Thursday, 28 January 2010


So Holocaust Day is over and we can get back to our normal practice of forgetting human inhumanity? I must say I feel uncomfortable about being asked to remember only one ghastly example when the suffering continues in Darfur and Burma and Tibet and Western New Guinea. And it's not as if Europe were now safe; the conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia have been covered over, but without constant vigilance they could start again.

As for Hitler's Holocaust, the memory of it has been contaminated by the way it has been used as a justification of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the continuing oppression of the Palestinians. When Norman Finkelstein exposed this in his book The Holocaust Industry, he was persecuted for it and eventually lost his job. He was not a 'Holocaust-denier', simply a scholar who refused to exploit the past to justify injustice in the present.

Ultimately our problem is the glorified tribalism called nationalism, bane of minorities and spawner of wars. The European Community is an inspiring example of amulti-national society, and what a pity so man of the English are too nationalistic to join in properly.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Peace Envoy

Does anyone happen to know whether our ex-PM is still on the payroll of the Quartet as Peace Envoy to the Middle East? If so he is not being paid by results. Similarly, is he still getting his retainer as consultant to J P Morgan on investment in Iraq? And has anyone seen reports of his lectures on religion at Yale University? I haven't heard anything about him as expert on climate change or ambassador for Africa either. Could it be that he has a bunch of sinecures? Well at least he isn't President of the European Commission.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The F-word

Why do I hate the F-word so much that I cannot even write it, let alone say it? It seems to me horrible that a word that should mean something good has come to express whatever is bad. Even worse is the way that it is used in all sorts of places that have nothing to do with its original meaning. It used to be used mainly by men - mostly those with limited vocabulary - but now I hear it even from educated women. The only hope is that, now that it is meaningless, people will get tired of using it.

It seems like a hangover from our Christian past, in which sex was usually sinful and always dangerous - as it still is for the conclave of elderly bachelors who rule over the largest of the Christian churches. It must delight them that so many people who have never even opened a Bible still pay lip service to this ancient doctrine.

Even when used in its literal sense it seems the wrong word. As a verb, it always has to have a subject and an object, when what it describes should be a shared activity in which neither partner is doing something to the other, which is no doubt because it was originally a male word, used by those who saw themselves as the only agents.

Which leaves us without a plain word for something important. I like 'bonk'. When used as a verb its subject is usually plural and it takes no object. Also, it lends itself to compounds, such as solo-bonk, duo-bonk, tri-bonk and multi-bonk. And it sounds rather comic, as should be the case for something so laughable as the activity it describes. Seriously!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Back where we were?

'Hurray!' they say, 'It worked. The stock market is back where it was before the crisis. Banks are handing out huge bonuses again. Whoopee!' Except that millions of people around the world have lost their jobs and/or their homes, and a whole generation is going to have to pay off the debts that the bankers saddled us with. And there has been no radical reform. The wings of extreme capitalism have not been clipped. The almighty dollar still rules, thanks to its Chinese creditors. Inequality within and between countries is still immense. So no celebration yet!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Brocard's Number

Thank you to the kind friends who won't let me forget my birthday! Needless to say I reached for the Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers and discovered that 71 is the largest known solution to Brocard''s pr0blem: 71 squared is 7!+1 (the exclamation mark in 7! means 7x6x5x4x3x2x1). Also 71 cubed is 357911 - the first five odd numbers in sequence (not counting 1 as odd). 71 is the atomic number of lutetium, so at last I am out of the lanthanides!

Apart from that I don't get any kick out of having completed 71 journeys round the sun. This is not my favourite angle from which to look at the sun; April and May offer very pleasant views, and there is a lot to be said for September and October. What is amusing though is that in the past year I have met my exact twin, born on the same day of the same year - and we both love the poetry of Arthur Clough!!!

Speaking of Clough, on 3rd February an English Heritage blue plaque is being unveiled on the house he lived in from 1854 to 59 - 11 St Mark's Crescent, London NW1. Ironically, he wrote no poetry while he lived there, but that is very appropriate for this most paradoxical of poets. I am giving a talk at a seminar afterwards, and I shall try to explain his eight-year silence - something to do with his marriage, I think.