Lighting Up Time

Having thought that Paris had eschewed much of the vulgarities of Oxford Street, I was on the Champs-Elysées  last night which was flooded with lights; these, it would seem, themed differently every winter, with light-drenched trees stretching all the way from the Place de l’Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. This year the lightshow consisted of electric blue neon on every tree which looked like snowfall trickling down on them. I’m such a tourist..

Gala Night

Notre Dame de Paris. The eldest daughter of Rome. Endless masses and hoop-la attracting the faithful, faithless, homeless and the merely curious. Tonight, however, is gala night. His Eminence Andre Vingt-Trois the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris was the Master of Ceremonies at Midnight Mass. I felt it might be quite a trip to trot along, not actually ever having been within pea-shooting range of a man who’s met the Pope. Slipping unnoticed near the front of the assembled multitudes awaiting admission, just as the gigantic, thirteen ton bourdon bell, Emmanuel, woke up all the drunks asleep on the rue de Rivoli, I passed through a rather desultory security check as frozen, disinterested members of the gendarmerie peered briefly into the odd handbag or two. I slipped past them like a spiritual terrorist almost at the head of the line, just missing ‘Adeste Fideles’. The old chap, fetchingly attired in white with little black crosses, wheezed through the liturgy, excellently choreographed, his august presence permanently incense-wreathed. I was surprised he didn’t have an asthma attack. He took the opportunity to address the crowd on the evils of abortion, warming sonorously to his theme not once but on a number of occasions during a twelve minute homily. it occurred to me that the brouillard of holy smoke which quite obviously followed him around wherever he went had had the effect of cosily insulating him against the messier aspects of human reproduction and the prohibitive cost of food, clothing and higher education. The Gipsy was outraged and muttered darkly throughout most of his address about the inappropriateness of celibate old men attempting to lecture the rest of us about the advantages of full quivers. She flawlessly joined in the Credo in Latin, however, which we both found worrying. The music was, of course, outstanding, but I left during Rutter’s  “I saw Three Ships”, declining a piece of cake. Organ recital at La Madeleine tomorrow. What fun.

Over the Top

Paris at Christmas is much less exciting than London, provided that said excitement is measured in quantities of tinsel, kerbside Santas fragrant with cheap sherry  and mindless, endless repetitions of Frosty the Snowman in the Oxford Street drizzle.

Paris is more restrained and street corners are not routinely bedecked with all manner of non-biodegradable material.Inside Galeries Lafayette, however, it’s quite another matter…
British Christmases were always rather jolly with turkey, mince pies, crackers which often failed to explode  and paper hats which fell down over Uncle Dick’s nose as he slept off the excesses in front of the TV at three o’clock watching HM tell us how much she loved being Queen and so on.
Here, we’ll be doing things a little differently and making something special for Christmas Eve which will look a little bit like this. Nice.


Bikinis and Drivel

“Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”

Aaron Levinstein.

It occasionally amuses me to surf mathematical websites for interesting problems. Statistical ones are a minefield of misdirection and I quite liked this one.

A company is expanding and has 455 new jobs, 70 white collar, the rest blue. For the white collar jobs there were 200 male and 200 female applicants. 15% of the men and 20% of the women were hired. For the blue collar jobs 400 men and 100 women applied. 75% of the men and 85% of the female applicants were hired.

In summary:

An official alleging discrimination noticed that many more men than women were hired. The company responded by pointing out that a greater percentage of women were hired in both blue and white collar categories , thus if anything there was positive discrimination in favour of women. The official then produced his own statistics. A female had a 58% chance of denial compared with a 45% chance for a man. Both sets of results taken collectively are counterintuitive, so who is right? The answer is, of course, both.

Would anybody with a logical turn of mind like to point out the flaw in the reasoning?

Creating policy based on statistics like this is doomed to failure, whether the policy is concerned with how many new settlements to build in East Jerusalem or which school is ‘better’ based upon league tables.

It’s True!

He’s real! Santa Claus is in the Scriptures!

There is a prize of a hand-crafted Humility Badge for any reader who can correctly identify a) the passage b) the version and c) the denomination.
The last ‘ho’ in verse 6 has clearly been redacted.
The winner of the Badge will have it taken off him or her for wearing it.

Pillar to Post

Frankfurt airport is vast. It extends for seemingly miles in all directions and in spite of immense passenger throughput, it rarely seems to be crowded. Unless of course, two inches of snow falls unexpectedly in Northern Europe. Newspapers headline with “Chaos”, which I really never quite believed until my aircraft took off almost four hours late from the desert Shangri-La which I call home en route for wild and bitter weather in the North. I missed my connection, of course, which normally means a peaceful – in former times alcohol-sodden – wait for as long as it took to reconfigure everyone’s flights and get them on their way. Being herded from pillar to post in unfamiliar surroundings along with two and a half thousand others is disconcerting and frays the nerves, some giving way to hysteria because they have flown halfway around the world for a wedding which will almost certainly start without them. I was on standby which can mean anything from ‘there might be room on the 2:30, guv’ to ‘be prepared to sleep on the floor in the airport, perhaps for days, Sir’.
OK. Fine. Excellent. Being adept at slipping between the interstices of energy wasted by others, a  moment seized and the absence of luggage secured me a place on the next flight. Enough time to enjoy a little German hospitality, without beer. And it’s pot-au-feu with Aubrac beef or magret de canard  stuffed with foie gras and figs at the other end. In this particular case, it was better to arrive than to travel hopefully. Oh, yes.

Peace on Earth

and goodwill toward men.
Quite so. Last Saturday, two women were attacked for unspecified reasons in a forested area popular with hikers south of Jerusalem. One, an American, is dead. A British-born girl survived. Two Arab men approached them, asking for water. One noticed that one of the girls was wearing a Star of David and the stabbing began. Mindless and unprovoked violence – so what. Happens a thousand times a day somewhere or another. Alcohol-fuelled? Unlikely. Racist? Almost certainly. The emotional fallout however in the survivor’s life and the trauma experienced will remain.
Normally, this isn’t something I’d want to comment on, but the survivor was a part-timer at Shoresh Tours, associated with Christ Church and CMJ, where I spent some formative and lifechanging time. The breath of undiluted evil which prompted such acts blew fleetingly across my face.
How can one find a place of self-protection, from which forgiveness can flow, I wonder? I was watching a movie the other day which chronicled the stages in the recovery of a victim of unprovoked assault. “Savage” is the story of a young Irish photographer who, on his way home, is brutally attacked, seemingly at random, by two sadistic muggers brandishing a Stanley knife who leave him with numerous mental and physical scars. Finding it difficult to come to terms with what has happened, he becomes increasingly angry and hungry for any kind of revenge. He descends into a nightmare of tit-for-tat thinking, reinforcing the maxim that ‘violence is its own father’.
The conflict between peace, appeasement and vengeance is one with which I contend, emotionally, spiritually and sometimes materially, and I suppose that I am like everyone else, hoping that the lamb will suddenly, inexplicably bare its teeth and the wolf will flee. Forgiveness is costly. It may even be the softer, easier way to descend into the gutter and return evil for evil. 


Gentle Lies

Propaganda  might be defined as getting people to believe exactly what you want them to believe by gently but persistently lying to them. When an opinion hardens into a principle which coalesces into a doctrine, the world becomes less flexible, less amenable to change and more susceptible to violent opposition to it. Most people don’t take the time or expend the requisite effort in order to unearth the truth – whatever the truth is. Jack Nicholson’s famous line from ‘A Few Good Men’ still reverberates “You can’t handle the truth!”
The plural ‘you’ perhaps. And, quite probably, we can’t. But Western style democracy gives us the platform from which to try, which is why Wikileaks is tolerated, students can protest loudly over tuition fees and the British prime minister is on record as asserting  “I am proud to be a Zionist”.
The long Damoclean shadow which is Iran will present the free world with the next significant Doomsday scenario of the 21st century.
I found these two clips illuminating since they offer two separate propagandist perspectives. Iranium – buttressed by and weighted politically by ‘people who know’, is rebutted by a soft, dewy-eyed, we-wouldn’t-harm-a-fly response, the latter’s effect rather spoiled by images of bloodstained Palestinian children and the inevitable side-swipe at Israel.
Whatever remains of my hot prophetic blood, if not boiling, still gently simmers.

There’s a Hole in my Bucket

Conversing with a friend today, we were speculating about  how ‘leakage’ actually happens, Is it brute force – battering a firewall down by repeated attacks like medieval siege works, hoping to punch holes in the bulwarks and gain entrance by force of arms? Probably not. The likelihood is that leakage takes place by a much more obvious mechanism. Military and diplomatic Internet isn’t the same as the civilian one. ARPANet runs home to mama in the form of the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) which is “a system of interconnected computer networks used by the United States Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State to transmit classified information (up to and including information classified SECRET) by packet switching over the TCP/IP protocols in a ‘completely secure’ environment”. Thanks, Wiki. It also provides services such as hypertext document access and electronic mail. As such, SIPRNet is the DoD’s classified version of the civilian Internet. Accidental leakage is impossible since there’s no electronic connection between civilian and classified systems and as such it ought to be bomb proof. But it isn’t because people with classified clearance can just plug in a flash drive in a fit of pique and download all they want. PFC Bradley Manning’s motivation for leaking military information from SIPRNET to Wikileaks seems to be down to little more than disillusionment with American foreign policy. On the motivation scale, Manning’s motivation doesn’t seem urgent compared to, say, someone being blackmailed or being motivated by having a gun held to a family member’s head, or tempted by a hot tub full of jewellery and hookers. That’s real motivation. I’m not going to speculate on how much information has leaked from SIPRNET by people being “properly” motivated. But, I suspect that it’s rather a lot…
Bradley Manning was held for a time here in Kuwait, pending further legal proceedings and he faces up to 52 years in jail. The hole in the bucket here is simply giving military personnel with axes to grind a way of grinding them so as to cause a good deal of damage. Manning may pay yet more dearly than he imagined. At least one senator and a congressman have called for the death penalty.

All Quiet…

Erich Maria Remarque’s seminal novel about the First World War is mistranslated into English. “All Quiet on the Western Front” in German translates more as “Nothing much happened on the…”
There’s often a sense here of ‘nothing much happening’. It quite gets the juices flowing when something does. Last summer I lent my car to HandyMan, being one of the few apparently trustworthy drivers I know. He told me that he’d run out of gas when the gauge still read 80km left. I nodded and smiled, privately thinking that he had just been careless and it served him right. Until this evening. Wall-to wall correction of exam papers is a dispiriting exercise since one is left with the impression that if what one’s students write down is any guide, one might as well have been lecturing in Vietnamese, thus I thought a trip to the Motor Show in Mishref might be a pleasant diversion. Just as I left the complex to come home, the car coughed apologetically like a dyspeptic sheep, with 98km remaining in the gas tank, and I was left wondering how I and the car could make it home before midnight.
Those who live here will find this hard to believe. An American lady, early thirties, well-presented – you get the idea – driving a  brand-new, white Porsche Carrera 911 GT3 (with black leather interior) pulled up, asked if she could help, drove me exhilaratingly fast  to the gas station, haggled with an Indian coolie to provide a container for a few litres of gas, dropped me back at my car and I was on my way within half an hour. I was so pumped I exceeded the speed limit in my freshly fuelled vehicle and probably picked up a ticket.

Not much happens here. A couple of throbbing engines from the Motor Show.