having to go to such lengths...
Why has the status of the teaching profession gone down? Probably because its pay has gone down.

Research by the Guardian, using data from the Office for National Statistics, shows, for example, that teachers got 50% more than average pay in 1966 but now are barely above the average.

So perhaps what the government should do if it really wants to improve schools is do the same thing that it has done to GPs' pay:

GPs are back in the news as their average pay has reportedly climbed towards £100,000. Their last officially recorded mean average of nearly £70,000 was nearly two and a half times the average salary. Forty years ago, however, they were earning three and a half times the average. The latest rises in their pay have been part of a deliberate policy by the government to address a shortage of doctors.

Is a GP's job more difficult than a teacher's? I suspect not.

Friday Femmes Fatales No 53

Ten brilliant posts, and ten new (to me) women bloggers worth waiting for.. that's why they are Femmes Fatales.

Starting out on politics this week, Stacy on Cafe Politico looks at the Bush regime's treatment of the media. Don't ask questions seems to be the best strategy; otherwise you might get thrown out. Crabbi, on A Curmudgeonly Crab (great name!), sees a small sign of hope in the attendance of gay and lesbian families at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Then a genuinely new blog, and an interesting cross-cultural international project, Jen on Speaking Up, Speaking Out is seeking personal accounts of domestic violence. "I decided that these silences must be broken, and that I wanted to be a part of helping that to happen."

Dr Socks on Reclusive Leftist reflects on the position of the British Queen (in the week of her 80th birthday), and the general fascination of the monarchy.

Then, going on the road, on Workers dojo a look at the place of trade unions in Russia today - and some pictures...

And an on-the-spot report on India Ink on the state of Katmandu; Basia Kruszewska reports on how curfews don't apply to tourists, but "the Nepali god is crying".

Marie Javins reports on (the just renamed) No Hurry in JC about her feelings on leaving Spain. She asks "what now?" the sort of question many travellers encounter when they get "home".

Turning personal, the Snow Crow, on A Crow in the Snow, has a cautionary tale about the fact that anything you post on the net will eventually come back to haunt you. And on My Wabi-Sabi life, Melissa J White reflects on the the effects of the passing years. Some things change, some stay the same.

Finally, a little history to remind us we're come a long way. Allison Meyer O'Connor on EHearth has an account of what life was like in early 20th-century America. "This was in the days when people used to heat with little tiny stoves, or they’d have one heater in the middle of the room, and everybody would huddle around it."

If you missed last week's edition, it is here.
Please: In the next week if you read, or write, a post by a woman blogger and think "that deserves a wider audience" (particularly someone who doesn't yet get many hits), drop a comment here. It really does make my life easier!


... that the site has been down for a few hours. What the instructions I found for importing a Blogger blog to it don't say is that the process wipes out the Blogger template.

And of course there were other complications. (Aren't there always with such things!) The import process has only taken posts from 2004, not 2005 or 2006. Any helpful suggestions as to what to do now to get the rest of the posts over will be gratefully received.

Here is where it is all going - not the final look yet, but heading in that direction.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Two retrobloggers for your reading pleasure

Spend a few minutes, or hours, with Katherine Mansfield (in her journal), or W. N. P. Barbellion (an amazing early 20th-century character oh whom I confess I was previously unaware).

Thanks to Paul, of the amazing Bibliodyssey, for the Mansfield link.

The good news and the bad news

The Australian state of NSW has introduced a provision for previously given evidence to be used in rape trials should a retrial be required (which usually occurs for technical legal reasons). This followed a case in which a rape victim, understandably, declined to go through the ordeal of giving evidence a second time. That's the good news.

The bad news is that this is such a low priority for officials that nothing has been done to install cameras to tape evidence in case it should be required (which in these days of cheap electronics should surely be a pretty simple, and not very expensive, task.)

So courts are having to rely on transcript evidence, surely second-best for justice.
Then definitely the bad news, at a school in Britain pupils are to be subjected to THREE DAYS of religious nutter creationist propaganda.

As its supporters have become more vocal, creationism has become an increasingly contentious subject in the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently warned that creationism should not be taught in schools, and the National Union of Teachers last week demanded new laws to prevent the teaching of creationism in science lessons.
Organisers of the trip declined to reveal the name and exact location of the Lancashire school on Mr Mackay's speaking tour, citing the need to protect staff and pupils from unwelcome attention.
...Mr Mackay, who has a geology degree, has conducted digs around the world where he has excavated fossils which he claims prove that the Bible was literal truth.
His website argues that the theory of evolution was introduced by Satan and that the idea has already undermined Western society and must not be allowed to spread to the Third World.

Then a well-done to Tim Worstall, the "Britblog roundup blogger", who has a comment piece in The Times today on the cuts to compensation for miscarriages of justice.

The proffered reason, to save £5 million a year, is simply beyond satire. The Government, in its infinite wisdom, annually disposes of about £500 billion of the nation’s production: denying those innocents unjustly banged up will save some 0.001 per cent of public expenditure. Just to provide some context, the £5 million saving is less than the £5.7 million spent in 2003 on subsidising the swill bins at the Houses of Parliament. No, it can’t be about the money.
The mark of a liberal society is that more care and attention is paid to those innocents wrongly found guilty, than to the guilty who escape justice. Any criminal justice system designed and run by fallible human beings will make mistakes. The important thing is how we react when a miscarriage of justice occurs. Shamefully, under the Home Secretary’s proposals those who find their guilty verdict overturned at their first appeal will have no right to compensation. For others compensation will be capped at £500,000.

Tim and I disagree on many things, but on this I entirely agree with him.

Time to stop sending catalogues?

I read today about a neat protest against Victoria's Secret, which mails 395 million catalogs annually [in the US], most printed on virgin paper. The protesters want it to use recycled paper - a start, but not, I'd suggest enough. Why, in the multimedia age, do we still need to not only print on paper, but then ship that vast weight around countries (and even across the world) - consuming lots of fossil fuel in the process?

I recently rang up Land's End, a particularly egregarious offender in sending vast numbers of catalogues, sometimes it seems at weekly intervals, and asked them to stop. "Don't you like us any more?" was the line of questioning. "No," I said, "if I decided I need any more white T-shirts or similar, I will look on the website."

Surely it is time for companies to at least provide the option of not getting catalogues? By all means send me a regular email with special offers etc, or reminding me to visit your website - I think the environment can bear the electrons - but don't use 20th-century methods of promotion; you'll only annoy me.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A most amiable king

My 19th-century blogger Miss Frances Williams Wynn is today indulging in a good old gossip about French royalty - particularly the Duke of Orleans, Louis Phillipe, later the the last French king.

I found that Sir Coutts, like myself, believed what they said to be true, that Louis Philippe had not sought the painful pre-eminence in which he finds himself.

Her informant is one Sir Coutts Trotter. As his name suggests he was involved with the famous bank (being principal partner and it seems from this reference very much a working one) - making his dinner with Miss Williams Wynn an interesting example of "trade" and aristocracy intermixing. (OK, I suppose it was a superior form of "trade".) I also found a detailed account of his burial place (in Hendon).

The other London

One reason why I enjoy canvassing is the glimpses it provides into the many styles of London life. Some of the glimpses are, however, almost unbearably sad.

One group that arouses such emotion are the South Asian women who meet you at the door with a look very close to terror in their eyes. It is, I think, a varying mix of a fear of encountering a world that is strange and foreign, and that they've probably been warned against, fear that their behaviour will be judged inappropriate by husband or mother-in-law, fear that their lack of English skills and other "life skills" will be exposed.

I thought of them when I read the story of a Bangladeshi woman treated with great sense by a judge, who gave her a suspended jail term.

Rahella Khanom, 24, caused the five-month-old boy in her care to suffer fractures to his breast bone and ribs as she tried to rid him of evil spirits, Southwark Crown Court was told.

The story reveals how, despite living in London for years, she was effectively still kept in a Bangladeshi village:

The judge said that Khanom’s strong cultural and religious beliefs, and the fact that she had been forced by her husband to live in isolation since coming to Britain from Bangladesh, meant that there were exceptional circumstances in her case.

So sad, so sad for the child, who suffered brain damage, and so sad for any children she might have, who will have a parent unable to be any sort of support in their world, and, of course, so sad for her, able to develop to only a tiny fraction of her human potential.

Small but revealing

Sometimes it is the small(er) things that really reveal the fundamental nature and mindset of regimes. In America, the Bush government is reclassifying as "secret" material already placed in the National Archive:

Documents have been disappearing since 1999 because intelligence officials have wanted them to. And under the terms of two disturbing agreements — with the C.I.A. and the Air Force — the National Archives has been allowing officials to reclassify declassified documents, which means removing them from the public eye. So far 55,000 pages, some of them from the 1950's, have vanished. This not only violates the mission of the National Archives; it is also antithetical to the natural flow of information in an open society.

An open, democratic society? That's the last thing that Bush and his controllers want. Might result in resistence to the latest foreign adventure or environmental destruction.

In Britain - and this is a "little thing" only in that a relatively small number of people are likely to be affected - the Blair government is planning to both drastically cut payments to people wrongfully convicted of crime, but to entirely abolish a millennia-old principle, "innocent until proven guilty".

Mr Clarke acknowledged that a move to a "not proven" verdict would be a major change. "It would be a radical change. We are going to have a look at it. The time has come to assess it," he said.

Behind this is an anti-liberty, very Daily Mail rightwing attitude that we are the respectable middle classes and they - anyone in the dock - must be the dangerous other. And if they happen to be found not guilty - by a jury of their peers - it must have been a mistake, for the instruments of state authority are always right.

But sometimes the little things also demonstrate individual creativity and initiative. Sussex ambulance service has created a series of first aid instructions for MP3 players.
The project was the idea of a paramedic, Stuart Rutland, who said that he hoped it might help in an emergency. "I like to go running and listen to music - but what if I turned the corner and somebody had collapsed? I have 11 years of paramedic training, but not everyone will. It's just about what to do in those moments before an ambulance arrives.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The power (and democracy) of the blog

From the Guardian:

Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a "disproportionately large influence" on society, according to a report by a technology research company. Its study suggests that although "active" web users make up only a small proportion of Europe's online population, they are increasingly dominating public conversations and creating business trends.

The article goes on to say that half of European web-users are "passive", not contributing to content at all, while a quarter only respond when prompted. But of course if you turn those figures around the other way, it means one-quarter of web-users are now actively contributing to the media, and thus, the article argues, exercising an influence on society - which compares to the old days or old media, when a tiny fraction of a percentage point were contributing. That's a pretty substantial democratic leap.

A nice companion piece to this: an interview with Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing, with a short list of its "coups".

Bellow it from the rooftops...

The Carnival of Feminists No 13 IS UP, and Terry has done a spectacularly good job. It ranges widely in space and time, from that increasingly backward state where it is apparently becoming increasingly difficult to buy even condoms, let alone any other form of contraception, to the discrimination against older women in the Jewish world, to the progress made by women in Pakistan and that not made in the Caribbean, where Christian leaders refuse to take on the issue of domestic violence.

A whole world of feminism is there: please check it out, and help to spread the word!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A new medical condition

A discovery for medical science: I've identified a new syndrome - leafletter's knuckle. After delivering about 2,700 Green Party leaflets over a couple of days, most of the skin has gone off the knuckles on my right hand (the result of paper cuts and encounters with letter-boxes that seem to have been adapted from a design for mousetraps).

I've also had lots of encounters with deadly basement flat stairs, and some horribly bodgy lifts. At the fourth rattle and the fifth squeak, I think: "I'm glad mobile phones were invented; at least it will be easy to call the fire brigade." That is often followed by the thought: "What was this building called again?"

Reading and listening

Carnivalesque No 14 is now up on Earmarks in Early Modern Culture and it is a fascinating "Cabinet of Curiosities", with a particular focus on women's history, from the diary of an aristocratic figure (Lady Shelburne) to Takeri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified by the Catholic Church. Do check it out! (And thanks to Kristine for giving my posts such a great run.)

On the listening side, I've just heard the second programme in Radio Four's Fascinating Deaths series, and it was again excellent, this time about the 2 million-year-old Taung child - the first identified Australopithecine found.

Women explode from traditional society

It looks like India is producing a new "Bandit Queen".

The report:

Three years ago, 16-year-old Jagari Baske vanished from a remote village in the Indian state of West Bengal. But unlike most girls her age who suddenly flee their homes in the country’s conservative countryside, she was not eloping with a boyfriend opposed by her family. Instead, Baske ran away to join Maoist rebels who claim to be fighting for the rights of the rural dispossessed but who have been responsible for a wave of killings this year as they step up their battle with the state.
Now 19, Baske is described by security forces as a dangerous foe. "Jagari is fearless and a crackshot," said a senior intelligence official in West Bengal’s capital, Kolkata. "She is ruthless and has taken part in dozens of Maoist attacks in the last two years."

Food for thought there for those opposed to women in Western militaries. You've got one of the most patriarchal, restrictive-to-women states on earth, and women are emerging from it as fighters, warriors even you might say.

Lest anyone should think I'm celebrating this, I stress that such extremes usually only emerge from societies under extreme pressure, and societies where many other women are suffering horribly without rebelling. As this report says:

Poverty among the region’s traditionally marginalised tribal people-who make up many of the movement’s guerrillas and sympathisers-is a major factor in driving women into the hands of the Maoists in a matrilineal society where mothers and wives play the dominant role in managing families. "Most of them cannot afford one square meal," says Ajay Nand, police superintendent in Maoist-infested West Midnapore district of West Bengal. "With money and food assured, some women do not think twice about joining the rebels.

And as the Cambodia Killing Fields demonstrated all too clearly, when you allow such pressure to build up, nasty events tend to explode.