Thought for the Day

Yesterday’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 struck a chord with me. Written and presented by Elaine Storkey, it was about the ambiguity of language and the arrogance of conceit. It’s well worth reading, but for anyone who can’t be bothered to click on the link above, here are two of the best parts:

There is nothing more telling than language for conveying differences of outlook and perception. That is very evident right now in Iraq. Even amongst the key players words tell their own story. One of the marine Commanders outside Falluja describes the assault about to take place on that city as an ‘epic battle’, whilst the Prime Minister of Iraq, declares a 60 day ‘state of emergency.’ The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan refers to an attack on Falluja as ‘an escalation in violence which could disrupt Iraq’s political transition’, whilst Lt Colonel Brandl commanding one the battalions of the American marines talks about it as uncovering the hidden face of the enemy. His words are graphic. He says, ‘The enemy has a face. He is called Satan. He lives in Falluja and we’re going to destroy him.’

So why does language offer so many perceptions of reality, especially the shape and meaning of evil? One of the obvious answers is that we are all partisan. Each of us uses language to depict our own point of view. We notice most fully the evil done to us or to our group, whilst rephrasing the evil we do to others with the language of justification and exoneration. And when this becomes habitual and uncritical, partisanship can move into self-deception. We can come to believe, at both personal and national levels, that we own the language of evil, that we decide on its use, and it is one from which we are excluded.

As if in support of Storkey’s commentary, today’s Guardian carries a frightening story on its front page that includes the following quote: “They call us terrorists because we resist them. If defending the truth is terrorism, then we are terrorists.” It seems language is also a weapon in this war.

Anything goes

The BBC is reporting that John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, has topped the US dance chart at the age of 71 with a song supporting gay marriage (see Yoko’s gay wedding song is US hit).

I can’t understand how George W. Bush can argue that he’s in favour of greater freedom for people when he “wants to change the US constitution to specify that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman”.

Thirty-seven years ago while Justice Minister, a famous Canadian communist declared There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. The left-wing Liberal Pierre Trudeau was in favour of freedoms that the current “leader of the western world” is unwilling to give his own nation.

Whenever I hear the Bush Administration arguing rhetorically about freeing foreign peoples, I can’t help thinking of Cole Porter (an active homosexual, but at least he married a woman!). Porter hit the nail on the head when he wrote Anything Goes:

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I’m not a great romancer
I know that I’m bound to answer
When you propose,
Anything goes

It seems to me that the people who talk most about freedom, are really opportunistic control freaks who disguise themselves as liberals (i.e. freedom fighters) whenever it helps their selfish cause. Things are not what they seem, and anything goes!

PS – Is dancing allowed in Texas?

Man Booker prize

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to judge the world’s most prestigious English-language book award? If so, Fiammetta Rocco’s article Man Booker prize in this week’s Economist is for you.

Apparently “More than 100,000 books are published in Britain each year, virtually the same number as in America, which has five times the population”.

Liberals at heart

Given its origin, it’s ironic that the term “liberal” should have become a dirty word in the US. It’s derived from the Latin word liber meaning to be “free”, so you’d think that a nation that was willing to make great sacrifices in the name of freedom must be full of liberals wouldn’t you? Not so apparently, which makes me wonder what all that talk about encouraging democracy and freedom is all about.

The Online Etymology Dictionary has an entry for “liberal” and it’s quite interesting:

liberal (adj.)

c.1375, from O.Fr. liberal “befitting free men, noble, generous,” from L. liberalis “noble, generous,” lit. “pertaining to a free man,” from liber “free,” from PIE base *leudheros (cf. Gk. eleutheros “free”), probably originally “belonging to the people” (though the precise semantic development is obscure), from *leudho- “people” (cf. O.C.S. ljudu, Lith. liaudis, O.E. leod, Ger. Leute “nation, people”). Earliest reference in Eng. is to the liberal arts (L. artes liberales; see art (n.)), the seven attainments directed to intellectual enlargement, not immediate practical purpose, and thus deemed worthy of a free man (the word in this sense was opposed to servile or mechanical). Sense of “free in bestowing” is from 1387. With a meaning “free from restraint in speech or action” (1490) liberal was used 16c.-17c. as a term of reproach. It revived in a positive sense in the Enlightenment, with a meaning “free from prejudice, tolerant,” which emerged 1776-88. Purely in ref. to political opinion, “tending in favor of freedom and democracy” it dates from c.1801, from Fr. lib

Strange vegetable

Horticultural is a weblog devoted to gardening on a London allotment (these days there are weblogs about everything under the sun, or not under the sun as is often the case in London), and a week ago it featured a post about a strangely shaped cucumber (see Strange fruit).

A box of Chinese cauliflower

The Chinese cauliflower

While on holiday in France last month I came across a strangely shaped vegetable. It was labelled Chinese cauliflower, and was so weird that I photographed it (see right). I passed up the chance to try it at the time, but now I can’t help wondering what it tastes like. Could its taste be as unusual as its shape? I wonder.

PS – I didn’t know cucumber was a fruit. What exactly is the difference between fruit and veg?

Auction house motto

Call Centre Confidential is a popular, often humourous weblog devoted to the the trials and tribulations of life in a UK call centre.

Today’s post contains a management slogan that will appeal to any auction house employee or art dealer:

Any idiot can paint a picture, it takes a genius to sell it.

An October evening in Provence

I’ve been experimenting with a new digital camera while on holiday, and I must admit I’m very impressed with its potential. Who’d have thought images such as the one below could be produced so well digitally?

Le Moulin, Correns, France

Le Moulin, Correns, France

In fact, digital photography comes into its own at night time. The camera captures light in a way that film just doesn’t seem to record and that even the human eye has a hard time perceiving. Consequently, it becomes important to take a series of photographs at different exposures (aka bracketing) to ensure that you capture the scene as you envision it; but the beauty of digital photography is that you can take as many shots as you like without incurring any extra cost.

Of course, the ability to view the results of your work immediately is probably the single biggest benefit of digital photography. It takes a long time to learn from your mistakes with conventional film because of the time-consuming need to process and print each roll. Digital cameras provide feedback straight away, and that shortens the learning curve considerably.

In addition, the personal computer is an infinitely flexible digital darkroom. It allows you to manipulate your images in a myriad of new ways, some of which are in questionable taste I must admit.

Nevertheless, I’ve been coming to this part of France for many years now, and yet I’ve produced my best photographs of the place during this visit. It’s not a coincidence. Digital photography has allowed me to see with a fresh pair of eyes. Long may it continue.

At last it feels like summer

Provencal village in the late afternoon

The village in the late afternoon

Having left the country, we’re finally enjoying the Indian summer that we hoped we would have at home. Here in the south of France the sky is cloudless, the days are still warm and the vines are heaving with fruit.

Whereas a month ago this sleepy village would have been quietly dull apart from the occasional group of tourists canoeing downriver, it’s now a hive of activity. The campers have gone home; the children have returned to school; and the 2004 harvest has finally begun. Every 10 minutes another trailer load of grapes arrives at the coop

Corporate newspeak

Some of Tesco’s grocery stores have a new slogan on display in their windows. It states Helping you spend less every day.

I wonder if the company’s shareholders think that’s a good idea? Presumably, if Tesco does a good job and follows that objective through to its logical end, it’ll eventually destroy itself. Call me cynical, but I just don’t believe ’em!

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