Tomorrow Never Dies

Sep. 24th, 2017 07:59 pm
qatsi: (urquhart)
[personal profile] qatsi
Book Review: Kompromat, by Stanley Johnson
I hesitated over this one in the work book sale, as I wasn't sure I had the stomach for it, but in the end decided to "feel the fear and do it anyway". After all, it's a charity event, and this season's charity at work is Alzheimer's UK, so it's a good cause and no money goes to any member of the Johnson family.

In the introductory "Author's Note" it is stated that "Kompromat is, to use an old-fashioned term, An Entertainment". In other words, there is no pretence to higher literary ground. Spoilers )

Where the book does score, though, is on making you reflect on the "democratisation" of information via the Internet. Twenty years or more ago, there were a limited number of media outlets, and whilst they could provide a wide range of views and opinions, one could in general be fairly confident about the provenance of their information, and that factual errors would not go uncorrected. But when anyone can put out any story and watch it go viral from within an echo chamber to the wider world, it's inevitable that many people will exhibit confirmation bias. (I'm not suggesting that anyone is immune from confirmation bias, but I'd like to think people should in general be aware of the possibility of it and try to control for it.) Indeed, the current state of affairs seems to be that many people don't care about "truth" if what they are given fits their existing beliefs - including the closing down or drowning out of opposing points of view. The Internet is a genie that's out of the bottle, and it's not going back in. Ultimately, I suspect those who have chosen not to hear warnings about fake news will be the ones who suffer most as a result, but if fake news continues, then they will always have someone else to blame. In my darker moments, I think about that term in the Drake equation about the length of time a civilisation exists, and I wonder if opposing groups, discarding evidence and shouting their views at each other angrily without listening, is how it ends.

(no subject)

Sep. 24th, 2017 01:44 pm
tinyjo: (Default)
[personal profile] tinyjo
I keep feeling like I'm going to post some sort of political rant here during the week and then by the time I get to it on Sundays, that's not what I want to talk about. I guess that's a good thing, but still, it feels slightly odd somehow. I guess it's not like I'd be saying much that isn't said elsewhere so if I don't feel the need to let of steam about it by the time I get to it, that's fine.

New school is still going really well - they are bizarrely respectful of my time! I was asked to go to governors meeting this week to talk about the new server and I was totally happy to do that - it seemed like a perfectly reasonable request. The head was so apologetic that it would take up my evening though and offered unprompted for me to take my PPA at home in exchange! So definitely still feeling good about the move :) Now that I've mostly got rid of the new workplace cold, I'm feeling pretty on top of things too and I am definitely feeling like I'm starting to get the measure of my class. I definitely need to do a seating move around at half term - now that I know them, there are a few personalities which could do with being split up - but it's nothing too terrible. I am even quite looking forward to the residential!

More tea, vicar?

Sep. 23rd, 2017 08:17 pm
qatsi: (meades)
[personal profile] qatsi
Book Review: Empire of Tea - The Asian Leaf that Conquered the World, by Markman Ellis, Richard Coulton and Matthew Mauger
It is, apparently, almost 10 years since I read Marman Ellis' The Coffee House, which is what prompted me to add this book to my wish list. It's taken some time for a paperback edition to emerge, and then the copy I received from an Amazon seller is labelled "for sale in the Indian subcontinent only". Oh well.

After a short introduction and a section on early records of tea-drinking in China and Japan (which differ significantly from each other), the book traces the story of tea in relation to Europe from about the mid seventeenth century, when trade with China began to include quantities of this exotic leaf. It's interesting that hot drinks were a novelty in Britain, and that tea, coffee and chocolate all arrived on our shores at approximately the same time.

Unlike coffee, the story of tea in Europe isn't particularly political, being considered a domestic delicacy for the well-to-do. For some time, many European nations were involved in the trade, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Britain; only rather later did the British become dominant. Interestingly, for a long time, the trade in green tea was more important, with black tea being a minor share of the cargo. The unseen (but fairly blatant) hand of the market pushed European traders to seek more and more tea, which over time had the effect of reducing prices and increasing the availability of tea to the middle classes. Debate abounds on the virtues and vices of tea-drinking. Taxation of tea results in smuggling from other European countries, and "the destruction of the tea at Boston". Eventually William Pitt the Younger abandoned the taxation of tea in favour of increasing window tax, arguing that the adjustment would not on average negatively impact on households correctly paying for tea. This had the effect of destroying the smugglers' market from the continent, and produced British dominance in the tea trade in China. However, an increasing one-way trade was problematic for the British economy, so an attempt was made to balance the trade by supplying opium from India to the Chinese. Unsurprisingly, the consequences of this aspect of the trade were not happy.

The East India Company also sought to grow tea on land governed by the British, in India, but although indivudal plant specimens were sporadically smuggled out of China the programme was without success. Eventually it was discovered that tea was already growing in the Assam region, but was not used locally as a drink. As the price of tea fell, it became a universal staple in British households.

The book concludes with twentieth-century developments: the invention of the tea bag, which led to the use of "dust" grade tea, otherwise unsuitable; the rise of the "tea house" such as Lyons; fruit infusions and iced tea (which, in canned or bottled form, is apparently the most commonly consumed tea in America).

Like the coffee book, this is a thorough work, but it does feel incomplete. Although there is some discussion about adulteration of tea, there's no mention of Earl Grey tea; likewise, there's no mention of the Cutty Sark, perhaps one of the most famous remnants of the height of the tea trade. For a popular work by British authors these seem curious omissions, but they don't detract from the book as it stands.

Trigger Warning

Sep. 20th, 2017 08:40 pm
qatsi: (vila)
[personal profile] qatsi
Book Review: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
I'm behind on book reviews. This had been on my to-read list for a while when it turned up in the work book sale; when I discovered Reading Film Theatre is showing the film adaptation this term, it was queue-jumped to discover whether I would want to go and see the film. I think I probably will.

spoilers )

The Dubliners

Sep. 18th, 2017 08:52 pm
qatsi: (baker)
[personal profile] qatsi
Through a variety of logical twists centred on other events, we opted for a short break in Dublin last weekend. Leaving directly from work, the flight from London City Airport was much less hassle than Heathrow, and although we didn't depart at the advertised time, there seemed to be a fair bit of padding in the schedules. Transfer from the airport at Dublin was very straightforward with the regular bus service.

We arrived at the hotel to find we'd been "upgraded" to a "suite" in the "Georgian wing". The room looked lovely, but was in fact rather noisy (poorly fitting windows looking out onto a main road) and cold (with minimal bedding, which we addressed and resolved the following morning.) We quickly established that a global search-and-replace of "English" with "Irish" had taken place: for example, "Full Irish Breakfast" and "Irish Breakfast Tea". But fair enough, I suppose. We were, after all, in Ireland.

Fri 15th: Though cold, it's bright and sunny at first, and we take in our surroundings. The Custom House is close by.


We move on to Trinity College, Dublin. The Book of Kells exhibition is expensive and badly laid out, but really it's an excuse to justify the charge to see the books and the Old Library. The books themselves are interesting, although I'm disappointed I didn't see any comparison to The Lindisfarne Gospels, especially as there's a comment in the exhibition that one of the other books (The Book of Durrow) may have come from Northumbria.


Like the Bodleian, it appears that the books are filed according to their size.

Before lunch, we fit in a visit to the Natural History Museum. It's small and quiet, but well-stocked and, compared to its correspondent in London, unreconstructed and of more concentrated interest. In the afternoon, we move on to see Dublin Castle and the cathedrals.



Sat 16th: The forecast isn't good, particularly for later on. In the morning we visit the National Gallery, which turns out to be very interesting and well-stocked, though many of the names are unknown. Some of the Irish landscapes are particularly beautiful, though there are also some scenes in which nature has ceased to be beautiful and merely looks bleak. Later on we visit the National Museum of Archaeology. This is smaller than expected and balances the day, though it is quite packed with exhibits. The bog bodies are striking, if disturbing; the Bronze Age canoe is impressive. The Viking section is interesting; the museum finds a diplomatic solution to colonisation by describing the invasion of 1169 as "Norman".



Sun 17th: It's bright again, intermittently, and we go for another walk along the Liffey before heading up to the City Gallery. There are some interesting pieces, and a lot of modern rubbish, although among the contemporary collection, Close by Elizabeth Magill and Mist by Paul Seawright stand out. By lunch time, the city is heaving with crowds for the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Final, but we catch the bus back to the airport. The trains from Paddington are replaced with buses due to engineering work, so we depart from Waterloo instead; a slow train, but not a crowded one.



Food-wise Dublin was disappointing, because it seems you are expected to pre-book (no doubt by "app") everywhere. Even in a Japanese noodle bar the welcome was dampened by being told we'd have to be finished by 7:30. It was interesting that, like the UK, a significant portion of the hospitality sector is staffed by eastern Europeans.

Things conflate. The poor value of the accommodation and the impossibility of spontaneous discovery on the food front combined with the almost brainwashing-intensity signage of Irish (i.e. anti-British) history on every street corner to make me feel barely welcome. We left, taking the unused coffee sachets with us "in retaliation for the [lack of] blanket". As I observed, the lack of blanket was probably "in retaliation for the [lack of] potatoes [in the 1840s]". My overall impression was that (even allowing for the post-Brexit exchange rate) Dublin charges more-or-less London prices but doesn't deliver as much.
major_clanger: Clangers (Royal Mail stamp) (Default)
[personal profile] major_clanger
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John Le Carré, 1963)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (dir Martin Ritt, 1965)
A Legacy of Spies (John Le Carré, 2017)

‘Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, has retired to his family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London are to be scrutinised by a generation with no memory of the Cold War. Somebody must be made to pay for innocent blood once spilt in the name of the greater good.’

From that advance plot summary, I expected A Legacy of Spies to be a follow up to the events of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or its immediate sequels. In fact, it turns out to be a quasi-sequel to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Le Carré’s third novel but the one in which he broke out into mainstream success. I say ‘quasi-sequel’, because A Legacy of Spies revisits, and even to an extent retcons, the events of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and indeed can to a substantial extent be seen as a prequel, setting up some of the important plot points and filling in some key events between that book at Le Carré’s first novel (and introduction of George Smiley), Call for the Dead.

I’d never actually read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, although I’d long ago seen a plot summary that revealed the key twist. (So, by the way, does this review, hence the cut below.) I read A Legacy of Spies when it came out, saw that it referred back heavily to the events of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold so then read that, and then out of curiosity watched the 1965 film, which currently features on Netflix’s list.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (book)

I won’t spend too much time on the original novel; if you’ve read it, you’ll know how good it is. If you haven’t – well, rather than have it spoiled, I suggest that you go and read it yourself. It’s short by modern standards, very readable, and although the underlying plot is complex (as much as I can say without spoilers) everything is clearly explained.

(Spoilers from here)

Discussion of crucial bits of plot )

A Legacy of Spies is highly recommended, although if you’ve not read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold I’d strongly suggest reading it beforehand. And once you’ve done so, look out the 1965 film, which stands up very well indeed.




(no subject)

Sep. 17th, 2017 03:26 pm
tinyjo: (tiny kitn)
[personal profile] tinyjo
Have been full of cold for most of this week but just about managed to get through it, thank goodness! I think my class are starting to get used to me and my expectations, which is good, but they've got a long way to go before SATS, particularly in calculation! I had a lovely, lazy day yesterday, sitting on the sofa with kittens, doing very little work, but it does mean I've left myself quite a few weekend tasks to do today - I need to think about rebalancing my workload a little bit to manage this 5 day week thing a bit more effectively. This weekend, I've been mostly conserving energy in the evenings due to the cold, but I am going to have to try to plan a bit more housework in during the week now that I don't have Friday to catch up with. I suppose in theory, there's the alternative of getting someone in to do some cleaning but I'll wait and see how the new salary settles in before going for anything quite so decadent :)

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