Why you should avoid shoes with molded polyurethane soles.

One of the advantages of having multiple homes is that you can equip each with items of clothing suitable to each location, and therefore travel with the minimum amount of luggage -

or so I thought!

But, imagine my surprise when on a trip to Istanbul I took a virtually brand new pair of sandals from the wardrobe and found the soles disintegrating within a few minutes of walking. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the shoes not held up well when I got into the car. They only stated to disintegrate when I strolled from the car park through the arrivals lounge at Ataturk International Airport, to meet my daughter who was in-bound from London.

Polyurethane Polymer Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikipedia

Polyurethane Polymer Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikipedia

My feet feel funny, I thought, and looking round I found a trail of black breadcrumb-like rubber marking my route. Within minutes the heel dropped from one sole, and moments later the entire sole cracked on the other foot.

Everyone was looking at me.

Naturally I thought this a freak occurrence, and bought some new footwear at an airport store post-haste.

Fast forward a few days and I’m off to visit Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in another pair of two year old rarely used shoes. Just as we started to approach the entrance once again I felt that now familiar crumbling of the soles beneath my feet. Yes, there was a tell-tale trail down the street!

Another new pair of shoes later I find myself at the cobblers. ‘Oh’, he informed me, ‘All shoes do that. You have to wear them, or they will fall apart.’

Now, I must say, that I think there’s something rather peculiar about the idea of shoes that disintegrate when they’re not being worn, and like to fall apart when stored at room temperature in a dry cupboards. After all my leather-soled shoes from earlier times never crack, or disintegrate in the same conditions. Of course, they slip like hell, especially on ice, but no matter – my head might require vinegar and brown paper but the soles of my feet will be adequately protected!

Fast forward a year and I’m off to talk business with the mayor of our local municipality. It’s going to be a sensitive meeting. I had to fight, and use lots of influence to arrange this appointment. I’m the first person to officially visit him after his re-election, and unbeknown to me, after someone attempted to obliterate him and his family in a rain of automatic gunfire over the weekend. He does not look happy, and when I look behind me I note that my feet have left a trail of black debris across the red carpet leading into his office. The heel of one of the most formal shoes that I had available at the beach house has separated itself from the sole, and is proudly attracting his attention from an expensive looking kilim before his desk.

I wondered if Sir Elton, or Victoria Beckham, who must own far more shoes than me, ever experienced this kind of blight?

The mayor did not invite me to be seated, and in the circumstances I can’t blame him.

So why do the synthetic soles on contemporary shoes disintegrate when they are not used?

Apparently shoes with a molded polyurethane (PU) sole is prone to a form of deterioration called “hydrolysis”, especially in coastal, humid areas, when not worn. But when you wear them pressure on the soles squeezes out the moisture, which would otherwise insidiously break apart the foam-like structure. So it’s possible for a pair of unworn or barely worn shoes to disintegrate. It’s probably best not to purchase last year’s fashion, or if you must have them re-soled and heeled at once as a precaution!

I guess PU disintegration is good for ecology, and also shoe manufacturers. The moral though, if you are into shoes then best buy some with leather soles, or limit the size of your collection.

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Hunter S. Thompson and the Universal Life Church

Hunter S. Thompson graffiti by Thierry Ehrmann in the Abode of Chaos museum, France.

Hunter S. Thompson graffiti by Thierry Ehrmann in the Abode of Chaos museum, France. (Creative Commons 2.0)

My interest was piqued a few years ago when Phillip of Amos, a biker, introduced me to ‘Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs‘.

In the year of its publication a reviewer from ‘The New Yorker‘ wrote of its author: ‘Hunter S. Thompson is a freelance writer from San Francisco, Aspen, and points east. His research on the Hell’s Angels involved more than a year of close association with the outlaws – riding, loafing, plotting, and eventually being stomped. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, he began writing as a sports columnist in Florida. He started his first novel while studying at Columbia University in New York City. Since then he has worked on newspapers and magazines in New York, San Juan, and Rio de Janeiro. His articles have appeared in The Reporter, The Nation, Esquire, and Rolling Stone.’

You may be excused from assuming that any writer as precise as Thompson must have completed a college education but, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Thompson left college in his own time, and in his own way, after extracting all that he felt academia could offer him.

Before writing hum off as a lazy grifter, at least in comparison businessmen like Jobs and Gates, it’s worth noting that in order to hone his writing skill he used a typewriter to copy F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway‘s A Farewell to Arms in order to learn about the writing styles of the authors.

It wasn’t that Thompson failed to graduate, or finish a degree. He was at Columbia University auditing a number of courses. A student who audits a course does so for the purposes of self-enrichment and academic exploration with no hope of being graded, or obtaining any type of credit. It’s one of the best ways to learn.

The Universal Church Modesto

Thompson’s ‘alter-ego’ Raul Duke describes himself as a “doctor of journalism”, and his Samoan attorney, loosely based upon his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, who was not Samoan but considered himself a Chicano, he refers to as a Dr. of Law in the groundbreaking novel ‘Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas‘. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the two friends both ran for office as sheriffs, enjoyed taking drugs, and got themselves into trouble with the law on a number of occasions. It may be completely serendipitous that Acosta, who Thompson described as “a powerful attorney and preacher” attended Modesto Junior College, which even today is just six minutes drive from the Headquarters of The Universal Life Church.

It was from The Universal Life Church that Thompson would obtain his ‘famous’ doctorate. Today you may be ordained by them free of charge simply by completing a form on the Internet. For a doctorate a ‘donation’ of up to 100 bucks is required, and you may even have to complete an examination consisting of multiple choice questions.

In the 1960s and 70s many became ordained, via mail order, because they thought being a minister might keep them from being drafted into the U.S. forces and sent to war overseas. It didn’t, nor were there any tax advantages to being a ULC minister except for the Church itself whose tax status varied from year to year sometimes preceded by court litigation with the authorities.

Other Universal Life Churches

Today various branches of the ‘church’ claim to be its headquarters, and whilst none explicitly deny the legality of ordinations by the others the Universal Life Church based in Boca Raton, Florida is explicitly Christian in its doctrine.

This was clearly not within the spirit of the original Life Church, (which was later incorporated as The Universal Life Church), founded by the Reverend Kirby Hensley. He was raised in North Carolina as a Baptist. He was illiterate, but very intelligent. He created his church in 1959 and taught that everyone’s beliefs should be respected and welcomed. The congregation met in his garage.

The Boca Raton church, today, claims to be the original Universal Life Church because the term is a rough translation from fourth century church literature. Usually this is translated as Catholic Church.

Universal Life Church Doctrine

The doctrine of acceptance by the Universal Life Church is, to my mind, a simple, beautiful and revolutionary idea. Others must think so too because, in addition to Hunter S. Thompson, the number of ULC ministers is thought to number more than 20 million since it was formed, with as many as five thousand applying for ordination every month.

The Church will ordain anyone, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion of birth, or current beliefs. Even Atheists believe in something they claim. Naturally Pagans, Wiccans and members all major and minority religions are welcome to apply for, and will be granted, ordination because the Universal Life Church maintains that each of us is ordained by God, and it simply recognizes that fact. I’m unsure Atheist ministers reconcile this, but so what?

Hensley maintained somewhat tautologically: “Every living person is part of Universal Life,”

In case you’re wondering who are the kinds of people to make up his 20 million strong clergy the following notable members are listed by sources. Some names may surprise you:

Sir Richard Branson, Conan O’Brian, Ian McKellan, Lady Gaga, Sharon Stone, Glenn Beck, Sammy Davis Jnr., Billy Gibbons, Hugh Heffner, Goldie Hawn, Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Barbara Streisand, Jonny Carson, Vikki Carr, Cyd Charisse, Abbe Hoffman, Nicole Riche, Courtney Love, Paul Newman, James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Jeff Probhurst, Tori Spelling, Mae West, Doris Day, Joan Rivers, and more recently Robbie Williams and Russell Brand.

Many join simply to be able to officiate at weddings. If more people were to take on the Reverend Hensley ability, to revere life rather than to argue dogma, to accept others as they are and attempt to ‘save them’ either for Jesus or from Allah, and make an honest buck whilst doing so, wouldn’t the world be a more cooperative, constructive, peaceful place?

And why shouldn’t ordinary people start a church that bears witness to people’s ordination? The Reverend Hensley was illiterate and did so, but then The Prophet Mohammed was also unable to read or write yet is the example to follow according to one of the world’s most popular Holy books.

You could argue that no-one should be qualified to perform marriages, other ceremonies, or administer spiritual comfort, without rigorous training.

Local government officials performing marriage ceremonies have no such training, publicly funded funerals may, or may not have priests officiating, and as for spiritual comfort is not all comfort in the final analysis spiritual in essence?

When was the last time you told a guilty secret to a sympathetic listener? Did doing so not bring as much psychological comfort as had you confessed your sins to a priest? The Church of Medieval times certainly believed that sins could not be forgiven without confession to your parish priest, but then the same church licensed pardoners who were charged with selling spiritual remedies in order to finance Church projects, such as hospitals and the building of the Vatican.

The Ordination of Ministers

The ordination of Church of England ministers, until relatively recently, required a university degree, but most ministers read classics and did not study divinity at all until the begriming of the twentieth century. Today the Church doesn’t require such an education but instead a panel of advisers to a Bishop must be satisfied that candidates have provided evidence and can fulfill various qualities of faith, vocation, and mind. These are set out in ‘Criteria for Selection for the Ordained Ministry in the Church of England‘.

The processes for becoming ordained within Episcopal Churches in the U.S.A. are no more rigorous, and, although exceptions may apply, are likely to be similar to that for The Episcopal Diocese of New York.

A key difference between ordination by the Universal Life Church and that of a mainstream church ministry are that whilst both The Universal Life Church and Episcopal Churches require applicants to have a vocation, the former sees this as a vocation for Life and the latter for Christianity. This important distinction gives rise to a requirement that priests of the Episcopal Churches not only be Christians, and therefore suitable for office within an Episcopal ministry. The process, as we all know, isn’t infallible. It’s difficult to obtain statistics on the numbers of priests arraigned in the U.S. or Britain, and numbers are inflated by those ministers arrested at protest demonstrations where their actions may be illegal, but morally sound.

The Universal Life Church, in most of its various factions, also differs from most other Churches providing ordination via the Internet. There are others, and it has its imitators, but the Life Church founded by Kirby Hensley is undoubtedly the original. It sees all religions as equal and ministers may celebrate whatever calls them. Buddhists, Moslems, and Zoroastrians are welcome as ministers within the Universal Life Church, except that other Universal Life Church based in Florida which requires ministers to be of the Christian faith.

Propoganda image from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Propaganda image from The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Pastafarianism and The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to which many atheist devotees of Professor Richard Dawkins are members, claims: ‘Satire is an honest, legitimate basis for religion. Satire relies on truth to be effective. If it’s a joke, it’s a joke where to understand the punch line you must be conscious of underlying truth.’

Part of that truth looks suspiciously like Avaidaism, or Monistic Idealism if you like? This proposes that consciousness, rather than matter, is the ground of all being and therefore events precipitate into consciousness giving rise to form with a background history, and potential future. It follows from this that ultimately nothing is provable, although there is an Institute of Noetic Science that attempts to conduct, and correlate, research within such a philosophy.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Creed of Creationism, states:

“We believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world much as it exists today, but for reasons unknown made it appear that the universe is billions of years old (instead of thousands) and that life evolved into its current state (rather than created in its current form). Every time a researcher carries out an experiment that appears to confirm one of these “scientific theories” supporting an old earth and evolution we can be sure that the FSM is there, modifying the data with his Noodly Appendage. We don’t know why He does this but we believe He does, that is our Faith.”

This and other illustrative metaphors are published in The Church of the Spaghetti Monster’s holy book: ‘The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster‘, collated by the church’s founder Bobby Henderson. A number of academics write in praise of the work:

“If Intelligent Design is taught in schools, equal time should be given to the FSM theory and the non-FSM theory.” –Professor Douglas Shaw, Ph.D.

“Do not be hypocritical. Allow equal time for other alternative ‘theories’ like FSMism, which is by far the tastier choice.” –J. Simon, Ph.D.

“In my scientific opinion, when comparing the two theories, FSM theory seems to be more valid than classic ID theory.” –Afshin Beheshti, Ph.D.

You may ask how can you be a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster if you don’t literally believe in a Monster?

According to the web site you can. ‘For the same reason that many in other religions don’t literally believe their scripture, you can be a Pastafarian without being a True Believer of our scripture. In other words, do you know Christians who don’t take the Bible literally – but who consider themselves True Christians, nonetheless? So do I. In fact, True Belief is not often a requirement of religion. Most religions are comprised of a group of people with similar – but not exact – world views. Pastafarianism is no different in that regard.’ To be a member then is to be a seeker of truth, and to be ordained as a minister by the Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster requires no more than $30.00 and a PayPal account.

Pastafarian ministers may be able to marry people in some U.S. states, although I could not find any reports of such weddings. It has been formally recognized as a true religion in Poland, albeit on a technicality in procedural law. When approached from a position of rational analysis it stands up against most religious dogma because, of course, this is what it was designed to do.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was launched in a groundbreaking open letter written in 2005 addressed to the Kansas School Board, who had decided youngsters would be educated in a solely Christian Theory of Intelligent Design, ( a.k.a. Creationism).

Since then individuals in several countries have adopted the ‘religion’ some going so far as insisting on wearing vegetable colanders on their heads when posing for official photographs to be used on passports and driving licences, claiming it to be religious headgear.

A Pastafarian Minister in religious headgear, official driving licence.

A Pastafarian Minister in religious headgear, official driving licence.


Hunter Thompson Satirizes Academic Elitism

In a sense, when Hunter Thompson styles himself ‘Doctor’, based upon a degree, let’s face it, purchased from The Universal Life Church he is satirizing academic titles. Thompson raises two figures at academic institutions that require students to take out crippling loans to fund degrees bought not simply with time and labour, but also thousands of dollars.

I suspect, however, that in the main he sought to annoy those tight lipped, self-important professors who not only seek to make a safe buck, but also put everyone else down as they do so. Where the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster lampoons conventional religions, by creating a labyrinth of philosophical/ethical problems through which to trap their adherents Thompson draws attention to the moral lassitude of institutions offering legitimate of academic credentials by parading a false doctorate on the covers of his works. It is brilliant stare, for those intelligent enough to look beyond Thompson’s self-interest.

Thompson’s action is so different from, for example, David Geffen the billionaire businessman and one of the founders of the animation company Dreamworks who lied and said he graduated from UCLA when he applied for a job. Geffen never needed fake, or any other, qualification to make his fortune. Recently he said in an interview for Fortune Magazine that “Look, I’m not setting an example – But it’s an idiotic thing that you have to be a college graduate to be an agent – Did I have a problem with lying to get the job? None whatsoever.”

Thompson’s lampooning is also different from the actions of author John Gray, who wrote ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus‘. His doctorates are from Columbia Pacific University which was an unaccredited non-traditional distance learning school in California, and Governors State University in Illinois, who awarded him an honorary doctorate, after he delivered their commencement address in 2002. Another ‘doctor’ of limited credentials is Joe Vitale, who features prominently in ‘The Secret‘ and obtained a doctor of metaphysics from The University Of Metaphysics a distance learning, unaccredited theological school operated by the International Metaphysical Ministry. You can read Dr. Vitale’s dissertation here. All are undoubtedly talented writers – although arguably less so than Thompson, but display their ‘doctorate’ status for reasons other than to satirise academic qualifications.

Dangers of Using Degrees Obtained from Diploma Mills

John Bear the world’s ‘leading authority on Diploma Mills‘ writes: “It is like putting a time bomb in your résumé. It could go off at any time, with dire consequences. The people who sell fake degrees will probably never suffer at all, but the people who buy them often suffer mightily. And – particularly if their “degree” is health-related – their clients may be seriously harmed.”

In the brilliantly crafted work ‘The Curse of Lono‘, Thompson hints that his use of the suffix ‘doctor’ is placed before his name to indicate his penchant for dispensing mood altering drugs. David Geffen, John Gray, or even Dr. Joe could never be so accused.

I’m sure that Thompson would have loved Amy Long, the founder of The Universal Life Church Seminary. She aims to provide some ‘deeper’ training for ministers. Back in 2005 she wrote: “I’m trying to improve the image of ULC”, and set out to create courses, some lasting several months for those interested.

Thompson would no doubt think that attempting to “improve the image” of the ULC totally misses the point. Their image is just fine. They sell joke degrees. They are good at selling joke degrees and their joke degrees have a great reputation. They don’t take themselves seriously and don’t wish others to do so, except perhaps those who are getting married.

In case you are wondering I am not ordained by any organization, mail order, Internet, or otherwise. Once you go down that route life is justified in placing a crown of thorns upon your head.

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Horse Sense: The Art Of Living With An Open Heart

Many people talk about the importance of planning, but when it comes to life changing events I find that the biggest don’t seem to be planned at all.

Take for example the chain of events that today finds me learning how to ride a horse. At 64 riding seems a pretty daft thing to do, after all I could easily fall and break my hip or sit down too quickly and squash my testicles; yet today I find myself in the saddle making a complete prat of myself. It’s my second lesson. How did this come about?

Unlike most who take up riding I held no love of horses nor, as a child, did I have any yearn to ride. When I was four my mother sold our house when Dad was out working and we had to rent a flat for the remainder of that year. Then I watched my father give apples to our landlady’s pony. He encouraged me to try, and told me to breath up the beast’s nose. All that seemed to do was to make the thing want to bite me and when I dodged out of the way it would hit me in the eye with a glob of spit.

Back then horses were for me rather like the prospect of school – when I grew up I would avoid both like plagues. And so I did until one day during my twenties as an organiser of summer holiday activities for troubled children I found myself at a riding stable supervising a party for a trek. I learned two things that day:

  1. Aggressive children have a greater fear of horses than mine
  2. Horses have their own agendas, are stronger than humans and are quite prepared do what ever is necessary to get their own way

Years past without me thinking about riding and then I found that I had fathered one of those girls who are illustrated in cartoons by Norman Thelwell.

I hoped that it was a phase; that being led around a field on a Shetland Pony when she was three would satisfy her life’s equestrian ambitions. It didn’t and slowly she moved to riding once, or twice a year, to every week. This was no mean undertaking because commuting to the nearest stables involved a total of three hours on the road, eating out, waiting for a horse to become available, or put on its makeup or whatever it is that delays horses from making their entrance, and ensuring when they do they are regarded as grand.

In those years we encountered lots of different riding instructors, and please don’t tell them I shared this with you, but quite a few of them were a little, I shall put this diplomatically: ‘funny in the head’!

John Wayne

John Wayne, Image Public Domain via Wikimedia

But then who am I to write thus? My legs are killing me right now, I can hardly walk, and when I do it’s like John Wayne. And, can you believe this? – we actually got so pissed off with our weekly commute that we MOVED HOUSE to be five minutes away from the stables.

Little Miss Thelwell now rides every day, and you should see the antics that go on when I go to watch her. There are grown men standing in the saddle, waving their arms around like windmills, whilst little children of just six, and seven years gallop past them as confident as Comanches attacking a wagon train.

You won’t catch me making a spectacle of myself like that, I mused one day whilst sipping a glass of gin and tonic. But then fate turned the knife when my daughter wanted to give a carrot to a two year old she hopes to ride one day. Next door I discovered a grand old man, who was once paired with riders from the national team and now rarely gets what he considers a proper outing.

He reached out from his stall, gave me a shove with his nose before snotting all down my shirt. We became instant friends. Every day for a month I secretly visited him with apples and carrots after my daughter’s lessons.

During that month I found and read a copy of what, in 1995, the Daily Telegraph referred to as ‘The hottest book of the year’. It’s called ‘The Horse Whisperer’ and, even for someone brought up on Jane Austin, Dickens and Shakespeare, I thought Nicholas Evans wrote pretty evocatively. Through his writing, and with a little observation of what went on in the arena, I slowly became able to talk knowledgeably with ample women in jodhpurs as they called in from Europe, Russia, or even more locally from Istanbul, which is only 700 km away. During these moments my mind wandered to the novels of Jilly Cooper, who once wrote: ‘I love the long grass coming up to meet the willows’, which is innocuous save for the fact that she penned it.

By now I was in big trouble, my carrot guzzling friend took to kissing me. He found ways to take my fingers into his powerful jaws, but never champ down with his teeth. He looked at me balefully and I became hypnotized by his hazel eyes. I sought to discover what was going on in that enormous skull. It seemed to contain an alternative universe of such great dimensions that it might take several lifetimes to explore.

His owner put it to me more simply. One day her words confirmed my suspicion. “He is a very old horse who thinks he is still young”. The phrase resonated, for that’s pretty much how many people think of me – no wonder the beast and I share such an affinity.

Last week we made a plan, which I think was his intention from the outset. I would spring him from retirement. The cost of putting him to work is that I now must learn how to ride him. We’re not doing too badly, but I must still look pretty comical.

Unfortunately today our lesson coincided with a visit by a coach load of European journalists. If one day you find yourself eagerly anticipating having a tooth extracted, and in the waiting room discover a magazine with an article featuring a picture of an elderly man standing in the stirrups of an old horse waving his arms like a windmill, then you’re probably looking at a photograph me.

Did I consciously plan any of this? No, certainly not but there is a lesson here. It’s not necessary to plan everything in life if you can live with an open heart and respond to those around you, even when some of them are not even of your own species.


Padok Hotel and Premium Stables © Stephen Bray 2013, please click the image for more information :)



Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Sex and the Sheep

There is an old joke about young man who moves to a village in Wales and gets talking to an old man from the village.

He asks the old man what his name is. The old man gets very irate at this point and says: “See that line of houses over there? I built them all, but do they call me Jones the house builder? Do they hell! See those railway lines over there? I laid them all, but do they call me Jones the engineer? Do they hell! See those bridges over that river? I built them all, but do they call me Jones the bridge builder? Do they hell!

But, a long time ago, I fucked *one* sheep…”

It’s a good joke, and not really racist because the Welsh are one of the few peoples who name their people with the suffix of their occupation.

Unfortunately though there’s more than a little truth in the moral this joke. National Security and Civil Defence Corps recently were mobilised to disperse a crowd that had assembled outside the Fakon Idi Veterinary Clinic, Sokoto, Nigeria.

A deformed lamb was delivered there on January 22nd, it, superficially, resembled a human baby. The crowd were demanding that the farmer who owned the sheep which delivered the lamb come out and explain why the creature had human-like features.

I first heard of this kind of thing as a child. My father was employed as a welfare officer and one day he parked the car outside a farm workers cottage on the edge of a Dorset village, told me to wait, and was away for about twenty minutes.

Hilman Minx ashup via Wikipedia

Waiting !!!

I whiled away some time looking at the pictures in an old copy of the Reader’s Digest, which happened to be in the car. When this proved insufficiently stimulating I then drew faces on the inside of the car windows, which had misted up as I waited.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was as I have written was no more than twenty minutes, my father returned.

When I asked what he had been doing he explained that he had to collect a handicapped child from the house later in the week and drive her to a special residential school. He had called to inform the parents of the arrangement.

Naturally I asked: ‘what is a handicapped child?’ I had not heard of handicapped children before.

“It’s a child who is damaged in some way, either at birth, or even before”, he explained.

“Sometimes they are unable to move their arms, or legs as you are able; sometimes they just cannot think properly. Some are really ugly in appearance, but you must never show if their appearance shocks you when you meet them because nobody can help their appearance and many are open-hearted people when you spend time with them.”

This was a satisfying explanation for an eight year old, and indeed over fifty years later it has lost nothing in its direct simplicity. My father had both alerted me to the facts that some are physically and mentally challenged, and told me that all are to be respected whatever difficulties fate places upon us.

Of course there was more to our conversation than this, for it was on this day during our journey towards home that he told me of some of the kinds of disabilities that children may suffer.

Some, he explained, were due to malnutrition. Others because the mother carrying a child was stricken with illness. One child, he had met, he told me, had the head of a pig and the body of a human. He could neither walk, nor talk, spending his days in a cot in front of the kitchen range. He was fed a diet of bread soaked in warm milk, or cocoa.

How is this possible? I asked. I was quite alarmed.

“I don’t know”, my father replied. “Nobody does.”

“What has happened to him?”

“He died when he was just a few years old. It often happens that way. One day his mother came downstairs and he was dead in the cot.”


“It was natural. The child’s heart was deformed and he had difficulty in breathing.”

In later years, on the back wards of British psychiatric institutions, I was to encounter such people. Some placid, some tormented, many completely helpless smelling of stale food, faeces, urine, and hospital disinfectant. Many had to be rubbed with ointment to treat sores and other skin conditions. A few had a steel grip and would grab my tie, drawing me closer to explore my face, or even plant a kiss.

When I entered such a place for the first time my father’s words came back to me. They seemed far removed from the way in which the hospital superintendent physician would wheel people onto a stage in the lecture theatre and introduce them with such words as:

“This is a very unusual sight in England today. It is a Cretin.”

“You rarely see congenital hypothyroidism today because it’s diagnosed during pregnancy and treated.”

Now what about that sheep? I pity the poor farmer whose lamb gave birth to the deformed lamb because, no matter how well supported he is by the veterinary establishment who know that congenital deformities are not uncommon, he, and his family, are always likely to be the recipients of suspicion in their own community.

The question will remain in may people’s minds, “Could he have had intercourse with a sheep?”

In some cultures even today he might be stoned to death.

It’s the kind of thing that children will use taunt those of the farmer’s family. Some will lay accusations at the wife claiming that she must be frigid if the man found it necesary to find relief in his animals.

It’s terribly unjust and, of course, tells far more about crowd behaviour than the peccadilloes of shepherds.

It’s the kind of accusation that is rarely lived down. It can affect future generations even when buried back in time.

It’s an awful thing to have happened, but not an abomination.

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

For Grown Up Photographers Only

Photography has come a long way since Nicéphore Niépce made the first photogravure etching in 1822 and thus created an industry.

When I last visited his birthplace and museum in Chalon-sur-Saône nearly forty years ago it was possible to take a sheet of sensitised paper from a drawer, and develop it into a replica of that first ‘magical’ image.

Window at Le Gras, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

The First Successful Photographic Image via Wikipedia

Fashions wax and wane in photography, but I fancy that first image  was never deliberately composed yet, stylistically, it resembles something from the Cubist method for representing a mechanistic fragmented world that would soon unfold.

I don’t propose to dwell on how photographic processes developed here, research into Louis Daguerre, William Fox-Talbot and George Eastman are readily available elsewhere.

Instead I want to look at how some images have the ‘creepy’ ability to foretell the future.

Bichonnade Leaping © Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation

Bichonnade Leaping © Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation

Who could doubt that the image, (above), by Jaques Henri-Lartique must have been taken by a mischievous eight year old?

But look closer, and it becomes apparent that there is something absurd about the bourgeois life depicted with its restrictive long skirts, peacock feathers, and whalebone corsets. In a very few years they disappeared from fashion forever.

Lartique caught this, (below), when he was just a few years older. Taken in 1912 it is emblematic of the twenties and thirties, because it celebrates the power of that forthcoming benzene driven age.

Papa at 80 kilometers an hour © Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation

Papa at 80 kilometers an hour © Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation

Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote in 1952:

“Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression”.

His words were inspired by the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, which he discovered as he read ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’ by Eugen Herrigel. But there’s more to it than that.

Even before knowing anything of Zen Cartier-Bresson was working from another philosophy, and one that was augmented, rather than diminished, by Zen.

He was a surrealist.

The surrealists believe that just beyond our range of common perception life is pregnant with a far richer depth of meaning. Sometimes we catch glimpses of this. Psychoanalysts claim that dreams reveal such alternate worlds. Physicists, such as David Bohm, claim that there is an implicate order - a potential – beyond the explicable that is revealed to us.

Artists attempt to convey something of this by creating works that arrest the mind causing it to refocus and momentarily bring forth an alternate reality.

Sometimes a photograph has the power to do so.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare

Behind the Gare St. Lazare © Cartier-Bresson Foundation

In 1933 at the Gare Saint-Lazarre station, in Paris, Cartier Bresson saw that something remarkable was about to happen and pointed his Leica through the wire fence surrounding the station. Then he snapped this.

Some photographers consider this to be the greatest photograph of the twentieth century, not simply because it shows something of what we’ve all done at some time in our lives, but because of what else is in the frame. It is a portent of a global disaster.

The man of course, somewhat, resembles the Joker in a card deck – more specifically ‘The Fool’ from the mysterious Tarot Pack.

The Fool is considered to be the spirit in search of experience. He represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us. In recent decks he is depicted as someone about to walk off the edge of a cliff.

Now lest you think that suggesting a man puddle-jumping is a far cry from the Joker about to jump a cliff into an abyss that is the future I must warn you that many consider ‘Behind Gare Saint-Lazarre’ to contain even more than this.

In the background a poster reads: ‘Railowski’, an almost generic name that could be invented to describe a Jewish rail transportee. On the foreground there is a broken hoop, perhaps symbolising the greatest calamity that may befall what was for centuries the world’s most useful mechanical object, the wheel.

The wheel also appears in the Tarot deck. It symbolises fortune, and appears exactly half way through the court cards at the point where Psyche, symbolised by ‘The Fool’ begins to experience the vagaries, and seasons of fortune.

It is written of ‘The Wheel': ‘A common aspect to most interpretations of this card within a reading is to introduce an element of change in the querent’s life, such change being in station, position or fortune: such as the rich becoming poor, or the poor becoming rich.’

The open hoop protrudes above the water, symbolising the unconscious potentia and points to the reflection to the man’s reflection on its surface.

Could this really be a portent of changes of fortune things to come? The image was taken the year in which Hitler came to power.

Fanciful? Maybe . . . but Cartier-Bresson had a remarkable facility with fortune. As a boy a gypsy predicted many events that were to become true in his life. She predicted his marriages; their outcomes; the birth of his daughter as well as other significant matters that were to befall him.

Generations of photographers have been influenced by Cartier-Bresson. I’ve written about him elsewhere and, when he read my words, he was gracious enough to send me a message, which I found not simply helpful but also portentous.

One such individual is the mysterious Mr. William Eggleston of Houston, Texas. Perhaps more than any other photographer he has the ability to see through the American Dream, whilst still preserving a reverence for beauty.

It’s not that he’s an aesthete, far from it. But I do believe him to also be a surrealist. His pictures illuminate something beyond what is obvious, and indeed in photographing everyday scenes and objects, as they appear before him, he claims to take pictures ‘democratically’ and to be ‘at war with the obvious’.

You can see something of Eggleston’s democratic eye in this image of his uncle and a manservant. A black man in a white jacket strikes an identical posture to that of a white man in a black jacket.

‘Adyn And Jasper’

‘Adyn And Jasper’ © William Eggleston Trust

This was taken at a time when the South was segregated, and so says something beyond the fact that these two men shared access to similar objects in their day to day lives. It’s not just that they’re in rapport – it simultaneously indicates a difference in station whilst pointing to a, soon to be, equality in rights unprecedented in modern American, and recent South African, history.

It was taken at a funeral. Could it be the funeral of male white dominance?

Perhaps the creepiest of Eggleston’s prophetic images is this one.

William Eggleston, Greenwood, Mississippi

Greenwood, Mississippi © William Eggleston Trust

In it we see a blood red ceiling savagely cut by the white electric cables. In the centre is an electrical fitting, once ornate it now lacks a shade.

The only other features of the room are the top of a door, and some pop art poster renditions of the Karma Sutra. There is something beautiful about the depth of colour in it, yet few would want to hang it on a wall in their front room.

It could be the kind of room where a murder has taken place – a crime scene?

Eggleston took it whilst laying on a bed with the room’s incumbents a couple who were his friends. He just saw something, pointed the camera at the ceiling and . . .

The house is no longer there. It was burned down with his friend in it. He had first been murdered with an axe.

A note on the copyright images included from the Cartier-Bresson Foundation; the Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation; and the Willian Eggleston Trust.

Fair Use Rational:

1. Used in an scholarly article about the artist. 2. Is a historically significant work that could not be conveyed in words. 3. Inclusion is for information, education and analysis only. 4. Its inclusion in the article adds significantly to the article because it shows the subject, or the work of the subject, of the article.5. The image is a low resolution copy of the original work and would be unlikely to impact sales of prints or be usable as a desktop backdrop. 6. An equivalent free image is not available and cannot be made.

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Internet Explorer 9 Insecure Browser Warning?

I.E. 9 is regarded as an extremely safe browser. When my latest P.C. arrived it came configured with Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 9. For many years I was firmly committed to Mozilla Firefox as my browser of choice. Going even further back in time I used Netscape Navigator too.

Why then have I continued to use I.E. 9. and why have I not installed Firefox?

Firefox was great when I first discovered it. Via the S3Fox Organizer plug-in it was for a while the most convenient way to upload and manage material on Amazon’s S3 storage system.

The problem with it was that as fast as people made useful plugins for it, the quicker it seemed to be upgraded so that they would no longer work.

There was a particularly nice plugin that enabled people to be able to automatically check boxes, which was a boon when Twitter changed its policy on what sites like unTweeps.com, who identify who is active, and who is following you, were prohibited from placing a ‘select all’ option in their results.

Two upgrades after installing this plugin and Firefox no longer supported it.

Now I must admit that I.E. 9. is a quirky browser. Some commercial websites, such as that of communications ‘experts’ Ogilvy.com won’t display properly unless something called ‘compatibility mode‘ is enabled. Closer to home it affected the opt-in form on the sites of a few of my I.M. friends, reversing the background colour so that black type appeared against a dark purple, nearly black, background. The message was unreadable.

The background was supposed to display as a welcoming shade of cream.

But it’s exactly due to these quirks that I’ve continued to use I.E. 9. You see I want to know how my pages look in a ‘hostile’ environment, and avoid these kinds of things displaying when people view my websites in I.E. 9. If I don’t use the browser, it’s difficult to understand its quirks.

Some bright spark at this stage is probably reaching for a one button mouse, and about to comment: ‘get a Mac and use Safari‘. They’re missing the point.

You see it’s not about whether or not Safari is a better browser, Mac or no Mac, it’s about the fact that 22% of all Internet users use Internet Explorer as their browser of choice.

I am sure most Mac owners are very nice people. One of my former wives owns one, as does our son, and the man who comforts our daughter and they are all wonderful human beings.

But there are a small group of Mac owners who do get up my nose, such as my friend, so called, who one morning awoke with an idea that would save the world.

He rapidly turned his ‘idea’ into an Apple Pages  file, sent it to all his friends using an CC e-mail with addresses of all fully visible in the header, and appended as his ‘call to action’, ‘if you can’t read this get a Mac’.

I mean did he expect people to bother to read it, after that treatment?

Microsoft claim that Internet Explorer 9 is their safest browser yet. Indeed they believe it to currently be the safest browser commonly available.

I was surprised, therefore, when on upgrading one of my WordPress sites to version 3.31 a window appeared in the dashboard informing me that I was using an insecure browser, and that I needed to upgrade to I. E. 9., which is the browser I use.

Incredibly, similar warnings have appeared on various website I’ve visited over the past couple of months. My Yahoo Mail account being one of these. So why is this?

According to NSS Labs Internet Explorer 9 is an incredibly secure, and safe browser. It is able to detect up to 99% of the malware that it encountered.

That as good or even better than the other browsers out there.

Microsoft has also improved the smart screen url filter that comes with the browser.

And it stops you from downloading files from websites that are known to be dangerous. Indeed with the introduction of  Windows 7 security seems to be Microsoft’s first priority.

Why are these strange warnings appearing?

Could it be someone believes the new I/E. 9 really could be a threat, or is it simple incompetence?

Footnote: Since writing this I have, perversely, installed Rockmelt, which has improved considerably since I last used it. My productivity though is down to zero!

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Leveson Inquiry: After Desmond It’s Time For Hislop!

Ian Hislop image via Wikipedia

If you’re in any way interested in the British press, publishing, or the ethics of journalism this Tuesday promises a treat at the Leveson Inquiry. Ian Hislop, Editor of the Satirical Magazine ‘Private Eye’ is called to give evidence.

In pure entertainment value he will have to work hard to upstage one of last week’s core witnesses.

The owner of Britain’s most successful magazine publishers, Richard Desmond, was giving evidence. His company Northern and Shell PLC own not only a stable of magazines but also other media interests including The Express, The Sunday Express, The Daily Star and The Daily Star on Sunday.

I confess that I enjoyed Desmond’s testimony, and not simply for its novelty. In his gravelly North London accent he put across his interpretation of the publishing business. His manner was that of a streetwise uncle chatting about business down the pub. He was outspoken with the Inquiry.

It was clear that Desmond is expert in turning businesses from loss to profit. He is no asset stripper, believing he saved the Express from extinction at the hands of its rivals.

But at The Express anyone doing jobs that couldn’t be defined were out. This is how he put it:

“. . . one of the things I remember is walking around the floor and there was a room with a lot of scruffy geezers and I said to the editor, “Who are they?”  “Oh, I can’t tell you who they are”.  “What do you mean, you can’t tell me?”  “Oh, it’s the investigative department.”

So I said, “What is it?” “I can’t tell you.”  So Paul, [Ashford, Northern and Shell Group Editorial Director], who is in charge of that area, found out what they did.

They were special investigators, you know, sort of ‘Bugle’ stuff, ‘Dan Dare’ stuff. And then the final thing was I think the first week they asked for £5,000 or £10,000 of cash, or the editor at the time asked for that, to pay these geezers, shall we call them, to do their private investigative work.

My reaction was the last thing we’re going to do is to start paying out cash to people, we don’t know what they’re doing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So I said to Paul, “You know what?  I don’t like the whole thing”.  Paul didn’t like the whole thing.  “You know what, cut the whole area.  No one knows what it is and it seems a bit dodgy.””

Over the days that I’ve been watching this Inquiry I’ve developed an affection for Robert Jay Q.C. a counsel to the proceedings.

At first he seemed simply like a dog with a bone, but as time has passed he has become not just any dog, but rather like a Yorkshire Terrier, that breed of small, highly intelligent, aggressive, hunting dog bred originally to catch rats in factories and sometimes put down the lairs of ferrets, weasels and other much larger predators to drive them into the light.

I grew up with this breed and greatly admire them.

Last Thursday though the good Mr. Jay could hardly get a word in edgeways when Richard Desmond gave his evidence. Nevertheless a few spirited exchanges took place.

When Mr.Jay asked: “What interest, if any, do you have in ethical standards within your papers, or is that purely a matter for the editors?” Mr. Desmond’s reply was amazing.

“Well, ethical, I don’t quite know what the word means, but perhaps you’ll explain what the word means, ethical”, he said.

Many no doubt hearing reports of these words for the first time out of context, perhaps in reportage from rival media, perhaps on T.V. will hold the opinion that any being who says such things must be an unethical person.

I don’t agree.

Years ago, when I worked with Gavin Fairbairn, who is now a professor of philosophy at Leeds Metropolitan University we attended a conference in Manchester. In the discussion I was getting hot under the collar on the subject of people’s ‘rights’. His response was to ask me dismissively ‘What is a right?’

He went on to demonstrate, at least to my satisfaction, that although we attribute generic meanings to such terms as ‘right’, and I would suggest also ‘ethics’, they have no more validity than when we pronounce something to be ‘nice’ because we’re too lazy to identify the essence of the thing that we consider attractive, or useful.

Long ago sociologist Raymond Baumhart asked business people, “What does ethics mean to you?” Here are some typical replies:

“Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong.”
“Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs.”
“Being ethical is doing what the law requires.”
“I don’t know what the word means.”
“Ethics consists of the standards of behaviour our society accepts.”

These replies might be typical of our own. The meaning of “ethics” is hard to pin down, and the views many people have about ethics are shaky. The last statement is particularly difficult because what ‘society’ expects depends according to a number of variables at the time, and even that presupposes that ‘society’ is a homogenous entity.

Richard Desmond is, in my view, wholly correct to proscribe discussions of ethics within his organization, if what he means is that defined issues such as privacy, consent, and doing no harm are talked about more specifically, by name, as they impact day-to-day processes.

Mr. Jay went on to afford Mr. Desmond the opportunity to make virtually this point:

“You make it clear everybody’s ethics are different: “We don’t talk about ethics or morals, because it’s a very fine line.

” . . .  The very use of that term or language would suggest that certain things are on the right side of the line and certain things are on the wrong side of the line.  Can we agree about that?”

Mr Desmond replied: “As I say in my statement, we don’t talk about ethics or morals because it’s a very fine line and everybody’s ethics are different.”             Mr. Jay in respnse asked: ” It may be you don’t talk about ethics or morals because you simply don’t care less about them, or it may be, as you say, that there’s a very fine line and it’s often difficult to say what falls on which side of the line. . . . One should go on, in fairness to you: “We do, of course, care about the title’s reputation and so would not run a story if we thought it would damage that or seriously affect someone’s life. . . . So that is an ethical consideration, isn’t it?”

To which Mr Desmond replied: “Of course it is!”

Not many newspapers reported that full exchange though, did they? Instead they took their usual stance of sticking pins into Mr. Desmond. One article went so far as to question his sanity!

Lord Leveson is unlikely to read these words but were he to do so they would not be meat to the process he presides over. It’s not that his Inquiry is so much a ‘dog’s breakfast’ in the sense the term is commonly understood, indeed the proceedings under his stewardship are conducted very professionally.

The fact remains, however, that this whole time consuming, expensive process where counsel gnaws laboriously over the bones of how the newspaper business conducts itself can’t really be in the country’s best interests, unless the agenda is it break the publishing industry?

Lord Leveson has repeated on many days, using different phrases, that this is emphatically not his agenda. One hopes that the government shares it?

Mr. Desmond admitted in his evidence mistakes were made by staff on his newspapers. It is a fact that The Express published more defamatory comments about an unfortunate family who lost a child in Portugal than any other British newspaper. He apologised to the family perhaps as many times in his evidence as he acknowledged the mistake.

A deadly cocktail of systems and understandings seems to have occurred at The Express. Its editor at the time Peter Hill chose to feature the story over a 17 week period. But the trouble was that the information coming out of Portugal was inaccurate and as a result 37 of the articles proved to be grossly defamatory.

In a report by Mr. Hill made to a Government Select Committee referred to by Mr. Jay in his examination of Mr. Hill, earlier on Thursday,  he stated:

‘”It certainly increased the circulation of the Daily Express by many thousands on those days, [when stories about the missing child], were being published without a doubt.

“It also massively increased the audiences on the BBC as their Head of News has acknowledged.  It did this for all newspapers.”

Mr. Desmond in his evidence inferred that the then president of the Press Complaints Commission made an example of Mr Hill, and thus scapegoated the Express, and the Northern and Shell Group, when to some extent many, if not all British not to mention the foreign newspapers, were to some degree culpable.

Sadly, despite the shadow cast over the press by Lord Leveson’s bonhomous presence, many editors have failed to fully appreciate that he is not a ‘pussy cat’.

On Tuesday 6th December, 2011 The Independent hinted that Richard Thomas CBE, a former Information Commissioner, had mislead parliament as a result of information revealed in the evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. This he strongly denied in his evidence later in the week.

On 15th December Lord Leveson felt he needed to comment that reports in the press about the proceedings should be accurate. On 11th January he complained that as a result of questions that he had put to witnesses speculation had been raised in the press about possible conclusions he had reached with respect to findings. He said:

“I would not want it to be thought that I have reached conclusions, for I have not!”

There are also numerous examples of Richard Desmond’s evidence being selectively quoted in a way to support a view that he is pariah within the industry. This may be an opinion, but it’s not true reporting.

What is clear is that Desmond is someone who understands the newspaper business sufficiently to make a profit where many, more experienced within the field, predicted huge losses. Unlike some I don’t care if, as reported by Mathew Norman in the Telegraph, his butler brings him a banana on a silver tray twice a day. So what?

I would care, however, if one of his newspapers wrongly accused me of killing a child, and spread the story out over a number of weeks. Having written thus, surely I won’t be the only person outside of the official record of the Inquiry to note that in his evidence Richard Desmond stated: “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to find [the missing child referred to earlier on this page]“.

As Nick Cohen wrote in The Spectator back in November: “The Leveson Inquiry has all the makings of an establishment disaster.”

The press themselves, however, may also correctly be regarded as part of the U.K. establishment and continue to make gaffs and enemies that they can ill afford.

Let’s hope Hislop will bring something to the table.

[Note: This post relies heavily on data from the official Leveson Inquiry website and is used here under the terms of its conditions of  copyright.]

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Is It Worth Your Trouble?!

Let’s try not to make this boring. There are lots of formulae you can use to calculate how much your time is worth. Here’s one of them:

Einstein via Wikipedia

Where A = The money you want; B the expenses you will incur; C = the % profit you propose to make and D = your billable hours.

That wasn’t too bad was it?

But I rarely use such formulae. The reason is that I’m a bit of a hands on kid. Give me a new box of Meccano and I’ll make one thing according to the plans, then once I understand the pieces I’ll build something original.

Whilst from a creative standpoint this may be excellent it must be said that from a business perspective it’s poor management.

I was reflecting recently about why it is that often my businesses take far longer to build than the time it took to renovate this house?

Although I’m capable of hitting a nail in straight, and like all men love to use a hammer drill, those kinds of activity won’t turn me on for more than half an hour.

When I rebuilt the house I designed all the rooms, and furniture, supplying drawings and examples, but I engaged professionals to knock down walls and build furniture.

They did it in a fraction of the time I would have taken, and they had far more skill at destruction and reconstruction.

It follows from this example, and the formula above, that any tasks that you can pay someone else to do, at least as efficiently as you would do them, at less than your billable rate should be done by someone else.

So why, oh why then have I spent the past week attempting to teach myself digital typesetting?

Simple, I want to know the challenges so that when I outsource the task I can be more specific with my instructions.

I also want to ensure that the finished product has my stamp upon it, even if that imprint may eventually be improved considerably by someone else’s facility at the task.

This morning, were you here, you would have heard me cuss.

My brand spanking new Professional all singing all dancing, anti-virus, anti-phishing, anti-malware, wotsit pack went barmy when I tried to look at my own web site. Naturally I tinkered for about half an hour, upgraded the WordPress installation, hit return and the freakin’ thing wouldn’t even let me look at the site on my screen!

Do I blame my anti-virus program? No I think it’s doing a good job, and especially so since the product was given to me for a year free by my Bank.

Will I spend the rest of today personally removing all the malware that’s infected my web site?

Frankly, I was tempted, and you too may be tempted too, in similar circumstances, if you’ve nothing better to do with your time.

But I do have something better to do, so I hired a firm that specialises in monitoring web sites, and removing threats, to monitor and mind all of my web sites.

I’m going for a walk in the sun now, then it’s back to magazine layouts!

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Publication Today, Is It Unlike: ‘Helmut Newton’s Illustrated’?

Helmut Newton's Grave - Friedhof Schoeneberg III in Berlin

Newton's Grave image via Wikipedia

In 1987 Helmut Newton, the porno-chic photographer, embarked upon what he considered to be his ultimate folly. I’m unsure that June, his wife, would agree, but that’s not what this article is about.

No, Newton’s self-confessed folly was in creating his own magazine. He called it Helmut Newton’s illustrated. The first edition was themed: ‘Sex and Power’.

No longer printed, it was a business disaster!

He should have known better. He really should. For years he had hung out on the edges of magazine publication. He was a photographer under contract for Vogue Magazine. He worked for Jocelyn Stevens‘ ‘Queen‘. After this he was an in-demand freelance. He even had a heart attack working on an assignment for American Vogue, but that was later.

Ian Fleming probably had it right when he stated in an 1964 interview made for CBS that his villains were modelled on sadists and megalomaniacs, respectively dentists and newspaper publishers.

You see, to start a high quality magazine is the ultimate worship of one’s own ego.

There are exceptions. Many smaller publications were set up years ago, when desk top publishing became available, simply to meet local need.

Picture Post Cover ~ Printed as 'Fair Use' via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Where Hulton’s  ‘Picture Post‘ had been Britain’s eye on the world, much like ‘Time‘ was for years its equivalent in America, so ‘The Blackmore Vale Magazine, founded by Alan Chalcraft did much the same for parts of Somerset and North Dorset.

A jewel of a publication Chalcraft started it in his kitchen, and although long ago sold to Northcliffe Media, it’s still published today.

Three of the publications with which I’ve been associated have, like Newton’s illustrated, come and gone. The first died when it’s lost its founder and publisher, the noted Tai Chi Master Linda Chase Broda. She was a driving force who could take the vaguest ‘hippy’ and slap them into focus, so making them take action.

Then there was Ieka Van Stokkum, a Gauloises smoking member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists who taught me more about publishing than I can ever repay her for. Her publication withered as her health left her.

Joe Sinclair ambitiously produced a magazine aimed at human potential. His main failing was that he insisted in typesetting it himself. He should have stuck to writing.

Vanity Fair Cover 1916

Vanity Fair 1916 Image Via Wikipedia

Not all magazines are doomed, although everything has a life. Conde Naste‘s publication Vanity Fair was founded in 1913, (as Dress and Vanity Fair), but became a victim of the 1930s’ depression. In February 1983  it was revived under the editorship of Richard Locke, and currently it’s under the stewardship of the fourth editor since it was restored Graydon Carter.

Carter made a very curious statement recently in a film made to promote the Adobe Creative Suite. He said: ‘If I was starting a magazine today I wouldn’t even produce a printed edition.’

Go figure!


Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .

Relax: NASA Prediction Fiasco Fudges 2012 Doomsday!

“And they went up on the breadth of the earth,
and compassed the camp of the saints about,
and the beloved city:
and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Revelation 20. verse 8.

Some say the ancient Mayan Calendar predicts that our world will end on December 21st, 2012 A.D. I don’t care about this and neither should you. Transposing the Maya Calendar with our Gregorian Calendar causes speculation and screwed up predictions.

Without wishing to offend Christians I’m also unconcerned that the Book of Revelation predicts that the earth will be destroyed by fire any day now.

The facts are that many pious Christians have attempted to predict when the world will end, or the second coming will occur, and have proven to be wrong.

Computer experts worried that the whole darn financial system would collapse in the year 2000 because computers wouldn’t be able count to beyond 1999 digital fingers. Computers used their toes!

The giant caldera under Yellowstone National Park has yet to explode plunging the earth into three years of solar night, in which we will freeze, or starve, or suffocate as clouds of microscopic glass-like shards invade our lungs.

No, even though the science of our day suggests that these were, or are, possibilities, after I touch my head in lieu of wood, I can now safely type all to date have failed to manifest.

But I confess to still being a teeny, weeny, bit perplexed.

Image of a solar storm NASA image via Wikipedia

2012, The Situation May Be Critical But Not Urgent?

According to astronomers, for the past four years sunspots have been moving out of remission. Sunspots occur on a regular eleven year cycle. It’s difficult to predict the intensity of the solar storms that accompany them. In 2012 they could be at their zenith.

On Friday September 2nd, 1859 just before dawn skies all over our planet erupted in brilliant red, green, and purple auroras so that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii. Telegraph systems went berserk. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

NASA is very clear. ‘Solar flares will not destroy our planet’, they state that in their most recent update. But, solar activity may: “temporarily alter the upper atmosphere creating disruptions with signal transmission from, say, a GPS satellite to Earth causing it to be off by many yards. Another phenomenon produced by the sun could be even more disruptive. Known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), these solar explosions propel bursts of particles and electromagnetic fluctuations into Earth’s atmosphere. Those fluctuations could induce electric fluctuations at ground level that could blow out transformers in power grids. The CME’s particles can also collide with crucial electronics onboard a satellite and disrupt its systems.”

The NASA report goes on to equate the impact of a solar storm as being similar to Hurricane Katrina, as if the Katrina was just small beer?

In June, 2010 Richard Fisher, the director of NASA’s Heliophysics division, said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph: “It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigation, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world.

“Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time.

“Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the earth in a way that is rapid and like a lightning bolt.”

The National Academy of Sciences warned two years ago that power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications could all fail due to intense solar activity.

It claims a powerful solar storm could cause ‘twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina’. That storm devastated New Orleans in 2005 and left an estimated damage bill of more than $125bn (£85bn).

The figure is an estimate for the United States alone.

Mausumi Dikpati of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) said: “The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one.” If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958, when a radio blackout cut the US off from the rest of the world. Voltages in electrical telegraph circuits exceeded 320 volts in Newfoundland. Intense red glow gave way to shimmering draperies of light. It was so intense over Europe that people wondered about fires or even the bomb!

What does this mean for us today? There are several possible scenarios.

Option one, the sun will this time be lazy with respect to cosmic flares, or perhaps shoot them in a different direction, as frequently happens.

This would be good, but even the most optimistic scientists don’t expect us to avoid the impact of solar storms for ever, so neither should you.

Option two, the sun will create the kinds of flare that occurred in 1958, or even 1859. Then the flares had little impact because electrical technology was more primitive, and not essential to the fabric of society. The result was that a few wire cables glowed with heat in a few places. No biggie then, but today much of the U.S. National grid could suffer shutting down water-pumps, mains electricity, sewage farms, petrol pumps, and telecommunications. Banking would, no doubt be affected, and since real money is a thing of the past in today’s digital economy, there will be lots of room for manipulation, the freezing of accounts, ATM timeouts, credit card failures, and the like that bankers can attribute to solar activity.

Prolonged solar flare activity must eventually impact the integrity of satellite communications.

Option three, a large flare will hit the hole detected by  NASA’s five THEMIS spacecraft in Earth’s magnetic field which is ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to “load up” the magnetosphere more powerful geomagnetic storms.

Should fires break out, they will be difficult to fight because many water supplies rely on electric pumps. If areas of forest are destroyed carbon di oxide creation would occur on a huge scale, and take years to be reabsorbed.

Some are even predicting a huge Tsunami capable of covering the entire American continent. These people are clearly neither scientists, nor Bible scholars.

It’s easy to pass off concerns about solar flares as unfounded and carry on business as usual. There’s evidence that the U.S. government, however, is planning if not for a solar flare meltdown, some other catastrophe.

Lots of people claim there’s an underground city under Denver International Airport that’s aims to be an Ark in the event of cosmic, or other, emergencies. Additional military bunkers with seven foot thick blast proof doors are a reality. They are designed to remain functional for months, if not years, for core personnel. These are new, or refurbished, installations, not relics from the cold-war.

It’s true there are wealthy people who have invested in the redundant ICBM sites, turning them into underground condos. I’m not kidding. These babies are designed to maintain their integrity if flooded for over three days, and to withstand extremes of temperature.

Tragedies occur for most families at some stage in their life cycle. Loved ones die. Wars, or natural disaster destroy property. We know this and accept it.

What we find less believable is that our secure world of networking, iPads, credit cards, transportation and hypermarkets could crumble leaving us penniless, and reliant upon street- smart, or back-woods, skills.

Were the second, and most likely scenario, to take place severe disruption will occur.

As to the date? We cannot be sure. In a series of papers dating from the early part of the century NASA has been pushing the date of an impending solar based emergency backwards. A few years ago 2012 was thought the strongest possibility. Today the prediction is for May, 2014.

According to NASA today it will be a walk in the park. How different from what was being said 18 months ago!

Do I think 2012 is still a possibility? Sure I do!

In the film ‘Trading Places’ Dan Ackroyd plays Louis Winthorpe III a successful businessman who is deprived of his wealth by the two brothers who employ him. His credit cards no longer work, his bank account is frozen. In this film everything works out in the end, but not before Winthorpe spends time homeless living on the street.

In Dr. Zhivago Alexander Gromeko is a well to do man with an aristocratic background. In the film he was played by Sir Ralph Richardson. As the Russian revolution gets under way we see his fortune change from one in which he lived in elegance, warmth and security to having to share his house with workers who burn anything combustible for heat. Later when he travels into the Urals, it is in a crowded cattle truck, rather than a first class carriage.

Such scenes are, of course, works of fiction, but they also point to how life may be, for many, should our planet be hit in the wrong place today by a large solar flare.

Of course I could be wrong? ;)

Stephen Bray writes in a stream of consciousness, but sometimes is a good read . . .