Pioneer blogging MP though he may be, Tom Watson‘s been pissing me off of late with his thuggish by-election tactics, stoking up the fear of asylum seekers in Birmingham Hodge Hill, and going on to say loopy and offensive things about the Lib Dem candidate in Hartlepool.

The man’s a disgrace, and a disgrace to the party of which I’m (occasionally) proud to be a member.

So, for a bit at any rate, I’ll redirect the Tom Watson link on my sidebar to the Comical Tommy parody site, by way of totally ineffective protest, and I encourage other bloggers to do the same.

Sunday Afternoon Astrolabe Blogging

I spent a very happy pre-Copernican half-hour earlier today down at Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science having the mysteries of the astrolabe explained in a very informative talk. So I think I can now tell the time at night armed only with an astrolabe, the correct latitude plate, and a visible star. That’s probably a skill worth having.

They also have on display in the entrance gallery a very fine 1798 French armillary sphere, which is not (alas) keyed to the French Revolutionary Calendar, but which is (pleasingly) organised around the ten-hour day.

More on astrolabes at (of course).

Return to Form

Nick Cohen’s piece in today’s Observer — on Mr Blair and Mr Berlusconi — is a far more satisfying piece of work, so good for him.

It’s also further evidence of the amount of time that Cohen’s spending reading the blogs: the New Statesman piece mentioned below referred to a Chris Bertram Crooked Timber post on the laughable John Laughland, an earlier NS piece praised Harry’s Place, he’s popped up in Oliver Kamm’s recently-disabled Comments box, and here is is with polite words to say about my friend and colleague Mike Smithson’s

Bloggers sometimes navel-gaze on the subject of the relationship between the mainstream and the blogmedia: I’d say it’s an excellent sign for the vitality of the World of Blogs that one of the very small number of really excellent political commentators working in the British press today — no, sod it, the only really excellent political commentator — is choosing to use the resource we collectively provide as much as he is.

Rumours of Death Greatly Exaggerated

There’s an odd piece in this week’s New Statesman by the generally excellent Nick Cohen, which begins by observing (i) that there are a few duff scenes in Fahrenheit 9/11, (ii) that Ken Livingstone is a bit of an opportunist, and (iii) that Seamas Milne is a crappy editor of the Guardian‘s op-ed page (well, that’s a reasonably fair précis), and goes on to infer from these kinds of things that “there no longer is a left with a coherent message of hope for the human race” and that “unless you believe that the failure of the world’s peoples to look leftwards is all the result of brainwashing by the corporate media, you have to conclude that the left is dead.”

It’s strong stuff. But whether it’s more rubbish than nonsense or vice versa is something I’ll leave to anyone who wants to register their opinion in the Comments.

(Particularly odd, in fact, that a writer who leans so heavily on the importance of leftist internationalism should draw such epochal inferences — diagnosing the death of “the left” worldwide — from the activities of the usual handful of parochial Anglophone suspects.)

(They loved it over at Harry’s, of course.)

UPDATE [10 minutes later]: Norm posted on this an hour ago. Where I find Cohen to be strangely Anglophonicocentric (if that’s a word), Norm takes the opposite view, and reckons that the Left is messed up because it is, worldwide, too hung up on the personality of the Anglophone occupant of the Oval Office. Well, that’s an almost fair précis, but it’ll do for now for an Update.

Bishop Notices That Wretched Hymn “I Vow To Thee My Country” Is Rubbish

Over here.

UPDATE [13.8.2004]: Four arguments have been made against the Bish, one by Backword Dave, two by the Guardian editorialists and the fourth by someone in the Daily Telegraph.

Backword Dave says that he can’t see the racism to which Bishop was alluding. Note first, though, that the word “racist” is the Guardian‘s, in the report linked to above, both in the headline and in the report, and that the Bish — on what’s given to us there — doesn’t link the question of race directly to the song (which would be silly) but only to “growing English nationalism, which he said was stoked by football fervour, and ‘a wish for a white-dominated simple world of Englishness’.”

The first reason presented by the Guardianistas can be dismissed. In fact, it’s precisely because the Holst tune is such a good tune that it needs to be saved from association with this wretched lyric so that people — perhaps not in our generation, but in a luckier one to come — can enjoy The Planets again, free from involuntarily making mental associations with Tories waving flags.

The Guardian‘s second reason is that Spring-Rice, author of these words, was no jingo, did some good things and had some fine opinions. But this is the kind of occasion when we can go for the ball without necessarily attacking the man, and call for the song to be retired without seeking to diminish the historical reputation of the Poet Spring-Rice.

The Telegraph writes nonsense, especially when it points to the unquestioning patriotism of the first verse and remarks that “that is fine, stirring stuff in the context of the First World War, when the hymn was written”. Well, some of us might beg to differ.

Incidentally, Dave, I don’t think the “rebellious Scots to crush” verse was ever officially part of the British national anthem. It’s a fun verse, though.


On my way back from my favourite nearby curryhouse this evening, I started thinking about what the Substantial Civilisational Advances in the UK have been since the war (1945, that is, not 2003).

And after ruminating over a few candidates — one-day cricket, BBC television, mass higher education, and so on — the two that seemed to me to stand out by quite a way were feminism on the one hand (and all that flows from that) and the widespread availability of pretty good Indian food on the other.

Is there anything comparable that I’m missing?

UPDATE [9.45pm]: Yes, yes, add “socialised medicine” to the above list to make a troika. Stupid of me, really. Feminism, Indian food and the NHS. What else?