Friday, February 27, 2009

Isn't this just plain child cruelty?

What do you call some of the most unlucky people in Britain?

Justin Case, Barb Dwyer and Stan Still.

It sounds like a bad joke, but a study has revealed that there really are unfortunate people with those names in the UK.

Joining them on the list are Terry Bull, Paige Turner, Mary Christmas and Anna Sasin.

And just imagine having to introduce yourself to a crowd as Doug Hole or Hazel Nutt.

The names were uncovered by researchers from parenting group after trawling through online telephone records.

Retired airman Stan Still, 76, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said his name had been "a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life".

"When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, 'Stan Still, get a move on' and roll about laughing," he said.

"It got hugely boring after a while."

But 51-year-old Rose Bush, from Coventry, West Midlands, said she loved her name.

"I always get comments about it but they are always very positive," she said.

Researchers also scoured phone records in the US and found some unlikely names there too.

Spare a thought for Anna Prentice, Annette Curtain and Bill Board the next time you sign your name.

A string of Americans also have very job-specific names, including Dr Leslie Doctor, Dr Thoulton Surgeon and Les Plack - a dentist in San Francisco.

A spokesman for said: "When the parents of some of those people mentioned named their children, many probably didn't even realise the implications at the time.

"Parents really do need to think carefully though when choosing names for their children.

"Their name will be with them for life and what may be quirky and fun for a toddler might be regretted terribly when that person becomes older or even a grandparent perhaps."

Jo King
Barry Cade
Carrie Oakey
Priti Manek
Tim Burr

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Favourite movies scenes

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!

Great new voice

Tristan and Isolde - Liebestod

You either love it or hate it, indifference is impossible. I love it.

One of the most beautiful, passionate musical works ever written is Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde. The 19th century conductor Hans von Bülow called it “the zenith of musical art up to now!” And some of the greatest music from it is the final scene, which has come to be known as the “Liebestod,” or “Love-Death.” Wagner himself called it Isolde's Verklärung, which means "a coming to clarity."

A central reason it’s beautiful, I believe, is in how it puts together struggle and resolution, difficulty and ease. In his book Self and World, Eli Siegel wrote:

"Something like struggle is needed by the human being. Something even like discontent is needed by the human being. ….One cannot think of a world made up of smooth roads strewn with roses and bordered by exceedingly accessible marshmallows. The world, like the human body, is a compound of resistance and ease, obstruction and going forward, obstacle and companion. "

These words have me understand the beauty of the “Liebestod” in a way I’m tremendously grateful for.

Wagner's opera tells the story of the love of Tristan, a Knight in the service of King Marke of Cornwall in what is now southern England, for Isolde, an Irish princess who was promised in marriage to the elderly King. She, however, falls in love with Tristan—and when their love is discovered, he is mortally wounded by a knight loyal to Marke. Isolde tries to reach Tristan to heal him, but arrives too late, and he dies in her arms. Then, in a rapture, as she imagines Tristan waking, returning to life, she sings, “How gently and quietly he smiles, how fondly he opens his eyes!. Do you see, friends? Do you not see?” Right from the start, there is a feeling of striving against opposition, a sense of resistance in the music, as the melody rises and falls and then rises higher. The melody is slow, and it comes in softly, almost out of silence.

[Ex 1: beginning to measure 9]

The orchestral texture is itself a relation of difficulty and ease; it is thick, with the low strings playing sustained chords; and they play tremolo, which both adds to the impediment, the thickness, and at the same time makes for a feeling of motion and expectation. The melody Isolde sings begins with a short, two-measure figure, which, as the Liebestod continues, we hear again and again in the orchestra in different keys and on different instruments, growing steadily in intensity.

That two bar phrase begins with a strong, assertive motion, rising from the dominant, up a fourth to the tonic. Yet immediately there is opposition—the melody is stopped from rising further; the tonic note is repeated, and the melody is turned back, dropping a half step and then another half step. In general, it’s easier to descend than to ascend, but this gentle descent of two half steps brings the music to a Cb major chord, very distant from the Ab major chord it began with. It is unsettling and restful at once. Then, with a little rush, the melody ascends two whole steps, but where do we end? On a Bb major chord. The chords resist and push forward at once. They contradict the key we began with, they also open the door for modulation, for moving on to newer keys. Then Isolde repeats this phrase, now in a higher key.

As the music continues, the orchestra takes up the theme, with Isolde sometimes agreeing and often disagreeing.

[ex. 2: measure 9 to “Fühlt und seht ihr’s nicht?”]

Perhaps the most intense and beautiful feeling of struggle comes about midway through. Isolde believes she hears a melody coming from Tristan, and sings, “Are they waves of refreshing breezes? Are they billows of heavenly fragrances? As they swell and roar around me, shall I breathe them, shall I listen to them?” Accompanying this, the violins begin a chromatic melody—a slow upward climb in tight half-steps, struggling to reach something, which again and again falls back and then climbs higher. As it does, the chromatic line is often dissonant to the harmony below and to Isolde’s melody. Yet, because these dissonances by their very nature seek to resolve themselves, they push and pull the melody along. The opposition makes for the advance. Throughout, along with struggle, there is a feeling of unrelenting, inevitable progress, and it is thrilling and deeply satisfying.

[ex. 3: 3:30-4:02, “sind es Wellen” to “sol ich lauschen?"]

The climax of the Liebestod is magnificent; there is a feeling of tremendous achievement, of soaring and freedom. It seems all obstacles are overcome—only there is this amazing thing: the highest note, a C#, is outside the chord, and there is a terrific feeling of dissatisfaction, as it wants to pull back down to the B, the home key. Then the orchestra and Isolde gradually descend and the music comes to an E minor chord—a moment of darkness. Wagner seems to be saying, “In your achievement, don’t forget the struggle.” Finally, after Isolde’s last notes—an octave leap from F# to high F#—a single oboe bravely plays a high D#, the sweet major third of the key, the full orchestra joins it, and the music resolves on the pure B major chord it has been aiming for from the beginning. It is because the struggle is honored that the achievement is both believable and so satisfying.

[ex.4: 3:30 to end, from “Höre ich nur diese Weise”]

A large question about this music is: What is the relation of love and death here? From what I have learned from Aesthetic Realism, I think the “Liebestod” affirms the fact that something in us, our narrow, selfish self, must be defeated in order for us to love truly another person. In his poem, “Love; or, When Good Will Wins,” Eli Siegel wrote:

To love a person
Is to be willing
To give up your wrong care for yourself
(Which may be seen as true care)
For good will for that person.
And so love is clearly
The most beautiful thing in the world:
Which everyone, surely,
Knows it is.

(Alan Shapiro)

Monday, February 23, 2009



Using everyday objects as design inspiration is nothing new, but rarely do we see it executed in such a poetic and gorgeous way as Steven Haulenbeek’s Cumulus Light Canopy made from simple white photographers’ translucent “shoot-through” umbrellas. The umbrellas, which can be arranged in various configurations and numbers, making the system fully scalable, creates a cloudlike form (hence the name ‘Cumulus’) while making the umbrella a playful light fixture rather than a shield from the dreary rain.

For enquiring minds

The '101 greatest questions of all time' have been answered in a BBC magazine. Here are some of them:

Where is the safest place to stand outside in a thunderstorm?

Tall, pointy objects standing alone in an open space are more likely to get struck by lightning but it’s by no means a certainty. Sometimes the flat ground next to a tall tree can be hit. A car or other enclosed metal structure is the safest place to be in a thunderstorm. Failing that, a ditch, trench or group of shrubs of uniform height is better than nothing. Keep away from boundary areas between dissimilar terrain (water and land; rock and earth; trees and fields). Also keep at least five metres away from metal objects or other people as lightning will often jump from one object to another.

Why do identical twins have different fingerprints?

Although identical twins share the same DNA, they don’t look identical cell-for-cell, because not every aspect of your physical appearance is rigidly determined by your genes. Fingerprints are formed semi-randomly as the foetus develops in the womb andare affected by such things as chance fluctuations of hormone levels. Similarly, the pattern of freckles and moles on the skin is caused by random mutations and will vary between identical twins.

Is the human race still getting taller?

The average height, at least in Western society, is increasing because of better childhood nutrition and sexual selection. But the tendency of women to find men taller than six feet (183cm) more attractive can’t be extrapolated upward, and people above 6ft 2in (188cm) are much more likely to suffer back problems. Above 6ft 8in (203cm), and the heart strains to pump blood round the body.

Why do I feel cold and shiver when I have a fever?

A fever is when your body increases its internal thermostat, found in the hypothalamus. If you exercise hard or it’s a hot day, your body temperature might increase, but the thermostat remains at around 36.8°C. When you feel hot the hypothalamus tries to correct this with sweating and increased blood flow to the skin. But with a fever, it is the thermostat that has risen. This means your body temperature is now below 36.8°C, so you feel cold and shiver, to try and raise your temperature. The higher body temperature may help fight infection by speeding white blood cell production and slowing bacteria reproduction.

What is OK short for?

The most popular theory is that OK comes from ‘oll korrect’, a deliberately misspelled writing of ‘all correct’. It was popularised in Boston newspapers around the 1840s when it was fashionable to go around spelling things incorrectly for humorous effect. Legend also has it that New York Democrats later adopted the abbreviation to promote their candidate Martin Van Buren – the initials ‘OK’ were derived from his nickname, Old Kinderhook.

Why can’t we just fill in the ozone hole with man-made ozone?

The sheer scale of the notorious hole – or, more accurately, depleted region – in the Earth’s ozone layer over the Antarctic beggars belief. At its peak each September, it spans an area bigger than the continental United States, and tens of millions of tonnes of ozone would be needed to fill it up again. Simply creating that amount of ozone, let alone getting it where it’s needed, would be astronomically expensive.

Why do fingers and toes wrinkle when left in water?

The waterproof coating on our skin gets rubbed away from areas of our bodies like our hands and feet that are frequently in contact with objects. If you immerse yourself in water with a lower concentration of dissolved salts than that of your cell contents, water will be absorbed by osmosis and cause your skin cells to swell. Since they are anchored to the tissues below, they are forced to corrugate to accommodate this.

What is a hiccup?

A hiccup comes from an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, producing asudden intake of air. The glottis (the vocal apparatus of the larynx) slams shut at the same time, so that the column of air strikes the closed glottis to produce the characteristic, onomatopoeic noise.

Is there an easy way to prove the Earth is round?

Yes, travel. Because the Earth’s surface is curved, you’ll notice that different constellations of stars are revealed.

Can you have a fish out of water?

Yes. Several species of fish can breathe air and crawl on land. There are about 50 species of flying fish, too.

Why is sea air good for you?

It isn't, particularly. In Victorian England, seaside resorts got a reputation for having healthy air – maybe in comparison to the era's city smogs. The seaside's "bracing" smell is caused by a chemical produced by coastal bacteria, present in very low concentrations. But a study last year found that sea salt can react with chemicals in marine exhaust fumes to worsen the atmospheric pollution in a busy port.

Do plants die of old age?

Given good conditions, some plants can live for ever. It takes a change in external conditions to finish them off. But annuals die soon after seeding.

Does chewing gum really stay inside you for years?

No. Chewing gum is indigestible but it doesn't have any magic property that allows it to escape the normal digestive transit. Three days is the usual limit.

Where do phobias come from?

Around 10 per cent of the population suffer from phobias. Some may be triggered by a traumatic event while others are linked to physical problems. Studies suggest that simple phobias are partly genetic while others may be due to cultural history. For example, a fear of spiders may be passed down from the Middle Ages when spiders were associated with the plague, as victims' deserted homes became shrouded in cobwebs.

Do men have cellulite?

Yes. It's not just women who are cursed with orange peel skin, although in men cellulite tends to be in different places, usually around the neck and abdomen.

Can germs catch germs?

Yes. The germ would be an even smaller organism that attacks its host germ from within.

Why do I get more car sick in the back?

It's probably because you don't have such a good view of the horizon. Motion sickness occurs when the balance mechanism in your ear registers movement while your eyes are telling you that you are stationary.

Could we live on water and supplements?

No. As well as vitamins and minerals we need carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy and cell repair.

Do hot drinks cool you down?

Yes. They make your body think you are hotter than you really are so you sweat more and that leads to heat loss.

What would happen if there were no Moon?

The most immediate effect (other than the lack of moonlight, of course) would be on the Earth’s tides. With only the Sun’s gravitational influence, the difference between high and low tides would be reduced dramatically - as would tidal drag, which slows the Earth down at a rate adding about 0.002 seconds to the length of a day each century. Long term, the effects would be far more serious. The climate of the Earth is sensitively dependent on the 23.5° tilt of the Earth’s axis, and without the stabilising presence of our relatively huge Moon, the gravity of the other planets would produce big changes in this angle - as it does with Mars, whose tilt changes by 60° over a few million years.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

To a Friend

West Wycombe Park

I ask but one thing of you, only one,
That always you will be my dream of you;
That never shall I wake to find untrue
All this I have believed and rested on,
Forever vanished, like a vision gone
Out into the night. Alas, how few
There are who strike in us a chord we knew
Existed, but so seldom heard its tone
We tremble at the half-forgotten sound.
The world is full of rude awakenings
And heaven-born castles shattered to the ground,
Yet still our human longing vainly clings
To a belief in beauty through all wrongs.
O stay your hand, and leave my heart its songs!

-- Amy Lowell --

Thursday, February 19, 2009

El amor brujo

El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) is a piece of music composed by Manuel de Falla. It was initially commissioned in 1914-15 as a gitanería (gypsy piece) by Pastora Imperio, a renowned gypsy dancer, and was scored for voice, actors, and chamber orchestra. Unfortunately, it was barely successful.

In 1925, Falla transformed it into a ballet scored for a full symphony orchestra with three short songs for mezzo-soprano. In this form, El amor brujo succeeded.

"El Amor brujo tells the story of Candelas, a gypsy girl, whose love for Carmelo is tormented by the ghost of her faithless former lover. The work is distinctively Andalusian in character with the songs in the Andalusian dialect of the Gypsies. The music contains moments of remarkable beauty and originality and includes the celebrated Ritual Fire Dance and the Dance of Terror." --

"Gitana" by Fabian Perez

You can apreciate Arthur Rubinstein's extraordinary piano performance of this beautiful piece of music on You Tube.

Keeping an eye on things... ;-)

Hurray for live webcams... I can't resist taking a peek every now and then...

Lisbon Live

Alvor Live
Alvor, Algarve

Lagos Live
Lagos, Algarve

paris live

(click images to access live webcams)

BTW, this is MK live... :-(

Keep Calm and Carry On

keep calm

The greatest motivational poster ever?

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Millions of copies of the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster were printed on the eve of World War II, but never displayed. Now the message has taken on a new lease of life in our troubled peacetime.

The simple five-word message is the very model of British restraint and stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on.

In 1939, with war against Germany looming, the Government designed three posters to steady the public's resolve and maintain morale. These featured the crown of King George VI set against a bold red background, and three distinctive slogans - "Freedom is in Peril", "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory", and "Keep Calm and Carry On".

Two-and-a-half million copies of "Keep Calm" were printed, to be distributed in the event of a national catastrophe, but remained in storage throughout the war.

The message was all but forgotten until 2000, when a copy was discovered in a box of books bought at auction by Stuart Manley, a bookseller from Northumberland.

"I didn't know anything about it but I showed it to my wife. We both liked it so we decided to frame it and put it in the shop," explains Mr Manley.

"Lots of people saw it and wanted to buy it. We refused all offers but eventually we decided we should get copies made for sale."

Sales remained modest until 2005, when it was featured as a Christmas gift idea in a national newspaper supplement.

"All hell broke loose," says Mr Manley.

"Our website broke down under the strain, the phone never stopped ringing and virtually every member of staff had to be diverted into packing posters."

The poster was just one of hundreds produced by the Ministry of Information during the war to influence public opinion.

"The poster was a major medium in a way that it isn't now," says Professor Jim Aulich, an expert in propaganda art at Manchester Metropolitan University.

"It wasn't competing with television. It was one of the main ways of reaching people, through billboards and on public transport."

Rescued from obscurity after 70 years, the Ministry of Information's appeal for calm has risen to cult status. Mr Manley's store, Barter Books in Alnwick, receives an average of 1,000 orders a month from around the world. Customers include 10 Downing Street and assorted embassies. The design has been reproduced on T-shirts and coffee mugs, shopping bags and cufflinks.

It has also spawned imitators. One company has given it a twist, replacing the original slogan with "Now Panic and Freak Out".

Of course, it might be difficult for the current government to come up with a poster with quite the same appeal during this time of economic stress. Context is everything, says social psychologist Dr Lesley Prince.

"If the government is in tune with you, you will listen. If you think the government is working on your behalf, you will listen."

This was indisputably the case during WWII, but is less clear-cut even in the most troubled period of peacetime.

And a message of such powerful simplicity might not be so forthcoming these days. Today's government posters attempt to convince the public of an unappreciated danger and get them to modify their behaviour. The "Keep Calm" poster is merely an injunction to think another way and continue acting as you have always acted.

"It's very good, almost zen," says Dr Prince. "It works as a personal mantra now. If people are thinking 'I'm about to lose the house', it's good advice."

People are drawn to the calming Britishness of the message, says Mr Manley.

"It's interesting to look at the kind of places we often sell to; doctors' surgeries, hospitals, schools and government departments. It seems to strike a chord anywhere that works at a hectic pace."

Prof Aulich adds that the message has universal appeal.

"It speaks to peoples' personal neuroses. It's not ideological, it's not urging people to fight for freedom like some propaganda posters did."

Following the end of WWII, most of the posters are believed to have been pulped, never having seen the light of day. Only two original copies are known to have survived.

Thanks to a chance discovery in a dusty box of books, the soothing entreaty is finally having its intended effect, bringing comfort to a nation in turmoil.


Vincent Van Gogh, Wheat Field with Cornflowers, 1890

----------You are the bread and the knife,
----------The crystal goblet and the wine...
-----------------Jacques Crickillon--

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Billy Collins --

Mary Jo Salter in the NY Times on Billy Collins' Litany:

Among all the poems in
''Nine Horses,'' the marvelous ''Litany'' strikes me as the likeliest new candidate to inspire the question ''Do you know the Billy Collins poem about . . . ?'' What sets ''Litany'' apart is that the words themselves, not just the situation, are so memorable. That's because it capitalizes on some of the oldest verbal conventions in poetry -- parallelism, refrain, the lover's mystical hyperbole -- and simultaneously pokes fun at them. Quoting a snippet of a poem by the Belgian poet Jacques Crickillon (''You are the bread and the knife, / The crystal goblet and the wine''), Collins offers his lover a stanza of similarly lofty praises before asserting himself:

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is no way you are the pine-scented air.

And the poet isn't finished: ''It might interest you to know . . . that I am the sound of rain on the roof.'' It turns out he's a lot of other things she may not have appreciated: ''I am also the moon in the trees / and the blind woman's teacup.'' He's not so hardhearted, though, that he won't throw her a bone at the end: ''But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife. / You are still the bread and the knife.''

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nostalgic sounds

Nia is in the news today!


(Click image to read article)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

No road

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Since we agreed to let the road between us
Fall to disuse,
And bricked our gates up, planted trees to screen us,
And turned all time's eroding agents loose,
Silence, and space, and strangers - our neglect
Has not had much effect.

Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown;
No other change.
So clear it stands, so little overgrown,
Walking that way tonight would not seem strange,
And still would be allowed. A little longer,
And time would be the stronger,

Drafting a world where no such road will run
From you to me;
To watch that world come up like a cold sun,
Rewarding others, is my liberty.
Not to prevent it is my will's fulfillment.
Willing it, my ailment.

-- Philip Larkin


"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." - Ernest Hemingway

... but right now I'm soooooooo happy because of the latest entry in Nia's Caringbridge journal:

Hope this is a day for the diary - we finally got some good news that we have been so anxiously waiting for - Nias bone marrow results came back clear, that means there is currently no sign of cancer and the Philadelphia chromosome in it - and all cells are donor cells, not her own which is great. Unfortunately there is the risk this can change, but it is great to have this status now and fingers crossed none of her old cells ever have the guts to show up again. So for the time being she would not require any further chemo, and the main issue to sort out now is her nutrition and keeping her infection free until her own immune system is up to strength again.

The plan is to give her some probiotics and drugs that calm down her guts and stomach lining, slowly reintroducing food and getting myself trained up to give her the TPN at home which can take quite a while to set it all up (we heard all kinds of time lines from a few days to 4-6 weeks so we hopefully get some clarification on it by the end of the week). We are still waiting for a final result of the biopsy to help us deciding what can be done to support her oral intake, luckily the last two days she has not been as sickish as the weeks before, so hopefully this is a good sign!


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Financial bonuses: outrageous and immoral!

Polly Toynbee's column in today's Guardian:

Culture change may be coming, but it's not here yet. The financial sector will pay itself £3.6bn in bonuses this month: banks are rumoured to be rushing to beat any proposed cap. Even 70% state-owned RBS will pay generously, despite losing £28bn at the blackjack tables of investment banking. The government braces itself for outrage.

But there is not much it can do beyond what has been done to stop bailed-out boards' noses going to the trough. RBS's catastrophic purchase of ABN Amro included contracts with traders to pay fixed bonuses regardless. A one-line bill in parliament denying them the cash can't be done: they would sue, and anyway, governments can't simply set aside contracts. Traders in many banks will claim bonuses for "success", because they work in foreign exchange and bond markets that do well when shares bucket. Stand back and watch the explosion of public indignation.

Barack Obama's thundering words resounded around the world this week. He castigated "disgusting payoffs" and "lavish bonuses", fixing a $500,000 pay cap on bailed-out banks and firms. Is it heartening or depressing that Labour only dares echo such words when Obama has said them? It raised top tax two weeks after Obama won an election promising the same. After 12 years of celebrating the filthy rich, Peter Mandelson finally tells RBS to reconsider "exorbitant bonuses" and "how it looks and what public opinion will be".

So is this nearly the end of the bonus culture? Not yet. Mandelson added the crucial rider: "Obviously you have to work in a market, you've got to recruit the best people and keep the best people in place and motivate them."

No change there, then. The rationale for runaway pay was market competition; but the crisis revealed they were not brilliant, just deluded group-thinkers harvesting bonuses in a rising market. Often, when meeting them, they seemed lacking in intellectual curiosity, ignorant about ordinary life, breathtakingly selfish, and to have testosterone where their brains should be. Ask the universities: those heading for the City are rarely the cleverest, just the greediest.

Responses to Obama's modest pay cap of $500,000 have been revealing. The chief executive of Deutsche Bank warned that US talent would flee the bailed-out banks: "Talent will be happy to work for us." But astute observers dismiss that as bravado - the mobility of these masters of the universe was always exaggerated. In Britain as elsewhere, few top CEOs are foreign and few foreigners want our "talent", as Work Foundation research proved. There never was a shortage of talent, just a tiny club of self-proclaimed silverbacks, head-hunted from one company to another for mushrooming inducements. And mass sackings make the "market" excuse weaker than ever.

Even more revealing is the warning to Obama that if bailed-out bank chiefs get no bonuses until they pay back state cash, they will stop lending in order to store capital for that payback. In other words, everything about bonuses creates perverse incentives. It motivated them to take insane risks with bonuses pegged to share price. It encouraged auditors to turn a blind eye. Now withholding bonuses will apparently make banks do wrong again, just as the no-bonus threat drove Barclays to borrow at exorbitant rates elsewhere.

If nothing can be done about this year's bonuses, at next month's budget a white paper on bank regulation and Lord Turner's Financial Services Authority review will look to the future. Reforms will be proposed, but don't hold your breath for radicalism. Those giving advice are all in the game: Sir Philip Hampton, newly arrived to clean up RBS, is being paid £750,000 plus a £1.5m bonus for a part-time job on top of his Sainsbury's £450,000 part-time stipend, so where will culture change on remuneration be? New non-exec directors don't include sharp-eyed, lower-paid academics or heads of Oxfam, the research councils or other experienced institutions outside the Square Mile. You get no culture change from people who think earning a couple of million is as normal as tax avoidance.

What could be done? Abolish bonuses altogether. The evidence is that they don't work or have perverse effects. Performance-related pay demotivates losers without motivating winners. Changing the greed culture needs champions, so turn the Low Pay Commission, which sets the minimum wage, into a pay commission with a remit to set guidelines on the maximum shareholders should tolerate. Obama's $500,000 translates in the UK to 15 times the median pay of £23,000. That seems a generous maximum: CEO total pay packages have risen in the UK to 75 times the average pay within a company.

At this budget Labour should consider reward from top to bottom. It would be the right time to raise the minimum wage. If inflation is likely to be zero or less, will benefits be adjusted accordingly? Labour should take steps to narrow the great income divide in this last chance to halve child poverty by 2010. That would cost £2.7bn - less than this month's City bonuses.

Six opinion polls in a row give the Conservatives a lead with a 60- or 70-seat majority. It's easy to see why, as this crisis summons angry calls of "time for a change". It makes sense in the US, where politics and economics are in harmony. Obama arrives to clean up the explosive aftermath of Cheney-Bush neo-conomics. He reasserts the communal values of the state and public services, and the fairer distribution of rewards.

But in the UK everything is out of joint. It should be Labour riding to the rescue after a Tory era of City excess, debt and bubble. The idea that the Tories can reinvent themselves as the nation's saviour from the City culture is bizarre. They are the City, and the City roots for them, however ardently Labour wooed its denizens.

Watch the outburst on bonuses this month signal a growing demand for a fairer sharing of pain and gain. If the Tories are the answer, what is the question? But "Throwing the rascals out" may be enough to get angry people to vote for them, despite pollsters finding little enthusiasm for Cameron and Osborne. So Labour has only a year to become the culture change voters seek. On bonuses, could it begin with the sound of Gordon Brown echoing other Obama words this week: "I screwed up"? "

Friday, February 06, 2009


A whole week of not doing much when there's so much to do... Kids were home on Monday, Thursday and Friday, meetings, appointments and activities were cancelled, everything came to a standstill except for Hubby's travelling (braving the elements and defying common-sense, he got on one of the few running trains to London at dawn to catch the Eurostar to Brussels and hopefully still be back today; his intention to fly to Zurich on Sunday also still holds even though Luton Airport was closed all day today and even more snow is predicted for the weekend).

Staying put

Staying put

Staying put

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Snowee Woman


The making of Snowee Woman

It snowed a lot during the night!

It snowed at lot during the night

It snowed at lot during the night

It snowed at lot during the night

It snowed at lot during the night

It snowed at lot during the night

It snowed at lot during the night

It snowed at lot during the night

Schools closed today!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Witty humour

Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow. - Oscar Wilde

Witty surrealism

Drawing Hands, 1948 Signature
Escher, Drawing Hands, 1948

Magritte feet
René Magritte. The Red Model. 1934.

Today is such a witty day...

Witty sarcasm

Ana and her friends love this Lily Allen song, The Fear, which has made it straight to No.1 in the UK pop chart. I hope they get the witty sarcasm of the lyrics. They're all really bright girls, I'm sure they do...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Still holding

Icing sugar?
Almost looks like cotton...

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Big Chill

St. Michael's Church - Walton Hall

Jenny Lee Building, Walton Hall

Walton Hall

Lebanon Cedar

Lebanon Cedar

Walton Hall


The heaviest snowfall for 18 years paralysed swaths of the country, bringing chaos to roads, railways and airports, closing thousands of schools and businesses, and costing the economy an estimated £1.2bn in lost working hours.

Although the snow had been forecast since last week, much of Britain was overwhelmed, with conditions forcing one in five workers to stay at home, as many as 3,000 schools closed and many non-urgent hospital operations were postponed. Note: none in our household stayed at home, the girls' schools were open - even though Ana's ended up sending everybody home at lunchtime and all after school activities being eventually cancelled - hubby went to work as usual, and Nia's surgery in Oxford went ahead as planned. It was pretty awful driving in today's weather, though. I hadn't had my car stuck in the snow since the good ol' US of A. All the skidding wasn't all that fun either...

A report from London.