Search This Blog

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Queen's doctor

So Brian May passed his viva voce and is now Dr. Brian May.
Congratulations to one of the best axe men of the current times.

We in the field of solar-terrestrial physics have been told that we need to appeal to the astronomers (who hold the purse-strings of our funding) . Clearly we need to attract a big name so as to stay relevant in their eyes.
That being the case I welcome suggestions for other rock stars that we in the STP community can entice to do a Ph.D

So far the best suggestions have been Keith Richards and Alice Cooper.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sifting history - part 2

This one was me getting peeved at what i consider to be stupid sayings that have little or no true meaning besides establishing some sort of moral superiority:

Respecting the Office - first posted to Cabal on 10/6/2004

In recent years I have heard people utter words akin to the following:

"I disagree with 'X' but we must respect the office!"

often followed by much nodding of heads and hearty agreement. The office in question has often been, but not exclusively so, that of the American President.

Well I don't understand it. To me respect is something that must be earned, not some quality to be thrust upon some idealized concept of a person or institution. It is an important thing. How exactly does one 'respect the office' if you have little or no respect for the incumbent? I suppose that you can pay lip service, ensure that you always use the title "Mr. President", "Prime Minister", etc. Not expressing your views in the overly direct way that you might like to is perhaps another way of 'respecting the office', but is this true respect? Surely this is courtesy and I would agree that in our dealings with our leaders courtesy should be shown, just as it would be wonderful if everyone showed courtesy in their dealings with the rest of the world.

When a new "insert title here" is elected they then embody the office. It is their responsibility to live up to our expectations as laid out in their election pledges, promises and manifestos that encouraged us to vote for them in the first place. It is up to them to earn our respect by carrying through or at least by offering sound reasoning for taking steps that we may disagree with; respect can be offered even if you disagree with the stance adopted by the other person.

It is not our responsibility to offer respect to someone just because they have reached a much vaunted position, especially when that position is one of service to the people. Particularly in this day and age when so much in election politics depends on how much money one can raise. Respect is our gift to be offered at our discretion, not something that can be demanded just because of where a person works, no matter how influential a position. If you believe it should then perhaps you might feel more comfortable living in an earlier age where you can at least have a ruling monarch to respect. Respect should not be an automatic requirement, especially in a free democracy where we can question our leaders and system, supposedly without fear of reproach.

So if you feel aggrieved by the incumbent, the next time someone says that you should respect the office I encourage you to say:
"No. I think that the office is an important institution and I am proud that it exists. However I will only respect the incumbent if and when s/he does something worthy of that respect, and stops making, what I view as, a complete tits-up of the job!"

Sifting history - part 1

In an effort to save some of my older posts from Cabal that seem to have disappeared from the available archive I am going to post them here.
This post is a reflection on my annoyance with sound-bites in the media; for context it should be remembered that I was living in the States at the time:

Soundbites -are we or the media idiots? - first posted to Cabal on 12/5/2004

JD's recent entry "Only Mildly Coherent Ramblings" got me to thinking. Specifically when the comments that followed started discussing the use of the term 'unilateral' in reference to the US-led coalition's war in Iraq. The Democrats use this word to describe the fact that the US has the vast majority of forces in place and that the war was initiated in defiance of the UN. True enough but the use of 'unilateral' is just plain wrong - other countries supported the US and sent both troops and logistical support making it far from a unilateral action. Are the Dems trying to make us forget that other countries supported the US? Possibly, I suppose, but I think it is a strategy that is doomed to failure unless they believe that the vast majority of the population of the US has the intelligence of a deranged squirrel. Perhaps in my naiveté I think that they use this term as a shorthand to get their message across, but its still wrong.

So why use it? I think the answer is simple: the politicians and media in America (and also in other parts of the world) think that people will only respond to sound bites. They have to keep their ramblings as short as possible for the thought to stay in the average American's head. It has become a pervasive part of our culture with politicians making statements with only a tenuous link to the truth not just because they are politicians and they lie anyway, but because they feel they have to reduce their argument into as small a phrase as possible. And if it bends the truth, or has to be qualified in some way later, then it is all to the greater good.

Perhaps the reliance on sound bites is an indicator of how the media and politicians really think of us. Perhaps they really do believe that on the whole we are stupid and cannot hold a complex thought in our heads. That can be the only explanation for the rise of sound bites and the accompanying, intrinsic spin. So where does the fault lie? Which came first the chicken or the egg? Did we all become so dumb that we cannot handle the truth except in bite-sized, easily digestible packages? Or has something else spurred this cultural development? Is it the politicians knowing that if we understood the whole argument then many of us would never vote again and would instead find that deserted island we keep dreaming about? Is it the media? Have they created a climate where a politician is scared to speak his/her mind fully in case it is cherry picked to create 'news'?

Or is it something else? Perhaps there is something else in our culture that truly has reduced our attention span and made it so that we need the media to help us think rather than hearing the facts and then making our own minds up. Maybe we are all deranged squirrels, but what could have caused it? Maybe the incessant interruptions of our news feeds (and entertainment) with adverts that have conditioned us to get a message in 30 seconds or less. Maybe now we (and our children) have the attention spans of fruit flies. Perhaps the politicians are scared to speak for too long in case the advert break interrupts them and have adjusted accordingly. Maybe it all goes back further than I think, but is there a way to reverse this trend? Also, could it be that we are in a feedback loop? The politicians think we can only handle a simple thought and so use sound bites. They look at the fact that they are forced to use sound bites and figure that the people must be dumb. Consequently their opinion of us also decreases and they think they can really say anything they want without being called on it too vigorously - and this appears to be true, they claim that they are being misunderstood, or that they misspoke. How are we supposed to be able to tell whether this is true or not? We have to take it at face value and so the politicians keep doing it until they tell such a whopper that they can no longer defend it, but by then how much damage might be done?

I think that it is time that politicians of all stripes put aside the sound bites and spin and started telling us the whole truth. Let us have honest debate rather than 'gotcha's'. Instead of pandering to a perceived notion of what America can understand and deal with, let us raise the bar and treat the people with some respect for a change. Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer that people can be a lot dumber than we give them credit for but that is no excuse to treat them as such, else how will standards rise?

Oh and by the way, I think the Whitehouse should sack Scott McClellan. I haven't seen a press secretary who looked so dishonest when speaking. I have the impression that whenever he opens his mouth he is lying. That may not be the case but boy it sure looks that way.

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to be completely inconsistent in my views depending on controlling factors such as: amount of work, caffeine, alcohol or even the weather :)

worst. golf. game. ever!

First of all, I enjoyed it very much. It was a beautiful evening and we get terrific views of our little corner of Lancashire from the course. I enjoyed the company and being out in the fresh air.


Look in a game of 9 holes (well 10 but the last one did not count) I won only one hole, and that was only by dint of sheer luck, mostly bad luck on my friends' part. I hit a 110. I'll let that sink in for a moment.

That's right I was that bad. I kept topping the ball and when I did manage to lift the ball a few feet into the air it would head straight into the rough. I was pitching onto the green on the 8th hole and managed to catch the ball such that it moved 6 inches to the right into a patch of rough.
I need to work on my swing, my long game and my short game. That about says it all. On the plus side I actually hit 4 (out of 110) that I can honestly say I was pleased with (at least at first). The first two were on the second hole. After a rocky start I managed a decent shot with my 5 iron down the fairway, over a stream and laying up nicely for the green. The next shot with my 9 iron tipped just short of the green but still in a good position. It's nice when you can string a couple of decent shots together on a hole. After that and a little later on, I had my career best shot with a 9 iron. Sadly, as my friend Jim said it was a fantastic shot when I was hoping for mediocre. I overshot the green and ran down a small hill at the back. Thankfully I was still on fairway but with a large patch of rough (uphill) between me and the green I soon put pay to that good fortune. Plus I lost the damn ball! In a patch of rough about 3 metres square!

My last good shot of the day was a drive from the 10th (which did not count). It sat nicely on the fairway only a short chip from the green. Said chip could have been better but was not as bad as previous efforts. Of course that hole did not count.

Now, even with all that bad luck (lack of skill?) I can't wait to play again (in fact today is another fine day...). All because of 4 shots which show that I can play better than I did. That's the thing about golf it is the feeling of wanting to play better than before. I console myself in the knowledge that at this stage I am playing with people and not against them, I am only playing against myself.

Oh and by the way, if you were being kind and thinking 110 was not too bad (in which case you are very wrong) if we had been counting attempts to hit the ball instead of just those times when the ball was hit, well, let's just forget about it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Straight down the middle [update]

A beautiful sunny day in the north of England and myself and two colleagues are going to take advantage and bugger off to the golf course later this afternoon.

I approach this with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. I have been to the driving range with said colleagues and one is a natural who drove the ball far beyond the back fence of the range and has played on and off for years. The other is a relative newcomer to the game but has approached it with gusto and far too much enthusiasm for my liking; he has been taking lessons! In fact he was not keen to play a game until he had a few lessons and plenty of practice at the driving range.

As for myself, I first started playing when I was 16 (14 years ago for those keeping count) and played quite regularly until I started University. I then did not touch a club again until last year - even though I always intended to get lessons it has never happened. When I did play my friends and I sort of just lunged forward at the game with the most basic of advice from our PE teacher at school ("hit the ball, get it in the little hole").

Basically I am very shit (those of you aware of my lack of hand-eye coordination could have surmised this) and as much as I enjoy playing I feel that this afternoon could be full of ripe humiliation. My only recourse may be to supply copious amounts of alcohol and hope the greens keeper does not catch us.

[update] where the smeg has all this bloody cloud come from?????


On a whim I shaved off my 'wanky student beard' today.

I shall be growing it back as quickly as I can - does miracle grow work when applied to the face?