Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lifting the lid on French politics

Politics

ed Tuesday 10.00: We have been having trouble with our landline. We lose our internet connection from time to time, although it's obviously working now.


The Telegraph's leader today looks at the extraordinary allegations being made against the erstwhile French PM, Dominique de Villepin, namely that he attempted to stitch up the-then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy with trumped-up charges of taking bribes.

Maybe Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, thought that the only problem he faced with loss of Presidential immunity concerned the freewheeling manner in which he ran his expense account while Mayor of Paris. If so, then the recent moves against Villepin look ominous, since Chirac too now risks being implicated in this tale of vicious skullduggery at the heart of the ancien régime.

The leader ends with the following words:

"These are allegations that strike at the heart of the way France is governed. If proved, they will expose something very rotten in the state of its democracy and must impact on us as one of France's closest partners in Europe."


Mine was the first comment. No doubt there will be more in a similar ascerbic vein:


Comments

French voters are repeatedly reminded by their politicians about how they are blessed with having liberty, equality and fraternity.

Integrity in public life? But what is that - some tedious Anglo-Saxon obsession, a quaint puritanical self-denying ordinance perhaps ? No self-respecting French politician would allow his or her freedom of action to be constrained by anything so inconvenient and mundane as a principle.

Posted by Colin Berry on July 31, 2007 6:14 AM

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Taking a break



Yes, we're taking a short break, me and the missus. Tomorrow we head off east from Antibes, and some 5 hours and 235 miles later, barring mishaps, we expect to be checking into a hotel a few miles from the place you see in the picture (assuming it's still standing by the time we get there). Thanks, BTW, Google Earth, for the picture.

It's intended as a reccy, rather than a once-in-lifetime visit. I'll be saying more about the reasons for our trek next week.
Be advised: you probably will not read about it here. It will be a couple of pix and few hundred words at Another Place (says he mysteriously).

Science in the Independent, aka being wise after the event




Science and non-Science


Here below is an extract from that apocalyptic front page of today's Independent.

As soon as I saw the headline, I knew roughly what it would say (which poses the question as to why one would elect to read, or buy, something that is largely predictable).

A 21st century catastrophe

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Published: 24 July 2007

"... But the catastrophic "extreme rainfall events" of the summer of 2007, on 24 June and 20 July, are entirely consistent with repeated predictions of what climate change will bring.

It is nearly 10 years since the scientists of the UK Climate Impacts Programme first gave their detailed forecast of what global warming had in store for Britain in the 21st century - and high up on the list was rainfall, increasing both in frequency and intensity.

This was thought most likely to happen in winter, with summers predicted to be hotter and dryer (ed. my italics) .

But yesterday Peter Stott of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, an author of a new scientific paper linking increases in rainfall to climate change, commented: "It is possible under climate change that there could be an increase of extreme rainfall even under general drying."

(End of quotation)

Sorry, Peter Stott. Sorry Independent, but that's not science. Predicting that global warming will give hotter drier summers is no big deal. Nor is predicting that winters will be wetter: less rain in summer implies more in winter, unless unless one is predicting a Saharan climate with a year round reduction in total rainfall.

But to wait until we have had one of the most unexpected events of all - namely to be deluged by torrential, almost monsoon rain, in July- and then tell us that fits the theory too, or that the theory can be modified - retrospectively needlessto say - to accomodate new facts, is NOT science. Not only is it not science, but it is intellectual chicanery of the first order to attempt to claim credit for something that one's theory failed to predict.

For the Independent to use its front page headlines day in, day out, to proselytise the gospel of man-made global warming is one thing. Even non- scientists can appreciate that whatever the merits or otherwise of the theory, the Independent cannot be taken seriously as a serious newspaper, assuming that its role is to report NEWS, confining opinion to its leader and Comments pages.

If the Independent wishes to break with time-honoured tradition in order to embrace and proselytise a theory, then that is its decision . No one is forced to read the Independent.

But if I were Peter Stott of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, I would be seriously concerned about my scientific credentials right now. If I were funding his research, I would be seriously concerned at what I see as a serious lapse in scientific standards, assuming Stott has been quoted accurately and comprehensively.

It's just as well I have my own blog for pouring scorn on things that stick in the craw, since there is no facility under McCarthy's article to submit one's comment.

Something similar happened about 18 months ago where the Independent and its "wise-after-the event" quoting of scientists are concerned.

You may recall Sir James Lovelock (who, let me say, has made some highly significant contributions to science, notably NASA's early Mars exploration programme, for which his FRS and knighthood were fully deserved). But he then developed his quasi-religious Gaia theory, suggesting the multiplicity of life-forms on our planet behaved as a single giant organism that regulates its own environment, thereby enhancing the survival of the whole.

But Sir James then published his "Revenge of Gaia" (an absurd title I thought) claiming we had provoked Gaia too far with all our burning of fossil fuel etc, and that those self-regulating mechanisms had been fatally impaired: life on Earth was now doomed and it may well be too late to prevent a self-perpetuating cycle of destruction.

As soon as I read this in the Independent, I shot off a letter, pointing out that it was hardly scientific to predict that something was self-regulating, self-protective, one day, able to roll with the punches, so to speak, if this or that factor changed in the environment, but could then be totally overwhelmed by an increase in C02 concentration in the atmosphere from 0.033 to 0.045%.

A theory that can explain or accomodate anything and everything is not a scientific theory; the Gaia hypothesis may have a limited utility in stimulating research into mutually beneficial relationships between organisms , but Gaia is not the paradigm that some have cracked it up to be.

The Independent did/would not publish my letter. I protested, but to no avail. The Independent is not only selective in which scientists it quotes, but protects those same sources from the kind of criticism that is an accepted part of the scientific process - the kind that gives us the distinction between astronomy and astrology, or between science/technology and Scientology.

Oops, sorry, I nearly forgot. This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Now where did I put those crystals - I must remember to put them under the pillow tonight.

More on those floods and the national sport called "Seek a distraction, or, better still, a scapegoat"



Picture by Pat Rafter of Evesham (submitted to Sky News)

I posted the following a few minutes ago to today's Telegraph "You View" topic entitled "Should Cameron return from Africa to the UK floods ? "



"Personally, I think David Cameron had his priorities wrong in going to Rwanda instead of focusing on his duties as Leader of the Opposition. But now he's there, it is absurd to suggest he should break his engagements, leaving organisers in the lurch.

Re events back home: the only sure and certain flood defence is to build on high ground. However, even with the benefit of a car, it's probably only a minority of folk who wish to haul up a windy hill each day, if the only reason for doing so is to escape serious flooding that occurs only once every 50 years. Most folk in my experience (speaking as a previous hilltop dweller) prefer a level walk to shops and schools to having a spectacular view over their neighbour's rooftops.

We have built our homes on lower ground, close to river banks, flood plains even, for millenia, certainly since the Iron Age, but we seem to have forgotten the risk-benefit equation that comes from doing so.

And when the inevitable flooding occurs, what do we do ? We look round for someone to blame, for not spending enough on so-called flood defences that are hugely expensive and never perfect, and can always be overwhelmed, as New Orleans has discovered. Or we blame the nearest prominent politician for not being on the spot in his wellies, displaying his Dunkirk spirit, whilst getting under the feet of the emergency services. They are the ones who are trained to deal with situations where there are lives, rather than reputations, at risk.

The only kind of high ground being considered on this forum is the moral one, being seized by folk who are using a natural phenomenon, albeit of disaster proportions, to score some cheap political points. "

Monday, July 23, 2007

Own up ! Which of you has gone and annoyed God again ?

B&Q reports big rush for its Noah's Ark self-assembly kits (NB 1 cubit = 45.72 cm)
Humour (?)

Apologies for the flippant tone of today's post. I do not wish to make light of the distress that many are presently experiencing back in the UK. To watch an unstoppable wall of water invade one's home must be traumatic and heartbreaking. But inevitably there are those who exploit these natural disasters for their own purposes, and I do not just mean the looters or cowboy tradesmen.
Today's 'Speaker's Corner in the Telegraph asked the curious question: "What can be done to save Summer 2007 ?" . My first contribution was serious, but then some religious tubthumper by the name of "David" (David Icke ?) suggested it was all Divine punishment. That drew a quick riposte from the eloquent David Llewellyn, followed close on his heels by my own:
David writes (10.44am) : "I believe that God has had enough of this once great Christian nation's slide into godlessness, selfishness, greedy materialism, and immorality, and that this is his way of saying it."

David may be getting his instructions any day now, from on high, about building a Mark II Ark. He'd better start googling "cubits", before the servers get swamped, and get some doves trained up in homing techniques.

Special plea: ignore instructions to take two of every species, David. Leave behind the grey squirrels, mosquitoes, vampire bats, all viruses and unfriendly bacteria.

If my reading of Creationism is correct, Noah may have decided unilaterally, so to speak, to leave behind the dinosaurs and pterodactyls.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Embrace the principle of proportional representation now, David Cameron, or risk political oblivion



More Politics


The Telegraph's "Your View" topic today asks " What should Cameron do to fight back ?".
It's good to have these questions posed. If nothing else, they force one to re-examine one's own long-held positions.
I've been realising for a while that I'm becoming thoroughly disenamoured of Britain's "first -past- the- post" voting system.
Years ago it used to be claimed that a vote for the Liberals (or Lib Dems) was a "wasted vote". Isn't it the same true for the majority of the electorate with the misfortune to live in a "safe constituency", where it takes a huge swing to unseat the sitting member, whether a member of the ruling party or not ? Why do we tolerate a system that effectively disenfranchises so many folk, preventing them having any influence on which party forms the next government? Why should real political influence be confined to the relatively small number of marginal consituencies ?
OK, I can still hear Mr. "Dutchy" Holland, my school history teacher and patriarchal Deputy Head, counselling us against proportional representation. The Germans embraced it in the 30s, he said, leading first to a succession of weak Weimar governments, allowing a certain Austrian corporal to seize power through the ballot box, posing as the nation's saviour. In case the lesson was forgotten, post-war Italy seemed to have as many governments as Christmases.
Well we've avoided, by and large, the curse of weak coalition governments. Indeed, Britain is regarded as a bastion of stable government which has no doubt assisted its economic growth, at least since Thatcher's handbagging of the unions in the 80s
But what price stable government in the 21st century, when it's stable New Labour, with no one being quite sure anymore what it stands for ? Is Brown New Labour, or Old Labour, or does he simply fancy himself as a latter day Oliver Cromwell, Britain's puritan Lord Protector ? OK, so he may call an election in Spring 2008, and win it, while the electorate looks disparagingly at the New Conservatives, thinking better the New Devil you know than one on a bike who entreats us to hug hoodies, and plans trips to Darfur while our overstretched troops slug it out with insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Never mind the realpolitik, folks, just feel the empathy.
Things have crystallized in my mind. Scales have fallen from my eyes. Old Dutchy will be turning in his grave, since here's what I have just submitted:

"Given that many of us live in "safe constituencies" in which our vote counts for nothing, and can never be used to influence Government policy - or spending - there are two policy initiatives I would wish to see David Cameron embrace.

The first is to work towards bringing Tax Freedom Day forward to June 1st or earlier.

Today we read that we have to wait till tomorrow( July 23rd) for Tax Freedom, aka Cost of Government Day.
The second, which might allow a strategic alliance with the Lib Dems to break Labour's 10 year stranglehold on British politics, is to wave goodbye to our "first-past-the-post" voting system.
It has served us well in the past, but some of suspect it is now stifling our political evolution towards a fairer and more representative democracy.
Yes, the time has come for Britain to move towards Proportional Representation.
OK, so we run the risk of having weak coalition governments. Given that Gordon Brown was recently flirting with the idea of bringing Paddy Ashdown and other Lib Dems into his government, might it not be a good thing to dispense with meaningless party labels for a while, and have coalitions, shifting or otherwise, that make best use of a limited pool of available talent ?

Think about it please, Mr. Cameron."
If you don't, Mr.Cameron, then you and your party face political oblivion. It's not personalities who will rescue the Conservative Party now. It's policies that voters see as timely, practical and relevant. So why not seize the initiative: sell a different kind of PR - proportional representation- to the electorate. Succeed where the Lib Dems have failed. At least you can be sure of their support, and you' ll put clear blue water between yourself and the present brooding incumbent of No.10. Act now, before Brown has a chance to put down deep roots.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

More on the Colossus of Antibes aka the Nomade by Jaume Plensa

Jaume Plensa's "Nomade" at its "unveiling" (vernissage) on the ramparts of Antibes' Bastion St-Jaume, yesterday, Friday July 20th 2007


Art and Culture

If you have just arrived at Dreams and Daemons from a different site, please be advised that this post is a postscript to the preceding one, entitled Jaume Plensa does Antibes proud with his alphabetical Nomade.

This one is intended as a supplementary archive, with some more photographs and with biographical information on the artist and his previous works. You may well have encountered some of the artist's work in public places before, perhaps without being aware of it, eg. the new Toronto international airport.




That's the artist at the microphone in the pale suit
('point and click' to enlarge, same as other pix)

With him on his left is Jean Leonetti, Député Maire in the darker suit.
(word of caution for non-expatriate Brits: M.Leonetti is not a deputy Mayor, but combines the duties of MP (Député) in the French national parliament, and that of Maire (Mayor) of Antibes here in his local power base. One has to be careful to get that sort of thing right, bloggers included: town mayors are very important people here in France)



Here was the view from the hospitality area
Viewing at the vernissage was by invitation only. I wangled an invitation through being married to Jane, who is secretary of the Antiboulenc Association (Antibes' main cultural/artistic society which runs its own library in the Vielle Ville).


View from inside the Nomade, looking roughly south


That's one of Antibes two iconic Saracen towers you can see through the loop of the J, with the northern end of the Cap d'Antibes visible behind the X.



Recent demolition and partial restoration of the Bastion St. Jaume
When we first came to Antibes some 6 years ago, the port area where the Nomade stands was a bit of a sad sight to behold. It had once been a busy site for naval fitting out, under the name Chantier Navale, but the buildings were derelict and unsafe, being closed off to the public. The Antibes town council decided on a drastic remedy which involved demolishing everything except the remaining sections of sound stonework. It now looks somewhat bare and skeletal, but offers new vantage points for townsfolk and tourists. The port area needed something to act as a focal point, a role which the Nomade serves admirably. It's supposed to be a temporary implantation in Antibes, but given that its paintwork is weather -resistant (well, that's what it says on the plinth), how nice it would be if it could become a permanent feature : the Colossus of Antibes (?).
Links: The first is from the University of Massachusetts website with the following summary of the artist:

Plensa integrates a wide variety of materials such as iron, glass, bronze and resin to take best advantage of the more intangible qualities of light and sound as well as the ideas that arise from spoken or written texts.
His main preoccupation is with the body and the manner in which we perceive our world from the purely sensory to more complicated thoughts, gestures, and expressions. It is his realization of this participatory mode--an always present, primal interaction between perceiver and perceived--that underlies all of his work, no matter the shape it assumes.
Second link: photographs and background info on the artist's work on permanent public display at Jacksonville, Florida and Toronto.
Third link: see the official Antibes-Juan-les-Pins website (French language) for info' on the public works programme at the Bastion St-Jaume - and the flagging up of the Nomade.

Jaume Plensa does Antibes proud with his alphabetical Nomade



Art and culture


Yesterday evening Jane and I attended the "unveiling" (more correctly, vernissage) of Nomade by Jaume Plensa, that accomplished Spanish master of plastic arts.

Incidentally, that word plastic should be taken in its French meaning for 3-dimensional art (sculpture etc) irrespective of materials.

Nomade is breathtaking in its form, simplicity and perhaps symbolism, given its beguiling lattice work consisting of nothing but letters of the alphabet.

How did he manage , I keep asking myself, to create that continuous smooth, curving surface, with an intriguing broken edge at the jawline.

What, if anything, did he use as formwork ? I'll add still photographs later during the day that will knock your socks off ! Second thoughts: here's a taster, viewed from inside, looking back towards the Old Town.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Christian Adam and his "Make us Laugh" cartoons


Humour

What you see above is Christian Adam's cartoon in today's Telegraph "Make us Laugh" series. In case you weren't aware, Christian supplies the cartoon each morning without a caption, and we have to email him a fitting caption by 4pm. The result appears an hour later.

Congratulations to Robert Smyth, who is today's winner. But at the risk of seeming thick, or woefully out of touch with Pottermania, can someone please explain the caption to me, cos I don't get it !

I hope Christian (or the Telegraph) will not be upset by my filching today's cartoon for D&D. I suspect Christian will not: he's a splendid and approachable fellow - I had some email correspondence with him a while back, asking how he sets about his daily task. Does he have a particular caption in mind when he draws the cartoon, or is it pure current affairs/draughtmanship, with no attempt to elicit a particular response ? His answer was that he does it either way, which can vary from day to day !

Link: Christian Adam's website

It is Christian himself who decides the winner. Here's a suggestion to consider : Telegraph supremos and space permitting, why not publish the 5 best captions each day, as well as the winner ?

My own caption, for what it's worth, was "I got a pirated copy off the internet. "Deathly Hellos" is total rubbish."

Get it ? What do you mean you don't get it ?

Final thought: The "Little and Large" blog in the Telegraph a few moons ago showed a splendid picture of Her Maj, Philip and Charles sharing a joke at the races which turned into an unofficial caption competition. Was it that which inspired the Telegraph to formalise it ?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Did you know that it rains less in London than in most parts of Yemen ?







*
*
Environment

"Desalination plant approved for London" is the title of an article by Graham Tibbetts in today's Telegraph.
He quotes a spokesman from the WWF, apparently wearing his "rent 'n environmentalist" hat, who condemns the scheme as too costly, and inappropriate for Britain which he says " is not Yemen and gets lots of rain".

That sent me hotfoot to the keyboard with the following missive:

"This is the UK, not Yemen, and it rains here a lot".

Sorry, Mr. Oates, but you really ought to check your facts before you go talking to the media.

Those of us with a predilection for collecting jaw-dropping statistics have long known that Southend-on-Sea, the driest place in Britain, has less rain each year than Jerusalem.
Out of interest, I have just done a comparison with Yemen.

"Average annual precipitation in Yemen varies from 910 mm (36 inches) to 500 mm (20 inches) depending on the region."


In other words, Southend-on-Sea, with an average annual rainfall of 517mm, is only slightly wetter than the driest place in Yemen with 500mm.

That desalination plant on the Thames estuary is long overdue, and could have been up and running years ago, maintaining the year-round quality of life of those who live and work in London.

It would have been, but for obstruction by the over-opinionated Ken Livingstone, assorted hairshirts and others promoting their allegedly green credentials, whilst ignoring, or ignorant of, the scientific facts and hard reality.

The very idea that Londoners should have to eke out water as though living in a desert oasis is ludicrous."

Posted by Colin Berry on July 19, 2007 6:20 AM

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Digg auto-created blog post

Blog watch/Digg

ed: You will find below a link to the Digg article referred to in the previous post. It appears here automatically through my having experimented with the Digg's "blog it" command.

Having previously registered Dreams and Daemons with Digg ( a major news aggregation site), hitting that key is all that is necessary for it to appear as a ready-made blog post !

But I've cheated, or rather meddled. It appeared initially under the title of the original post (Is Humanity Doomed Unless We Colonize Mars Within 46 Years?) but I wasted no time in replacing it with the one above. Folk might otherwise have thought it was my title, or that I had adopted American spelling !

Here's is the body of the auto-created post, which only makes sense if read under its original title:

"Dr. J. Richard Gott believes it is. He has issued a wake-up call: To ensure our long-term survival, we need to get a colony up and running on Mars within 46 years. "

read more digg story

Digg gets a new recruit

Science, environment and space exploration


Digg.com, as I'm sure you are aware, is a site where you submit items you have read, and invite comments. Those comments in turn attract other comments.

The key feature is the ability to register approval or disapproval - of the original item or subsequent comments.

Its ethos is very American - reading the comments I get the impression, right or wrong, I'm the only Brit there so far. Whilst unable or unwilling to adopt protective colouring re prose style, I am obediently following the advice of the US-English spellcheck, so that -ise word endings become -ize etc.

The topic that caught my interest was one claiming (on the basis of somewhat tendentitious probability theory) that Planet Earth is doomed, and that we should therefore waste no time in colonizing Mars.

I've sent two comments. The first, this one, has already attracted a couple of "diggs" ( approvals), which is a relief, given the culture shock I feel on this site.


"Why Mars. ? Why not the Moon ? Oh, silly me. I forgot. Mars has a atmosphere - a thin one, without oxygen. It's so thin that the atmospheric pressure on Mars is less than 1% of Earth's, so you would need a pressurised space suit for Mars same as if you were on the Moon. Water ? Sure there's water, but none of it can exist as liquid, on account of the near-vacuum conditions, so you'd have to chip it out of the poles as ice. Temperature ? Much cooler than the Earth or Moon, being so much further from the Sun. And if something seriously goes wrong, I'd much rather be on the Moon, a mere quarter of a million miles away than a 6 month journey or longer in space, with proportionately greater chance of being hit by a micrometeorite or frazzled by radiation.

If mankind cannot make the Sahara and other deserts hospitable (a new project on my recent blog, plug, plug) what chance is there of colonising Mars in our lifetimes?"



Footnote: I discovered after posting I'm not supposed to promote my own blog, at risk of being barred. It's considered "advertising". That is a strange position: cross-linking between sites, aided by search engines, is what makes the internet so powerful as a research tool. I'm amazed that Digg should have adopted so Luddite a posture on that, and that its vocal clientèle have not rubbished and buried it. Which reminds me: if you don't like what you read on Digg, you can hit the "Bury" key !

Update: Wed 22:52 I have now been awarded 4 diggs (votes of approval) on the above, which is about 3 more than your typical score (if you'll forgive the blowing of one's own trumpet). Have finally been able to access my second comment (below) which so far has attracted only one measly digg , boo hoo, as Sarah might say. But the number of readers does tend to fall of sharply as the story drops out of sight. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.


"You have to hand it to them: NASA and other agencies have done a masterly PR job in promoting Mars as an almost Earth-like planet that could be made habitable with just that little extra effort, and a trillion dollars too, give or take.

That much is clear, not just from the thrust of this article, but the few comments regarding Mars' absence of anything that could be described as tolerable atmosphere.

Look at the number of folk here who state the main problem as absence of oxygen. That's the least of one's problems. To get oxygen on Mars, all you would need to collect some polar ice, melt it, then electrolyze it to hydrogen and oxygen (using a solar array as a source of DC electricity). Oxygen is not the problem, which is the lack of a magnetosphere, causing Mars to have lost virtually all its atmosphere of C02, nitrogen etc.

There's so little atmospheric pressure, as I said earlier, less than 1% of Earth's, that the smallest tear in your spacesuit would cause you puff up like a pumpkin and probably explode, giving the "Red Planet" a whole new twist. I

've been convinced for some years that NASA et al have played down the near-vacuum conditions on Mars. That's to make it it seem more hospitable than it really is, so as to keep us gullible folks on side, voting billions of funds for pie-in-the-sky space programs. They want us to see Mars as the next step in man's journey to the stars. Bollocks ! It's the end of the line where mankind is concerned .

Personally I'd prefer to see the money spent on making the Sahara and other deserts bloom, creating new carbon sinks, keeping this jewel of a planet habitable.

PS As a newcomer to Digg can someone explain why I have difficulty in scrolling to the end of comments ? I'm generally unable to get closer than an hour ago, and then get stopped by the Send Your Own Comment box.

More gripes

Moan(s) of the day

Fresh from my victory with lastminute.com, Moan of the day was going to be about my experience with laptop computers and with the electrical chain (Darty) from whom I so unwisely bought them. But that can wait a day or two.

Before moving on, has anyone encountered the problem that is bugging me right now, which is entering text online (reader feedback, blog comments etc) and finding that the text stops adding at the end, and inserts itself in the middle of previous sentences ?

Come to think of it, it's not just online. I had the problem yesterday when using Microsoft word offline.

This laptop was recently upgraded from 256 to 512MB, so lack of physical RAM should not be the problem. The hard drive was defragged this morning, but the problem still there.

It should not be a virus if McAfee is doing its job. I also occasionally run free checks for tracking software with Lava etc, but the definitions are now way out of date.

Any ideas as to what could be causing the problem ? Overheating ?

Change of subject: Andrew Marr is one of my favourite TV journalists. Don't you just love that engaging, mischievous, gently ribbing style of his? He's taken potshots today at a number of things in his Telegraph column, including one of my own bêtes noirs, namely those cattle markets that we call airports.

I submitted the following, perhaps too quickly, grammatical errors and all :

"My pet hate is being moved from the so-called final departure lounge to a final departure corridor, without seats, and usually without ventilation, where one stands jammed together for half an hour or more watching the incoming flight arrive and slowly disorge its passengers.

Ryanair did this to us at Marseille recently, en route to Madrid, despite ours being the last flight out that evening, leaving behind us a deserted departure lounge.

One of us was also given a so-called priority boarding pass, as a reward for carrying hand baggage only, for which others had to pay - some £3 as I recall- but the value of which is somewhat questionable or even negated when a bus arrives to take one to the aircraft, onto which everyone swarms aboard, with or without those passes.

Do airline and airport executives ever join with hoi polloi to experience the sheer misery of what they have inflicted upon us in the name of cost-effective crowd control ?"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My dream for making the desert bloom

Planet Earth and environment




Sahara desert - before the great 21st century greening project




After the greening project

The Sahara desert is an untapped resource in two chief respects:


1. It receives a vast amount of solar energy from the sun, much of which at present simply heats the desert and the air above it. It would be better to convert this energy to electricity and food.


2. If the Sahara and other deserts (Australia etc) could be made to bloom, it would remove sizeable amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through creation of new carbon sinks.

So what, you may wonder, is running through those pipes (shown blue) that has produced the miraculous greening of the desert ?

Water, from desalination plants ? No, water is heavy, needing too much energy to pump long distances.

In fact the pipes contain hydrogen gas, produced by solar-powered electrolysis plants sited along the shoreline of the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans.

The hydrogen is piped inland, where it is burned (at nightime) to produce electricity and pure water. Electricity is produced during the day from solar arrays.

The water that collects overnight is then used to create a patchwork of small desert oases, being suitable for both crop irrigation and for drinking.

Feasible ? The science is I believe OK, but there are some formidable technological problems still to be overcome. I'll be discussing these in future posts. In the meantime, I'll be scouring the internet for possible solutions, and maybe register with some specialist online discussion groups, such as those hosted by Digg etc.

Economics ? The threat of global warming and climate change means that old schemes, previously dropped for requiring too big an initial capital outlay, can now be dusted off and looked at afresh. That is dependent, needless to say, on being able to produce convincing evidence that such schemes can slow or counter the effects of man-made climate change through excessive burning of fossil fuels.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My flashy next door neighbour called Juan-les-Pins


One of the main drags in the centre of Juan-les-Pins

Living in France


Feeling jaded ? Want to show you can still strut your stuff with the best of them ? Inner man or woman in need of a pep ?

The place for you in my part of the world is Juan-les-Pins. It’s Antibes' next door neighbour, but the two places are chalk and cheese. They could be 50 miles apart to judge on scenery, and light years apart in temperament.

Antibes is first and foremost an ancient fortified port. Traditionally austere, it then discovered that narrow back alleys attract tourists in droves if filled with cafés, boutiques, bars etc.

But Antibes faces east, with only a few privileged places catching the sun in the late afternoon and evening, and there’s a dearth of places where one can wine and dine with a sea view. Most serious drinking of an evening is done on the Boulevard d’Aguillon, which has the monumental Courtine blocking the view of the harbour, save for the odd archway or two.

Juan-les-Pins in contrast is a purpose-built modern resort, founded in the early 20th century on a sweeping pine-backed bay that faces south. It is first and foremost a destination for sun-worshippers, in which private enterprise has bagged the most accessible stretches of sand for beach clubs and restaurants.
There's a curious feature about the way the place has developed: although there is no shortage of restaurants along the promenade, with their stunning views of the Esterel massif to the west, there are relatively few bars . Those wishing merely to have a drink find themselves funnelled into the relatively small area with a concentration of glitzy boutiques, neon lights, ornamental palms, ice cream parlours, with the Casino luring in free-spending punters with flashy cars to match.



Beach club restaurant. The leaning palm a warning of things to come ?

(according to this week's Sunday Times global warming may soon be bringing hurricanes to the Mediterranean !)


There are the inevitable Brazilian acrobats, doing their amazing somersaults on hard unforgiving asphalt, the street traders and beggars. Kittens are popular this year with the latter, no doubt to attract silver from the pockets of parents with small children or from kind-hearted old ladies.

There was a sprinkling of hookers, looking appraisingly at unaccompanied males (except me with my camera), probably pickpockets and drug dealers (the downside of Juan in the season) and a very visible police presence, including the CRS heavies.

Juan-les-Pins is a place we visit once, maybe twice a year of a summer’s evening, generally when there’s the added attraction of a firework display, as was the case last Saturday on Bastille Day.
Juan-les-Pins, you see, is a frontal assault on the senses, but not somewhere I'd wish to be for a week. It’s that crush of humanity, with inevitable loss of personal space that hits one, and the strange intensity and impersonality. Despite sitting cheek by jowl in the crowded street bars, strangers rarely talk to each other once the sun sets.


Another beach club restaurant, looking west towards Golfe Juan


The fireworks were splendid. We saw new ones we've never seen before. There were some that created lacy orange sprays in the sky and sea level, reminiscent of weeping willow trees. There were others which pulsed in red strobe-like flashes on the way down, and others which ended as incandescent flares floating on the sea, like theatre footlights.

I didn’t have my camera . Who takes a camera to Juan after dark except to take pictures of friends across the table. ? One goes to Juan to revel, not record for posterity.

So I returned last night alone, sat at the same bar, walked the same lanes and promenade, taking pictures without a flash, which explains why they are in some cases an impressionist blur.

Make sure you have your speakers activated when you play the YouTube clip which I took outside the place called Pam Pam, with the vocalists and band inside pushing decibels aplenty out into the street.










There's a street with two ice cream parlours, with just a shop separating the two. If you like rum and raisin, avoid the one that claims to be Italian – its offering tastes of neither rum nor raisin. In fact it tastes of nothing at all.





Ice cream parlour (I'll try this one first next time in preference to its neighbour)


If you have a few hours at your disposal, book a table for dinner at one of the beach restaurants eg Juanita, and watch the sun go down behind the jagged Esterel, the far side of Cannes, with a candle on the table. Magic ! But smear yourself well, especially ankles, to protect against things that bite in the night.

Cute to look at, perhaps, but not electric: has a rasping little two stroke engine




The main casino

Links Pam Pam

It pays to complain

A dispute resolved

A week ago or thereabouts I had a go here at lastminute.com under the heading "Moan of the day".

I shan't bother repeating here in detail what it was about - it's all in the link above. Sufffice it to say that we finally had a reply from lastminute by email this morning.

They took up our complaint with Confortel Suites about their Madrid hotel being described as central and ideally situated when it is, in fact, way out in the north- eastern suburbs, 10 stops on the Metro from the centre, needing a change of train as well.

Lastminute said the hotel was unwilling to accept any liability for what it agrees is a misleading description, thanks to which we weren't able to see nearly as much as we wanted in the time available. As a goodwill gesture, lastminute.com has refunded £100 to our account from its own resources.

It took them a while to respond - a full month in fact - which is far too long. But they apologised for that as well, and I consider the settlement to be a fair one, don't you ? As the title says, it pays to complain, especially if one has a cyber-rooftop from which to shout, aka a blog!

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Queen, the BBC and that Orwellian doctored film footage

Yesterday's hot topic


Here's one I made earlier, and submitted to the thread of readers' comments beneath a leader in today's Telegraph.


"It was not just the transposing of scenes to create a false impression that was appalling and unforgiveable. It was the early, and as it turned out, false reports too, carried in this paper and elsewhere, that Her Majesty was seen and heard to interrupt Annie Leibovitz before she had completed her sentence, and then supposedly shot back with "Less dressy?" making her sound as if she were on a different planet.

Maybe that was what the clip intended to do, especially as we now know that it was intended for private circulation only (according to the BBC)- a schoolboy attempt to lampoon monarchy and make it look ridiculous and out-of-touch.

In fact if one listens to the clip one hears Leibovitz complete her sentence with the word "dressy" before Her Majesty makes clear she is unhappy with the request to remove her tiara.

Despite the BBC's excuses and attempts at damage limitation, I am appalled that such liberties could be taken with footage from a Palace media-shoot involving our much respected and cherished Head of State.

The BBC's explanations do not, I'm afraid, convince me. There is something rotten and nauseating in the heart of that organization. It seems to consider itself the real voice of the United Kingdom, holding the only opinions that matter, expecting the entire world to genuflect to its presence.The sooner it is cut down to size the better. That should not be too difficult, seeing how we - taxpayers and Her Majesty's subjects- pay its fat salaries."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

That encounter between the Queen and Annie Leibovitz


Personalities

ed: I followed this with a later blog post entitled "The Queen, the BBC and that Orwellian doctored film", once my suspicions were confirmed that there had been some liberties taken in the editing of the photoshoots at Buckingham Palace. A plague on your houses, BBC and associated companies. You are beneath contempt.

Am I the only one to be puzzled and bemused by that brief spat involving the Queen and fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz ?

It was all captured in a fly-on-the-wall documentary to be screened in the autumn (which I'm just itching to see, being a real sucker for those rare glimpses of the Her Maj' speaking off the cuff.

Here's what passed between the two strong-minded ladies, according to today's Telegraph:

"I think it will look better without the crown because the garter robe is so..."

Before she could finish the sentence the Queen shot an icy glance at the photographer and said: "Less dressy? What do you think this is?" referring to her robes which came complete with diamonds and ermine.

The Queen, who is rarely seen ruffled in public, then turned on her heel and strode out of the room with a courtier in hasty pursuit lifting the large train of her blue velvet cape off the floor.

The Queen was then heard pointedly telling a lady-in-waiting: "I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this thank you very much."


I'm not sure I understand why the Queen shot back first with "less dressy".


Even if Ms. Leibovitz was on the point of saying "dressy" before being so royally interrupted, "less dressy" would seem be something of a non-sequitur, if you'll pardon me saying, Your Majesty. In any case, Leibovitz was about to say "extraordinary" according to the Sky News report of the incident.

I cannot help but wonder if there was not some history between the two that had preceded this video clip.

Maybe the photographer had already got under Her Majesty's skin by the manner in which she had set about her assignment ( "the Rolling Stones today, Queen of England tomorrow, who's down for Thursday ?").

Maybe Her Maj anticipated the word "extraordinary" or something similar, and immediately rankled, the way I rankled, when reading a Stateside comment re Britain's monarchy which the writer described as "bizarre".

I remember being sufficiently miffed to fire off an instant riposte. Thanks to the power of Google I've been able to dredge it up from the archives ( a Telegraph staff blog):

"An earlier comment in these threads about Americans considering our Royal Family (aka constitutional monarchy) "bizarre" is another case in point. Call it traditional, outdated, undemocratic if you want, but don't call it bizarre unless you deliberately want to get backs up."


One wonders if the Queen felt a similar indignation, confronted by a hint of garrulousness on the part of our transatlantic cousin, the latter coping as best she could with a situation entirely out of her experience.

Which reminds me: do older readers recall a similar situation involving Walter Annenberg, back in the 1970s, who on being introduced to Her Maj as new US Ambassador to the Court of St. James, broke into that "elements of refurbishment" monologue. Curiously it too was captured for posterity on the first Royal fly-on-the- wall documentary, to the poor man's everlasting embarrassment.

In fact I do feel a certain sympathy for the photographer: the combination of crown and robe is indeed overkill in a purely photogenic sense.




One is reminded of that magnificent 1954 Annigoni portrait of the Queen in her Garter robes sans crown, showing a beautiful head of hair and giving its owner an almost defiant heroic quality, yet highly feminine with it too.












Acknowledgements to all those, including the Telegraph, whose pictures appear here. te

Update Thursday pm


Lots of new developments since penning the above. The most noteworthy is that the BBC has issued an apology to the Queen for editing the tape in the programme's trailer to make it seem as if the Queen had stormed off in a huff.

She had done no such thing. The BBC had taken a shot of her on the way to the photoshoot, with those words : "I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this thank you very much " and then cut and spliced it to appear after the photo session to make it seem like a flouncy exit. Methinks a BBC producer might benefit from a spell in the Tower for his lèse majesté.


But that's not all. I suspect there may have been some monkeying, or at any rate, premature truncation of the soundtrack also to create what seemed like a non sequitur on the Queen's part.

But according to the Guardian, the Queen did not, it seems, interrupt before Annie had completed her sentence.


I quote:
"Yesterday, at the BBC1 autumn launch, journalists were shown clips from the forthcoming RDF Television-produced documentary series, A Year with the Queen, in which Leibovitz was shown asking the monarch to remove her crown so the shot would look "less dressy."
So Annie did use the words "less dressy", making the Queen's reply entirely sensible, relevant and coherent.
Update:
It's now 8:45 London time, and the BBC's apology has been up several hours. But no-one seems to have told Sky News (online). Judge for yourself by the following words that accompany the trailer clip.


"The Queen is used to having her picture taken, but it seems one photographer pushed her majesty too far. Snapper Annie Leibowitz provoked a royal walkout when she asked the Queen to take off her crown while posing for a portrait."
Orla Chennaoui reports.
There was no walkout, Orla, and your editors have failed abysmally in their responsibility to warn viewers of that video clip that the so-called "walkout" preceded the photoshoot.
Returning to an earlier point, here's how Sky quotes Annie:
"Before she could finish the sentence the Queen shot an icy glance at the photographer and said: "Less dressy? What do you think this is?" referring to her robes which came complete with diamonds and ermine. "
But if you listen to the soundtrack on Sky's own video clip, Annie IS heard to end her sentence with the word "dressy". So what can you believe these days ? We've seen two instances of seriously sloppy journalism. I blame the schools myself.

Monday, July 09, 2007

New look Dreams and Daemons - Day 1


Politics


For several days now, the Telegraph has been urging us to sign its petition, calling on Gordon Brown to honour promises that we, the UK public, would be allowed a referendum on Europe in the event of more powers being conceded to Brussels.


Well, in what must be on one of the most dastardly acts by any PM in decades, Tony Blair, at the 59th minute of the 11th hour of his benighted premiership, did just that, allowing a failed Constitution to be resurrected as as Treaty, effectively selling the UK down the river. Borroso is telling Brown that he is duty-bound to honour Tony Blair's treacherous undertakings.


The Telegraph has 3276 responses its petition so far. I have not tried reading them all, but most needless to say are predictably against ceding any more power to the EU, which most folk see as intent on becoming a United States of Europe.


Whilst agreeing with much of what is being said about the arrogance of Brussels bureaucracy, its contempt for democratic processes, there's another side of the argument that is not being articulated. I have sent the following, with tongue in cheek, obviously, but I confess to wobbling on the assumption that we need to keep Europe at arm's length (supposing that were possible).


Here's what I've submitted:


"Why don't we just accept that we're a clapped out nation, thanks to comprehensive education, political correctness, over-taxation, uncontrolled immigration, corporate greed, social atomisation, gutter press and so-called reality TV, booze culture, knife culture, gridlock on roads, rail and utility privatization, government spin and dossier doctoring, imperial pretensions and self-appointed global policing, devaluation of university degrees, mismanagement of the NHS, squandering of billions of taxpayers' money on botched projects, overpriced public transport, rip-off consumer goods indistry, destruction of industrial base, national obsession with celebrity and trivia in general, dumbed down media, home-grown terrorists, break-up of the UK, unaffordable homes, record levels of debt, ASBOs a badge of strret cred, highest level of divorce in Europe, graduate debt .... sorry, I'll have to stop there - there's somebody at the door - probably a crooked utility salesman or distraction burglars.


Given that our country has been so thoroughly trashed in the last 20 years, can Barosso's EU Empire really do any worse ?



Why not give wholehearted membership of the EU a try ? Can things really get any worse than they are now, short of outbreaks of rioting in the streets ? Might things not become better in a fully-fledged United States of Europe ? Let's face it: the UK is a busted flush."



With this new format, using standardized headings (politics, humour etc) I've been a bit slow to realize how to exploit the format to best effect.

So far I've been entering text under the headings in any order, depending on which ideas come first, and leaving you, the reader, to hunt for new content.

That's hardly user-friendly now, is it ? So what I'm doing now is placing the most-recently updated heading at the top of the page.

So here's the most recent one to be updated: Moan of the Day, with star-billing for, da da,

lastminute.com.

Moan of the Day


Update Monday July 16


We finally received a reply from lastminute.com this morning. It was most apologetic for the delay in responding to our complaint ( see below). The misleading description of our Madrid hotel as having an "ideal central location" had been supplied, they said, by the hotel, which was unwilling to entertain any claim for compensation. We were pleased, then, to be told that as a gesture of goodwill, lastminute.com was returning £100 to our account, no less. That's actually a bit more than I was expecting, but I'm not complaining !


The hotel was called Confortel Suites. It's on a street called Lopez de Hoya in the Prosperidad district, on the north-eastern side of Madrid. The nearest Metro station, 10 stops from central Madrid was called Alfonso XIII.


Finding ourselves in the the outer suburbs was not our only complaint. After one night there, Jane was suffering dizziness and nausea, which we traced to a bad smell from the bathroom. I discovered that the wash-hand basin had been plumbed in without benefit of a U-bend.

We were moved to a different room, which was free of odour (despite having the same slaphappy plumbing). One assumes that the sink in the first room was closer to the main soil pipe.


Anyone considering a visit to Madrid may do well to consider giving Confortel Suites a miss - unless, that is, they like long Tube journeys, and the smell of drains.


Anyway our thanks to lastminute.com. They took their time responding, but finally recognized the legitimacy of our complaint. There are many things we weren't able to see or do in Madrid, especially in the evening, through being unwilling to make that long and tedious return journey twice in one day.

Original post



Be very wary of lastminute.com, especially its so-called "Secret Hotels" deals. That's where you don't know which hotel you will be in until after you have paid.

Now why would anyone willingly agree to such terms, you may ask ?

Because you can find yourself booked into a good, well-situated hotel at half or less the normal price. We used the "secret hotel" deal on our last visit to London, and found ourselves in the Holiday Inn near Gloucester Rd tube station - but then we were told that we would be somewhere in Kensington.

Perhaps as the result of that one good experience we lowered out guard, and tried the same deal in Madrid last month. Lastminute.com stated we would be "in an ideal central location... ideal for business travellers or leisure visitors".

We arrived at night, and had the jolting experience next morning of finding we were on the north-east outskirts of Madrid, a ten euro taxi ride to the centre, or 10 stops on the Metro, no less, needing a change.

Well, we were not amused, needless to say, and said so at reception. But decided to put up with it, and not let it get us down, whilst resolving to lodge a strong protest to lastminute.com when we got home, and press for some compensation for the extra out-of-pocket expenses.

There's worse to come. It took a while to find a "contact us/complain" facility on the website. We finally found it, complained we had been seriously misled, that it had impacted on our enjoyment of our holiday.

Back came an auto-reply saying we might have to wait 28 days for our complaint to be dealt with. We sent a second message a few days later, saying we expected our complaint to be dealt with more speedily. It was, after all, a simple matter of misleading description - a hotel that is 10 stops on the tube from the centre is hardly "an ideal central location". It's as if one booked for a central London hotel, and found oneself out at Golders Green (yes, I've counted 10 stations from Picadilly Circus).

Apart from a second auto reply, we've had no reply as yet to our complaint, made some 3 weeks ago !

Lastminute.com would not exist if it were not for the internet. One has to take on trust the few words of description that one reads on its website. If lastminute.com betrays that trust, and then fails to respond to complaints posted through its own website facility, then it is guilty under the Trade Descriptions Act.

I hope through tags and feeds, Tradings Standards Office will be reading this, or the BBC's Watchdog programme, or anyone, for that matter, thinking of using the services of lastminute.com. That organization is taking huge liberties with its online customers, and spoiling folks' holiday plans. Do they really wish to gain the reputation of being a grubby organization?

Politics

Gordon Brown wants us to believe that spin has no part to play in his brand of politics. Yet his response the welcome MCB statement condemning the actions of the mad medic fire-bombers was to place an embargo on use of the terms Muslim or even Islamist when describing those who engage in suicide bombing. That was presumably a sop to the MCB line that condemns the media for describing as Muslims or Islamists people who wage jihad in the name of Islam. It is tantamount, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) claims, to describing IRA terrorists as "Catholic terrorists".

That is ridiculous: the IRA campaign was never about imposing a fundamentalist form of Catholicism on Ulster, even assuming such a thing existed. Nor did the IRA ever resort to suicide bombing, because its agenda was primarily political, not religious. Nor were there any Catholic priests urging the IRA to become suicide bombers, with promises of rewards of the flesh awaiting them in paradise, even if some priests were sympathetic to the aims of the IRA, if ot the methods .

If it is true that Gordon Brown has banned use of the M or I word, then that in my view is a depressing and dangerous concession to political correctness. It makes us all a hostage to fortune, allowing the MCB, if so inclined, to retreat back to its previous state of denial, but one that is enormously strengthened, and can then be presented as a propaganda coup. Brown's line should have been : "Now you're talking sense, and not before time. But let's not stop there. Let's get a few other things straight while we're about it".

By rewarding the MCB with the right to dissociate non-terrorist Muslims from what is done in their name, by extremists in their midst ( whose identities are often known, or suspected, but rarely if ever reported, because they are basically "nice boys") Brown is guilty, if not of positive spin, but of negative spin. But it's spin all the same, because by gagging his Ministers and others in Government, preventing them from telling it the way it is, he's putting an undeserved gloss on things, by default.

The Koran and hidiths are open to numerous interpretations, some of them involving indiscriminate slaughter of non-Muslims. For as long as misguided individuals, including (amazingly) hospital doctors, whose intended role was to save life, try their level best to kill us in the name of Islam, then we are entitled, indeed obliged, to describe them as Islamist terrorists. That sends a no-nonsense signal to mainstream non-violent Islam that it's time it put its house in order.

If the IRA had acted in the name of Christianity, we in the West (not just the UK) - Christians, other religions, agnostics and atheists - would have been out in the streets protesting furiously at their attempt to sign us up to their psychotic tendencies.

Gordon Brown has failed his first test, and by his own yardstick, namely his claim that spin is a thing of the past.

Personalities

Watch this space


Blog watch

This heading was intended as a bit of self-chivvying - to get me touring some of the millions of other blogs out there, and reporting back on anything that stood out from the background.

But I'm hijacking this title today for something different that may look like self-promotion (which it is) but is possibly a pearl of wisdom for fellow bloggers.

Down at the bottom of this page is my Mark II hit counter, the same as the one of Sarah Hague's (where I discovered it). If you click on it, you will find it gives an amazing amount of detail about visitors to this site, eg the site from which they have arrived.

An increasing number of visitors come to this site from Google searches, and the hit meter even reveals what people have entered into their search profile.

Yesterday I was toying with the idea of putting up a post on search-engine superfluity - a majority of folk enter whole phrases into Google, when as we know it ignores words like "from", "to", "in" etc unless part of a phrase within quotation marks.

But something else caught my attention that has left me absolutely gobsmacked, and not a little delighted too. Someone ( a visitor to this site, but I won't say who) had simply entered "conforama" ( the French furniture chain) and had been led to this site ? Why, I wondered ? So I entered conforama, and guess what ? Dreams and Daemons was on the second page of listings. All I had done was list Conforama among stores that sell dodgy imported goods. It was not singled out for particular attention.

Today I discovered a visitor from Adelaide in South Australia, and wondered if it was the splendid "Bearsy" who, along with his missus Boadicea makes brilliant contribution to My Tel ( which I still read, but no longer post to).

But then I looked at the Google search profile from Adelaide. It was simply "places to visit in Madrid". When I keyed it into Google, I found my recent post on Madrid there on the very first page of listings !

Why you may ask is a personal blog with a modest Technorati ranking appearing so high in Google searches ?

I think it's because of "info-mass", my own variant on the term "bio-mass". This blog has been going for some 9 months during which time I've posted on a wide range of topics that through tags have linked to hundreds of other sites. Google rankings are apparently determined largely by one's web of linkages, and as the months go by, a site like this acquires a progressively higher profile.

The moral then, to fellow bloggers, is to be patient, take a long term view, keep posting, and as time goes by one gets picked up by the search engines, attracting more and more visitors, creating more hits and links, attracting more visitors etc etc. It's in effect a virtuous circle.

There will be some who judge a site purely by the number of comments. I won't pretend that I'm indifferent to the relative paucity on this site, but I hope these few words will demonstrate that success or otherwise in blogging can be measured by more than one yardstick.



Living in France

Buying and selling property in France can hit one with much larger expenses than in Britain, especially estate agents fees. last week I was quoted a whopping fee of 6% to sell a small guest apartment, which is a five figure sum in euros !

In fact, I'll probably let it out instead, but it was an opportunity to try direct selling through the internet. I keyed in "Antibes property" into Google to get a high-profile listing, paid my £59 last Friday for an ad with 4 photos, and it appeared yesterday:

http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/frenchpropertyextradetails.asp?property=PremierAdvert1167448M6


I'll let you know if and when there's a response.

Already the firm has emailed to warn of crooks who offer to buy the property without viewing it. They weren't specific, but we've heard that it typically involves persuading gullible folk to accept cash, which is counterfeit, needless to say.


Lifestyle

Watch this space

Money matters

"Olympics Budget is out of Control" was the title of an article by Brendan Carlin in today's Telegraph (Tue 10th). Here's the first comment that went up, from your truly, NTS:


"Calculated per competing athlete, of which there were some 11,100 at the most recent (Athens) Olympics, a bill for £9bn represents well over three quarters of a million pounds per sprinter, long jumper, javelin thrower etc.

There is simply no justification for this level of expenditure, especially as it comes every 4 years, and is foist in the first instance on cities rather than entire countries.

London should be the last old-syle Olympics. There should then be a permanent site, carefully chosen for clean unpolluted air (which rules out a number of previous venues, Athens included).

We should now swallow our pride, and propose a belated sharing of the 2012 Olympics with Paris, or perhaps Madrid and other failed contenders.

The disastrous way in which London came to be selected with a blank cheque from Blair, Brown, Livingstone and Coe, is a signal lesson in what happens when Parliament cedes too much power to the Executive. The media also failed to exercise proper vigilance, preferring instead the easy headlines to be gained from the narcissistic showbiz presentations that took place in Singapore. "



Humour
Cannot resist plagiarising a joke that appeared from a contributor on Damian Thompson's Telegraph blog:

I can beat that one
peterNW1 10 Jul 2007 00:03

St Peter decides to take the day off to go fishing, so Jesus offers to keep an eye on the Pearly Gates for him. Jesus is not sure what to do, so Peter tells him to find out a bit about people as they arrive in Heaven, and this will help him decide if he can let them in. After a while, Jesus sees a little old man with white hair and a white beard approaching who looks very, very familiar. He asks the old man to tell him about himself. The old man says, "I had a very sad life. I was a carpenter and had a son who I lost at a relatively young age, and although he was not my natural child, I loved him dearly." Jesus looks closely at the old man, "How would you recognise your son"? "He has holes in his hands and feet". Jesus wells up with emotion. He throws his arms around the old man and cries, "Joseph!" The old man replies, "Pinocchio?"

New template for Dreams and Daemons

Yes, here's my new blogging template, as flagged in a comment on Sarah's current post.
(Thanks BTW Sarah for the award under "Thinking" bloggers).

Here are the provisional headings.

Each time I put up a new post, I'll try to say something under at least 3 or 4 headings, and then fill in the blanks in the following day or two. Once the template is filled up, it will be time to repeat the exercise with a new blank template.



Politics
xxxxxx


Personalities
xxxxxx


Blog watch
xxxxxx


Living in France
xxxxxx


Travel
xxxxxx


Lifestyle
xxxxxx


Money matters
xxxxxx


Moan of the Day
xxxxxx


Humour
xxxxxx



Technical note: it's been a bit tedious creating even this small template, since there is no formatting wizard on Blogger.

To avoid having to repeat the exercise, I have saved the format to email (hoping the style attributes - font size, bold, colour etc - are saved and then back-pasteable).

As a belt and braces safeguard, I am also pasting to a series of draft posts that can then be stored in draft mode, and then activated at will. But there's a snag doing it that way, as I've previously discovered: when one finally hits the Publish key it appears on the date it was created, instead of the date published , with no facility that I can see to edit the date. However I can always copy and past the entire page to a New Post if necessary.

Any thoughts on those categories ? Are there any obvious ones I've overlooked ?

PS: As suspected the formatting commands are lost when one tries to Copy and Paste a template in Blogger, whether direct or from email. There's a trick one can use, which is to save the HTML coded version, to paste that into a blank page in HTML mode, then convert back.


Here's what my template looks like in HTML:


Politicsxxxxxx
Personalitiesxxxxxx
Blog watchxxxxxx
Living in Francexxxxxx
Travelxxxxxx
Lifestylexxxxxx
Money mattersxxxxxx
Moan of the Dayxxxxxx
Humourxxxxxx

PPS Oops. It's gone and "translated" the code without being asked to do so. I'd forgotten that can happen. There are blocking codes to stop that happening, but I'd have to look them up.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Le Tour de south London suburbia

It's 12: 50pm French time, and along with tens of millions in Europe and elsewhere, I have been watching the first stage of the so-called Tour de France.

But as everyone knows, it has made a rare return to British roads -a signal honour, one would think, especially given the recent blow to French pride re the awarding to London of the 2012 Olympics.

So you might have expected some care with the choice of route, to make it a treat for cyclists and TV viewers alike. I knew it was to end at Canterbury, a well-deserved favourite with French cross-channel day-trippers.

I also knew that the route is to take in a lengthy stretch of delectable Kent countryside, so-called Garden of England. But for the last 45 minutes I have seen nothing but unprepossessing south London suburb, with overpasses, long drab sections, industrial estates, power station chimneys.


London's delightful Thames Estuary, looking south from the Dartford Crossing towards route of Tour de France from Greenwich to Canterbury

The helicopter camera then lingered over the Dartford Crossing aka Queen Elizabeth Bridge, as desolate a stretch of Thames Estuary as one can imagine (see above), with that cheapo cable stayed-suspension bridge, with adjacent fuel storage tanks.

Which cretinous individual was responsible for choosing Greenwich (in itself a atmospheric place) as the starting point, ensuring that first 45 minutes at least of the route was the non-descript underbelly of London, tens of miles of urban sprawl ?

Why do we as a nation persistently squander these rare opportunities to show the world the stunning nature of our countryside. So what purpose was served by inflicting our built- up suburbia on the Tour de France, when we have a glorious Green Belt around our capital city ? We take the latter for granted , but it is something that has no counterpart in many less fortunate nations. Go to Belgium and you'll see interminable stretches that are neither suburb nor countryside, but something midway between the two. Do I detect the hand of Mayor Ken Livingstone in the decision to ensure that swathes of Labour voter-territory were the first thing the world would see for mile after grinding mile?

It's now 13:03, over an hour since the start, and my wife downstairs is saying that the scenery has improved marginally, with alternating shots of the good (eg church towers, greenery, castle on the river bank) but intermixed with yet more boring suburbia.

One wonders how many foreign viewers have switched off by now, suddenly realizing , if they did not already, why it is that so many of us Brits who prefer the built environment to country life choose to live abroad.
Ken Livingstone is apparently making plans for another "Tour d'Angleterre et France". After today, I'm minded to think the Tour organizers will not be rushing to return to Britain, a nation with no proper and fitting sense of occasion, one that is content to fob off Johnny Foreigner with second-best.

This is the same country that is spending billions to salvage, sorry, reinstate, industrial wasteland as the site for the 2012 Olympics. There are times UK plc makes me feel physically sick.

Back now to the TV, hoping to see real English countryside.
PS I did finally get some glimpses of glorious Kent (oast houses , Leeds Castle etc) but there were competing spectacles on this amazing UK sporting weekend, needless to say, from the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Wimbledon finals.
Tour de France ? Most of the action was in the final sprint finish. That's why the scenery is so important - watching the same peleton threading its way through country lanes can get ever so slightly eye-glazing if one's not an aficionado.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Should universities be more than a stepping stone to a lucrative job ?

"How can Britain ensure that its Universities remain world class" is the question posed on today's Telegraph Speakers Corner. It follows warnings from a senior Cambridge academic that UK universities risk losing their reputation very quickly, perhaps within 10 years, unless something drastic is done to halt the slide in quality research.

Here's what I've just posted:


"If universities existed purely to select and nurture the next generation of academics, then it would make sense to continue with entry straight from school, on the assumption that the young mind is more likely to be creative than one more exposed to received wisdom.

But increasingly British universities are seen as mere finishing schools for careers in commerce, the professions, teaching, social services etc where no great premium is placed upon creativity or original thinking, and more on ordered logical thinking, and the ability to present a case in a manner acceptable to professional people.

In the latter instance, the case for proceeding straight to University from school is much harder to sustain: a prior exposure to commerce and its ethos and its disciplines would make sense. Some funding might come from extension of the sabbatical principle, eg one year off for study/research for every seven worked ( aided perhaps by universities being free to award one year Master's degrees without a prior Bachelor's degree).

Once Universities are cleared of the intellectual deadweight of youngsters who are there purely as a stepping stone to lucrative jobs in the City etc, it would free up professors and other academics to devote more time to students with true creative flair. That bold but simple step might be what's needed to revive Britain's fading reputation as place where there's a ferment of unconventional thinking and revolutionary new approaches.

This retired scientist is somewhat dismayed at the aridity of so much of what passes for science and technology these days - much of which seems to be mere dotting of (i)s and crossing of (t)s."