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Essay title  Extract - to read the whole of the essay, just click on the title.
 

 
War and International law
...Winterbourne House had a tea room... and so that same afternoon, we went back to have a look around. We found that it had been constructed in 1904 in the Arts and Crafts style, very popular at the time. It was an artistic movement based on communion with nature and with a backwards look at an idealised past when agriculture and manufacturing were on a small scale, rather than the industrialised manufacture which had become normal in the 19th century. This was somewhat ironic in that the family which had the house built in its 6 acres of land was the Nettlefold family, of Guest Keen & Nettlefold (GKN plc) fame. They had become rich through the industrialisation of the production of wood screws...and munitions. Which reminds us that behind every war there is someone profiting from it - even if it is not always obvious who it is or how...
The Difficulty with Constitutions ...The house was erected a few years ago by a woman as her family home. She has numerous children and needed somewhere to live. The house is in a very nice area because it has been built in what we would call the green belt. The difficulty is that she knew that if she applied for planning consent, she would not get it. And so she just went ahead and built it anyway. Now, like me, you might think that the planning authority would have no difficulty in getting the order it requested. But we'd be wrong. And the reason is all to do with this lady's constitutional rights...
The Original
The responsibility of Herman Goering for the horrors of the Third Reich was second only to that of Hitler. He was after all the second in command and clearly took pleasure in his work. But not only in his work, he also enjoyed the collateral benefits which accompanied it. Although Hitler had the first choice of the spoils available to him as invader of the various European countries, an invader without scruples, Goering came second. Yes, he was a man made of hatred and egoism, but he had another side to him of which we don't hear much. He considered himself to be a great connoisseur of art. In every country which was invaded, there was a huge collection of art available, whether from museums or private collections, from which he was able to make a selection...
The Greater Good, War and Jimmy Saville There is a version of morality which says that a bad outcome can be justified if a greater good is achieved or is at least the aim of the action. War is a typical case. We all accept that in an ideal world, we would not go around killing people. However, we will feel justified in going to war with an aggressor if the alternative is that our own lives or liberty are at risk. The greater good is the defence of my country against someone who quite unjustifiably wishes to harm us. Similar reasoning applies if someone breaks into my house: I am now encouraged to do anything short of the use of 'grossly disproportionate force' to defend my person and property. The good is the defence of what is mine against someone who unlawfully tries to take it from me. But quite obviously, such a way of thinking is highly subjective...
Sport

Sport and I have never been easy bedfellows. In fact we separated shortly after I left school. No more would I be required, by a rather overweight disciplinarian of a sports teacher, to engage in activities which gave me no pleasure and of which I failed to see the point.

Of course there may have been another factor at play, illustrated by the fact that when it came to football, where other boys were chosen to be in a team, I was generally selected to be the referee. It meant I ran up and down the field but didn't have to be trusted with the ball itself. It also meant that I learned the offside rule at an early age, but otherwise, I am afraid that it did nothing to encourage me to participate in activities in the cold and wet. Thinking back on it, it may be that my refereeing experience started me on the way to becoming a lawyer. My view of sport, however, as something (not) to engage in has not really changed over the years...

Anders Breivik, myth and the misuse of reason
When a child has an imaginary friend, we accept it as part of growing up. We routinely give children explanations of things which are in fact lies. The jolly fat man brings the presents found under the Christmas tree. Children believe this because the parents have told them. And they act upon it. They send letters to the North Pole. They may even try to impress Father Christmas by being, briefly, uncharacteristically good. Of course, when adults do what an imaginary person has told them to do, we tend to diagnose schizophrenia or religion. But the reality is that much of what all of us do as adults is based on ideas which have no objective basis. Our opinions are often ill-thought out responses to half-understood facts and outright fallacies and myths. This we consider to be different to insanity. We are simply "misinformed". But what about when this misinformation results in horrific behaviour? Someone who kills 77 people, with a bomb in a town centre and then on an island at close range by gunshots because of a belief that multiculturalism is wrong is presumed from the outset to be mad, at least in a civilised society of which he is a member. The trial of Anders Breivik is, of course, designed to determine whether or not he is insane...
Evangelism in the widest sense My family, me included, has a history of participation in evangelism. In the 1920's in Cardiff the non-conformists – the 'Plymouth Brethren' particularly – were known for their evangelism, not only in their chapels, but also on the streets with their open air meetings. Each open air meeting, often on a corner where there was a pub, was held simply to preach the Gospel to sinners. It was a combination of Bible readings, hymns intended to speak to the sinner and of course short sermons in which the listener was warned of an eternity in hell in the absence of penitence – and all this without the aid of amplification. My uncles had very strong voices...
Violence and the good old days

In Ecclesiastes 7:10 we read -

'Do not say “ Why were the old days better than now?” because it is not through wisdom that you ask this.'

On the other hand it is true that the present is not always better than the past. ... There isn't a day which goes by without a report of violence on the street, on the football field or in the home. The newspapers tell us that we are going to hell in a hand-basket and it is a major preoccupation of the electorate at every general election. But, perhaps we ought to pay more attention to what the writer of Ecclesiastes said. Because it seems that our impression of the world is false – and not just in a minor way...

Aggressive secularism

Christians of every flavour, and even the Muslims in the person of Baroness Warsi, the vice chairman of the Conservative Party, in a speech when she went to Rome recently to meet the Pope, have been complaining for a while now about 'aggressive secularism'. They don't seem to see the irony of the expression for a group of people known for their aggressive proselytism across the centuries.

It all started, I suppose, when the atheists, led by Richard Dawkins Daniel Dennett and Peter Hitchen, started to weigh into religion and hold up to the light what they regarded as its true character. Christians in this country, however, continue to assert that this is a Christian country, that we ought to recognise this fact and be grateful to the Church for its role in our upbringing as a nation. They say, without a twitch of the eyebrow, that religion promotes peace, tolerance and comprehension between people. They state that our law, our moral principles and our art and culture are all derived from Christianity. In other words, all that we are, our national identity, we owe to the Christian religion...

North Africa - the uprisings North Africa had never really impressed itself very much on my consciousness. But now, all of a sudden, it's front page news. And now I find that in a ranking of the world's 167 countries by ‘The Economist' Intelligence Unit according to how democratic they are, we find Egypt at number 138, just below China at 136. Tunisia is at 144, just one position above Zimbabwe at 145. Morocco, Jordan and Ethiopia do a little better at 116 - 118 and Kuwait is in at 114, just below Haiti at 111. Oh, and Saudi Arabia the personal fiefdom of the Saud family, with its religious police and laws preventing women from driving is at 160. For comparison, Burma is number 163. North Africa does not look good...
The Hedgehog I had never before seen a hedgehog in our garden, but on Saturday afternoon we saw a little hedgehog in the centre of our lawn. He wasn’t running about and seemed to be very wobbly on his legs. We decided to go to see our visitor up close and very slowly we crept closer towards him. To my surprise the hedgehog stayed where it was. From time to time he did move about, but he looked slightly drunk. Heather put a saucer of milk down for him and he drank the lot. We consulted the internet and we found loads of sites dealing with hedgehogs. It seems that at this time hedgehogs have started to hibernate and so it is not a good sign to find one in broad daylight in the garden. What to do? Obviously telephone the hedgehog hotline...
Decisions, decisions We know it's difficult to make decisions. To choose between chocolate cake or lemon meringue pie for me is not easy. But I must admit that there are things in life that are even more important than dessert. How to choose? The equality of desire for two things, such as desserts, makes the choice very difficult even when the outcome of the choice is not very important. But normally in life we make a choice based on a rational consideration of the benefits and disadvantages for our lives. Isnt that so? Well maybe not...
Making things human ...Primatologists have documented a type of behaviour in chimpanzees, called the "rain dance". When a thunderstorm starts, they sometimes climb trees, tear off branches, and brandish them while screaming at the clouds - as if confronting a rival male. Those primates may well be "chimpomorphising" the storm - shaking their sticks at the Alpha male hurling lightning bolts from the great treetop in the sky...
What you can't do in your own house If you bought a house and found that you couldn't do any work there on the Sabbath even though you were not a Jew; if you were not allowed to use fly spray to kill flies even though you were not Buddhist; if you discovered that you could only eat Halal meat there despite not being a Moslem, then I think that you would be shocked. After all, at least in Britain, we do not expect other peoples' religious demands to be imposed on us - particularly in our own homes. Although none of these conditions affect any house I've ever come across, the Catholics have succeeded where others have failed...
The death of god has been somewhat exaggerated ...the expression "the death of god" has, even today (perhaps particularly today) a strong resonance. Today, we have the "New Atheism" of Dawkins and other authors who have seen their books sell in shed-loads. But the sale of these books is surprising, particularly in America, the country of the ‘Moral Majority'. We have the impression that most Americans believe in the Christian god of the founding fathers. For many years, the opinion polls have shown that at least 90% of Americans say that they believe in god, but the immense sales of the books propagating the new atheism indicate that an extraordinary number of theists must have decided to read them. Which is very surprising. Perhaps our impression of the Americans is wrong...
Manipulation We all know that libel tourism is a major industry in England. Many oligarchs and petro-billionaires have sued or threatened to sue here using our draconian libel laws and the threat of our incredible lawyers costs in order to gag people who criticise them - even where the defendants live in other countries altogether. Major foreign corporations have done the same thing in order to stifle debate in the scientific world...
A Changing Society ...It is interesting that candles, once kept in a drawer ready for power cuts, have since re-emerged as decoration, a way of creating a pleasant atmosphere and reducing stress. Swedes have come back too, although probably not to the same extent, mainly because they don't reduce stress...
Empathy, Crime and Punishment ...Of course, as a society, we could simply lock such people up and throw away the key. There are some psychopaths for whom it may be the only possibility, but I am not convinced that I should like to live in a society where that was the normal way of dealing with serious criminals....
Election 2010 ...How to vote, however, is always more difficult as I have no party allegiance, although there used to be a fringe party called the ‘Let's have a party Party', which Heather and I both quite liked. But it will be difficult also for those who have traditionally voted for one party or another. Why? Because the party divisions now exist in little more than name. And there is a lot of name calling....
To be or not to be - by chance Episode 1 - a marriage, death, linoleum and a rice pudding ...
A stroll through the emotions Freud seemed to be saying that ultimately all our emotions came down to sex. He apparently thought that sex governs our whole psychology even before we become adolescents, Granted the lack of success that Freud's theories have had in curing people of their psychological ills, however, I think that we may assume that life is just a little more complicated, or straightforward, depending how you look at it...
Freewill revisited In fact, our legal system does not demand a philosophical debate about freedom of will...if someone who is apparently sane intentionally breaks the law, we don't enquire into his thought processes in deciding whether or not he is guilty, although it may be relevant in sentencing...
National identity What was happening became seen in England as the disgraceful treatment of the noble highlander - the mythical figure created by Sir Walter Scott to preserve the status quo in class terms. Ironically, opinion so turned against the landlords that the law was changed to prevent them carrying out the evictions and, ultimately, the vote for ordinary folk was won...
The Wisdom of Crowds Jordan, having reappeared on "I'm a celebrity get me out of here", found that the crowd wanted to make her suffer for having been nasty to Peter André in "Katie and Peter", Katie and Peter - the next chapter", "Katie and Peter - the baby diaries", Katie and Peter Stateside" etc., etc. After the public vote which nominated Jordan for the seventh consecutive time as the person to undergo the ‘bush-tucker trials', she decided to get out...
How do you solve a problem like Nick Griffin?     (With apologies to "The Sound of Music")
It is dangerous to have forbidden subjects - ones of which we cannot speak in polite society. Not only is it contrary to the essence of free speech, but it risks the creation of a boil which will eventually have to be lanced and the contents cleaned up. It is better to avoid its formation in the first place. We can be proud of our law regarding incitement to racial hatred. It is a good compromise between the ability to express ourselves and the right to make someone's life miserable or even dangerous...
Harry Potter and the magic prayer

Amongst the superstitious generally, the events in their lives which accord with their superstition are made a lot of - the others are largely ignored. They are put down to a failure to use the correct make of frogs leg or eye of newt when carrying out the incantation...

State control We now have a new system run by the "Independent Safeguarding Authority" for preventing adults coming into contact with children and other ‘vulnerable people' unless they have been first approved by the Authority. A system already exists, but the latest version of it ... enlarges the scope of the system. Now it includes far more volunteers and so around one quarter of the adult population will need to be checked and given a certificate of worthiness...
Intuition It seems, incidentally, that it is actually quite difficult to frown at someone who is smiling at you. You have to make a real effort. And once you have smiled at someone it is, I would imagine, difficult to go on to attack them in an unprovoked way, unless you are a psychopath...
Happiness is...? Summer seems very different here in Annecy as compared to England. It's not a great mystery - generally the weather is warmer, but not too much, and even when it rains the higher temperature means that I can remain outside (even if under an umbrella) - I don't have the impression that it's become winter again as in England. Here, I have been watching the butterflies on the blossoms and the little lizards scuttling into the gaps between the stones - gaps which no doubt seem like caverns to them. Life outside is lived more easily when the weather is adapted to our needs. I feel free. And, in consequence, I am happy here...
Risk and irrationality

Coming home the other day from Padstow, we called in at a Little Chef to see if the great Heston Blumenthal's cooking revolution had reached Exeter. As we walked to our table, a waitress reached passed me for a sauce bottle and then dropped it in front of my left foot. It smashed and the HP sauce splashed up my left trouser leg. She was very apologetic and so we had what was in a way a free lunch. No, I didn't detect Mr Blumenthal's influence...

Heartlands The next to arrive was a young Asian man who was well-dressed, but in handcuffs and accompanied by a large policeman. He had been in a fight. They sat out of sight, around the corner from us - the naughty corner, I suppose. He was followed by a very happy elderly man on a trolley with blood all over his face, but who was feeling no pain. In a rather slurred voice he was thanking the ambulance staff for looking after him and insisting on shaking their hands. As one of them said to us later: "that's why we wear gloves"...
Apathy and disillusionment According to the TV, there was a demonstration in the streets of Teheran yesterday. The theme of the protestors is summed up on a card carried on the foreheads of many of the them: it says "Where is my vote?". Up until now, there has been no reply, apart from the fury and arrogance of those in power. ‘Press TV', the official English voice of the Iranian government makes little mention of the scale of the protest. Its ‘Election Blog' stops with the announcement of the victory of Mr Ahmadinejad...
Life as a story

The star of reality TV and OK magazine, Jade Goody, died on mother's day 2009 in a blaze of publicity, both here and abroad - Le Monde for instance described her as the Princess Di of the poor. She became known because of her appearance on Big Brother. But then on Celebrity Big Brother, she made some very impolite remarks about Shilpa Shetty, a star of Bollywood. Jade was expelled from the house and became a hate figure for British society...

Liberty And so I was at the Birmingham Post and Mail building in the city centre at midnight - and absolutely over the moon to find that I had passed my solicitors' finals.  So delighted was I at my success that on my way along the deserted main road from Birmingham back to Smethwick, I deliberately steered my moped to the right hand side of a keep left bollard - just to celebrate. It isn't just Rock stars who walk on the wild side!...
Abu Qatada and human rights This is one essay where I do not know, as I begin to write, what its conclusion will be. But, to start with, let's be honest: Abu Qatada is not someone I would invite into my home. He is an extremist Moslem ‘cleric' who has said some hideous things. If anyone converts from being a muslim to some other religion then he is in favour of that person's murder, and that of the rest of his family...
Charles Darwin and purpose ... When 7 and 8-year-old children were asked questions about inanimate objects and animals, it was found that most believed they were created for a specific purpose. Pointy rocks were there for animals to scratch themselves on. Birds existed "to make nice music", while rivers exist so boats have something to float on....
A flight of fantasy For years, ever since as a young lawyer I consulted my first copy of the actuarial tables, I have been telling people that the longer they live, the greater the age they can expect ultimately to live to. This takes a while to sink in, but...
A Christmas reflection The poll was inspired by a similar poll carried out in this country to find the greatest Brit. The result was a close call between such luminaries as Newton and Darwin, but ultimately the winner was Winston Churchill. Alright, he was a war leader, but he was leading the fight against a dictator. And that dictator is still apparently revered by rather strange groups of people who see an iron fist as the main requirement for a leader - providing, of course, that they can be in his gang, even posthumously...
Swiss Rolls ...And there is another, wholly unforseen, result: it seems that the supply of heroin by state-run clinics in Switzerland has changed the image of heroin use from being a rebellious act to being an illness which needs therapy. Finally, for the Swiss, heroin seems to have become a 'loser drug', with its attractiveness fading for young people...
Class Now it is certainly true that there is still a nebulous idea of class which permeates society and much time and ink has been used in trying to categorise people by their titles, manners, accents and use of the word ‘lavatory'. But do these class divisions have any generally agreed definition?...
Poppies Last week I went to the funeral of a Coleshill man who had been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan a fortnight before his regiment was due to return home...I stood with about 300 others outside the packed church. We stood talking in low voices beneath our umbrellas in the cold and rain. The people around me were of all ages and all types.. The Church itself is set in extensive grounds at the back of the shops which form the High Street and which act as a sound barrier to the passing traffic. It was almost as if we were in the rural world of yesterday. Except that the day's events were very much of today.  Finally, the coffin was taken from the Church down to the cemetery by his former comrades. A sergeant amongst the group pall-bearers was clearly having great difficulty preventing himself from crying. It was a moving event...
The herd instinct In prehistoric times when hunters and gatherers worked together to get food for the table, there can have been no real concept of money. What after all would you use it for? There was no Waitrose then; nor were there gas bills. The more skilled hunters may well have demanded the mammoth fillet instead of the scrag-end in recognition of their skills and there may have been bartering where the neighbour had a particularly desirable necklace or flint axe. But the idea of an object representing some sort of abstract value had not yet arrived...
Secrets, lies and mobile phones ...Although ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness' is one of the commandments,and liars are to be consigned to the flames of Hell, little white lies have always been regarded as justifiable. All babies are, of course, beautiful. But what do you do if you discover that your best friend's husband is having an affair? Is it anything to do with you? Most agony aunts seem to advise that you might perhaps say something to the errant husband, but that you should not say anything to the wife.  So what is the difference if you are a journalist dealing with the peccadilloes of the rich and famous?...
Democracy and the short term view ...The bill was passed on Friday with the benefit of an extra $100,000,000,000 in scrapings from the Pork Barrel - tax breaks for local groups in their constituencies, like the $7 million for the children's wooden arrow makers in Myrtle Point, Oregon - given to bribe those (presumably unprincipled) Congressmen whose votes could be bought...
Sharkanomics ..If an artist is not fashionable, then no matter how technically brilliant he is or how much his works may engage your emotions, big money will not be paid for them. Billionaires will not want to show off such works to their friends...
Colliding worlds ...What I am thinking of is the contrast between, on the one hand, the open-minded wish of the scientists involved in the CERN experiment to test their theories, if necessary to destruction, in order to be able to explain how the world works and, on the other hand, that other global phenomenon of the last few weeks - the closed mind of Sarah Palin...
A whiter shade of pale ...These days, however, the only traffic on the canals consists of the ducks and some swans sailing by. The water, coming from Lake Annecy, is so clear that you can see the unblinking gaze of the swan as it lowers its head under the water looking for food...
The inertia of belief This is the main problem with beliefs: if I say that I believe something to be true, then I have an emotional need to try to justify it, whether I have doubts or not. ... By having beliefs, I paint myself into a corner. Politics ought surely to be based on pragmatism - what works - rather than the rhetoric of belief...
Liberty of conscience The Archbishop of Canterbury caused a storm earlier in the year (2008) by suggesting that it was ‘inevitable that some aspects of Sharia law would be incorporated into English law'. It appears from the subsequent ‘clarification' that he was asking that the law should allow greater room for religious people to act in accordance with their consciences...
Cleaning the floor The cleaning lady put up a bright yellow sign in the reception area of the hotel in Prague where we were staying and started to mop the floor. The sign said: "danger wet floor". Yes, health and safety is everywhere, but it was not that which struck me. It was the fact that the sign was only in English....
Democracy and religion An article in Le Figaro tells us that, in the opinion of the pope, a democratically elected majority does not have absolute legitimacy to legislate on ethical questions:    "... The majority of its citizens, the majority of a moment [cannot be] the definitive basis for civil law."....
People watching Every time I looked at the aquarium [in the restaurant] the little fish...passed in a shoal ... instinctively trying to resemble a big fish and so ward off the dangers of the seas. If only they realised that the rules of the ocean are reversed in a restaurant. In a restaurant, of course, it is more dangerous to be a big fish, for it is the big fish which we eat and not the minnows. If I could somehow convey this to them, they could breathe a collective bubble of relief, get their deck chairs out and enjoy watching us perform instead...
Rights and Obligations ...Rights are not somehow intrinsic to our lives. There is no gene for human rights. In the absence of an enforceable law, ‘rights' are, at best, aspirations - a rallying cry. And sometimes they are an imperfect formulation of what we want to be the case....
Success
After all, concert organists, even female ones, don't expect to wear spangly leotards....
May you live in interesting times

Matthew Arnold in his poem ‘Dover Beach' * said:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, ...
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,...

Normandy - Autumn 2007 The previous night, the sky, unlit by street-lights, was so clear that you felt able to see all the stars in the universe. This though was the morning and a white mist was covering the valley as I walked out of the house...
Melancholy Victor Hugo said of melancholy that it was "the pleasure of being sad". Poets have described it as "that sweet melancholy". Minstrels sang sad songs to appreciative aristocrats and peasants alike. Plays have been written which have achingly sad endings, such as ‘The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet', a play which has enthralled audiences for hundreds of years and spawned many copies...
Altruists get even ...the tendency to act altruistically or fairly is not the same in everyone. It is for that reason, I would suggest, that the human race has gone one step further by evolving legal systems which are, in principle, based on fairness. The altruists are getting even - they are fed up with being taken for granted and have brought the lawyers in....
Visiting - and vividly remembered the son-in-law of the owners, a man with an eye for the ladies. The stock-room was not the place to go with him if you could avoid it. One of the other assistants went away with him, ostensibly to do some stock-buying and came back with more than she bargained for...
Incomers If immigrants moved in next door, then received wisdom said that only other immigrants would then buy your house and so the value of your house would go down. Granted the then attitudes, this was true, albeit to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy. The appearance of the first immigrant living in a street was dreaded, as it was perceived as the beginning of an inevitable decline in standards and prices...
"Little boxes on the hillside..." For many years, people have complained not only about the mediocre quality and monotonous uniformity of the houses being built in this country, but also their decreasing size. This was always blamed on the greed of developers. Over the last few years, however, there have been some radical changes in planning policy which have gone largely unnoticed, but which give official backing to the building of even smaller homes...
A rose by any other name... If you like Channel No. 5, why risk a substantial sum of money on buying something which you may not like as much? And which husband would dare to buy Tesco No 5 for his wife anyway?...
Deporting undesirables ...There is a lot to be said for getting rid of people who have entered the country in order to commit crimes or who have no real connection with this country and who commit serious offences. But hysteria has been whipped up again by reason of a case before the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, of a man of 27, Learco Chindamo who, when a youth of 15, stabbed and killed Philip Lawrence...
Knowing me, knowing you...AHA!  ABBA or Alan Partridge?  ...Indeed, rather than men being from Mars and women from Venus, it is would be nearer the truth to say that men are from Chipping Norton and women are from Chipping Campden, the difference is so small...
The dangers of intelligence The Pope has reaffirmed that the Catholic Church is the one true church - beware counterfeits, especially if bought on eBay. It confirms his right to ponticifcate on so many things affecting life and death.  And of course Islam is the one true religion, Buddhism leads you on the path to complete enlightenment and Pol Pot was the incarnation of the one true communist ideal...
The morning after ...because I am still not aware of being limited in my activities. Now this is not because of any rejuvenation technique I have used. It is because, at least from a sporting point of view, I have never been very active. This means that when others have noticed the start of a physical decline, I haven't, as I have nothing to judge it by. I have never gone in for marathons or weight - lifting and so I am not now regretting that I cannot run as fast as I once could or that I am unable to bench press 100 kilos...
Dreaming Dreams, however strange, seem to make total sense at the time. Sometimes, the sense they make makes no sense at all when you wake up - the logic is so topsy-turvy that it simply cannot be recaptured. It is like the Cheshire cat's smile; it is a remnant which has no substance and so cannot even be thought about...
Genius - the Marmite years ...What it means, though, is that the rest of us are not geniuses because we can't be bothered to make the effort.  I find that rather encouraging...
Blessed are the rich ...It will be something of an irony, therefore, if the former head of the evil empire known as Microsoft, together with the most successful investment capitalist of our era, become the real saviours of mankind...
Extreme compound interest

A letter has just come to light following the announcement by Warren Buffet that he is to give most of his fortune to the Gates Foundation. It is from Auric Goldfinger!

nb: the maths is right, but the rest...

Defeated by sheep ... As I came out [of the shed] for the last time, there were two sheep standing there. Two lambs were directly in front of them. All four of them were framed by the doorway and staring at me with a blank intensity of which only sheep are capable.  I tried speaking to them in French and English, but their passivity if anything only increased.  They uttered not even a baa. I retired with my wine bottles, defeated by concentrated nothingness....
The art of being an artist
..."The sculptures of Jaume Plensa are metaphors of the body. As an isolation chamber, this cabin in glass follows the conducting wire of the artist's obsessions: absence, desire, impossibility, silence. It welcomes the visitor for a voyage in colour in which he will meet himself.".  Just what I thought. Actually, my predominant thought was "I wonder where he gets his glass bricks from?"...
Age and growing older
...My mother, the youngest of a large family, tells me that she doesn't remember her mother as being other than an old lady who dressed in black; someone from a different time. As I reached my twenties, I saw people in their fifties as ancient, but that was in the late sixties, when the contrast with the ‘elderly' could hardly have been greater. Now, we have people of my generation wanting to grow old disgracefully...
Fairness amongst Capucin monkeys ...Initially, all of the members of the group were offered a piece of cucumber as a reward for handing a small piece of granite to a researcher.  However when later some of them were given the reward without handing over the piece of rock, or were given a better reward e.g. some grapes, the others revolted - they variously refused to eat the cucumber they had just earned, or threw it back at the researcher in apparent disgust....
Morality The priests of any society want you to believe that their God demands your obedience to the moral law which they prescribe.  And people generally do behave reasonably morally.  If, however, I do not believe that a higher power exists, then I have to believe that peoples' tendancy to act morally is either silly or can be explained on an utilitarian basis...
The news today
  • Iceberg as an art form - An artist proposes to have an iceberg towed from Norway to the docks in Belfast where the Titanic was built .  She says it would be a work of art because it would 'open up a narrative'.  Belfast could 'engage with the iceberg and imagine other endings'.  It would enable them to unravel the 'meanings and metaphors' of the Titanic which was the 9/11 of the last century...
Twinning and Lunch ...During the next three days, various friends from Chassieu came to Annecy to see us for lunch. Based on this experience, we now know that, left to its own devices, lunch in France lasts, on average, for 5 hours...
Are you Tele?  ... But is a person's rating of himself something which changes with time and circumstances?  Will the new divorcee at a speed-dating meeting be looking for the same level of person as when he was first on the trail - before becoming a successful middle manager - or will he raise his sights because of his Ford Mondeo? And should he?...
Little Brown monkeys revisited ...They soon got the hang of the system and happily brought tokens to the experimenters. Not only that, they started to try to commit fraud. They brought things which they thought might be mistaken for the tokens - slices of cucumber - and tried to exchange them instead, hiding their own stash of discs. This suggests that they thought that the discs had intrinsic worth...
Why are so few people interested in philosophy? As lawyers, we have gone through something of a revolution in being required to explain things clearly to non-lawyers.  Clients generally refuse to accept the old jargon and ask for straightforward advice instead.  Philosophers do not have ‘clients' who demand that they explain themselves clearly.  Maybe they should....
Dear diary - weather and finance edition, 12 April 2005  The sky over Beijing is constantly veiled by fog according to a Chinese friend who has just returned from a month seeing her family. The fog is caused by the fumes from the ever-increasing heavy industry there. It was so bad, that when she and her German husband arrived back, they were happy just to see the sky again - at Heathrow! The social climate is just as bad...
The five ages of friends When we reach our teens, our friends are going through the same hormonal imbalance as us and so the same worries and insecurities. We discuss the opposite sex, although mainly in aspirational terms. Eventually we find a girl/boyfriend and our other friends become at least temporarily displaced by the new obsession...
Sounds in the Night And what was Wagner saying to us when he had an opera house built for the performance of his works?  Had he been taken over by his legends so that he felt the need to create a temple for them to live in or was it a PR exercise worthy of Max Clifford?  I'm afraid that I still think of the afficianados as having private parties at which they dress up as the Gods or as Rhine-maidens.  Just like Dr Who fans really....
Observations from Annecy and Normandy ...While Heather is trying clothes on, the very attractive lady owner of a certain age smiles at me and engages me in conversation.  She wears some of the clothes from her shop to very good effect and I contemplate whether she was in time past the model for some of the sculptures, but perhaps wearing only her smile. Obviously this is all good for her business, as I end up paying, but do not feel the pain...
Vive la différence ! ...France is still wedded to its ‘social model', although it is a little difficult to say what it is exactly.  It certainly includes an acceptance of strikes in support of unions' political aims and very centralised government.  It also includes a wish to support farming for mostly sentimental reasons.  France is a huge country and so there is a lot of countryside and a lot of people still consider themselves to be somehow spiritually linked to their grandparents' village...
Letter from Wales Although I left Wales just after my 7th birthday, I still retain an affection for it. For me, the character of Wales is reflected in its music, where the minor key predominates.  If one had to define the sound of the minor key, it could perhaps be described as the subjunctive mood of music.  It enables the expression of doubt, hope, fear and wishing more easily than the more optimistic and direct major key...
Letter from America ...The portions are enormous if you go to a typical American restaurant, which explains the size of some Americans - two obese Americans walking down the street together can create a traffic jam on the pavement.  A sandwich is an entire meal in itself complete with chips and salad as well as a multi-layer sandwich and the obligatory bottle of Ketchup...
And yet ...And even that was not all. For the car repairer tells bad jokes, loves to cook and will exchange recipes with you.  The extrovert retired social worker loves films and dancing and her husband, the technical designer, in his spare time played guitar with his band at weddings and birthdays.  Then there is the somewhat reserved, retired lawyer whose role was to create documents and understand laws of crossword complexity but who is now starting to use words to different effect...
It's been a funny few weeks The other day I was driving home from Birmingham along the Aston Expressway in a very slow-moving queue wondering whether I would cheat, as others were, by going into a free-flowing outer lane and then pushing my way back into the same queue nearer to the entry onto the Motorway. I decided that it wouldn't be fair as I wasn't really in a hurry. Over the last six weeks, though, I've found that fairness is easily abandoned when it becomes more personal...
Travels with ducks ...Along the way, there were one or two small lakes with some very puzzled ducks sitting on ice instead of paddling in water.  Granted the short life of a duck and the lack of the parent ducks' ability to pass on their experience of this strange time of year, it is surprising that the young cope with it at all. They must have very bruised undercarriages from when they first try to land on what should be water...
Going nowhere ... Gyms are strange places. I am in a room where there is a flotilla of rowing machines and an entire peleton of stationary bicycles. I am part of a line of people using the tread mills. Me, I'm just walking at a steady rate. The others are working so hard that they are shaking the floor of the gym. I don't really know why though, as none of us is going anywhere...
Life goes on - 22nd June 2006 I cannot say that I had no worries. Death though was not the main one. The main concern was that of coming to and finding that I had indeed had a stroke. It is after all relatively easy to contemplate death itself if you have no belief in an afterlife - it is difficult to be afraid of the prospect of simply ceasing to exist. You don't have to worry whether you have been following the right religion...
The Big(ish) Sleep

(Written following open-heart surgery to repair a mitral valve at Papworth Hospital - the surgeon and the staff were brilliant.)
Having already carefully shaved my chest of its normal complement of hair, I made a last light-hearted remark to the anaesthetist in the hope of persuading someone that I was not afraid and then ... nothing...
Language and communication The easy answer to this is that any means of communication can be regarded as language. Waving a pint mug in the air probably means that you want a refill. We can convey our emotions with looks. It is unlikely, however that gestures can convey the intricacies of relativity theory. Words, or symbols, are necessary for anything complicated...
Normandy, May 2006 - by Ryanair Dinard ‘International' Airport is very small by most standards. It is too small even to have the normal luggage carousel. Just outside the tiny baggage reclaim hall, the luggage from the plane is put onto one end of a conveyer belt, enters the baggage reclaim section and, 15 metres further on, falls off the other end - unless you are quick enough to pick it up first...
I have many faults, but being wrong isn't one of them. Politicians are completely unable to admit any kind of error. There is always some other explanation - that they were taken out of context, misquoted or misunderstood. Of course there does come a point at which a political leader can accept, not his own errors, but the errors of past leaders of his party. This though only happens after a decent interval...
A story of a painting ...In the middle of the window of a shop, rejoicing in the name of Nootts, was a painting of a winter skating scene, in what we took to be a Dutch style. The colours were bright and we both found the picture very attractive. John was interested in buying it and so we went into the gallery...
Long memories A little boy was playing outside his house... He called up to his mother at the window just as officers of the Vichy government were doing a round-up of the Jews in the area. His mother was one of them but, when asked, denied that the little boy was in fact her son.  That was the last the boy saw of his family...
Celestial Big Brother - the bigger picture Each time there is a new series, we see the screw being turned, with ever-weirder people appearing and ever crueler treatment by Big Brother. In fact some commentators would say that we have already passed the line which separates entertainment from sheer cruelty...
Making up perfection ...The people we see on the Television and on film are usually made up, in all senses of the phrase...Their highly paid publicists are in the background making sure that we only see the aspects of their clients which will make us think that they are wonderful or sympathise with them, or rejoice with them that they have overcome some major problem, like cellulite, but above all keeping them in the public eye and therefore a valuable commodity...
A large black galleon sailed by The other day, a large black object passed by me. The clue as to its identity was a pair of glasses at about the position that would have been occupied by the eyes of a very large human being...
Accentuating the positive I, of course, am a graduate of the Maurice Chevalier school of language. Monsieur Chevalier was a Hollywood film star and singer living in the USA who specialised in the role of the romantic Frenchman. Perhaps his most famous song started off with the line ‘Sank ‘eaven for leetel girls', which would be enough nowadays to have him put on the sex-offenders register...
Christmas presents For just £19.99 it is possible to buy a wall clock on which each hour is represented by a different British bird. As the hour is reached, you hear the song of the bird to which the hand is pointing. What joy! ...
Acting naturally My wife was tired and had gone to bed early and so it was a question of what to do during the remainder of the evening. We had had our evening meal and the odd glass of wine and so I wasn't feeling much like continuing to read the no-doubt excellent article in the New Scientist on the nature of self-consciousness...
Change
...Nothing changed in the millions of years before I started going there either. The sun still rises over the same mountains and sets in the same place. They cast the same shadows... Of course that is not quite true. If we were to go back, say, 100,000 years, we would find the mountains to be very slightly taller and the shadows they cast to be slightly more jagged...
Religion in its widest sense According to ‘In our Time' the other day, hell received little emphasis in the Christian faith until the 4th century. Until then, the emphasis had been on salvation as a result of God's love.  From then onwards, however, the use of Hell as a marketing tool gained ground...
The Lord of the Dance ...So now, on occasions like this I join in, but on my own terms. And I have to confess that I am one of those who does not simply rock from one foot to the other and make rather vague arm movements. I am more your John Travolta type. Really...
Morality for unbelievers ...So if I am regarded as someone who doesn't keep my promises or as too likely to covet my neighbour's wife or his ox or his ass, I shall find it difficult to make friends. In England, at least, if I don't queue, then people will get very annoyed with me...
Long term decision making ...even looking ahead a few months to the exams at the end of a degree course can seem like an eternity when the pub and your mates beckon. Likewise, the struggle to give up fags must be very difficult when comparing the lure of just one more, as against the possibility (although not certainty) of illness in twenty years time...
Prejudice - good or bad? ...A problem arises, however, when what should only be a rule of thumb turns into something more definite. The much-used expression ‘I love France - shame about the French' sums it up well. It makes sense in the context of the cardboard cut-out figures of the French we see through the press in this country, but makes no sense at all when you actually meet and speak to them as individuals...
Cucumbers on the roof ...There was an air-raid shelter dug into the ground, on the roof of which a thick layer of earth was piled up as additional protection. In the spirit of 'Dig for Victory', my grandmother had planted cucumbers on the roof and had gone out to dig the patch over. She had dug her spade in only to find that she had made contact with the casing of an incendiary bomb, which must have fallen harmlessly in the previous night's air-raid. Fortunately it did not go off in response to my grandmother's direct hit either...
Just by writing a letter... It was announced last week that inflation had gone up to 3.1% and so had overshot its target range by 0.1%....... It was not therefore an occasion for Gordon Brown to answer questions or face censure in Parliament. Instead, we have a curiously British requirement - that the Governor write to the Chancellor explaining why it had happened. And so he did...

 

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