US Government and Others Trying to Block Access to Books

The US Justice Department is trying to stop Google creating a digital library.  It’s not just the government. Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon don’t like this either. I just don’t get it.

I mean, I get why the three companies are fighting it. Microsoft and Yahoo don’t like Google having such a large share of the internet marketplace, particularly in terms of searches and results. They want their billions of dollars, too. Amazon is doing e-books and other digital access – in fact, it has had almost a monopoly – and it doesn’t want to see its market share challenged. It seems the only people who want this deal are authors, publishers, the general public, and Google.

Google plans to scan thousands of books that are in the public domain and give everyone free access to them. Microsoft and Yahoo can do the same thing, if they so desire. The books are, after all, in the public domain.

Google has also struck a deal with the Authors Guild to scan millions of out-of-print books that are still under copyright. Authors and publishers will manage their own rights to access and can refuse to allow a book to be used. If they do allow a book to be used, they will receive 67% of revenue generated from it. The revenue they otherwise receive from out-of-print books? $0. £0. 100% of 0.

Every public library will get complete access for free. Every college and university will be able to subscribe to the  same service. Every home user will get free access to 20% of the text of each book, so they can decide whether to buy access to the rest.  These are in-copyright out-of-print books that would otherwise be completely inavailable.

What is Google going to do with the books that are in print? Absolutely nothing. The actual book market as it is today will be untouched. However, millions of books that would otherwise been unavailable will be available again. Not just the odd copy in a used book shop or off the shelves of a distant library.

As the Authors Guild puts it:

Here’s the math: we expect the settlement to make at least 10 million out-of-print books available, which, at an average of 300 pages per book, represents at least 3 billion pages of professionally written, professionally edited text.  20% of that is 600 million pages of text available at every desktop computer in the U.S. as a free preview. (For comparison, Encyclopedia Britannica is about 44,000 pages in print form; Wikipedia’s featured articles total about 5,000 pages. All English Wikipedia articles, including stubs, total perhaps 3 million pages.)

This is the next great step in the information age.

It’s Nothing Personal

I am not mourning the death of Michael Jackson. It’s nothing personal. And by that, I mean that’s the reason I’m not mourning. I didn’t know Mr Jackson. I don’t even know anyone who did know him.

It’s like the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The world wailed and cried. I was sorry that she had left two young sons without a mother. Likewise, I am sorry that Michael Jackson’s young children will be without their father. I am also sorry for the thousands each day throughout the world who become orphans and feel the same loss as Prince, Paris, and Blanket (otherwise known by their real names: Michael, Paris, and Prince). But grief and mourning are based upon a personal loss.

He was a significant contributor to popular culture, though I can’t say that’s necessarily a particularly laudable thing, either. I don’t know that we are better off for the moonwalk, the crotch grab, or faux militaria and the single glove. Like I said, it’s nothing personal.

I am also sad for the thousands of people who appear to be beside themselves at his death. They seem lost for meaning or purpose and shocked that he is no longer “with us”. Why it should be remarkable that a 50-year-old man who constantly abused his body with surgery and drugs has died, I don’t know.  It speaks volumes about state of world.  Those volumes make up a very sad story (again, about the world, not about Jackson).

When it comes to people I know, with whom I have a relationship as family, friend, or even acquaintance, when they mourn, I mourn, for I participate in a small way in their loss. This is why as Orthodox Christians we have panikhida services in our parishes. We share each others’ love and temporary loss in hope of the Resurrection of the Dead and the life of the world to come. We light our own candle for a loved one now beyond the veil, but we light our candles from each other and they shine together. Together we sing, “Memory eternal!”

The wall-to-wall coverage of the death of Michael Jackson cheapens death itself. It shares something with the constant images of violence and death that are the substantance of so many films and video games. We no longer see it as our common end, a pointer to our own mortality. It is a spectator sport.

Let Michael Jackson’s family and friends grieve and mourn his loss. He has secured his place in history. Let it be for us to remember that as he has become, so shall we all one day be, awaiting the Final Judgement.

Professional Secrecy

I didn’t blog last week about Alex Dolan, when she was suspended by the General Teaching Council for undercover filming in schools. The footage was shown on the Channel 4 investigative program Dispatches and actually brought the state of Britain’s schools into the open. She showed very bad behaviour in four different schools, including teachers hiding badly behaved pupils from Ofsted inspectors, and pupils openly threatening violence against her. She revealed that the education emperor has no clothes and the GTC did not take kindly to being exposed.

This week it is the turn of Margaret Haywood, who filmed the neglect of elder patients in a hospital for Panorama, the BBC investigative program. Even though all the patients gave consent after they were filmed, she was charged with breaching confidentiality and struck off the nursing register. Because she was too concerned about patient care, she was declared no longer fit to be a nurse.

I’m also reminded of the cops who beat up newsagent Ian Tomlinson from behind as he walked down the street with his hands in his pockets during the G20 summit. Tomlinson later died. Apparently the balaclavas over their faces are part of their uniform to protect them from fire, but they are still supposed to wear their identification number. Their numbers were not visible, so it took a while to identify them from the video footage.

Is it any wonder that three of the areas of public service people know aren’t working are education, nursing and law enforcement?

Hysterical Hatred of Heterosexual Christians

I happened upon the San Francisco Chronicle by clicking on a story from a newsfeed service. I was quickly reminded that religious hatred is not confined to Europe. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read anything so openly vitriolic and down-right nasty over here. Mark Morford – I was tempted to call him Mark Moron, but I didn’t want to stoop to his level of ad hominem – is commenting on what he calls “strange, alarmist, deeply homophobic ads” produced by the National Organization for Marriage that are running on television stations in five states. But don’t worry, he assures us, the gay marriage agenda is still on the move.

God, by the way, is a redneck. The logic is flawless. Rednecks like God. God went and set up marriage as a procreative relationship between a man and a woman. Ergo, God is a redneck. What’s more these rednecks are desperate. That is the only reason they would be producing such ads. They know the march of gay love is spreading across the land and these “terrified citizens with souls the size of marbles” can’t stop it. Now here’s my favourite bit:

Distraught Christians say we cannot possibly disobey the mangled, misinterpreted Bible when it comes to hetero marriage because, well, that’s how we’ve done it for centuries and it’s been such a tremendous success, with almost no unhappiness, divorce, abuse, oppression, depression, suicide, hypocrisy, or general misery that it’s obvious we shouldn’t mess with it.

That’s right. Christians are responsible for all the bad stuff that’s happened and continues to exist because for centuries they’ve mangled the Bible and gone all hetero. All we need to do is all love it up gay-style and the world will be a better place. Isn’t it obvious? What’s worse, they use bad actors. (Perhaps this is because all the good actors are either gay or pushing the gay rights agenda.)

Morford claims the ads are “clutching at straws, scraping bottom, leaning on the most absurd, least tenable arguments imaginable”, so he doesn’t provide a link to the legal background behind each statement in the ads. But then I’m sure he thinks it more than justified that a doctor was successfully sued for referring a same-sex couple to a different physician for artificial insemination, or that a New Jersey church lost its tax exemption because they wouldn’t allow their property to be used for civil union ceremonies, or that Massachusetts requires young elementrary school pupils be actively indoctrinated with idea that marriage and gay pseudo-marriage is the same. Yep, absurd untenable arguments that come from the redneck, heartland states of California, New Jersey, and Taxachusetts.

Morford can only compare these ads to two things. The first are hysterical ads being produced by oil companies promoting “rabid oil fetishism and addiction”. Since he doesn’t provide a link, I can’t comment on these ads and their fetishism. The only other comparison Morford has to those radically heterosexual ads  is the “hysterics of Fox News’ fringe nutball militia”, by which he means the “nauseating and preposterous” Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, and Michael Savage.

For Morford, those who oppose gay marriage, produce oil, or dare to be conservative and on television are all hysterical. Seems to me the one leaning on absurd, entenable arguments and raving with hysteria is Mark Morford.

Money for Nothing Becomes Nothing for Money

Regular readers may have noticed that whilst I am very conservative about many things, I am somewhat progressive on the issue of digital intellectual property rights. And I practice what I preach.

For example, there are television programmes that have been scattered electromagnetically into the atmosphere for everyone with a television to enjoy for free. While the technology is there for those waves of son et lumière to go anywhere in the world, they have been limited to certain geographical regions, so they can be sold and resold and resold in different markets to make already obscenely rich people even more obscenely rich. I only use the word “obscenely” twice in the same sentence because my megre vocabulary is insufficient to appropriately modify the word rich.

The Internet has created a giant ocean of ones and zeros drifting in and out of the millions of connections within it. It has eliminated the borders and the broadcast restrictions, even if there are companies out there trying as hard as they can to claim part of these high seas as their own. Or you might say they are trying to dam the ones and zeros within their territorial waters. You might say they are trying to limit fishing in their territorial waters by trying to keep hold of the fish. But that’s the problem: you can keep boats out, but you can’t keep fish in.

The fact of the Internet Ocean is that 90% of the music fish are swimming freely. In other words, even given all of the “legal” download sites and services, 90% of music is downloaded without the express written consent of the music industry.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) is the face of the record industry cartel in the UK, the British equivalent of the RIAA.  They claim that file sharing has cost the industry £1.1 billion a year. What they mean is that they have identified £1.1 billion that they could have accrued and didn’t. It didn’t actually cost them anything. It didn’t cost anyone another yacht in the Med or a twelfth sprawling estate in another exotic and exclusive location. It didn’t take any money out of a tax-protected off-shore account.

The BPI have bullied the British Government and the major ISPs in this country into forcing the ISPs into sending letters to customers based on the BPIs spying. If the BPI thinks a particular IP address is uploading an illegal file, they contact the ISP, which is then obliged to send a letter to the account belonging to the IP address giving details of the alleged file-sharing incident. I got such a letter the other day.

Was it about television programmes or films or even various albums (most of which don’t even get copied to CD and end up in the recycle bin)? No, it was about a single Britney Spears track that no one in our household has ever uploaded, downloaded, or otherwise loaded. You would think with all of the billions of pounds the BPI’s member labels have made, they could afford to get the information even somewhere near correct.

Legal threats aside, in reality what has happened is that the revenue stream is concentrating more and more on live music. That is the one thing that is not copyable. But this means that musicians have to work harder and maybe make less money. Perhaps some of you will pity them for this. I don’t.

It used to be that musical acts had to invest huge sums of money in studios and technology to produce records. Now top selling CDs have been produce in bedrooms with digital recording equipment. Making records has become easier and cheaper, thus increasing the profit margins. Now these recordings are going to have to be adverts for concerts where real music will have to be played in real time for real people.

I have been saying for a long time that the developments in technology mean concepts about intellectual property law will have to be dramatically reformulated. Those who are profiting the most, those piggybacking on the actual creators of ideas, are trying to formulate new revenue streams so they can continue to make money for nothing (sound anything like the bankers who have precipitated the world economic collapse?) but music cartels will eventualy have to realise that music is only worth what people are willing to pay for it and increasingly (if you can keep increasing from 90%) they aren’t.

Joe Klein, Rick Warren, and Heaven

Time magazine political columnist Joe Klein doesn’t like Rick Warren. Why? Because Rick Warren thinks he’s going to hell.

Warren didn’t pick out Klein specifically. No, he just had the audacity to say that Jews are going to hell. He wasn’t preaching a sermon entitled, “All Jews are going to hell” or writing a book called “The Hell Driven Jewish Life”. Someone just asked him point-blank whether Jews are going to hell and he gave an honest answer. It’s not like he thinks Jews are especially going to hell. He just thinks that the only way to heaven is through Jesus.

Klein even gets silly, assuming that also sort of people fit into this category:

Indeed, if Jews–and all other non born-again Christians–homosexuals, feminists, and anyone who has either had an abortion, performed an abortion or reluctantly agrees that it’s none of our business who has abortions…if all those people are going to hell, then heaven’s got to be about as interesting as linoleum.

In fact, neither Rick Warren nor most evangelicals say homosexuals, feminists, or the variety of people Klein characterises in relationship to abortion, are going to hell. But what Klein wants to do is take the focus off of Jesus. That’s the real issue.

Regardless of sexuality, or sexual politics, no one gets in except through Jesus. It’s so basic to the Gospel that all these peripheral issues aren’t even mentioned by Jesus. It’s that whole the way, the truth, the life thing.

Even Jews are welcome, Joe. Jesus first disciples were Jews. Jesus Himself was a Jew. It’s just Jewishness itself is meaningless when it comes to getting into heaven, even if it is believing in that One Jew that makes the difference.

It is also interesting that Klein thinks heaven will need homosexuals, feminists, and people who have had, performed, or politically approved of abortions to avoid being boring. It seems Klein thinks heaven is about entertainment – some sort of extension of Hollywood. I suppose I can see where with that presupposition, and the prominence of homosexuals and feminist in the entertainment industry, he doesn’t see how the Big Heavenly Show can keep everyone’s attention for eternity.

There will be a Big Heavenly Show, with one Big (Bright Morning) Star. We’ve even see previews, and frankly I don’t think God cares that Klein would not be impressed. He would probably find it as interesting as linoleum:

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“ Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

A Film I’m Destined to See

I don’t know how this one slipped under my radar, but a book I read a number of years ago has been made into a film. Stone of Destiny is current showing in Scotland and will be released across England on Friday.

It is the true story of the Scottish students who stole – or perhaps re-appropriated – the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve, 1950. The Stone had been used for the coronation of every Scottish monarch  since at least Kenneth MacAlpin in the mid ninth century (it may have been used as early as 574 when Aedan was anointed and crowned King of Dalriada by St Columba) until it was stolen by Edward I in 1296. It had been fixed under the St Edward’s Chair (the coronation throne) since that time.

This incident prompted the only ever closing of the border between Scotland and England, as police searched for the 336 lb rock. The cops were unsuccessful and the Stone was only recovered in April 1951 after the students chose to leave it at Arbroath Abbey.

I’ve seen the Stone three times, twice in Westminster Abbey and once in Edinburgh Castle, where it sits since it was sent back to Scotland by the last Conservative Government in 1996. It stays there with the understanding that it will be returned to London for future coronations.

The film has received a number of favourable reviews. I doubt that I will get a chance to see it before we leave for Christmas. I hope it is still in cinemas when we get back. It is not often that I specifically want to see something on the big screen, but this is one of those times.

UPDATE: There is a good article in the Daily Telegraph about Ian Hamilton, QC, who was the ringleader of the students. It was his book that inspired the film.

Enjoying Research

When it came out, many of my friends Stateside raved about Gods and Generals, the prequel to Gettysburg. Being on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I was a bit out of the loop. The film went to DVD and I went on to other things and it drifted from my mind.

As I was doing work on my own Civil War novel that I hope will one day be picked up by a big Hollywood studio (or Ted Turner, as was the case with those two), I though about it again and thought it might be helpful in working on my mid-19th century dialogue. One of the online discount DVD stores had both in a boxed set for £5.99 with free shipping. No-brainer.

So late to the party, here’s my review of Gods and Generals: it’s a pretty good film, even if they left Sharpsburg on the cutting room floor. I would have watched the as of yet never released director’s cut of over 6 hours. The film is really about Stonewall Jackson, and I don’t mind that at all.

The film certainly gives justifiable attention to Jackson’s Christianity. While very serious about his religion, the general is not portrayed as dour as he is often thought to have been. His was not a miserable faith.

The only glaring problem I saw with the film was when a bunch of Confederate officers sang “Silent Night” around Christmas of 1862. While the music was composed in 1818, the English lyrics were not written until 1863. They certainly would not have been available in the hymn book handed to Stonewall’s adjutant by his soon-to-be fiancée.

I’m sure there were other liberties taken with history, but they didn’t jump out at me. The thing to remember is that it is the adaptation of a novel, not a documentary.

Swiftly to the Top

I got the new Taylor Swift record a few days ago. Like her first album, it knocked my socks off and it hasn’t been out of my CD player, other than to give it brief relief while I listen to her Christmas EP. It replaced my copy of the latest Kellie Pickler CD at the top of the stack.

I am at the top end of the Taylor Swift listener demographic and her lyrics do not reflect my level of life experience. Part of the appeal of her music, beyond drawing out the false nostalgia of high school and young adult experiences I always wished I had, is the relief from the overly sexualised themes that seem unavoidable in most music today.

The rumour recently raced through the Internet that Taylor was pregnant. Not only that – she was reported to pregnant by Joe Jonas. There was dripping salivation at these stories, because Swift and Jonas are both Christians and both virgins. This was almost as good a story as Jamie Lynn Spears’ second teen pregnancy. The world is desperate for good people to turn bad.

I’m glad that Taylor doesn’t do “Christian” music. There are probably still those out there that live in the same sort of musical bubble I did, where there is Christian music and secular music and if you are a Christian and a musician, it is assumed that you to the former because if you do the latter, there is something spiritually wrong with you. On top of that, if you do Christian music, you are expected to have a music ministry. If you aren’t out there to evangelise or worship, you need to have some sort of spiritual goal for your listeners.

Unlike a number of successful artists who have started a music career at her age, she does not presume (or presumably even desire) to have a ministry. She just writes good music on the themes of her life, most of which involve a revolving door of innocent relationships.

To review Fearless itself, it is satisfying because it goes where it wants to go and gets there. In constrast, while I like the Kellie Pickler CD, it doesn’t do this. It appears that Kellie is trying to do a country-pop cross-over thing, even including a re-recorded or re-mixed song from her last album.  I never heard her on American Idol, but she has a voice made for country. Taylor’s voice isn’t as intrinsically country, and her style is less distinctly country, but it isn’t all over the place.

The songs are as good as the first album, which is difficult for a sophomore project. Even though she isn’t a sophomore herself, as when she record the debut, she also doesn’t have a catalog to draw from that dates from the 6th grade. (Who else is so talented that they have a song written in elementary school on a multi-platinum record? Or début with a smash single written in freshman math class? There are some old unsuccessful songwriters out there that find this very irritating.) I can hear at least four or five radio singles.  It sold over 200,000 copies on the first day it was released and was certified gold by the end of the week. It had over 129,000 legal downloads in the first week.

I’m glad she (or her record company) has stuck with Nathan Chapman as her producer. He’s clearly got what it takes to tap Taylor’s talent onto tape.

Dancing Early

The first editions of the morning papers are out and they are salivating over the prospect of an Obama victory. Headlines like “The family 24 hours away from changing the world”, “Obama in Poll Position” (showing him side-by-side with Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, another young black man), “The last lap” (showing Obama in a victorious pose).

The press over here is biased at the best of times. This is not the best of times.

Television news presenters here are even more gleeful than Katie Couric. I am waiting for one of them to jump up and do the dance of joy. Perhaps I will have to wait until tomorrow night to see that. Perhaps there will be a miracle instead.

The Price of Profanity

While Americans are focused on the run-up to the General Election, Brits are in a frenzy over a late night prank on BBC Radio 2. Now you might think that put in perspective, the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross scandal is insignificant. Perhaps it is. But in and of itself, it is quite significant.

There are a significant number of people who think it is much ado about nothing. They argue that only two people complained when the broadcast went out and that it was only the national media outlets that have churned up the froth. Listeners to the more youth-oriented Radio 1 appear to be mostly in support of Brand and Ross. It says a lot about Radio 1 listeners that they have found the abusive and obscene phone calls to 78-year-old Andrew Sachs amusing.

For those blissfully unaware, Brand and Ross placed four telephone calls to the actor whose most famous role was as Manuel on Fawlty Towers. Using the crudest language, they describe how Brand had slept with Sach’s granddaughter. They also joked that Sachs might kill himself. That’s the bit that made the pre-recorded broadcast. Senior producers who signed off on it, actually cut fouteen lines of the dialogue. Sensitive readers might not want to click here for a transcript of what was said.

To draw an American analogy, it was basically like a Howard Stern routine with all of the obscenity explicit rather than implied. The other difference is that it was funded by license payers – in other words, everyone who owns a television. Television viewer pay for all of BBC Radio, with our forced £139.50 per year charged by the government (or fines of up to £1000 for failure to pay, and roaming enforcement vans with electronic spying equipment to catch offenders). If you had to pay $240 a year for other people to listen to Howard Stern say things for which he would be fined by the FCC, you might have something to say as well.

Jonathan Ross is the highest paid performer at the BBC, getting £6 million per year for crude and juvenile humour. When over 2,000 job cuts were announced at BBC News soon after he sealed his £18 million three-year deal, Ross openy boasted that he was worth more than 1,000 journalists. Russell Brand was on a mere £200,000 for an act that is entirey based on graphic details of his sexual exploits and proclivities.

Those who support Ross and Brand believe that entertainment, and particularly language, should have no boundaries – that there is nothing actually indecent. Well, you can’t say anything about Muslims, but other than that, everything is fair game. (And the whole Muslim thing is driven by fear rather than decency.)  Worse than that, it is a philosophy that anything that gets a laugh is acceptable regardless of who is hurts or offends.

Will the resignation of Russell Brand and the £1 million discipline of Jonathan Ross change the face of entertainment? No. Willing the BBC become a more decent place? Perhaps for a time, while everyone holds their breath waiting for the furore to settle. Sadly, I think that the values that underpin the glorfication of profanity are well entrenched, particularly amongst the young, and this creates a vicious cycle. The media panders to the profane and the profane become evermore acceptable, creating a greater appetite for it in entertainment.

Not As Easy As It Looks

At our house we’ve already started ballet, karate and Scouts. The next logical step is musical instruments.

The Older Child has been on about learning to play the guitar for some time. He was even looking into taking lessons at school. While the former seemed plausible, the latter is ridiculous, given that the Older Child’s father has been playing guitar for almost 29 years and has taught guitar for almost as long, including teaching children not much older than the Older Child.

Because my acoustic guitar is way too big for the Child to use, we considered repairing a 3/4 size guitar belonging to the Unnamed Woman. It ony needed a bridge, nut, strings, and perhaps a few other bits and bobs, plus I’m not sure the tuning mechanism even holds. And it’s still a bit big for his hands. Or we could buy a new one. We took the Woman’s guitar to a repair shop to get an estimate for bringing it into working order. It was only £15 more to get a new half-size guitar.

We went with the latter option. He had money from his grandfather and at least he was putting some of it into something of more value than most of the toys he buys.

The Older Child was under the same impression about guitar playing that I was about snow skiing when I was 5. You just put on the skis and away you go, right? As soon as he got the guitar, he did the musical equivalent of standing still in the snow. He wanted to play a song and the Woman wanted me to buy him a guitar book.

After explaining how the strings and frets are numbered for reference, he tried his first chord. E minor. I always start with E minor because it is the simplest. The finger positioning wasn’t a problem for the Child. Pressing down with his fingertips and not touching anywhere else on the neck of the guitar was another matter. He had no idea that guitar playing involves pain.

His enthusiasm began to wain a bit. He finally began to understand that he will not be playing “Johnny B. Goode” like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future any time soon.

This morning he was strumming on his guitar again, playng a muted E minor. I hope he has the interest to follow through, even with the pain in the fingers. He is starting 10 years earlier than I did. I hope one day he is better than me.

The Prince of Darkness and the Unaccountable Media Bias

Anyone who has been watching media coverage of the US Presidential election can hardly have missed that any misstep by the Republicans is amplified and that of the Democrats is minimalised. Right now, with Obama leading in the polls, Katie Couric (who I watch most nights) is almost bursting with enthusiasm and joy.

Things are not much different here in the UK. George Osbourne, the Shadow Chancellor (Opposition spokesman on treasury matters) once attended a party given by rich Russian businessman on his really big yacht. He didn’t ask for a donation to the Conservative Party and he did not receive one. As a result, the BBC and other media outlets have been running this story non-stop. They are almost urging people to call for his ouster.

On the other hand, the sleaze-ridden twice-resigned and twice-rehabilitated Prince of Darkness, Peter Mandelson, back in the cabinet again, has now admitted that he lied about when he also met with the same Russian oligarch. He had previously said he met Oleg Deripaska, merely in a social context, in 2006 and 2007. Or as he finally had to admit, “During the weekend when I moved from Brussels to London and prior to me being admitted to hospital for an urgent medical procedure, a statement was released to the press which said I had had meetings with Mr Deripaska in 2006 and 2007.  Some people formed the reasonable view, therefore, that my first meeting with him was in 2006. This is not the case: To the best of my recollection we first met in 2004 and I met him several times subsequently.”

It also just happened that Deripaska’s aluminium business made huge profits because Mandelson, as European Trade Commissioner, cut back the import duties in 2005. Deripaska owns the largest aluminium producer in the world, UC Rusal.

But it’s not Mandelson, a member of the Government, that is being pressured to resign again, it is a front bencher in the not-so-Conservative Party. As David Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, said, this must be the first financial scandal where there weren’t any finances involved. In fact, it is not even illegal to solicit political donations from foreigners (something both Mr Osborne and Mr Deripaska agree didn’t happen), it is only illegal to accept them (something the Tories didn’t do).

And it would seem that the only one in a position to start the allegations against Mr Osborne was someone else who was at the party, namely, Lord Mandelson. This would be the same Lord Mandelson that was recently attacked by George Osborne for his ties to Deripaska. Mandelson’s approach seems to be, “Attack me for my long-time relationship to a dodgy Russian tycoon and not only will I lie about it, I’ll say you were the one doing a dodgy deal.”

And unsurprisingly the BBC and print media have go along with it. They ignore the fact that Mandelson has fallen from power in a Government that has made it very difficult to fall from power in two separate financial scandals. They turn on the otherwise squeaky clean George Osborne.

It is as if the BBC is playing a game. Someone has decided that they will continue to report on this long enough and often enough that the Tories have to say something to deny it and then report the denial long enough and often enough until people figure there must be something to it, or the Tories wouldn’t keep denying it.

At Least They Admit It

The BBC admits that they treat Islam different than Christianity. The Director General of Britain’s public broacaster says that it is because they are a religious minority. What he means is that it is because if you were to make jokes about imams like the Beeb makes jokes about vicars, every one of the corporations executives and public figures would have to live in fear of their lives.

Can you imagine what would happen if they allowed a production about Muhammad like the live broadcast on BBC2 of Jerry Springer – the Opera, in which Jesus is part of a dysfunctional family, dresses as a baby and poos himself? The BBC Television Centre would be levelled.  The 2001 IRA bombing of the building would look completely amateur in comparison. This eggshell approach just another example of how terrorism is effective.

Mark Thompson has said that programmes criticising Islam would be broadcast if they of a good enough quality. It’s a shame the same standard doesn’t apply to Christianity.

Little Monkeys

Today I went with the Unnamed Woman and the Unnamed Children to Dudley Zoo.

We were offered an annual pass for the price of two visits, but wisely chose the option to see it first on regular admission before having the single visit price refunded in exchange for the annual price. We decided not to take out the annual subscription.

It’s not a bad afternoon out, but not necessarily one that needs to be repeated. They have some of the requisite animals, though the lions and tiger were all asleep, as were pretty much all the cats. Come to think of it, so were the sea lions and the tapirs and the solitary capybara. The meerkats were awake, unless there were more than three of them.

Some enclosures appeared to be entirely empty. For example, we saw nary a prairie dog. Many of the enclosures, whether occupied or not, and other areas are a bit run down.

The petting zoo area had three little goats and a bunny. Oh, and a plastic cow with plastic udders filled with water and a bucket underneath. The younger unnamed child had a natural knack for milking.

If you like little monkeys, then you will get your money’s worth. The place is full of little monkeys. Especially squirrel monkeys. Every area of the park seems to have enclosures for little monkeys. One of them is a walk-through area and the keepers have to shoo the little monkeys away from prams, as they want to jump in the baskets underneath and take anything they can grab.

In other places they are behind wire or behind glass. Behind glass there were some pigmy marmosets. One of them saw a little stuffed puppy that the older unnamed child carries with him. It ignored us and fixated on the puppy, which is about the size of the marmoset. We noticed this and moved the puppy up and down and all around on the glass. When we cocked the head of the puppy, the tiny little monkey did the same. It was hilarious.

The only monkeys that disappointed were the chimps. This was because they were apparently on Prozac. They just sat bored in the middle of their enclosure. It was a very big enclosure with lots of things to climb on and lots of open area to run, but they couldn’t be bothered.

If you want to eat while you are there, I would recommend taking a picnic. The food in the cafeteria leaves a bit to be desired. My jacket potato was okay, but the salad was terrible. I only ate it because I was really hungry. The Unnamed Woman had to wait for her food, because they didn’t have any more potatoes cooked. (I would have waited instead, but she ordered mine first and then found out they only had one.) The older unnamed child also had to wait because they also didn’t have the healthy option children’s selection cooked and ready.

The thing that convinced us to avoid the annual pass was the play area. There were slides and climbing frames and swings, but they were surrounded by dirty sand with cigarette butts scattered throughout. It was typical of the general upkeep.

Sharing Another Difference Between the US and UK

Another contrast between the US and UK has become apparent today when the FCC ruled against Comcast hampering file sharing. In the UK, people have been getting warning letters from their ISPs if they have been suspected of file sharing.

The British Government want to cut file sharing by 80% by 2011. British Phonographic Industry – the trade cartel for the UK record industry – has cut a deal with six of the UK’s biggest ISPs. The ISPs have agreed a three-strikes policy against customers who are suspected by the BPI of file sharing.

And just because the ISPs are agreeing to boot offenders, this doesn’t mean the cartel won’t take people to court for damages. They have and they will again. That’s not to say the equivalent US cartel, the Record Industry Association of America won’t sue people. They also have and will again.

The difference is the approach by Government. The BPI have Whitehall in their pocket. You’re thinking those must be very big pockets to fit Whitehall in them, but trust me, the BPI and its members have big pockets. Much bigger pockets than the private individuals they like to pick off and litigate into financial oblivion.

I’m not suggesting the record industry isn’t hurting from the downturn in CD sales. But they’re not losing money. Let’s be straight about this. You can’t lose someting you don’t have. Unless you have either pocketed someone’s money and it gets taken out of your pocket or you have invested money and end up with less than you’ve invested, you haven’t lost money. But they are hurting because it must be emotionally painful to be used to wallowing in billions and billions of pounds and to now have fewer billions in which to wallow. Think of what it must be like to be filthy rich and after a huge slump in sales to be, well, filthy rich.

Let me say this again: when you are making huge profits and then you are making less huge profits, you are not losing money.

In the US, the RIAA has had to face accusations of the obvious – they are an antitrust violating monopoly. It appears from my brief look at existing litigation that the RIAA are in retreat. Most recently it seems they have tried to drop cases in such a way as to punish the defendants by forcing them to pay their own legal fees, which, when fighting giant corporations and their lawyers, can be enormous. They have now been losing at that tactic.

In the UK, the courts have not been so enlightened. it is strange to think that in a very capitalist country like the US, the courts and even Congress can see through attempts at creating illegal monopolies and bullying the consumer, while in the socialist UK, big business wins.

So once again in the UK we have to deal with a heavy-handed totalitarian-aspiring Government and their collusion with industry cartels that are determined to maintain their profit levels. I haven’t even touched on the Government supporting the energy utilities putting up their prices by 35% in a single hike to maintain or even increase their profit levels in the face of rising energy costs.

Summer Reading Progress

It is only two weeks into the summer holidays and I have finished half of my reading list.

Thanks to a mention by Elizabeth over a year and a half ago, I finally read The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andrepoulos. I recommend it highly. It is very readable.

The anecdotal and historical parts of the book only take up the first 42 pages. The rest of it focused on the general needs for signs and symbols, the idea of the sign of the Cross as a prayer in and of itself, and some speculative ideas – in particular, juxtaposing the spiritual power of the sign with New Age ideas.

I finished Bernard Cornwell’s The Pale Horseman in the wee hours of this morning. It is the second of four books in his Saxon Stories series, set in the reign of Alfred the Great. It was a situation where I could hardly stay awake, but I couldn’t put it down. Even though Cornwell shows Alfred (and Christianity generally) in a not-so-favourable light, and downplays his contribution to literature and law, it is clear at this point why Alfred is called “the Great”.

Cornwell always tells a great story with interesting characters. As with the Starbuck Chronicles set nearly 1000 years later during the War Between the States, his principle characters are fictional but play a key roles in otherwise historical battles. For those unfamiliar with the period, he provides a helpful historical note at the end of each book to help the reader distinguish the fact from the fiction.

The history of this period is fascinating enough that I’m added a couple of books to my reading list,
Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources and The Anglo-Saxons edited by Campbell, John and Wormald.

Huffin and Puffin

I watched Gordon Ramsey last night as he was sky fishing for puffin in Iceland and cooking the freshly netted birds. I was quite impressed with the whole sky fishing idea, not to mention eating a bird with breast meat the colour of venison.

As you might expect, Channel 4 received complaints from viewers, including accusation of “puffin murder”. Yep, this is where the animal rights folks lose touch with reality.  Murder has always been an intentional homicide – that is the killing of a human being.

Now I’ve always said if you can kill it, I will eat it. However I know there are those folks how don’t like the killing of animals, live on granola, ride bicycles, and wear comfortable shoes. I’m happy for them. But killing an animal is killing an animal and murder is killing a human. You can call it fraterculacide or aukicide, but not murder.

I thought this comment was particularly telling: “A very bad move on Gordon’s part to be seen to condone practices in another country that would definitely not be tolerated here.” Ah yes, Brits are so culturally superior to those savage Icelanders!

Then there was “Are there no depths he won’t sink to in his quest for the latest gastronomic fad? I don’t care if islanders have eaten them in the past, or if they are considered a delicacy… these birds are adorable, and surely an endangered species?” Hmm… Icelanders have been eating them from time immemorial and still eat them, so is this really a fad?  Oh, and they are not an endangered species. Cute≠endangered. They are a protected species in the UK, but not in Iceland.

Country Music Goes PC

As I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of country music artist Taylor Swift. I may not fit her target demographic, but clearly she has a broad enough fan base to be the only female artist in the history of the Billboard country charts to have five consecutive Top 10 singles from a debut album.

I was pleased to learn that she got her high school diploma through a Christian homeschooling organisation. Families have to agree with Aaron Academy’s statement of faith. I’m guessing that means Taylor and her family are Christians.

I acquired a copy of the available-only-at-Wal-mart EP Beautiful Eyes. Since we have no Country radio in this country, I had never heard the radio mix of “Picture to Burn”. I was disappointed that the PC lobby apparently got to her record company. The lyrics originally said:

So go and tell your friends
That I’m obsessive and crazy,
That’s fine
I’ll tell mine
You’re gay,
And by the way,

Now the last part says:

That’s fine,
you won’t mind
if I say

The thing is that the original lyrics weren’t even offensive gay listeners, if the 90 comments on the 9513 blog are any indication. It’s only politically correct straight people who couldn’t get the context and the usage. The original lyric is about retaliation and fighting fire with fire. (Not exactly turn the other cheek stuff, but when have you ever known an offended young woman to thinkabout that when it comes to lying ex-boyfriends?) The new lyric makes no sense.

A perfectly good lyric has been sacrificed for the sake of a group who don’t even care.

WALL-E is a Waste of Wealth

Until today, the last time I went to the cinema with my children was see Chicken Little. After such a disappointment, I have been leery of spending the money to have more than one adult present. Today I took a chance on WALL-E, the latest Pixar film.

I didn’t think any film could be worse than Chicken Little. Man, was I wrong. WALL-E is awful. Really bad. The first big chunk of the film has no dialogue whatsoever. Later on, after Wall-E hitches a ride on a space ship and see all the morbidly obese people that make up the remnant of humanity, they say a few things. About 2/3 of the way through, I started falling asleep. The Unnamed Woman kept poking me awake, alleging that I was snoring.

How she heard me snoring with all the racket being made by a bunch of 10-year-olds across the aisle, I’ll never know. They saw much less of the film than I did, because most of the time, they were either turned around talking to each other in loud voices or up and running back and forth the concession area.

And an afternoon’s entertainment like this only cost me £7.

I Believe in Time Travel

The Unnamed Woman and I just finished watching the entire six series of the British sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart that ran from 1993-99. It was being shown on ITV3 and the Woman decided she wanted the DVDs. We both enjoyed the show during its original run (though I had never seen the final series), as it was shown by the local PBS affiliate.

For those Stateside who may have never seen the show, it involves a Londoner from the 1990s who accidentally stumbles upon a time portal to the 1940s. It transports him back exactly 53 years. Thus on the 1940s side, the show starts with the Blitz and ends with VE-Day.  He travels back and forth and has a wife on either side of the portal. He’s also a nobody in the 90s and creates himself into a bit of a somebody in the 40s, pretending to be a member of the secret service and a songwriter (having composed various hits from the future).

Watching the show made me think about the nature of time. I believe that time travel is possible. Well, sort of. If Someone exists outside of time and space, then it is possible to exist anywhere in time and space. It would seem that it would even be possible to exist everywhere in time and space simutaneously, given that neither is a constraint.

I was thinking of this in terms of the Eucharist. Not only is there no problem with Christ being truly present in every Divine Liturgy being served at any one given time on Earth, nor with the Holy Spirit transforming the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood, but it need not be happening merely simultaneously in time or space. As far as the spiritual realm is concerned, when we are joining with the rest of the Church in prayer, we are with all of the Church throughout time at the same time.

Or at least it seems plausible in my fledgling study of theophysics.

It does give an interesting twist or amplification to the meaning of the words of Jesus at the end of the Great Commission, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Truth in Reporting

Last year, Channel 4 ran a programme called The Great Global Warming Swindle. As you might expect, it presented the other side of the doom and gloom carbon footprinted gospel of Al Gore. Actually “gospel” means “good news”. What would be the Greek-derived word meaning “bad news”?  Hmm. . . I digress . . .

As you also might expect, the environuts were not well pleased. They filed complaints with the government broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. (In case you weren’t aware, we have lots of government regulatory bodies that start with “Of”, always pronounced “off” – Ofcom, Ofqual [see the previous article], Ofgem [energy], Ofwat [water], Oftel [telephone], and Ofsted [the school inspectors] for example.) Ofcom has upheld some of the complaints and dismissed some.

They are censuring Channel 4 because some of the proponents of global warming weren’t told that the programme was primarily designed to show the other point of view. It would seem they either would not have participated or would have said things differently.  However, Ofcom couldn’t find the evidence to censure Channel 4 for inaccuracy. This is despite a 131-point 270-page complaint.

The global warming scientific community is very angry that they are just not convincing the general population of their arguments. A recent poll showed that 60% of the British public  believe “many scientific experts still question if human beings are contributing to climate change”. This is despite the Government being behind the global warming message and like it’s American counterpart only providing funding for scientists who support this viewpoint. It is also being promoted very actively in schools, even though I know a number of science teachers who have not bought into the propaganda.

Disconnected from Reality

Last night’s series finale of Doctor Who featured the Doctor’s mobile telephone number, used by various other characters in the episode to contact him in the TARDIS while they are all in the process of saving the world. (If you haven’t seen the episode, don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler – every Doctor Who finale involves saving the world.)

The Mail on Sunday has revealed that there are a lot of angry fans out there. When the number (07700 900461, if you are curious) was shown records show more than 2,500 tried to call the Doctor. In the TARDIS. After all, reasoned (if it can be called that) one angry fan on the BBC website, “Grrr – I phoned the Doctor’s phone number but there was just an annoying network message. What’s the point in showing a phone number if you’re not gonna use it?!”

Never mind that phone numbers beginning with 077009 are the equivalent of the 555 numbers used when films and TV shows are set in the US. There are just some people who have a complete disconnect from reality.

These same people are going to be very disappointed when they make a teleport vest like the one worn by Martha Jones and can’t get it to work, even with the base code oscillating between 4 and 9.

Summer Reading

There may still be two weeks of school left, but my summer reading arrived today.

I first became acquainted with Bernard Cornwell when I read his Starbuck Chronicles set in the War Between the States. After a long period of contemplation, I decided to read his Saxon Stories set in the time of Alfred the Great. I have just finished The Last Kingdom and ordered the other three books in the series.

I have also been wanting The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andrepoulos. I thought I was getting it for Christmas, but that didn’t happen. I should have time to digest it this summer as well, so I bought it at the same time as the Cornwell books.

The only down side is that when I read books, I want to write them. Sadly, six weeks isn’t enough time to do that, too.

Bannaghtyn

I was reading the Manx Independent newspaper online this evening and looked at the regular Manx language feature. This led me to the Ynsee Gaelg website. Ynsee Gaelg means “learn Manx”.

From the first lesson, the long history of Christianity in the Isle of Man is evident in the idiom of greeting. One of the simple greetings in Manx is “Bannaghtyn”, which means “blessings”. What a nice way to greet someone.

Being a Celtic language (more specifically a Goidelic Celtic language, related to Scots Gaelic and Irish), it’s not easy to learn. It takes eleven lesson before it is time to talk about pets. Apparently an essential sentence is “Ta kayt aym as t’eh breimeragh” – I have a cat and he farts.

The website doesn’t make it clear, but I’m guessing this isn’t a nice way to greet someone.