Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Split Homes

Being a student feels almost schizophrenic sometimes. Your life is split between term and holiday, in my case between Durham and Cambridge. Returning to either is a pleasurable experience, but for different reasons.

Going back to Cambridge always feels relaxing. It's great to see family, have washing done for you and to see old school friends in the village pub. To argue about football and reminisce about times past.

Arrive in Durham, and I'm hit with the infinite possibilities of people to see and places to go. But the what makes me feel at home here are the people. I was reminded of this yesterday, when having been back only an hour or so, I went to the shops. I immediately bumped into a friend from college, and we made arrangements to go to the local in the evening.

People always say how the French have no word for 'home', other than that for 'house'. It's an important distinction.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Check my Blog Self

The day after I make a post on the worrying power of the new terrorism laws, the Independent very kindly devote their front page to the same issue.

Seriously, the examples in that story really are quite worrying. Much more so than bird flu, anyway.


Edit: And yet more, this time from the Guardian. In précis, a high court judge has ruled the terror laws to be "an affront to justice".

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Law Won

And so the predictions come true. A man has been taken off a plane, arrested and questioned under the Terrorism Act at Durham Tees Valley airport. The reason? Harraj Mann's taxi driver became suspicious of him, and told the police. His suspicion was based on Mann's music, specifically, er, "London Calling" by The Clash.

At the time that the Bill was being introduced, it was widely derided as going too far. The government used the July 7th bombings as an excuse to extend their powers of arrest and detention, and this case seems to demonstrate the ridiculous extent of its powers. I am trying to be carful not to use a Daily Mail-style argument here (i.e. generalising from one exceptional case), but rather use it to show how the Terrorism Act was indeed excessive.

What really shows this is the statement produced by Durham police:

"By the time it was established the man did not pose a security risk, the plane had taken off.
"Safety is paramount and we respond to concerns from members of the public in the way they would expect us to.
"In this case the report was made with the best of intentions and we would not want to discourage people from contacting us with genuine concerns regarding security."

That's all very well, but begs the question of precisely what report they received from the taxi driver. If he gave the full facts, then the police based arrested Mann because listening to The Clash is sufficient evidence that someone may be intending to commit a terrorist act. I hope this is as ridiculous as it sounds. If it is, however, it leaves us with the conclusion that Mann was arrested because the driver told the police simply that he suspected him to be planning terror, and provided no further evidence. In essence, a denunciation. Welcome to 21st century Britain.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


This post was prompted by Jim's post 'Strangers Amuse Me' and something I heard on Radio 4 this lunchtime:

We need a change of attitude among medical professionals, they need to stop treating death as failure.

Brilliant, I'm sure you'll agree. And inspired by that, I thought I'd give you a couple of other comments I've overheard recently...

In Tesco: "Another injection might stop me being sick" (Actually, now I look at it that probably isn't something to laugh at. But hey, who cares?)

In the pub: "But I don't pop them out anywhere"

It was this sort of thing that led me and a friend to create the game 'snippets' about this time last year. There is only one rule: when walking down the street, participants must make the snippet of conversation heard by passers by as interesting as possible. Being students this naturally became vulgar, eventually settling on,

And when he explained it like that, the rape was justified.

Who says University intellect is dead?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Deep Personal Cuts

So the review of the deaths of four young soldiers at the Deepcut barracks has found failings by the army, but that they were neither killed nor bullied to death. The distinct whiff of cover-up will always remain unless the public inquiry demanded by their families is established.

Something the report's author Nicholas Benton QC emphasised in interviews was this:

Mr Blake highlighted weaknesses in the army's care for recruits under the age of 18 and noted that a high proportion of young people accepted as recruits came from single-parent homes.

Some had left schools with no qualifications and many lacked adequate basic skills.

Perhaps it's too easy to be cynical about these reports. But it's not difficult to see that as a dig at the families of the victims, who have campaigned tirelessly for information about what happened to their children.

Motivation for an 'establishment' slur against them is easy to find. Throughout their long campaigns for a public inquiry they have been strongly critical of the army, the police and of governments, and as Benton realised would be the case, they do not support his findings. There are plenty of stories about the families' campaigns to be found on the BBC News Website.

Against this background, the unsubtle suggestion that the blame for the 'suicides' lies partly in their upbringing seems to be a classic blame shift. It also draws attention away from the various contradictory evidence about how and why they died, and whether it was even physically possible for them to commit suicide using the weapons which killed them.

The army is never happy about criticism, of course. General Sir Mike Jackson's complaint that Norman Kember had not yet thanked the troops who released him even before the peace activist had returned to Britain seemed particularly extraordinary. But then, they've never exactly been keen on pacifists. They don't seem very keen on the prying of the bereaved either.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Taking the Michie

In the absence of a real post, here is a selection of recent seminar or lecture quotations from Britain's premier stock exchange historian:

"A management consulatant is someone who takes your watch, charges to tell you the time then runs away with your watch"

On History: "You want to re-write the past and expunge it from the record"

"What do you ask a chav with a job?
'Can I have a big mac please?'"

And my personal favourite, while talking about the problems in the Italian economy:

Though there aren't too many problems as far as I can tell. Last time I was in Milan- I have never seen so many well-dressed young women. And slim too. Seriously, I was just sitting in a cafe, they just kept walking past. My wife said it was terribly bad for my heart. Not the same in Holland though, I can tell you. It's a complete contrast there, large women, the Dutch [it's impossible to represent his actions in words at this point in the discourse - ed.]. Amsterdam has this reputation, but they're large. You just have to look in the windows in some areas... Actually I did that by accident last time. [lecture hall dissolves in laughter] No, really, I was standing on a street in Amsterdam discussing the relationship between the Dutch and American economies, when this chap came outside and asked us to move because I was blocking his window. Anyway, back to 1979...

Ranald Michie, I salute you.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Life Imitates Art

As usual, it's the night before deadline day, and I've sat down to write my essay. Media Player has my music library on random to help stave off tiredness. And what should I hear, but Maximo Park:

I'd like to wait, to see how things turn out,
If you apply some pressure

Like most people - an assertion I base on casual conversation with a limited number of friends - I find it hard to work without the pressure of a deadline. I know what essays I have to write at the start of time, I know that most of them are due in within a limited amount of time, but until that time is almost upon me I find it near impossible to write the damn things.

Without pressure, it's all too easy to find something else to do with your time: other work, emails, reading about football, getting hidesously wasted, you name it. Procrastination, so they say, is the thief of time.

Still, the pressure's applied now the end of term draws near. I'll have to wait a few months to see how things turn out though.

(Before I sign off I'd like state my annoyance that "Apply Some Pressure" wasn't written by the Arctic Monkeys, thus depriving me of the title "Life Imitates Arctic".)