Friday, July 31, 2009

Cartoon of the day

Batsman (in danger of being caught by small brother)

"Drop it 'Erbert or 'ome you go!"

Frank Reynolds

Punch September 9th 1908

Thursday, July 30, 2009

British bureaucracy

Today's news that we're setting up a Supreme Court fills me with gloom. The 12 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, 11 of whom are coming from the House of Lords, will be working there from 1 October. The House of Lords has been operating as a court since 1399 and separated its judicial and legislative powers in 1876. To say that the physical moving of the judiciary function away from the legislative function is "a nice symbol of modernity" (to quote Murray Rosen of Herbert Smith) is trite, in my opiinon. Ronnie Fox, an employment lawyer at Fox Lawyers sums up my view succinctly: "Calling the Law Lords the Supreme Court is like using the phrase 'quantitative easing' instead of 'printing money'."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Taiwanese bureaucracy

My Chinese friend tells of his experience in getting a visa for Taiwan in London:

"I spent most of my morning at the Taiwan representative office. The visa section is located in the basement of a building near Victoria station. There is literally no-one there apart from a few frustrated mainland Chinese. I guess it is because nearly every other country on earth has a visa waiver apart from mainland China, and apart from mainland Chinese, there is no one else wanting to visit Taiwan. After a half-hour detailed check of my 15 pages of supporting documents, I was asked to wait for an interview with the visa affairs officer. Fuelled with frustration, I was very much ready to tell him not to bother and what a joke the opening up of Taiwan is, but the experience turned out to be rather interesting and in the end I switched my single visa application to a multiple entry visa. So as soon as I sat down with the visa officer, the conversation goes straight to, "Oh, you come from Jilin! Do you eat kim chi? (I come from a Korean minority place despite the fact that I am Han Chinese) You know there are lots of xiao chi (snacks) in Taiwan, you must try them when you get there!" The conversation goes from food to culture, history, religion and the prospects of the Communist Party in China, which in his view is no longer Communist. He thinks the western world, like the UK, is more Communist than China as most of the working people's hard-earned cash will be taxed away to share with the rest. I found that our views were so similar and the conversation was absolutely delightful. In the end, he strongly advised me to visit Taiwan again and gave me lots of advice about how to get round the bureaucratic system in Taiwan to get my visa quicker (in two weeks rather than two months)."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quotation of the day

I was reading about the Chinese-US summit and was surprised to see that the Chinese state councillor Dai Bingguo said that the two countries were "in the same boat that has been hit by fierce wind and huge waves, with our interests connected, sharing weal and woe." Does anybody know if "weal and woe" is a quotation from the Bible? Milton referred to "weal or woe" in Paradise Lost and I have found this rather lovely passage from the Hindu text, the Ramayana, which contains the words:
"This is Sita child of Janak, dearer unto him than life
Henceforth sharer of thy virtue, be she, prince, thy faithful wife
Of thy weal and woe partaker, be she thine in every land,
Cherish her in joy and sorrow, clasp her hand within thy hand,
As the shadow to the substance, to her lord is faithful wife,
And my Sita best of women follows then in death or life!"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chinese liquidity

The volume on the Shanghai stockmarket hit a two year high today at US$52.2bn. Meanwhile there in a new issue in Hong Kong listing on Wednesday called BBMG (with the lucky stock code of 2009 HK) which trades in building materials in China and supplied the cement for the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing. The retail portion of this issue was a whopping 775x oversubscribed. The company therefore retains the interest income on the US$60bn which was thrown at it: not insubtantial earnings!

Friday, July 24, 2009

An English rose

In February I was given a yellow miniature rose in a basket. I nurtured it carefully and it grew beautiful new leaves and blossomed with many flowers. By early July it was sprawling over the window sill and I thought I'd plant it in the garden and cleared some mint to make a space for it in rather a busy flowerbed. Last night I went to have a look at it. My heart stopped: where was my rose? I looked again and I saw it. It was transformed. No longer was it a delicate shade of yellow: the flowers had changed to an orangey pink. Even the buds were pink! Is this a statement of protest or a testament to joy at being outside?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Perseus and Atlas

"The most remote land was under Atlas’s rule, and the ocean, into which Sol's panting horses plunged, and where his straining axle was welcomed. He had a thousand flocks, and as many herds of cattle straying through the grass, and no neighbouring soil was richer than his. The leaves of the trees, bright with radiant gold, covered branches of gold, and fruit of gold. Perseus said to him ‘Friend, if high birth impresses you, Jupiter is responsible for my birth. Or if you admire great deeds, you will admire mine. I ask for hospitality and rest.’
Atlas remembered an ancient prophecy. Themis on Parnassus had given that prophecy. ‘Atlas, the time will come when your tree will be stripped of its gold, and he who steals it will be called the son of Jupiter.’ Fearful of this, Atlas had enclosed his orchard with solid walls, and set a huge dragon to guard it, and kept all strangers away from his borders. To Perseus, he said ‘Go far away, lest the glory of the deeds, that you lie about, and Jupiter himself, fail you!’ He added weight to his threats, and tried to push him away with his great hands, Perseus delaying resolutely, and combining that with calm words. Inferior in strength (who could equal Atlas in strength?), he said, ‘Well now, since you show me so little kindness, accept a gift’ and turning away himself, he held out Medusa’s foul head, on his left hand side. Atlas became a mountain, as huge as he himself had been. Now his hair and beard were changed into trees, his shoulders and hands into ridges. What had been his head before was the crest on the mountain summit. His bones became stones. Then he grew to an immense height in every part (so you gods determined) and the whole sky, with its many stars, rested on him."


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Dear Leader

I had an interesting meeting with an expert on North Korea. North Korea doesn't publish any economic data although the Bank of South Korea publishes estimates and it reckons that the GDP per capita is 15 times lower than that of the South. North Korea needs 5.2m tonnes of grain to feed its population and last year the harvest was good and it produced 4.5m t. 75% of family income comes from black market activities and there is a great deal of smuggling over the border with China, particularly in mobile phones, video recorders and tapes and dvd players and dvds. The people love watching South Korean films.

Most of the 24m population is completely ignorant about what is happening outside North Korea. The regime is hyper-Stalinist. To leave the country is very difficult and requires permission from the police.

The fact that some information has leaked into North Korea about elsewhere, particularly South Korea, has led to a marked change in government propaganda. South Korea is no longer described as a "poor, starving American colony." The word "poor" has been removed and it is now described as a spiritually impure place, polluted by alien races, a place where the Korean essence has been compromised.

Of course, the most worrying fact is that the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il is very sick and then who will control its nuclear weapons?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jerome K.Jerome on eating duck

"If you wish to thoroughly enjoy your dinner, take a thirty-mile country walk after breakfast, and don't touch anything till you get back. How your eyes will glisten at sight of the white tablecloth and steaming dishes then! With what a sigh of content you will put down the empty beer tankard, and take up your knife and fork! And how comfortable you feel afterwards, as you push back your chair, light a cigar, and beam round upon everybody.

Make sure, however, when adopting this plan, that the good dinner is really to be had at the end, or the disappointment is trying. I remember once a friend and I...were on a holiday together, and one morning we had breakfast early, and started for a tremendous long walk. We had ordered a duck for dinner over night. We said, "Get a big one, because we shall come home awfully hungry:" and, as we were going out, our landlady came up in great spirits. She said, "I have got you gentlemen a duck, if you like. If you get through that, you'll do well;" and she held up a bird about the size of a door-mat...
We had tramped over fields. We had waded through brooks, and scrambled over hedges and walls. We had had a row as to whose fault it was that we had first lost our way. We had got thoroughly disagreeable, footsore, and weary. But, throughout it all, the hope of that duck kept us up...

We felt a strong temptation, at one point, to turn into a village inn we passed, and have a cheese and a few loaves between us; but we heroically restrained ourselves: we should enjoy the duck all the better for being famished. We fancied we smelt it when we got into the town and did the last quarter of a mile in three minutes. We rushed upstairs, and washed ourselves, and changed our clothes, and came down, and pulled our chairs up to the table, and sat and rubbed our hands while the landlady removed the covers, when I seized the knife and fork and started to carve.
It seemed to want a lot of carving. I struggled with it for about five minutes without making the slightest impression, and then Joe, who had been eating potatoes, wanted to know if it wouldn't be better for someone to do the job that understood carving. I took no notice of his foolish remark, but attacked the bird again; and so vigorously this time, that the animal left the dish, and took refuge in the fender.

We soon had it out of that though, and I was prepared to make another effort. But Joe was getting unpleasant. He said that if he had thought we were to have a game of blind hockey with the dinner, we would have got a bit of bread and cheese outside.
I was too exhausted to argue. I laid down the knife and fork with dignity, and took a side seat; and Joe went for the wretched creature. He worked away, in silence for a while, and then he muttered, "Damn the duck," and took his coat off. We did break the thing up at length, with the aid of a chisel; but it was perfectly impossible to eat it, and we had to make a dinner off the vegetables and an apple tart. "

Monday, July 20, 2009

The etiquette of bribery

A Russian acquaintance told the story of two friends who'd been out drinking in St Petersburg and then decided, at two o'clock in the morning, to race each other to Moscow. The car of one of them was much faster than that of the other, so that man put his foot down confidently and sped off. On the motorway, he was stopped by a policeman. He gave him a generous wad of notes, drove on and called his friend to see where he was. "You've got no chance of winning this race, my friend," he declared, "but I must warn you, I've just been stopped by the police, which was expensive." "How much did you pay?" his friend enquired. The man in the fast car told him that he had given the man a large amount of cash to be sure that he could carry on with the journey. "Oh, you paid way over the going rate!" exclaimed his friend, "You have no chance of winning this race now: you'll be stopped by every policeman between here and Moscow!"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Drinks at the Club

My friend's son, Archie, was 18 this week and the birthday celebrations were to start with drinks at his (my friend's) Club. I thought this was rather a strange idea, bearing in mind that Archie, delightful though he is, is rather a wayward child, full of mischief and expelled by most of his schools. "It's a controlled environment," explained my friend.

I asked how the party had gone. My friend replied,"Weird – the 18 year olds couldn’t stay in the room, and instead went in and out with gay abandon. An alternative party evolved in the gardens, which was strange. Plus the girls wore “belts”, not dresses or skirts, which hadn’t been seen in the Club – EVER. Some 80-year olds must have thought it was a hookers convention from Vegas. I might need to seek election at Brooks now. Archie seemed to have fun, enjoyed the dinner afterwards, and then headed off to the Funky Buddha. We haven’t heard from him since!"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Samson's riddle

I was remembering the terrible life of Samson. Before he met Delilah who caused his death, he fell in love with a Philistine woman and, against the wishes of his parents, decided to marry her. On the way to her village, a lion leapt out at him and Samson killed the lion with his bare hands. He was so overwhelmed by the result of the strength which God had given him, that he didn't dare tell anybody about what had happened. Some time later, when he was on his way to marry the woman, he stopped off to have a look at the lion's carcase and was amazed to see a swarm of bees and much honey inside it. He took some of the honey and ate it and gave some later to his parents, not revealing where it came from.

There was a wedding feast for seven days, to which the bride had brought 30 male companions for Samson. Samson challenged them with a riddle, saying that if they solved it within the seven days, he would give them 30 sheets and 30 new sets of clothes, but if they couldn't solve it, they would have to give him 30 sheets and 30 new garments. The riddle was, "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness."

The 30 companions could not solve the riddle and persuaded the bride to wheedle the answer out of Samson. Samson told his bride the answer to the riddle and she betrayed his secret. The companions then came to Samson on the last day of the feast and answered the riddle. Samson was so furious that his bride had betrayed his confidence that he killed 30 Philistines and gave the 30 companions the clothes from the slaughtered men.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lessons in tyranny

Thrasybulus was tyrant of Miletus (an ancient city on what is now the west coast of Turkey) in the seventh century BC and he was an ally of Periander, tyrant of Corinth. Herodotus relates that Periander sent a messenger to Miletus to ask Thrasybulus for advice on ruling. Thrasybulus did not give the messenger any message to take back to Periander but instead took him for a walk in a cornfield and swiped the heads off the tallest stalks of corn with a stick. The messenger relayed these events back in Corinth and they were correctly interpreted by Periander that he should eliminate those men who may be sufficiently powerful to challenge him.
P.S. Bad news: it's St Swithun's Day today and it was pouring with rain in Winchester this morning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Smile police

East Japan Railway Company has installed a new Omron computerised scanner which will measure the curvature of its staff's smiles. Those failing to look sufficiently cheerful will be admonished and told to 'try harder'. Something for British railway companies to consider?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fake Street

A whole street of fake shops is opening in Wen An Jie in Nanjing, China. To avoid litigation, the names have been changed: Starbucks becomes Bucksstar, Pizza Hut, Pizza Huh, Haagen Dazs, Haagon-Bozs, 7-Eleven, 1-Eleven, McDonald's, McDnoald's, Watsons, Watons etc!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday afternoon chukka

Our office is off for an outing to the England vs USA beach polo match at Sandbanks this afternoon so the female contingent is resplendent in flowery dresses, flipflops and hats. Let's hope the English captain, Chris Hyde, has every success and that we see Jodie Kidd. I'm not sure if I'll have the stamina to stay for the beach party later. It's been rather a party week. At one of them, the hostess made a speech saying, "Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional," and she stepped off the stage where an Abba-esque band called The Fabbagirls had been playing, and she tripped and fell flat on her face! That's rather how I'm feeling this morning: distinctly jaded.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How to impress

I was glancing through an old copy of Stephen Potter's "Lifemanship" which gives advice, in one of its chapters, about how to woo women. One of the tactics Potter describes is the "cigarette stubbs of Jarvis" approach. Jarvis filled an ash-tray with cigarette stubs and then "bought half a dozen lipsticks in striking but contrasted reds (Fatal Apple, Eden End, Oblivion, Cindarella's Pumpkin, Lovers' Lip, etc) and painted the ends of the stubs with these reds to give an impression not only of the smartness, but of the variety and frequency of his companionship with other girls."

Potter then adds a note: "Few, if any, women liked this gambit, but it impressed his fellow men in the Cromer area."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The fastest hedgehog in Winchester

It was a wet night in Winchester on Monday. The rain had stopped. A weighty black cloud staggered forward to reveal a large full moon, only for a moment, then darkness returned. I opened the front door and the hall light shone onto the path. I went back to the car for one minute and when I turned to go inside the house, I saw an extraordinary thing: a hedgehog was racing towards the front door. It was a foot away from jumping inside when I pre-empted it and shut the door in its nose. Feeling rather guilty about this later, I gingerly put a saucer of milk out for it, hoping that it wouldn't barge in when I was opening the door again. However, in the morning it was clear that the hedgehog had eschewed my offer.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Bunny Austin

The last Englishman to reach a Wimbledon final was Bunny Austin who lost to Don Budge in 1938. Bunny, whose real name was Henry, is on the left in this photo. His other claim to fame was that he was the first man to wear shorts at Wimbledon. Wouldn't it be fun if Federer became the first man for years to wear trousers playing in a Wimbledon final?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Goat, anybody?

Private equity firms, desperate to restore their fortunes, are looking at goat farming in Australia as an investment opportunity. They say returns will be 8-12% from exporting goat meat, mainly to the USA. American goat merchants claim that goat meat has lower total fat, saturated fat, calories and cholesterol than "traditional" meats. I'm sure KL and Mopsa have views on this.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

What is dying?

This was one of the readings at my great aunt's funeral yesterday:

A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone
at my side says, "She is gone."
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large now as
when I last saw her. Her diminished size and total loss from my sight is in
me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says she is gone there are
others who are watching her coming over their horizon and other voices take
up a glad shout," There she comes!"
That is what dying is. An horizon and just the limit of our sight.
Lift us up, Oh Lord, that we may see further

Bishop Brent