Archive for July, 2002


July 31st, 2002

Shortly after the most celebrated drunk driving fatality in world history, people began to talk about the best way of memorialising the Queen of Hearts. Various journalists called for a statue of St Diana of the Underpass to adorn the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square (see Gilbert Adair’s not-very-good novel A Closed Book for a version of this plotline); and the not-much-missed Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, for example, was one of those who thought that Heathrow Airport should be renamed. Private Eye came up with the excellent idea that “the whole of the M1 should be turned into a permanent flower garden” (Eye 933).

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown was given the job of chairing the committee to decide how to memorialise the late lamented. According to James Naughtie’s not-much-read book The Rivals, this was because – astonishingly – he was furious at not having been invited to the funeral. And, in January 2000, this committee announced that there we should get a fountain in Hyde Park.

The Eye again rose to the occasion, announcing that “a spectacular ‘Fountain of Drivel’ two miles high is to be the centrepiece of the �10 million Diana Memorial Theme Park in west London…”. (Eye 994). And now life is imitating satire again: Culture Tsarina Tessa Jowell today announced the final fountain design for the Hyde Park monument, and the drivel is flowing fast, with the evening news bulletins on the radio already filling up with inane opinions about this inane memorial. And the winning design proposal itself, from Gustafson Porter, contained this:

“Reaching Out / Letting In – these two gestures create a balance. Reaching out to those with whom one comes into contact and in turn being affected by their feelings, are both attributes associated with Princess Diana. These qualities of openness made her the ‘Peoples’ Princess’. We hope to create a water feature that can be associated in peoples’ minds with these qualities. We wish this spirit of inclusiveness to reach all those who come across it, whatever their backgrounds, culture or creed. We also hope that they leave having gained from the experience. We are considering the creation of an oval water feature, …. Its character could be historic and formal, contemporary and relaxed… On other occasions it will be a contemplative place, to ride the waves of a diverse world.”

Drivel, drivel, drivel, and much more to come, no doubt, in tomorrow’s papers.


July 29th, 2002

Click here for the Court of Appeal’s just-published verdict upholding the conviction of Barry George for the murder of Jill Dando, and here for the official summary document.

Fourth Official

July 29th, 2002

During the football World Cup in June, the “fourth official” was often mentioned by TV commentators, in addition to the referee and the linesmen (who are these days called “assistant referees”, which must be nice for their sense of self-esteem). Being a fourth official didn’t seem to be too demanding: you tried to attract the attention of the match referee from time to time, whenever managers wanted to make substitutions, but you didn’t have a great deal else to do.

Now this multiplication of officials seems to have spread to cricket. The first England v India Test Match has just ended, the usual run of silly presentations are being made, and there turn out to be four umpires taking part in the match. There have always been two on the pitch, visible to all; and in recent years we’ve got used to the “third umpire”, who judges the slow-motion replay from time to time from behind the scenes. That seems to be quite an undemanding job, as long as you know how to use the technology, but I imagine it’s more demanding than this (to me, at least) entirely mysterious “fourth umpire” (in this match a certain Ian Gould), and I’m baffled as to what his job is. He’s not the “match referee” (Mike Procter at the moment), who is yet another official, whose job is to levy fines on batsmen who mutter profanities on their way back to the pavilion when they get out (which might offend lip-reading TV viewers). So the “fourth umpire” is somebody else altogether, with a different function. A stand-in in case one of the first three umpires is incapacitated? (But how often does that happen?) Or what?

Judge advises Barbie litigants to ‘go chill’

July 27th, 2002

From yesterday’s Guardian, in case you missed it:

The dear, dead days when judges peered over their pince-nez to inquire who the Beatles were are long gone. And it should come as no surprise to anyone that the bench that has made what must rank as the coolest judicial conclusion to any trial should be based in San Francisco. The case was a civil action brought by the toy company Mattel against the Danish band Aqua over the lyrics of the latter’s 1997 pop song, Barbie Girl. The company had claimed that the use of the Barbie name and her invitation in the song to her toy-mate, Ken, to “go party” was a violation of its trademark.

But the US court of appeals in San Francisco ruled yesterday that the song was protected under the band’s rights to freedom of expression upheld by the first amendment. The court ruled that no one would have imagined that Mattel had authorised the lyrics and, as Judge Alex Kozinski added: “Nor, upon hearing Janis Joplin croon, ‘Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz,’ would we suspect that she and the car-maker had entered into a joint venture.”

But it was the judge’s conclusion that must rate a footnote for super-coolness in judicial history: “The parties are advised to chill.” …

Mattel is not having a good time in the courts: the article ends with the note that they “have already refused to assist the toy company in an action against a Utah artist who arranged Barbie in sexual positions.”

Dan wrote [14.8.2002]: This sounds a lot like the following esteemed character, from Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything:

“The people of Krikkit,” said His High Judgmental Supremacy, Judiciary Pag, L.I.V.R. (the Learned , Impartial and Very Relaxed), Chairman of the Board of Judges at the Krikkit War Crimes Trial, “are, well, you know, they’re just a bunch of real sweet guys, you know, who just happen to want to kill everybody. Hell, I feel the same way some mornings.” …

“So, like I said, these are a bunch of really sweet guys, but you wouldn’t want to share a Galaxy with them, not if they’re just gonna keep at it, not if they’re not gonna learn to relax a little. I mean it’s just going to be continual nervous time, isn’t it, right? Pow, pow, pow, when are they next coming at us? Peaceful coexistence is just right out, right? Get me some water somebody, thank you.”

He sat back and sipped reflectively.

“Okay,” he said, “hear me, hear me. It’s like, these guys, you know, are entitled to their own view of the Universe. And according to their view, which the Universe forced on them, right, they did right. Sounds crazy, but I think you’ll agree. They believe in…”

He consulted a piece of paper that he found in the back pocket of his judicial jeans.

“They believe in ‘peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms’.”

He shrugged.

“I’ve heard a lot worse,” he said.

I’m proud to have been sent such a geeky email.

Nick wrote [16.8.2002]: Another judicial “chill”:


A judge in Manhattan has ruled that a perfume for dogs which parodies a famous fashion designer does not infringe on his copyright. The judge ruled that the dog perfume – Timmy Holedigger – could not possibly be confused with the Tommy Hilfiger brand of cologne. The judge advised the famous designer to “chill” and see the funny side.


Book of the Week #3

July 23rd, 2002
Allan Megill, Karl Marx – The Burden of Reason (Why Marx Rejected Politics and the Market), Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Scholars have been interested in “the young Marx”, especially the Marx of 1844, for decades now, probing the extent to which the early writings on alienation and ideology foreshadow the argument of Capital, published over twenty years later. In this excellent new book, Megill now directs our attention to what me might call the Very Young Marx, the Marx of 1842-3, whose earliest notebooks on the political economy of Jean-Baptiste Say shed valuable light on the nature of his uncompromising – and often perplexing – intellectual rejection of market institutions. Megill’s account of Marx’s “rationalism” is largely persuasive, and his lucid discussions of the historiographical and textual issues facing contemporary Marx researchers paints an optimisitc picture of what the future holds for further excavations along these lines. Highly recommended.


July 23rd, 2002

J. Carter Wood, who has sweated volumes in the fields of the Voice of the Turtle, has an essay on the contemporary round of American anti-Europeanism over at the rather fine Freezerbox online magazine. Read it.


July 23rd, 2002

Two more decent essays – both very critical, in their very different ways – on Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s book, Empire. Mitchell Cohen’s piece in Dissent is a fine introduction to the political stance of that particular journal; Tobias Abse puts it back in its Italian context in What Next?, and isn’t terribly happy with what he finds there.