Caesars’ Reign Ends

September 11, 2010

Dateline: Streatham Hill, Friday 10th 2010

All emperors must die, and empires fall. And so it has come to pass that the reign of Caesars [sic] nightclub over Streatham Hill is finally drawing to a close. The effigy of a charioteer and four horses has probably been the most salient local feature for a couple of decades, best observed from the left side of the top deck of a northbound bus along the High Road. I use the term ‘charioteer’ because Caesar was a scout; a soldier’s soldier, who often ventured ahead of his army on foot. Although there are records of him on horseback I doubt very much that he ever drove a four-horse chariot.

Caesars nightclub effigy

Hail Caesar - end of an emperor's rule

Residents have waited for years for the end of this particular empire. In the Thirties Streatham was called the West End of South London for its entertainment venues, and my house sits behind what was London’s largest theatre. Caesars nightclub and the ten-pin bowling alley were the bastard children of more their more genteel forebears; thorns in our side. Situated next to the main bus stops, the latter was a  magnet for trouble between gangs of youths, and closed a couple of years ago. The former attracted their elder siblings, occasionally being the starting point for shooting incidents and car-chases to Peckham via Brixton.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a shot of pigeon-beshat Caesar leaving his lofty perch because I had a life to get on with. As I took the photograph below later, a man trapped in traffic, apparently belonging to that legion of dispossed Caesars-members, angrily asked how much the effigy was being sold for.

Caesar on a truck

Truck off - we came not praise him

In fact, the entire block has been sold to a property developer, as has the back half of the block further north. I understand that Caesars nightclub was costing the owners an inordinate amount in payments to the Metropolitan Police. None of us local residents have shed a tear or raised a cheer over the closure, but that’s because we’re weary from the next war – that against the plans of the developer, which plans to squeeze profits out by pushing the height of the new development up to what we believe are unreasonable flats. Night-time noise has gone, but to be replaced by the day-time disturbance of trucks and construction. And in an area of inner London where car-parking is a problem, for over 250 dwellings, just 91 parking spaces are planned. I don’t own a car, but I’ve seen more than a few fights between angry motorists in my neighbourhood. Which goes to show: you can change the ruler, but unless you take away the reasons for conflict, the subjects will continue to fight.

Lambeth is Britain’s angriest borough? This survey pisses me off!

March 5, 2010

According to the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM), Lambeth is Britain’s angriest borough:

This half-baked piece of ‘research’ caused Guardian journalist Deborah Orr – a Lambeth resident for 25 years – to write a prominent piece on March 1st about her recent and personal experience of anger in the borough.

This ‘research’ is, of course, not what it first appears. For a start, it’s not primary research – it is some kind of mathematical calculation based on employment rates (not unemployment rates), crime statistics, etc. The inputs are purely subjective and so, therefore, are the results. I honestly can’t be bothered to waste time on a detailed critique of this publicity stunt posing as research. But just take a look at some of the measures that supposedly indicate for an ‘angry’ population:

  • % aged 65 and over who are satisfied with both neighbourhood and home
  • % who say their health is good or very good
  • % who feel informed about what to do in the event of a large-scale emergency
  • % who think that older people in their local area get the help and support they need to continue to live at home for as long as they need

Right, boiling down these sort of factors determines whether you’re angry or not? If indicative of anything, these should be used as a measure for quality of life. Many of these questions should not be used without strong caveats, or a very strong weighting – particularly that last one about elderly people staying at home. I suppose this bizarre ‘feel informed about what to do in the event of a large-scale emergency’ must be being used to indicate some kind of powerlessness – its inclusion is, in my view, spurious.

To be fair to BAAM, in the press release they talk about ‘triggers’ to anger, and also that Lambeth is the 19th most deprived borough in the UK – as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, these are mostly lifestyle and satifsfaction measures. I would also argue that the presence of triggers doesn’t necessarily mean an outcome.

However, the press release mentions the small fact that the survey hasn’t even been completed yet:

Early findings from the nationwide project suggest that London is the angriest city in
the UK, followed by Manchester. Birmingham is in third place, followed by Glasgow
and then Bristol.

So Lambeth might – on these non-measures – be the worst-performing borough in London, but the research only ‘suggests’ that London is the angriest city in the UK. Surely even a journalist might be able to see the flaw in this?

Towards the end of the press release, the real objective of the research becomes obvious. I lifted this from the document, bad grammar and punctuation included:

Mike Fisher, director of the British Association of Anger Management said BAAM data
showed that residents in the Capital were frightened by their inability to handle
feelings of stress and rage.
“I believe that issues such as crime, violence, domestic violence, road rage,
addiction, eating disorders, depression and many other mental health issues all stem
from our inability as a culture to handle or express our feelings, especially those of
Indeed, the fallout of the anger problem is so well recognised that governments in
countries including Australia, Canada and the USA fund anger management
programmes, he said.
“We want to move anger up the political agenda. It is the elephant in the room at the
moment, costing the NHS billions in tackling its side effects. Violent incidents alone
cost the NHS £2.7bn a year.”

Oh, we wouldn’t be angling for government funding for our organisation would we, Mr Fisher? I’m sure your organisation does some really good work, but all you’ve done is piss me off with your flawed trawl of stats posing as ‘research’. As for the cost to the NHS – what about the cost of dangerously flawed research causing politicians to launch ill-conceived initiatives? And I’m not exactly happy with Deborah Orr from the Guardian falling for this shit either. Am I angry? You betcha!

And what qualifies me to pass judgement on this? I’m a qualified researcher.

Autism — Are Matzos To Blame?

September 5, 2006

On Radio 4 this morning I heard that men over the age of 40 are six times more likely to have autistic children.  The study was carried out by studying 100,000 births in Israel.

Here at Wizarre Borld, we regard it as our job to question the logic of apparently clear conclusions.  For example, we think it more interesting to reverse the argument and state that if you have autism, your father is six times more likely to be aged over 40.  So the question is not whether a man’s sperm degenerates with age, but what habits — dietary, lifestyle and even relationships — does a 40-year-old man have which makes autism more prevalent in his offspring?

And Lo!  On page 10 of today’s Guardian — i.e. just an hour after I heard the news on the radio — I saw that another study had linked autism to bacteria in the gut.  Glenn Gibson from the University of Reading studied the faeces of 50 autistic and 50 normal children.  He found raised levels of the bacterium clostridium in the faeces of the autistic children.  Gibson has now set up a study giving autistic children probiotic treatment.

The question here at Wizarre Borld is whether men over the age of 40 fathering children have dietary habits which cause raised levels of clostridium.  The only population where this age-related correlation has been proven to occur is Israel.  Could Matzos be to blame?

The Cost of a Private Education

September 3, 2006

I came across the website of Merchiston Castle School recently  The propaganda about the advantages of a single-sex boarding education for boys is a little dishonest; particularly for a school which prides itself on such a tough sporting tradition.  Indeed, the most recent research dispels the myth of the superiority of single-sex education.

I could find no mention of the school’s famous sons — perhaps because notoriety for alcoholism, psychopathic behaviour, drug-taking and wife-beating are all areas of excellence which tend to develop after one’s time there.

It was the headmaster’s statement that appalled me the most.  He said that ‘Boys need not be high jacked by a laddish culture’.  The word is actually ‘hijacked’, and it has been in common usage since the 1920s.  There are other obvious mistakes, such as the closing speech marks at the end of the first paragraph (the same person is continuing his speech in the following paragraph).  For a school currently charging so much and making such high claims for its educational standards, I’d expect better from its headmaster.

Headmaster's statement Click on it to read it, if you can be bothered.

Indiana Tops Terror Targets

July 13, 2006

Washington, D.C.  One flaw in the federal funding system that has long been recognised is that states compete against one another for limited budgets.  This can have almost comical results.  Take the $41 billion Homeland Security budget.  To divvy it up between the states, an assessment is made of the terrorist threat using the number of potential targets.  These are assessed on – for example – either the economic value (over $10bn) or number of lives (25,000 or more) that are potentially at risk.  These are then put on the National Assets Database (NADB).

A recent report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security has caused much amusement in the US media because it reveals that Indiana, with 8,591 such assets, has some 50% more than New York (5,687) and more than two-and-a-half times as many as California (3,122).  The cause of the mirth has been the apparently mistaken inclusion of ‘assets’ such as Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, Kangaroo Conservation Center, Beach at the end of [a] street, an ice cream parlor and a donut shop.  In the US press these have been mistakenly allocated to Indiana.  In fact, these ‘assets’ are not attributed to any particular state in the report.

The extraordinary disparity between the numbers of assets between states can be explained by the lack of guidance from a confused central administration.  For example, due to lack of guidelines the entire Bay Area Rapid Transit system (the underground railway in the San Francisco Bay area) is listed as a single asset, whereas New York lists all 739 stations separately.  Furthermore, according to the report New York accounts for just 2% of the country’s banking assets, ranking between Missouri and North Dakota.  Where Indiana does appear to misreport is in the public health sector, where it lists 65% of the country’s total — including 417 nursing homes, which are apparently ‘critical assets’.

The extent of the confusion at the heart of the Department of Homeland Security is apparent when the report states that assets where ‘criticality needs to be determined’ include 25 golf courses, 24 swimming pools and 718 mortuaries.  Conspiracy theorists might be interested to know that 34 Coca-Cola bottlers/distributors also make the ‘critical’ list, but that no Pepsi-Cola facilities are included.

San Francisco Insular

July 6, 2006

San Francisco, CA.  I was walking through the financial district at quarter to eight this evening.  I looked up and saw into a second-floor gym.  From behind every window stared out a glazed-eyed person in their 20s or 30s, exercising on machines which simulated running, skiing or cycling.

It was a warm, sunny July evening.  Earlier, I’d enjoyed a wonderful fifty-minute run that had taken me past Lombard Street, to Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, along the historic piers to the Ferry Building.  I’d had spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge.  Finally, I’d raced a cable car up the harsh incline of California to Grace Cathedral.  It was a real privilege to be able to run for free through one of the world’s most beautiful cities on such an evening.

Why pay through the nose to lock yourself up in an air-conditioned, artificially lit gym to simulate exercise, when less than 200 yards away you could enjoy the run I enjoyed?  Why bother to pay a premium to live in San Francisco?  If you like your office environment so much that you choose to exercise in it, and if you have no poetry in your soul, then there’s a place for you 350 miles south of here — it’s called LA, and I suggest you move there.

The Grapes of Wrath?

July 2, 2006

“You’re the first person not to complain at that price,” the cashier at our local store told me yesterday, showing me $7.09 on the register.

“You did have them down as the regular grapes at $2.99 per pound, and not the organic at $3.99, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. I quickly calculated in my head the price in pounds sterling — about £1.60/lb — and agreed to the price.  I’m used to paying slightly more than that in the UK, but then again I don’t usually buy grapes in the middle of Northern California’s Wine Country, where you’d expect grapes to be in abundant supply.  I then remembered we’d refused a bunch of organic grapes in Sebastopol, which had been priced at over $8 after the cashier had asked us whether we wanted to go ahead with the purchase.  What’s interesting is that it’s not just shoppers who’re balking at the prices: it’s that the cashiers view the price as quite literally remarkable.  And it is they who drawing their attention to the — apparently exorbitant — prices being charged by their employers.  But shop assistants are consumers too, and they have to live.  I asked her why the price was so high, but she had no more idea than I did.  Looking at US government prices for table grapes over the last two years, supply has increased by over 17% — and yet prices have apparently rocketed.

But if consumers are bitching about $2.99/lb grapes, what will they think of $5-a-head lettuce if illegal migrant manual labour is kicked out of the country as the Bush administration is proposing?  For that’s what Sonoma County farmers are forecasting would be the price if this were to happen.

If Ignorance is No Defence…

July 1, 2006

“Ignorance is no defence,” we are told by those who administer justice in mature democracies.  Last night my girlfriend and I watched with an uncomfortable mixture of amusement, amazement and disbelief the prosecution of a man by a District Attorney and an Assistant DA in North Carolina.  It was the trial for murder of a middle-aged fiction writer, accused of murdering his wife by striking her with a blunt object before pushing her downstairs and hoping that the injuries would be interpreted as a brain haemorrhage — an MO he was purported to have used some 17 years previously on a female friend in Germany, though without any apparent motive.

The prosecution was ugly and sinister in its prejudicial aggressiveness from the outset.  They had hired a pathologist who said that — without a doubt — the injuries sustained by the victim indicated homicide: in my view an outrageously prejudiced claim for an expert witness to make in a non-totalitarian society.  In the absence of any motive at all for the alleged murder, in her summing up of the prosecution’s case, the Assistant DA went on to accuse the defendant of having had anal sex (emphasis hers) with men that he’d met online.  Furthermore, she suggested that a ‘fictional writer’ (sic) would have found it easy to make up the whole story about his wife having fallen downstairs.

Fictional writer?” shouted my girlfriend at the television.  “So if the guy doesn’t actually exist, how can they prosecute him?  And having had anal sex makes him suddenly homicidal?”  She explained that you might expect this kind of bigoted irrelevancy in South Carolina, but not in North Carolina.  My discomfort is that we should expect it anywhere in this day and age.  My outright disbelief is that someone with such a poor and imprecise grasp of the English language can not only get through Law school, but pass state Bar exams and go on to become an Assistant DA.

If ignorance is no defence, what’s the prosecution’s justification for it?

Edinburgh Marathon: you’ll have had your tea?

June 19, 2006

I’d like to thank the citizens of Edinburgh who turned out to support those of us running the Edinburgh Marathon on June 11th.  At least a dozen people emerged blinking and disoriented from their tenement buildings to brave the warm sun and blue sky of a Sunday morning.  My particular thanks to the organisers who — faced with budgetary restrictions by the city council — did the sensible thing and provided just seven water stations rather than the recognised standard minimum of ten.  It certainly meant less time was wasted with the futile task of trying to remain hydrated on the hottest day of the year so far — a mere three Celsius warmer than conditions which saw the deaths of four runners in last year’s Great North Run.  The commemorative T-shirt was also innovative — I had no idea that it was possible to manufacture them for single-use only.  The goody-bag was an education: the least pointless item being a plastic toy soldier with a parachute.  The most pointless was a low-calorie sugar substitute for use in baking cakes.

In all seriousness, my sincere thanks to those homeowners in the last 3-4 miles who turned their garden hoses on and sprayed us with cold water.  As I told every one of you at the time: there’s a special place in heaven for you.  It’s a shame that the warmth of the welcome by the city’s elders left us with hypothermia.  Still, as they say up there “You’ll have had your tea!” — or was that what the low-cal sugar substitute was for?

Poetic Justice

June 19, 2006

I was glad to read that June 16th saw the sentencing of two men for the homophobic and unprovoked killing of gay man Jody Dobrowski on Clapham Common in October 2005.  What was unique about the sentencing was that the judge increased the minimum term to 28 years to reflect the fact that it was a hate crime.  I think 28 years without female company should be enough time for these two murdering thugs to — how can I put it? — ‘change their view’ of sexuality.  Yes, it’s a STIFF sentence for them!  Watch out for showertime, boys!