Saturday 29 October 2005

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park, Steve Box, 2005)

Wallace & Gromit rule! Great movie - everything you've come to expect from Nick Park. Will have to watch it on DVD to catch more of the in-jokes. Don't miss it.

Tuesday 25 October 2005

Windsor Great Park

Went out with the kids and a friend today and made our first stab at geocaching. We were heading for an Autumn walk in Windsor Great Park anyway when we figured we might as well try and locate this geocache. It wasn't there but it was a fun challenge. Will have to try again sometime and maybe put our own cache together.

The kids also practised firing a slingshot with crab apples and searched for conkers. It's half-term and I'm looking for projects to keep them occupied.

Rosa Parks

It was Rosa Parks whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955 triggered the start of the Civil Rights Movement. She died a few days ago on Oct 24, age 92. A truly inspiring story. Amazing that racism was so deeply entrenched only fifty years ago.

Thursday 13 October 2005

Canadians not so different from Americans

Horror of horrors but that's the conclusion of a study published in Science Magazine this month comparing perceptions of national stereotypes to the results of averaging countrymen personality tests. The study was conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Aging by 87 researchers across 49 countries by gathering NEO-PI-R self-reports from 3,989 people.

I haven't got ahold of the original study but it's being widely reported around the 'net.

Canadians have always had a problem defining a national identy and part of the Canadian myth building is "we're not American". The perception is widely agreed upon across Canada but it doesn't hold up to measurement. There are certainly cultural differences but those differences aren't due to personality traits. It would be interesting to test whether there's a measurable difference in the average West Coast and East Coast personality.

It's also turns out the British stereotype is completely unfounded. Rather than reserved, stalwart and conventional, they're measured to be extrovert and generally open to new experiences. Meanwhile Germans think that they're conscientious and industrious and they measured out as conscientious and industrious. However, it's the Poles that turn out to be the people that know themselves the best. 

This article has more details on the methodology and takes a look at it from the perspective of ethnic jokes...

 “Heaven is where the police are English, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and everything is organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.”

Tuesday 11 October 2005

Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (David Miller, 2003)

I love the "Very Short Introduction" series put out by Oxford University Press. I've just finished reading the one on Political Philosophy. The topic sounds daunting but it's written in a very clear readable manner. The chapters covered are:

  • Why do we need political philosophy?
  • Political authority
  • Democracy
  • Freedom and the limits of government
  • Justice
  • Feminism and multiculturism
  • Nations, states and global justice

I found the last chapter on global justice particularly interesting. In contrast to cosmopolitanism, which is admittedly utopian, he outlines what I would consider a realistic vision of a world built on global justice:

"Political authority would rest primarily with nation-states, but they would collaborate to ensure that the costs and benefits of international cooperation were fairly distributed. Each political community would govern itself according to its own political traditions, and schemes of social justice would likewise vary somewhat from place to place. But everywhere human rights would be respected, and in cases where they were threatened, either by natural disasters such as drought or by oppressive regimes, other states would work together to ward off the threat. Some states would be richer than others; this would not be unjust provided that it resulted from political choice and cultural decisions rather than from economic exploitation. Some states would also be more democratic than others, but even those peoples who did not control their governors directly would identify with their government and feel that it represented their interests and values." (p130)

Sounds promising to me. I believe this vision has its roots in the political liberalism of John Rawls. Looks like it would be worth reading more about his ideas (e.g Original position).

I find books like these are very good at helping you test and strengthen your own opinions. I've been taking a closer look at where I stand on political issues and political philosophy gets right to the fundamentals.

Monday 10 October 2005

Apple Day

Yesterday we dropped by the annual Orchard Open Day at Cross Lanes Fruit Farm in Mapledurham (just north of Reading). The kids tried the traditional apple peeler, saw the displays on apple growing and bee keeping, tasted lots of apples and had a go at the games. We also tagged along on a tour of the orchard by the owner, Gill Franklin, who is obviously very passionate about apples (trivia: the Romans introduced apples to England).

What makes Cross Lanes special is that they grow 60 different obscure British apple varieties (and some pears and plums) and take tremendous care to get the greatest flavour from them. It's a bastion of good practice and does its best to help keep local production alive.

Each apple variety peaks at a different time and are usually on sale for just a few weeks. The rolling harvest means that the apple season is stretched out from  August to December and then that's the end. There's no gassing of the apples and putting them in storage for 10 months. These apples aren't covered with pesticide residues and are truly flavourful.

The kids tried a dozen varities and settled on a bag of Red Devils that they're now taking to school. Next month, I'll have to remember to pick up a bag of Jesters when Cross Lanes show up at the local farmers' market.

Friday 7 October 2005

Shopping Rights

Nice article on your shopping rights in the UK. There's also the DTI Fact Sheet on the Sale of Faulty Goods. No, haven't had any problems lately. I was just following links from the latest issue of Money Saving Expert.

Tuesday 4 October 2005

The Yes Men (2003)

A comedy/documentary following some activists that impersonate the World Trade Organisation and work to correct their identity through outrageous presentations at conferences and to the media.

It's low-budget and not particularly hard hitting but it is great fun to watch. I truly admire people with the gall to do stuff life this. I had a great laugh over the re:burger and the economic analysis of slavery was good too.

Don't buy the DVD. Either rent it or download it off the 'net. It's worth watching.

The Yes Men website is also a good browse. There are links to parody corporate websites of Dow and Cargill and you can buy US Regime Change Playing Cards.

Yep, the world could use a lot of identity correction.

Bride & Prejudice (Gurinder Chadha, 2004)

A unique fusion of Indian and Western traditions in this retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as a Bollywood film. It's fun and a bit corny - a snuggle-up-with-your-other-half movie. Aishwarya Rai is drop dead gorgeous.

One of the director's comments has stuck in my mind. Bollywood films, with their singing, dancing and fantasy sequences, are a celebration of life. I think that's true compared to other film traditions.