Wednesday, June 27, 2007

For the Benefit of American Readers

Today Britain will get a new prime minister, the former chancellor of the exchequer (the man in charge of the budget), Gordon Brown.

There has not been an election, this is rather the prime minister's scheduled retirement from the office.

Prime minister is not an elected office; he or she is appointed by Her Majesty, the Queen. Although in theory the queen could choose myself or Sean Connery to be prime minister, by convention she always appoints the leader of the political party that holds the largest number of seats in the House of Commons. Now that Gordon Brown has taken over as leader of the Labour Party (without any opposition from rivals), it is time for him to take the office.

At 12:00 PM, Mr. Blair will face his last Question Time in the House of Commons, where members of parliament grill him. That should be fun to watch. After that, he will go to Buckingham palace to give the Queen his resignation. Assuming that the queen does not ask him to carry on for another ten years, Gordon Brown will then go to the queen to be appointed. She will then ask him to form a new government.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Something Paris Hilton should bear in mind

Paris Hilton has been released from prison and it seems she is even more famous than before (I mean would I be writing about her if she had not gone to jail?).

She is fortunate. Just suppose when she was driving under the influence of alcohol that her car had hit another car. Suppose the driver of that car was killed. Miss Hilton would still be in jail now. On her eventual release she would not be greeted by hordes of reporters and adoring fans. She would not be interviewed by Larry King. She would be half-forgotten, except as 'that crazy rich girl who ran over somebody.'

As long as Miss Hilton remembers that, I think she can justifiably enjoy her good fortune and her fame.

I didn't know that 2

I am informed by another exam candidate that the Church of England do not believe in God.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Question about Online Banking

I have a question about online banking. Do you download the money from a PDF file and then print it out?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

BBC News: Huge driving test scam uncovered

BBC News: Huge driving test scam uncovered

What do they expect when they keep making the driving test proressively harder? They really need to be wary of introducing yet more elements to the driving test.

Angela Merkel

I think Angela Merkel, the German chancellor is quite an attractive lady. She is not a stunning beaty, like Yulia Tymoshenko, but she does have very soft, delicate features. She looks a very gentle person.

The Greatness of the Viking Civilization

Most people do not realise how incredible the Vikings were. A lot of people think of the Vikings as a savage group of raiders who lived to plunder and pillage. Certainly, the Viking raiders were fiercesome indeed. However, this is only half the picture. The Norseman also had a rich culture and made many acheivements. Even the Viking raids were made possible by the brilliant design of their longships.

Although the Norsemen were most famous for their raiding and pillaging, the majority of Norsemen were not fighters but farmers. Many were also excellent and skillful traders. The Vikings developed incredible trade networks that went from Scandinavia to the middle east. Many Arab coins have been found in Sweden.

Thanks to their longships, the Viking civilization spanned immense distances. To the south, the Danes were the rulers of England, the Norwaygians conquered much of the north of England and the northern part of Ireland became a Norse colony. Normandy was also a Viking colony, though the Norse who settled there lost their distinctive culture and adopted French as their language (silly Vikings!).

To the west, the Vikings established a sophisticated culture in Iceland, which had a rich tradition of poetry. Contrary to their barbarian image, the Vikings of Iceland created their own parliament and democracy. At the time of the Vikings global warming was underway (nothing new) and the northern parts of the world were not so cold. Thus, the Norse were easily able to establish settlements in Greenland. Some travelled even further to the west and reached America, calling it Vinland.

To the east, the Vikings reached the great city of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Byzantine empire. A group of Norsemen, the Varangians, served as a bodyguard to the Byzantine emperors. The role of the Norsemen in early Russia has been a subject of controversy among historians. Many western historians hold that the great cities of the Rus were founded by Vikings, most notably Kiev and Novgorod (called Holmgard by the Norse). That is contested by Russian historians. According to legend, the Slavonic Russians were contantly fighting amongst themselves, so they asked Rurik, a Viking to rule over them. He is supposedly the founder of the Russian monarchy.

Because of the huge geographical distances of they travelled, the Norse did not establish one great empire, though the Norwaygian and Danish kings did establish their rule over parts of England. The Viking civilization had political weaknesses and was at times prone to fighting between kings and noblemen. Nevertheless, thy had a rich body of law, which was not lacking in humanity and which gave many rights to women.

Initially the Norse were a pagan people. Their myths of the gods are exciting and a pleasure to read. However, they later were converted to Christianity and were a Christian people for much of their later history.

Friday, June 22, 2007

BBC News: EU competition to remain in place

BBC News: EU competition to remain in place

I should hope so too. To my mind, if there is a point to the European Union, it is securing undistorted competition.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More on Catherine the Great

The problem with Catherine the Great's reign is not the things she did so much as the things she did not do.

Most obviously, Catherine II did not abolish serfdom, that system whereby the majority of peasents were enslaved to the nobility and could be bought and sold at the will of their masters. Catherine did not like serfdom, but abolishing it would not have been feasible in her day. It was such a central part of Russian life that it could not simply be done away with.

Catherine maintained the absolute rule of the monarchy, which remained in Russia until the downfall of Nicholas II, the last tsar. Catherine introduced 'fundamental laws' or principles by which absolutism might operate, but these in no way amounted to a constitution. Of course, it is doubtful that constitutional rule would have been good for 18th century Russia; a devolution of power from the monarchy would probably have increased the power of the nobility at the expense of the masses.

While Catherine's reign was not characterised by the militarism of Peter the Great, she maintained the cruelty of the system of recruitment levies for the army. Peasents continued to be torn from their homes and families forever to serve in the army. It is true that lifetime service was abolished and reduced to twenty-five years, but it is doubtful that the average life expectancy of a peasent soldier amounted to twenty five years.

There was a further problem of Catherine's reign which was not resolved and that was the question of Russian national identity. Her predecessor, Peter the Great had radically altered Russia by introducing technology and organisation from the west, forcing the nobility to shave off their beards and wear western clothes. This had made Russia powerful, but it had meant the violation of the fundamental fabric of Russian society. Russia was divided between those who were steeped in the ways of the past, mainly the peasentry and those who had been immersed in the new ways of Europe, mainly the nobility. Catherine perpetuated this cultural problem in her introduction of yet more western ideas and strategies.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I didn't know that

I am informed by an exam candidate that Thomas Aquinas invented the 'Big Bang' theory.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mr Putin is cute

I know there are some very questionable things about the Russian president, but I do think he is cute.

He is so serious. He is really funny. Much as I wish he would be a bit friendlier to the west, I do like the man.

I thought the same thing when I went to Finland; I thought it was really sweet how Finns were so serious all the time.

Times: Liberal Hollywood shies away from abortion

Times:Liberal Hollywood shies away from abortion

Article by Gerard Baker

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Catherine the Great, empress of Russia

You may recall a while ago, I was reading some books about Catherine the Great.

I expected to find that Catherine the Great was a pretty rotten ruler. I was amazed to find that she was arguably the greatest rule Russia has ever had.

Russia has had some pretty rotten rulers. Many of the Tsars had a very aggressive militaristic tendency. Catherine the Great certainly did use an aggressive policy and she brought Russia greatness through war, but at the same time, she did not, unlike other Tsars, make military matters central to Russian life or her policies. Catherine was a truly femminine ruler.

Catherine saw herself as an enlightened absolutist. She wanted to do improve the lot of the people through dictates and regulations. Perhaps that was ambitious, but she ahd some sucess.

Catherine improved public health and she increased the education of the Russians through schools and encouraging literature.

She might have liked to have abolished serfdom, the system by which much of the Russian peasentry were enslaved, but this proved to be a political impossiblity.

Catherine introduced the basics of a legal system and the rule of law, things that were very much lacking in 18th century Russia. Had this trend of her reign continued, perhaps Russia might have developed along more constitutional lines.

Catherine was certainly an immoral lady. She had many lovers, who she used to acheive her own political ends. She professed to follow the Orthodox faith, but her sincerity is not certain.

I think she certainly deserved to be called 'great!'

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Problem with the Proposals

The home secretary, John Reid outlined in parliament the government's new plans for managing convicted child sex abusers.

The government have wisely avoided bring in Megan's law, as that has the adverse effect of driving paedophiles underground.

The problem is that the proposals may introduce Megan's law by the backdoor. You see, the government is proposing that single mothers should have the right to make enquiries about their boyfriend's, to find out if they are on the sex offenders' register.

How exactly are the women going to prove that they are a dating a particular man? Is it not possible that women will be able to make enquiries about any particular man they have suspicions about just by falsely claiming to have dated him? And how will the information stay private once a woman has found out that a person is a sex offender? This may have the same effect as Megan's law.

Furthermore, there is the issue of police time and resources. Just how many enquiries are they going to get? What if every single mother makes an enquiry about every man she dates that has been in prison?

Naff Service

I needed to buy a birthday present for my grandmother.

I went to Boots chemist, hoping to get some perfume or toileteries. I spoke to a girl at the toileteries counter and asked if she could recommend anything.

The girl pointed me in the direction of the some shelves I had already looked at and another shelf of cheap gifts.

Is that service? If you employ a girl to wear a suit and sit on a counter, you surely expect her to be able to recommend specific products.

In the end I just got my grandmother some small bottles of wine. Alcohol makes such an easy present.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why am I upholding outdated conventions?

(maintaining my reputation as a superficial blogger who writes about clothes)

Contrary to my ultraconservative tendency, I do strive to be a modernizing liberal who does not hang on to unnecessary tradition for the sake of it. Anyone who has visited my other blog Shoes Off at the Door, Please, will be aware of my zeal to change traditional British etiquette.

However, I have realised that I am upholding a dreaful piece of convention by my custom of always wearing a suit to church on the Lord's Day regardless of the weather. You see, I think conventions about formal dress are unfair. Women can wear skirts and dresses which are cool in summer as part of formal wear, while men have to wear full length trousers to be considered smart. Furthermore, women can wear sandals as part of formal wear, but men are not considered smart without closed shoes.

And I am reinforcing this unfairness by wearing a suit in summer, while other men in my church are happy to go to church in shorts and t-shirts. Why be zealous for a convention that is not even imposed?

Maybe I am going to have to force myself to jettison this outdated attitude and wear something more confortable to church next Lord's Day. Not shorts, but three-quarter length cropped trousers. And a short-sleeved shirt and sandals. No suit. No tie. I am already wearing shorts to prayer meetings now, so maybe I can force myself to dress down just a little to church services.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jonathan Edwards on Paris Hilton

The great American preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote on the subject of Paris Hilton and her fall into disgrace:

Is not the prosperity of one and another an eyesore to you? Does it not make your life uncomfortable, that they are higher than you? Would it not be truly a comfort to you to see them brought down, so that their losses and depression would be a source of inward joy and gladness to your heart? And does not this same spirit lead you often to think evil, or to speak with contempt, or unkindness, or severity, of such, to those about you? And let those who are above others in prosperity, inquire whether they do not allow and exercise a spirit of opposition to the comparative happiness of those below them. Is there not a disposition in you to pride yourself on being above them, and a desire that they should not rise higher, lest they come to be equal or superior to you? And from this are you not willing to see them brought down, and even to help them down to the utmost, lest at some time they may get above you? And does not all this show that you are very much under the influence of an envious spirit?

Those who talk about their faults are envious of their prosperity, and therefore speak against them. And I would desire such persons as think that they are to be justified in their opposition to others because they are not worthy of their prosperity, diligently to inquire which it is that pains and troubles them most — their neighbors' faults, or their prosperity. If it be their faults, then you would be grieved on account of them, whether the persons were prospered or not, and if truly grieved with their faults, then you would be very slow to speak of them except to themselves, and then in the true spirit of Christian compassion and friendship. But you may say, they make a bad use of their prosperity and honor; that they are lifted up by it, and cannot bear, or do not know how to manage it; that they are insufferable, and scornful, and there is no doing anything with them in their prosperity, and it is best they should be brought down; that this will tend to humble them, and that the best thing for their own good is, to bring them down to the place where they belong, and which is fittest for them. But here let me urge you strictly to inquire whether you do in truth lament the injury their prosperity does them, and whether you mourn it for their sakes, and because you love them? Do your lamentations spring from pity, or from envy? If you dislike their prosperity because it is not best for them, but does them hurt, then you will grieve for their calamity, and not at their prosperity. You will sincerely love them, and, out of this love, will be heartily sorry for their calamity, and feel a true compassion of heart for them that the disadvantages of their prosperous state are so much greater than its advantages. But is this in truth your real feeling? Do not deceive yourself. Is it their calamity that you are grieved at, or is it merely that they are prospered? Is it that you are grieved for them, that their prosperity injures them, or for yourself, that their prosperity is not yours?

Taken from Charity and its Fruits

Naff Lyrics

A popular Christian song, Salvation belongs to our God has a really appalling chorus:

and unto the lamb
be praise and glory, wisdom and thanks
honor, and power, and strength
be to our God forever and ever
be to our God forever and ever
be to our God forever and ever

When you cut up a sentence it just sounds naff if you repeat it. You forget what is actually unto our God and just hear a lot of 'Bes'. When we sing this song, I just think of buzzing and honey.

Graham Kendrick did something similar in Led like a Lamb to the Slaughter:

You’re alive, You’re alive,
You have risen, Alleluia!
And the power and the glory is given,
Alleluia, Jesus, to You.

The shrill 'Jesus to you' bit has been detatched from the rest of the sentence, so it makes no sense. One forgets what the rest of the line said and it just sounds silly.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Paris Hilton's Irregular Release

The celebrity heiress Paris Hilton has been released from the clink after just three days of her sentence, due to a medical condition. However, the court may in fact order her back to jail again.

Most people are disgusted by celecbrities getting an easy ride in the justice system, but this tendency has an ancient precedent. In ancient Rome, there was a principle in law that rich and noble Romans would receive lesser punishments because the disgrace of their fall was part of the punishment. Thus, a crime for which an ordinary Roman would be executed would be punished with banishment for a greater person. The disgrace principle makes sense, though the counter-argument would be that the famous should set an example for the rest of us.

It is remarkable that for most of us getting caught drunk driving while on probation and spending time in jail is a really bad idea, however, for Ms Hilton it is in fact a very sensible career choice, given that she is going to be even more famous and worth even more money when it is all over.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

BBC: Ministers proposing 'Britain Day'

BBC: Ministers proposing 'Britain Day'

Great idea. It is about time we had a national holiday in the UK.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Times: Putin raises spectre of nuclear war in Europe

The Times: Putin raises spectre of nuclear war in Europe

I think Mr Putin is making an excellent case for the Yanks to build a missile defence shield.