December 15, 2009

(Fruit and) Nut

Kraft and Cadbury are struggling over control of Cadbury. I don't really care who wins; all I ask is that (whatever the outcome), Americans please please (please!) stop pronouncing it "Cad-Berry". That is all.

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September 27, 2009

Little Scotland

It's starting to look like Scottish independence referendum time again, and, as always, I'm forced to think about where I fit into things like this. Not about the Big Picture (the Union's been pretty good for Scotland over the centuries, despite the latter-day wingeing, and the push for independence often has a faint whiff of belligerent self-pitying Little Scotland Scottishry about it), but about my own nationality. I'm that deeply-unfashionable thing, a Briton, and "British" is probably all you could really call me (you could have plausibly called me a Londoner as well in the past, but not nowadays). I still have no idea what I'll do if I'm forced to chose a specific nationality rather than leave it "British". (On the other hand, if I were forced to chose between California and the US, that would be no choice at all: I'm unequivocally a Californian, but not at all an American).

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November 26, 2008

Ta

It's one of those familiar little cultural rites for Britons and Australians in the US around this time; it happens to me every year without fail: some friendly well-intentioned American (usually a checkout clerk or someone like that) asks me how we celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia or Britain. I'm always tempted to reply with something glib and unpleasant about how we all give thanks for not being American, but it's easier to just smile and give some sort of non-committal response and ask them how they'll be celebrating their Thanksgiving. It's just one of those things here that you learn to play along with, like the assumption on pretty much every official form that everyone has a middle initial (and only one middle initial), and that every address in every country has something called a "zip code", or that all phone numbers world-wide are exactly ten digits long…

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September 22, 2008

Weasel Words

Sir Ian Blair on the de Menezes killing: "No-one set out with any intent to let a young man die." (see e.g. Blair call for Menezes 'humility').

Sir Ian Blair and the Met didn't let a young man die, they killed him, actively and with an unrepentant savage swiftness that will never be reflected in the pale imitation of justice that might — eventually — wend its way towards an early retirement here or bureaucratic admonishment there.

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July 27, 2008

That's Entertainment

In a recent Grauniad blog posting on the Murat affair Roy Greenslade asks:
How come newspapers with highly-paid legal teams were so blatantly allowed to libel these people? Did every lawyer in every paper fail to note that the stories were libellous? If they did notice, did editors ignore their legal eagles' advice?

That is one of the enduring mysteries about this sad episode, the failure of so many experienced journalists and in-house lawyers to stop and ask themselves what they were doing. Can anyone tell us why?
I can't tell if he's being disingenuous or naive (or both), but surely the reason they keep on doing this is because it works: it pays. The (at most) £100,000 each paper will pay is surely considered just a reasonable cost of doing business, a small price to pay over time for giving readers and potential readers a good dose of self-righteousness and voyeurism. How better to attract readers and advertisers? That's entertainment (which is after all the business most newspapers are in).

(Note: I know little about the justice or otherwise of the Murat case itself, given my fairly low level of interest in the whole McCann Thing).

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January 18, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy...

"LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - London's Heathrow airport, the busiest international airport in the world, struggled to return to normal on Friday, one day after a Boeing 777 crash-landed, causing travel chaos but only minor injuries". (in a recent Reuters news article).

When I lived in London, there wasn't a Londoner on earth who didn't "know" that Heathrow was the busiest airport in the world. In Britain it's a "fact" that's repeated casually in news stories, conversations, documentaries, etc. over and over without the slightest doubt that it's true. But Heathrow isn't the busiest airport — or even international airport — in the world, not by a long shot (that would be Atlanta, followed by Chicago and sundry other US airports; even — sacre bleu! — Paris's Charles de Gaulle is usually busier). Sure, Heathrow might have the most international flights or passengers, but that's only because you really can't fly more than a short distance from Heathrow without crossing an international boundary. For a short while in the late 1990's even the airport I learned to fly at (Oakland International) was busier in terms of aircraft landing and taking off (etc.) than Heathrow (flying a small Cessna on busy approaches shared by 747s, 777s, etc. surely gave me a rather warped perspective on GA flying, but it's served me well over the years).

(I passively collect bogus instances of the "biggest | busiest | fastest | etc." things I see around me like this; the whole obsession started when, within a month or two, I passed signs advertising "the biggest IMAX screen in the world!" for cinemas in, respectively, LA, Sydney, New York, Denver, and Atlanta (if I remember correctly). My guess is they were all exactly the same size…).

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December 13, 2007

Debo And Nancy

"Debo and Nancy agree that the real crime of politics is that it makes people lose their sense of the ridiculous". (Andrew O'Hagan reviewing "The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters" in a recent LRB). So true, so true; and that's surely the tragedy that engulfed one or two of the other Mitford sisters. But there might also be a companion crime: losing sight of the seriousness of intent behind the ridiculousness of such buffoons as Mosley.

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August 31, 2007

Fly-By-Light

"Giselle watches the tiltrotor commuter shuttles carrying the air-networkers, while in the distance airships circle Airlander with London sightseers." (picture caption to "A Fly-By-Light Architecture", from Audacity.org's "Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age", again)

This is like shooting fish in a barrel, but here goes... the Fly-By-Light group propose a ginormous 400 metre high Futurist transport hub ("Airlander") looming irridescently over Charing Cross, complete with a swarm of V-22 Osprey tiltrotors flying low along the river to and from commuter hubs. But has our Giselle actually heard an Osprey, not perhaps the quietest of aircraft on earth? Or wondered about their per-passenger-mile energy budgets?

I'd accuse the authors of taking the piss if I didn't feel I was being pissed on in turn….

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July 15, 2007

Massive

In a recent Grauniad Johnathan Freedland mulls rather haplessly over what the web might do to politics and political communities, and concludes that it "risks shattering what was once a collective mass. That could undermine the power of people to act as a counterweight to governments and big corporations. If we are all broken into small units — 'parties of one', as a web guru puts it — we will lose that combined strength".

True enough, in its own way, but it misses the point that what the web does is more radical than that — we don't lose mass movements because of it, we in fact gain mass movements; but they're usually evanescent mass movements based on much less stable alliances and rather different ways of (mis)communicating shared grievances, identities, and ideologies than the old models… and there's several orders of magnitude more of them. Here today, gone tomorrow, flash mob mass politics: this might be unsettling to politics in the Modern mould, but (for good or for bad) thoroughly recognisable to that dated cliche, the Postmodern mind (the net is postmodernity without the twee irony; yes, I've said that before…).

The web doesn't destroy community, it creates the means to belong to an infinite variety of communities, based not so much on location or physical attributes as virtual, arbitrary, or even (quite literally) imaginary attributes; ditto for mass movements. Whether these are real or authentic communities or mass movements is an interesting question for someone, but not a question that's going to get in the way of anything much out there in the real virtual world.

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May 27, 2007

Britishness

In the runup to the recent local elections in Britain, Neil Ascherson wrote a piece in the LRB about how "Britishness" as a self-description is falling out of favour with the British, and how more and more self-identify as "English", or "Scottish", or "Welsh", etc. — there's definitely an air of inevitability about the centre not holding….

Personally, I think the question for me boils down to: if Britain disolves and there's no longer any such thing as a British passport, what passport would I get? What would I want? Unlike most Britons, I really don't feel properly anything more specific than "British": it'd take a lot of chutzpah to claim I'm particularly Scottish (despite my name, ancestry, and the fact that I've actually lived there); I'm definitely not English (London's hardly "England", and un-London England's a place I disliked intensely for the most part); and nothing else really fits the bill either (and what to make of those who think I'm Australian?). It's tempting to riff on Arendt's riffing on Hillel (quoted in another recent LRB): "As Scots we want to fight for independence because 'If I am not for me — who is for me?' As Britons, we want to fight for Britain because 'If I am only for me — who am I?'" In London I often felt more European than British, and definitely more British than Scottish or English — and more Londoner than anything.

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