The silence of the weblog has not, however, coincided with any stilling of the voice of the turtle, which continues to be heard in the land.

Recent additions to the site include a smattering of poems (the silliest of which is here), three articles written around the dramatic events of the French Presidential elections, from Dan Gordon’s reportage from before the first round through to commentaries by Dave Renton and Peter Dwyer on the aftermath of the poll. Joe Bord has been sorting out the crisis in Britain’s public services with his thoughts on the railways and the NHS. Naima Bouteldja has an axe to grind with ATTAC; Mark Engler (who once sat in one of my Harvard classrooms, lucky man) has a report from the recent demonstrations in Washington, DC; and new material on the books pages includes James Thompson’s treatment of my Magdalen colleague Ewen Green’s book on Conservative political thought; John Lea’s enthusiasms for Istvan Meszaros’s Socialism or Barbarism and Leo Zeilig’s constructive critique of Patrick Bond’s Against Global Apartheid. And to complete our coverage of contemporary culture, Sean Jacobs has been to see Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony; Raj Patel has been fuming about Ali G; and J. Carter Wood has been listening to the new Billy Bragg record.

Excellent stuff, and there is more on the way.

Shout out

And while I’m here to coordinate this Sunday mini-relaunch of the weblog, I’ll grab the opportunity to send out my thanks to the small number of other bloggers out there who have created links to this page from their own. They include the Bobblog (and we are all delighted at the resumption of somewhat normal service, comrade Torres!), iMakeContent, Sore Eyes and Airstrip One, whose author shrewdly described me as an “Oxford academic, not a man of the right”. Thanks to all, and if there’s anybody I’ve missed, do let me know.


Keith Thompson wrote to the weblog a few days ago to say this:

I was just doing a little ego-surfing, and I ran across your weblog entry here [reporting the contemporary variant on Pastor Niemöller’s remarks, that “When they come for the Muslims, I will speak up, even though I am not a Muslim / When they come for the spammers, I will speak up and say: ‘Hey, you missed that one over there!'”]. FYI, FWIW, this was one of mine. It was part of a discussion triggered by a drive-by spam / troll in rec.arts.sf.fandom. (It got me three rasff awards — I can explain if you’re curious.) The article is here. (I’m not demanding credit or anything like that, and I don’t mind being quoted; I’m just letting you know where it came from.)

Well, credit where it is due, and thanks, Keith, for being in touch. Now, during the long dark, silent night of the weblog, there has, amidst the usual dross, been a small amount of rather good spam coming my way.Eric Chevrier, for example, was positively bilingual as he solicited my custom:

As a personnal fitness trainer recognized by the American Weightlifting Association with “Best Technique” and champion in North America , I am providing a personnilized training service that will enable you to reach your goals in fitness and physical performance. En tant qu’entraineur reconnu “Meilleure Technique” par l’American Weightlifting Association et champion de l’Amérique du Nord en haltérophilie, je vous offre un service d’encadrement personnalisé vous permettant d’atteindre vos buts de santé et de performance physique.

Hélas! I think I am on the wrong continent to benefit from his personnilized training service. No matter, for meanwhile, our friends in West Africa are getting bolder, and are now impersonating members of the Congolese elite as well as those of Sierra Leone and Nigeria, in their ongoing attempts to extract money from that medium-sized segment of the population which combines high levels of both credulousness and greed:

DEAR SIR, I do recognize the surprise this urgent and highly confidential letter bring to you more especially as it comes from a stranger. I am MR BANZAL KABILA from the DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO,the special adviser to the President Laurent Kabila…

But my favourite recent piece of spammail began in unbeatable fashion:

Dear Sirs: We know your esteemed company in beach towels from Internet, and pleased to introduce us as a leading producer of high quality 100% cotton velour printed towels in China, we sincerely hope to establish a long-term business relationship with your esteemed company in this field…

Did anyone else get this one? It baffles and delights.

Nick wrote [12.5.2002]: Nice to see the weblog back; I was worried you were working too hard! Check out – especially recommended is “My Buddy Kutty”. This is the work of a loon who painstakingly replies to spammers, even the most inappropriate and/or inept.

Richard wrote [12.5.2002]: Regarding spammers, can I recommend the wonderful Use it, and stop spammers. Even better, give money to spamcop, they do great work. Basically it’s an automatic complaint form that’s sent to the spammers’ internet service provider. Since ISPs usually don’t like spammers they kick them off the service (if there are enough complaints). But spammers are usually cunning enough to hide (“obsfucate”) the ISP they use – spamcop deciphers it and send the complaint to the right ISP.

Nick wrote [13.5.2002]: I have to agree with Richard: I’m using the Spamcop mail-sanitising service myself — it’s cheap, dead good, and I warmly recommend it.

If you don’t want to go that far, and you’re using an email client it supports, there’s a neat plug-in you can get instead called Spam Deputy, which enables one-click spam tracking and reporting via Spamcop. Click the miscreant missive in your inbox, click the Spam Deputy button, and automated complaints are sent to everyone who helped the spam get to you.

While I’m in this helpful mood, I’ll mention that it’s likely to be worth flushing your machine out with Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware from time to time, just to remove any miscellaneous commercial rubbish that’s gunging it up in an underhanded way. And the Zone Alarm firewall seems to work very well indeed. These last two are completely free.

Richard wrote [13.5.2002]: Two others I’d suggest: Cookie Crusher allows you to control the cookies being placed on your computer; and Pop-Up Stopper, which halts those annoying “pop up” ads that you get pestered with these days (even the Guardian and NY Times, grrr). Also free. Don’t leave home-page without them.

Tom wrote [15.5.2002]: And on the subject of avoiding irritating ads and things, I’m going to bang on about OmniWeb being an immensely fine browser, not least because it has some simple heuristics to allow you to avoid downloading all of those big flashing banner ads. It doesn’t stop popups yet, but they frequently come as just little empty windows, which is somehow less irritating. Must go – a pint of Dublin’s finest apparently awaits me at Father Flanagan’s.

MacIntyre on Education

I exhumed this snippet the other day, after someone mentioned the role of education in preparing people for “the job market”. It’s from a 1991 interview with everybody’s favourite neo-Thomist philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, which was published in the philosophy journal Cogito. It’s useful to bear in mind that each issue of the journal carries an extended interview with a leading philosopher, and since the journal advocates the teaching of philosophy in schools in this country, it often asks its interviewees for their opinions on the matter. Pleasingly, they are often quite opposed.

Q: Do you think there is a strong case to be made for teaching philosophy in schools? How would you state it?

A: Introducing philosophy into schools will certainly do no more harm than has been done by introducing sociology or economics or other subjects with which the curriculum has been burdened. But what we need in schools are fewer subjects, not more, so that far greater depth can be acquired. And philosophical depth depends in key part on having learned a great deal in other disciplines. What every child needs is a lot of history and a lot of mathematics, including both the calculus and statistics, some experimental physics and observational astronomy, a reading knowledge of Greek sufficient to read Homer or the New Testament, and if English-speaking, a speaking knowledge of a modern language other than English, and great quantities of English literature, especially Shakespeare. Time also has to be there for music and art. Philosophy should only be introduced at the undergraduate level. And then at least one philosophy course, and more adequately two, should be required of every undergraduate. Of course an education of this kind would require a major shift in our resources and priorities, and, if successful, it would produce in our students habits of mind which would unfit them for the contemporary world. But to unfit our students for the contemporary world ought in any case to be one of our educational aims.”

“To unfit our students for the contemporary world…” It is a marvellous ambition – a splendid mission statement, to drop into the language of those most comfortably fitted for the contemporary world – and an excellent guiding principle to inform the work of those of us who teach in the modern university.

Welcome back to the weblog

… and apologies for the unplanned three-week silence, which, not coincidentally, has coincided with the first three weeks of the new term. No amount of planning during the dying days of the vacation can ever really prepare me for the chaos of termtime, and weblog postings are among the first things to be affected. With luck, semiregular postings will now resume, and a small backlog of stuff will be appearing over the next few days.

Thanks to everyone for being patient. As one distraught reader of the weblog wrote, “There’s been nothing new for days! What am I supposed to do, write my dissertation?” Everything’s OK — you can stop now.

And do remember, the weblog is always happy to receive your comments, objections and replies. Feedback in (almost) any form is (almost always) wholly welcome, and it works to remind me that there is in fact a small group of people out there (ranging from parents in London through friends on several continents to undergraduates here in Oxford) who drop in from time to time to read the trivia I deposit here. When firing off comments into the void of cyberspace, it’s (almost, as I say) always nice to hear some kind of echo, and to enlarge the conversation.

Richard wrote [12.5.2002]: Well I missed it if no-one else did…

Katherine wrote [12.5.2002]: So happy to hear about the weblog, also good for those long afternoons staring at my screen…