Friday, February 10, 2006

Labour loss - more schadenfreude

It's sad that I should feel happy about the Labour loss in Dunfermline; I welcome it because it damages Blair. Yet a few moments ago on the radio the arrogant twit was talking about pressing on with what he wants to do regardless, e.g. new terrorism laws, including "glorifying terrorism". What price free speech - who are terrorists? ANC ? Sandinistas ? The Stern gang ? This law would probably apply to Chomsky, should he give more talks here. Blair's education "reforms" allow further privatization of schools (BT and Bill Gates might get in on the act) - and already allow the teaching of creationism/"intelligent design" - not that this worries Christian Blair.

'BT and Microsoft join businesses hoping to run Blair's trust schools'

By Richard Garner and Ben Russell, Published: 10 February 2006

'What do Microsoft, EMI, King's College and the Catholic Education Service have in common? They have all expressed their interest in government plans for a network of independently run "trust" schools.
'Last night, Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders which represents school heads called on ministers to draw up a code of conduct for school business partners.

He also called for a "blacklist" of inappropriate firms. "You wouldn't want a tobacco company to become a partner in running a school or companies that promoted unhealthy eating," he said. "Also, you would not want some very, very narrowly based religious sect [does this mean that a merely very narrowly based religious sect would be OK?].

"The lunatics must not be put in charge of the asylum".'


Health/listing what one likes

Visit to the doctor yesterday; the female Asian doctor was very pleased that my blood pressure is down to 82/120 ! - my blood test - all fine; maybe cut down even more on fat, but nothing significant. I've even lost a few pounds - must have been all that walking in Paris (see post on exercise/death/bistros).

"Borrowed" a S. Times magazine from the waiting room; well it was an old one, I'd started reading it, and I'm glad I still get so interested in a range of things, health-related in this case:

"Optimism is a wonderful quality, but not one I naturally possess. The youngest of our three children, George is my benchmark in this. He's 11, and has this fantastic positivity... My take tends to be, "Well this is probably not going to work out, but I'll give it a go anyway." How I admire those who start from a different vantage point...

In recent months I've lost two very close friends, and just two months apart from each other, one of them 50 and the other 51. By anybody's count, they were way too young to die ... I've always operated on the belief that you get just one shot on this earth, never consciously wasting time and always trying to make the most of the moment. Their passing reinforced my belief in that strategy ..."

"Trevor Eve, 54, actor" Times magazine, 8.10.2005

In the same issue, Robert Crampton says that he and some friends were on a train and complaining about some aspects of their weekend:

"... around about Kettering, someone suggested that instead of all this bitching, it would make us better people if we compiled a list of what we did like."

He ends up, after a long list, by saying: "I really like doing this, even though it is often, I assure you, harder than it may sometimes look."

Give it a try. Here are some of mine, in no particular order:

Sitting on a sunny beach having a good meal and listening to the sea (see photo at top of this blog), Noam Chomsky, talking to attractive, intelligent women (we're talking about mere likes here), feeling just drunk enough to chat to anyone while still being able to do so intelligently, maps and Google's Earth, new, weird ideas in science, driving on empty roads on a sunny day (ie. probably somewhere in France), taking photos in a new place and feeling very alert, being complimented (for anything), laughing, QI, seeing people I dislike getting their comeuppance, i.e. schadenfreude (cf. post on Rawsthorn kicked out of the Design Museum), winning arguments (we're not talking about what we're PROUD of), learning new things, feeling fit (there is time, I hope), the internet (so much that it works against fitness - cf TV), creating anything (must get away from TV more), finding and making connections, intellectual and social ...

Grey matter unravels dark matter

I watched Horizon last night, more mind-blowing ideas and fantastic feats of imagination, calculation and dogged research. One team has had no positive results for 18 years, but they are in for the long haul because what they are investigating are the most fundamental things about the universe - and much of it seemed to be missing !

Even more recent research has weighed our galaxy (don't ask me how) and found that, contrary to what was believed until only months ago, the Milky Way is the biggest galaxy in the the "local universe".

It makes you kinda proud - Springsteen should write a new song: "Born in the Milky Way ! Born in the Milky Way !..."

"Most of Our Universe Is Missing"

"Horizon discovers that 96% of the universe is missing. Only a tiny 4% of the universe is made of stuff we understand. Some scientists claim they know what the rest is, but others insist that nothing's missing at all, and that the real problem is far, far worse. They say that Newton, gravity and science itself is wrong, and needs to be re-written.

Dark matter, dark energy and variable gravity are put under the spotlight, as the world's leading cosmologists attempt to explain the biggest problem in science today."

Since the programme was made there has been progress, and, as so often with science, the results of observation have led to a radical rethink. It seems dark matter is travelling much faster and is therefore much hotter than theorists thought:

"Dark matter comes out of the cold"
By Jonathan Amos, BBC News science reporter

"Astronomers have for the first time put some real numbers on the physical characteristics of dark matter. This strange material that dominates the Universe but which is invisible to current telescope technology is one of the great enigmas of modern science.

That it exists is one of the few things on which researchers have been certain.

But now an Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, team has at last been able to place limits on how it is packed in space and measure its "temperature".

"It's the first clue of what this stuff might be," said Professor Gerry Gilmore. "For the first time ever, we're actually dealing with its physics," he told the BBC News website.

Science understands a great deal about what it terms baryonic matter - the "normal" matter which makes up the stars, planets and people - but it has struggled to comprehend the main material from which the cosmos is constructed.

"Magic volume"

Astronomers cannot detect dark matter directly because it emits no light or radiation.

Its presence, though, can be inferred from the way galaxies rotate: their stars move so fast they would fly apart if they were not being held together by the gravitational attraction of some unseen material.

Such observations have established this dark material makes up about 80-85% of the Universe that is matter.

Now, the Cambridge team has provided new information with its detailed study of 12 dwarf galaxies that skirt the edge of our own Milky Way. Using the biggest telescopes in the world, including the Very Large Telescope facility in Chile, the group has made detailed 3D maps of the galaxies, using the movement of their stars to "trace" the impression of the dark matter among them and weigh it very precisely.

With the aid of 7,000 separate measurements, the researchers have been able to establish that the galaxies contain about 400 times the amount of dark matter as they do normal matter.

"The distribution of dark matter bears no relationship to anything you will have read in the literature up to now," explained Professor Gilmore.

"It comes in a 'magic volume' which happens to correspond to an amount which is 30 million times the mass of the Sun.

"It looks like you cannot ever pack it smaller than about 300 parsecs - 1,000 light-years; this stuff will not let you. That tells you a speed actually - about 9km/s - at which the dark matter particles are moving because they are moving too fast to be compressed into a smaller scale.

"These are the first properties other than existence that we've been able determine."

Knowledge advance

The speed is a big surprise. Current theory had predicted dark matter particles would be extremely cold, moving at a few millimetres per second; but these observations prove the particles must actually be quite warm (in cosmic terms) at 10,000 degrees.

Weighing our galaxy

The Cambridge efforts have produced an additional, independent result: the detailed study of the dwarf galaxies has allowed the scientists to weigh our own galaxy more precisely than ever before.

"It turns out the Milky Way is more massive than we thought," said Professor Gilmore.

"It now looks as though the Milky Way is the biggest galaxy in the local Universe, bigger even than Andromeda. It was thought until just a few months ago that it was the other way around."

For more on dark matter see;

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Evasive Serb, loud Americans and obnoxious Brits

The other day I went with a friend to a talk on the future of Serbia in central London. My friend had been to Bosnia as a freelance journalist years ago, and got wounded, and I had gone to Serbia with a student from there in 1994. While the speaker's English was very good, he had this habit of repeating words, sometimes 5 or 6 times. But he was also very vague and as evasive as Blair can be and we were both left puzzled by his response to my friend's question. I was feeling a bit dozy from the free wine and left early. My friend stayed on to get some young woman's phone number; purely for professional reasons he assured me.

We wandered towards Tottenham Court Road looking for a restaurant, and came across one in Cleveland Street, Terra (?), which had a very nice Brazilian waitress, Tania. I was in a good, chatty mood and we got talking visiting Latin America and maybe doing a Che tour. But not on motorbike, I had my motorbike period as a student, though the huge trip almost round the world by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Sheen looks like an amazing experience - but they were so glad to get on to the good roads in America after muddy ruts in Mongolia. Tania promised to give me some contacts for Sao Paulo.

Loud Americans

I remarked on the couple at the other end of the restaurant and how loudly the American woman was talking. Why do many Americans talk so loudly in public? This is not just my prejudice; an American friend said in an email to me: "the plane was full of the worst type of American tourists. Loud, annoying..."

"I went to a comedy club and a martini bar last Saturday with a few people obviously all from The Loud Family. But you couldn't hear them that much if you stuck your entire head in the glass. The worst is going to Europe and realizing how loud and crass Americans are. No wonder the French hate us." Iggy

"You'll probably recognise a few old faces from the Trafalgar in here [The North Pole pub, Greenwich, London], it seems this is where they get new jobs when they're sick of dealing with loud Americans day in day out."

Here they are spoiling a Cancun hotel for a Scot - AND his "lovely" American friends:

"I can't fault the hotel for anything, our only complaint was a large number of obnoxious and rude Americans who have no concept of anyone else but themselves!!! ( That said we did meet some lovely Americans who found their countrymen every bit as annoying as ourselves!!!)"

and here's some more of them ruining le Vieux Bistro in Paris:

"This was my third visit to this restaurant. This year, 2005, however, things have changed. The staff has gone from elderly and courteous to young and rude. We were put in the back room which was filled with loud Americans ..."

Obnoxious Brits

However, we Brits can hardly complain:

"Of course, when Britain had an Empire, Loud Brits were the scourge of the clubs and stations. Aristocratic chinless wonders braying at the tops of their horsey voices made us "ordinary people" cringe."

Today it's worse, some British young people behave appallingly here and abroad:

"...the annual spectacle of young British holiday makers in Europe displaying their legendary propensity for getting drunk. They seem unmoved by Europe’s longer opening hours to moderate their native approach towards drinking which may best be described as drink-as-much-as-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can-and–then-knock-over-everything- in-sight-that-moves-until-you-pass-out-in-a-drunken-stupor.

A Brit girl describes the start of her holiday in Ibiza:

"We all got very, very drunk that first night. [We] met these two blokes ... and ended up chatting to them for the rest of the night. The last thing V remembers if falling through our room's door, and the last thing I remember was being held out the window while I was being sick, as S held my hair back."

Tania, the waitress, explained that the the couple had had three bottles wine between them and I have to admit I get loud when I've been drinking. When we left, my friend, who, behind a facade of aggressive sarcasm, is quite sensitive, said: "I suppose you're going to say something sarcastic." As we got to the door I turned to the couple and said: "We enjoyed your conversation almost as much as you did." The guy seemed unsure how to respond, but, to her credit the American woman laughed - loudly - which relieved him of the need to assert his masculinity.

For an amusing commentary on some loud Americans at the Miss Universe contest in Thailand by a young Thai woman, who seems to have had an American education, see:

For a civilised American's reflections on his compatriots' behaviour, see:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Design Museum gets rid of "stroppy" Rawsthorn

"Alice Rawsthorn Resigns From The Design Museum"

Oh joy, what schadenfreude !

"Rawsthorn was forced to resign by the museum's trustees. The move followed a disagreement with founder, Sir Terence Conran, over the future of the institution. Sir Terence supported plans to overhaul the museum and link it to a new government-funded Centre of Excellence for Creativity and Innovation. Rawsthorn did not, fearing that the museum's unique and special character as well as its independence, would be lost."

What a nerve, it had already been lost due to her; she changed it from a museum focused on trying to show and explain serious design and industrial proceses to a place that also looked at style in shoes and flower-arranging. She was a regular on Robert Elms' show on Radio London, where she frequently tried to put him down with her supposedly superior taste in art and design.

"Dyson [of vacuum cleaner fame] left after the other trustees refused to back his attempts to rein in Rawsthorn and her determination, as he saw it, to pursue a programme pitched more at Constance Spry and the readers of Wallpaper than Walter Gropius and vacuum cleaners. The last straw for Dyson was Rawsthorn's exhibition about flower arranging. As she saw it, Constance Spry provided a genuine insight into domestic life in the 1950s. Dyson didn't agree and the fact that it was Rawsthorn's replacement for a show Conran had set his heart on, and which she had cancelled, didn't exactly help matters.

"Design, he said, was about serious, technical things, not shallow styling. It should be about turbo fan jet engines and body scanners, not football boots, frocks and hats - an emphasis that was, 'ruining the museum's reputation and betraying its purpose. It's become a style showcase, instead of upholding its mission to encourage serious design, of the manufactured object.'

"Before he left, Christopher Frayling tried to negotiate an agreement that would defuse tension with the trustees, who saw themselves deprived of a role in the museum's affairs. As one eyewitness said: 'Meetings had turned into a monologue at which trustees sat listening to Alice talking about her achievements, and refusing to discuss her exhibitions programme.'
Frayling believed a compromise had been reached, but when the proposal was put to Rawsthorn in writing, though she claims to have accepted it, she did so in such a way that a number of trustees believed that she had rejected it. 'If Terence had wanted a sycophant in the role [of director], he absolutely wouldn't have chosen me, because he knew how stroppy and stubborn I can be,' Rawsthorn said in a newspaper interview in happier times."

Thank goodness the "happy" times are over and the "stroppy" bitch has been kicked out.

[Conran said] " 'I try to explain to her that you are the director, but you are not here for ever. We have to see that the museum has a future after you. I cannot be involved if it goes on like this. I admire her dedication; the visitor numbers are up, it is more popular, but there is too much tinsel. I am sure James [Dyson] could be persuaded to come back if these matters were resolved. But she can't bring herself to say sorry.' ",11710,1318283,00.html

"A proposed £50m relocation and expansion project, to be completed by 2012, would not mean the death of the museum or a merger, a spokeswoman said

'We have discussed the Cox report with George Cox and are supportive of his recommendations. We believe that the new Design Museum can fulfil a significant part of his recommendations but believe that it needs to be an independent institution run as a museum and true to its roots and mission - if it is to be the world's leading museum of design.'"

Parisian intellectuals: Human, all too human

The guests on BBC radio 4's Midweek programme included ARIELLE DOMBASLE:

"Arielle Dombasle is the American born singer and actress, who's appeared in TV
series including Miami Vice. She grew up in Mexico, where her grandfather was
the French Ambassador, and she now lives is France, with her husband the
philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy."

Dombasie claimed to be a "free spirit", but not only is she married to BHL, as
he is generally known in France, but it seems that he has managed to convince
her that "he is always right" - at least about politics.

BHL came to fame as one of the "New Philosophers" in France:

"... The New Philosophers (French nouveaux philosophes) were a group of French
philosophers (for example, André Glucksmann and Bernard Henri-Lévy) who appeared
in the early 1970s, as critics of the previously-fashionable philosophers, which
would include the post-structuralists, and their own former ideas, which in most
cases were Maoist. The mark of the new philosophers was to cast a general doubt
on the tendency to argue from 'the left' ..."

But more recently he has written a quite admiring biography of Sartre, very much
a philosopher of the left, AND a sympathetic study of the US, whose governments
Sartre regularly attacked.

But then some see him as an attention-seeking and rather vain celeb:

"Lévy has, as his fellow intellectual Pierre Bourdieu once put it, an
'immoderate taste' for television studios, and his ubiquity has become something
of a joke. Lévy is a bestselling writer, philosopher, political campaigner,
pundit and luscious-locked superstud in France; but perhaps his greatest
facility is for fame itself. At any given moment, he might be seen on the cover
of Paris Match magazine, in the windows of numerous bookshops, and on several
chat shows simultaneously. He and his glamorous wife, the indomitably pouty
actress Arielle Dombasle, are the gossip columns' favourite couple.

"...Lévy's reputation for narcissism is unparalleled in his home country, and
he's not unaware of the fact. The headline of one article about him coined the
immortal dictum, 'God is dead but my hair is perfect'. He has been known to say
that the discovery of a new shade of grey leaves him 'ecstatic', and that people
who vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen cannot buy Philippe Starck furniture or Yohji
Yamamoto clothes (as if their aesthetic taste were their greatest offence).",6903,977498,00.html

This has led to him being cream-pied by Noël Godin "a Belgian writer, critic,
actor and notorious cream pie flinger or ‘entarteur’. Godin gained global
attention in 1998 when his group ambushed Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in Brussels,
pelting the software magnate with pies. Godin claims his goal has long been to
‘entarte’ as many people like Gates as possible - people he feels are
particularly self-important and lacking a sense of humor. ... A regular target
is French philosopher, socialite and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy. Levy, married to
the beautiful actress Arielle Dombasle, is known to wear white shirts unbuttoned
almost to his navel and to hold forth on political issues with intense gravitas.
After one attack, in 1994, an enraged Levy was filmed standing over Godin
snarling 'Get up, or I'll kick your head in'."ël_Godin

Not exactly the coolest or most philosophical response.

But, to be British and hence fair:

"Lévy drew people's attention to Serb concentration camps in Bosnia, tried to
rescue Afghan rebel leader Ahmed Shah Massoud just before his death, was sent by
the French government on a fact-finding mission last year to see how Afganistan
might be reconstructed, and now runs a newspaper there that promotes 'moderate
Islam'. He founded an anti-racist group to empower Arab and black people in
France, and warned of the dangerous recent rise of Jean Marie Le Pen. He is
taken very seriously in very high places.",6903,977498,00.html

But the Observer decided to give the article the headline: "Je suis un superstar".

When he was interviewed about his book on America, the interviewer noted that he
had had many mistresses, following the example of his new-found hero, Sartre.
Incredibly (to an Anglo-Saxon like me) he chose to describe his experience of
America in terms that hardly helped his reputation as a serious intellectual :

"Still, he’s not going to move here. This is, after all, a man with many
mistresses, and this country is just one of them. But, in the end, what did he
like best about the U.S.?

'Everything, my dear. I will tell you. Sometimes in your private life you have a
mistress you love, love being with. You spend time to time in a grand hotel,
with good room service, great champagne, and you separate—and when you are
really in love with her, you inevitably think, Could I wake up with her, near
her every morning? And then you try it. This is exactly what I did in America.
America was a great mistress. I had a great fuck with America. It was like a
weekend in the Hotel du Cap.' "

But it is not only Sartre's example that he is following, Camus too was a great

"In December 1959, Camus' womanising reached its apotheosis. On the 29th, he
wrote to his mistress announcing that he would shortly be returning to Paris
from Lourmarin, where he had spent the summer with his wife and children: 'This
frightful separation will at least have made us feel more than ever the constant
need we have for each other.' On the next day he wrote: 'Just to let you know I
am arriving on Tuesday by car. I am so happy at the idea of seeing you again
that I am laughing as I write.' A day later, he wrote: 'See you Tuesday, my
dear, I'm kissing you already and bless you from the bottom of my heart.' There
was yet another letter setting up a date in New York.

Apart from the unremitting ardour, there was one thing remarkable about these
letters: they were all to different women. The first was to Mi, a young painter;
the second to Catherine Sellers, an actress; the third to Maria Casares, an
internationally famous actress with whom he had a liaison for 16 years; and the
fourth was to an American, Patricia Blake.

When, over a period of five years, Olivier Todd got access to all of these
letters [for his book: "ALBERT CAMUS: A Life"], he faced a dilemma. Copyright of
all Camus' letters is invested in his literary executor - his daughter,
Catherine. 'It is one thing for children to know their father was a womaniser,'
Todd says, 'but quite another to show them proof.'

There was one letter written, to an 'Yvonne' with whom he was having a
passionate affair, on the eve of his marriage: 'I'm probably going to waste my
life,' he wrote. 'I mean I am going to marry F' 'That was Catherine's mother,'
says Todd. But Catherine Camus raised no objections.",6121,96450,00.html

After all, this was France, and people are judged for their work rather than their affairs:

"... there are a great many readers for whom Camus has not dated, and their
number seems to grow, not diminish. Whatever their standards of art, many seem
willing to judge Camus on his own terms, not as a philosopher or even a novelist
in the usual meaning of the term, but, in his words, as an "artist who creates

It helps when the writer becomes something of a myth himself, and when he dies
relatively young and dramatically:

"Camus kept none of these planned rendezvous [with the four women]. Driving back
to Paris with his publisher and friend Michel Gallimard, their car hit a tree
and he was killed instantly. He was 46.",6121,96450,00.html

But the sexual exploits of this earlier intellectual super-star had serious
consequences for others, e.g. his wife:

"The Fall (1956) is the confession of a celebrated Parisian lawyer brought to
crisis when he fails to come to the aid of a drowning woman. The 'drowning
woman' was Camus' second wife, Francine, who had a mental breakdown. As mother
of his two children, Camus decided it would be more appropriate if her
relationship with him was that of 'a sister', allowing him erotic freedom
[Sartre gave a more philosophical excuse to De Beauvoir; i.e. that they had a
"necessary" relationship, while his affairs were merely "contingent"]. For years
she appeared to go along with this but then she cracked. Todd says that Francine
said to her husband: 'You owed me that book,' and Camus had agreed.

Philosophical fun - ding

"Socratic Irony"

"In March the Philosophy Department at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania moved to a new address: Third Floor, Hemlock Hall, Mansfield University. The Chair of Philosophy, Professor Robert Timko, says he is unsure whether this is irony or an indication of the future."

"Let Me Through, I’m an Ontologist!"

"An impressive $18.8 million award has been made by the US National Institute of Health to enable the development of a National Center for Biomedical Ontology. In philosophy, ontology is the study of what things exist. The relevance here is that computers and clinicians are sometimes unable to collate different sorts of medical information effectively, as different branches of medicine use different – but sometimes overlapping – concepts..."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Spared The Blood And Gore

"More recently [Al Gore] set up a London-based ethical investment company with a former Goldman Sachs director, David Blood (disappointingly rejecting the opportunity to call it Blood and Gore...)."

It's good to see that Al Gore is now getting a lot of attention and respect; good guys don't always finish last:

"Celebrity took an unusually nerdy form at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The man everyone wanted to meet, talk to and be seen with wasn't a film star or daring new director. It was a politician, who is in his sixth year of retirement and more famous for what he didn't achieve than for what he did. Al Gore has been to Sundance before, but never as a leading man.

'He was the celeb of the week,' says the Village Voice's Amy Taubin, 'both in terms of reporting about him and people reporting to each other. They were all saying, "He's so amusing. Why wasn't he more like that when he was running?"

But we're not spared the frightening truth about global warming

... it's riveting largely because of the conviction and energy with which Gore delivers the presentation that is its backbone. Since his defeat by some hanging chads and the US Supreme Court in 2000, Gore has been touring the country and the world, giving a passionate, expertly documented multimedia presentation on global warming, in halls and on campuses, mainly to invited audiences. This campaign is personal and impassioned."

Personal tragedies caused him question what he was doing (as so often happens - we ought to learn from others' experience and do this anyway) and made him focus on what was really important to him:

"Gore talks personally and candidly about events that have shaped his life, among them his son Albert's near death at the age of six.

... the experience made Gore question what he wanted to do with the rest of his life and led to his writing Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, a meticulous review of what he calls these days the planetary emergency. It is often said to be the best book written by a serving politician. In the film, he talks, too, about his sister, who died of lung cancer ('that's not one of the ways you want to die,' he says in a voiceover) [French people in particular, please note].",,1702168,00.html

A beautiful style for a shocking book

From a review of his book on Amazon:

When I signed up for a required ecology class at my college, I never expected to have this book as the only textbook for the class... I even remember mentioning loudly, much to the amusement of the other students, that I had to read a book written by a man who doesn't move his head and can't dance. I sat down to read the first assigned reading and was pleasantly amazed. The book isn't boring at all. Al Gore has a beautiful, flowing writing style. I managed to read an entire required book without a sign of fatigue or distraction. It even had pictures to keep my thoughts from straying. I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed this book. I really mean it. Even if you are not into the environment, at least read it to be shocked by a book that defied many of my preconcieved notions about the man."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Those immoral extroverts are taking over

Last night on BBC3 there was a programme about comedian and author Jenny Eclair, who is an archetypal extrovert, always showing off wanting to be the centre of attention. She said that if she couldn't perform before an audience any more she'd go mad.

"In My Childhood, Jenny explores the key events and circumstances that have moulded her into one of the UK’s funniest females.

Jenny Eclair was the first female comedian to win the prestigious Perrier award at the Edinburgh Festival, but her life hasn't always been a bundle of laughs...

... Returning to Berlin, where the family lived for three years, she recalls her first happy memories at primary school in Germany. But St Anne’s, Blackpool, reminds her of college days, when she developed anorexia."

Her older sister and younger brother recall that she was always seeking attention and it's little surprise that she became one of the few female stand-up comedians. Her extrovert behaviour was amusing to her friends (though when, at 9, she read a friend's diary, the friend had written: "She's not as well liked as she thinks she is"), but it became a big problem for her family:

"Sarah [her older sister] was a straight-A student, whereas Jenny was the class clown, always performing for the other students. Years of sibling rivalry were to follow."

Extroverts are dangerous

I also happened to be reading "The Motivated Mind" by Raj Persaud (recommended, unlike Freudian fabrications, this is based on massive reading of recent research in psychology) where he notes that extroverts tend to be favoured even at work and this is reinforced by the dominance of extroverts in the media:

"... it is so obvious that companies are now looking for extroverts that psychologists who write career advice guides routinely include advice on how to cheat in personality tests that are increasingly employed to weed out 'undesirable' personalities, like introverts. These psychologists strongly suggest that applicants should 'recognize that a display of too much introversion, a desire for reflection, or sensitivity is to be avoided'.

The current preoccupation with selecting extroverts in the workplace could be a mistake because it runs counter to one of the most well-established facts about introverts - they are what psychologists term more 'task-oriented' than extroverts. This basically means that they get on with the job at hand rather than being constantly distracted by the need to 'connect' - i.e., chat - with fellow employees.

... But most worrying of all, we may now have entered a vicious upward spiral of extroversion because we live in a new media age where extrovert media like television dominate. Not many introverts are going to be given their own TV series to host - so extroversion as a value now dominates our society.

...Yet... introverts are more aware when their behaviour drops below the standards they set for themselves. Extroverts tend not to be so bothered when this happens because they don't introspect as much - they are too much concerned with the impression they are creating in others. Extroverts are much more prone to immoral behaviour, breaking rules and laws. This could explain the decline in standards in public and private life we now see everywhere."

pp. 360-2

This was true in Jenny Eclair's case: "As a child, Jenny was very close to her older, sensible sister Sarah, but their relationship took a dramatic turn when Jenny became a teenager, and discovered underage drinking. 'I suppose I had a reckless streak in me,' she confesses." She sought the attention of boys and seems to have had a lot of sex at a young age.

Now people like her go on Big Brother and aspire to become celebrities, whether or not they have any talent, and so many young people now want to become famous but without the trouble of having to learn or achieve anything to really justify it, cf. the decline in those going into the sciences.

As Persaud comments:

"It could well be that our politicians, public figures and a whole generation could in fact profoundly benefit from a dash more introspection and a little less sociability." p.362

France is best

It's encouraging to see one's chose of place to live endorsed so strongly; France comes out top in the latest Quality of Life Index published by International Living. This will come as something of a blow to some US jingoists, because this organization cannot be seen as biased twoards Europe, let alone towards France, and it's certainly not anti-American. In fact the US has come out top in their annual Index for the last 21 years !

2006 Quality of Life Index

"And the winner is…France. The loser? Iraq. No explanation necessary for the latter, but regular readers to these pages may be surprised to see France taking top honors in our annual Quality of Life Index this year. It's the first time this country has risen to first place. More than that, though, it's the first time in 21 years that any country other than the United States has come out tops in our Index. This year, the United States drops from the top spot to sixth position.

Why the United States has fallen

The United States falls from the top position it held in this Index for 21 years in a row, to take sixth place this year. Although its score hasn't dropped dramatically (its final score last year was 86, compared with 82 this year), a few points are worth making.

Its economic performance over the past year has slowed slightly, and this is reflected in our Index (it gets an Economy score of 90 this year, compared with its 92 rating last year).

... More than the current economic uncertainties, though, it is the ongoing and increasing infringements of personal freedoms in this country that account primarily for its fall from first place in our Index. While other First World countries receive the top score of 100 in our Freedom category, the U.S. gets but 92 points.

The United States remains, inarguably, the world's most convenient place to live. But, we argue, and our Survey this year maintains, that convenience is not the most important factor in determining any country's quality of life.

The world's best place to live? But France?

Well, yes…France. Good climate, unspoiled countryside, world-competitive infrastructure, plus the best health care in the world, according to the World Health Organization's ( recent study

The culture is top-notch. UNESCO has named 30 World Heritage Sites in this country (by comparison, Italy, with 40, has the most cultural and heritage sites in the world). And its capital, Paris, is arguably the world's most beautiful and romantic city on earth. France sees in excess of 70 million overseas visitors each year, making it the world's favorite destination.

And, while no one would confuse France for a bargain destination, living here needn't cost the earth. France scores 65 in our Cost of Living category, and, outside Paris, the cost of living can be relatively inexpensive."

But they have no illusions about France; they are aware of problems:

A different way of doing business

"... France scores sixth highest in our Index in the Economy category. Nightmarish bureaucracy, endless vacations, strictly regimented weekly business hours, workers who go on strike at the drop of a béret, a tax burden that accounts for 45% of GDP ... French ways are not the same as American ways. Yet, somehow, France survives, and the economy is on the up. Although it may be hard to believe the next time you're stranded at Charles de Gaulle airport because the baggage handlers are again en greve, this is the country that introduced the word "entrepreneur'' into the English language.

The world's fourth-largest exporter, France has a per-capita GNP of $26,300, and inflation stands at just 2.2%. The French economy has a lot going for it-including ultra-modern transport and communications systems...competitive energy costs...and a AAA credit rating.

As well as exports such as perfumes, cosmetics, top-quality wines, and gourmet foods, the country's traditional muscle lies in engineering and transportation. Some engineering talent has recently been lured into the glitzy world of web ventures, but the metal-bashing industries still attract top graduates.

The country now has 4,000 international corporations, accounting for 26% of French jobs, 33% of investment, and 36% of exports in the country's manufacturing sector.

Embedded at the strategic heart of the European Union, France exports almost twice as much as the United States in terms of GDP.

Major U.S. companies, such as Disney, IBM, Motorola, and Ford, have French addresses. In total, almost 2,000 North American firms have their European headquarters on French soil.

Add to all this that excellent infrastructure I mentioned already, and you can understand why we'd name France the world's best place to live. For more information on life in this country, e-mail our office in Paris at:"

In another section, on advice about moving:

Learn French

"...This is the most important piece of advice I can possibly give you. If you don't speak any French, take classes to learn some. If you already speak some French, take classes to learn some more. While Paris can be enjoyed on the surface with a vocabulary of about 10 words, living here and living well requires comfort with the language.

And speaking French will earn you new friends. IL [International Living] staffers in Paris say that most of their French friendships started with a conversation about why they speak fluent French…which turned into coffee, then dinner, then invitations to birthday parties and evenings out to meet their friends. None of this would be possible without a command, albeit imperfect, of their language.

Read up

And while you're learning the finer points of the past subjunctive tense, do some reading to learn about Paris--and if you're interested, French culture, history, geography, and philosophy. Your French friends will have studied these topics in depth during their schooling and will make discrete references to them during ordinary conversation. A good base of knowledge will keep you in the loop.

In addition to Polly Platt's classic cultural study French or Foe, one book I recently read and enjoyed was The Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne. It's an excellent overview of the history of the city from the Roman era to the present and an entertaining read."