Semantics

In an earlier post, on 'Knowledge and Belief', some commentators complained of semantics. This is not the first time I have come across the complaint. But I cannot say it makes any sense. What words mean is important. Indeed, without agreement on the...

On books, paper and sheep

Books and paper come in standard sizes. Ever wonder about that? Why are our books the sizes they are? Why not other sizes? Who decided on it? Why did everyone else agree? If those questions seems puzzling, you may well find the answer amazing: for the...

Knowledge and Belief

Knowledge and belief do not mix. You can know about something or you can hold beliefs about it, but you cannot have both. If you try, you will end with belief, doubtless bolstered by facts, but belief nonetheless. Belief overwhelms knowledge every...

A great day for justice

The former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, has been found guilty of war crimes. This is truly historic. It is the first time a former head of state has been found guilty by an international court since the Nuremberg trials in the aftermath of...

The misuse of 'education'

Contemporary education has almost nothing to do with education. It is about the inculcation of certain values and beliefs. It is about making children and young adults into unthinking automata, who will blindly carry out allocated tasks, who will...

From Yorkshire stream to global deluge

Starbucks is the largest coffee-house company in the world. It has roughly twenty thousand coffee shops, in fifty-eight countries. And it all started with one coffee shop back in 1971. Its phenomenal rise is well known, but what is less well known is...

Interesting times for Sarko

Yesterday, in the first round of the presidential election, French voters turned out en masse. And the results are interesting, to say the least. Nicholas Sarkozy lost to Francois Hollande. This is the first time an incumbent president has ever...

The absence note

As anyone who has seriously tried to write will confirm, writing isn't exactly easy. Indeed, many will assert that it is hard. Some people will even go so far as to claim that it is the hardest thing. In the annals of literary history, such claims...

Spikes of Jael

There are many mysteries in this life. Surely, the greatest of these is the inscrutable enigma that some people do not appreciate that P G Wodehouse was one of the finest exponents of literary art in the English language. They apparently think he was...

The Disappearing Russians (3)

Der-der-der-der. It took a moment for it to dawn on me that the sound was emanating from Sam's mobile phone. I picked up the infernal contraption with a vague sense of unease and pressed the button, as I had been taught. 'Got 'em! Library,...

The Disappearing Russians (2)

'Two americanos and a cappuchino, maestro,' Sam called out, as we bustled into Franco's. Anyone watching this performance, without the benefit of past experience, would have assumed he was the grand patron, distributing largesse to his faithful...

The Disappearing Russians (1)

'On our own today?' That was how the librarian invariably greeted me on those odd occasions when I arrived first. Perhaps, I should have felt slighted by the fact that she only seemed to be aware of my existence as a member of a group, a junior...

The reassurance of security

The heroes of Homeland Security leave no stone unturned, no luggage unexamined, no threat undetected in their ever vigilant guard to ensure the security of the homeland. These unsung heroes are quietly and efficiently preventing tens of thousands of...

Fighting Old Boney

The Place West Yorkshire, in the early years of the nineteenth century, was not a good place to be for the working classes. The country was at war with Old Boney, and times were hard. Men had been pressed, and those who remained were losing their...

The Scream: or how art becomes kitsch

The only version of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' in private hands is currently on show in London, prior to being put up for auction at Sotheby's New York. The prospective sale of this iconic image of the modern world has generated a great deal of...

One Hand Clapping

'What the devil is he up to this time?' is how one critic described his anxiety on approaching a novel by Anthony Burgess. And he had a point. Whereas some novelists write essentially the same type of novel over and over, Burgess was wildly...

A Catholic education

Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, demonstrated very nicely the benefits and limitations of a Catholic education in his debate with Professor Dawkins the other day.* Showing that he is a sophisticated theologian, he acknowledged that the...

A paradox

Surely the most eccentric master's degree thesis in the whole history of Anthropology must be Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle. And yet, paradoxically Vonnegut was, in a strange way, an anthropologist. His writings can be seen as embodiments of the...

Shocking!

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has seen the tax returns of the wealthiest people in the country (but he didn't look at the names). What he discovered deeply shocked him. He found that the rich pay little or nothing in income tax. He...

Something Happened

Everyone knows Catch 22. Even people who have never read it, and it has sold over ten million copies. Catch 22 is the book Joseph Heller is remembered for. It is generally considered to be a classic of American literature, an icon of anti-war...

Moral sense

In his Easter message, His Holiness, the Pope, claims that human beings are 'unable to distinguish good from evil'. As the man who produced this: I guess he must be an expert on the subject. In the above letter, written when he was head of the...

He's at it again

Well known homophobe, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, is at it again. This time he is calling on all Christians to proudly and ostentatiously wear a cross 'each and every day'. This is nothing more than tribalism. The problems with tribalism are legion....