Category Archives: general

On the existence of God

Does He exist ?  Do gods generally exist ?

This article is contributed by Pericles, not by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London ;  in particular it is not a reflexion of the Mayor’s view of the subject.  Let us therefore pray, having issued this disclaimer, that we not see headlines such as ‘Mayor confirms/denies existence of God’.  (Fret not, best beloved :  I might come up with the winner of the 13.45 to-morrow at Catterick but do not seriously expect to determine on these pages the question of the existence of God.)

The search for truth

Tony BlairChristopher HitchensAt the end of November, in Toronto, as part of the series of Munk Debates organized by the Aurea Foundation, former British Prime Minister and recent convert to Roman Catholicism Tony Blair and journalist and self-described anti-theist Christopher Hitchens wrestled with the motion ‘Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world’.

(Photo :  Mark Blinch/Reuters)

(If you’d like to hear the whole debate, follow the link at the foot of this article.) 

Their subject is really only tangential to ours but the debate (which included a session of questions from the Toronto audience) raises a relevant point :  the distinction between God (or gods) and religion.

Continue reading On the existence of God

Quotes of the week …

… ending 25th. September 2010

~ · ~ · ~ · ~ · ~ · ~ · ~


As he accepted the leadership of the British Labour Party at its annual conference Ed Miliband said —

“I get it and I understand the need to change.  I need to unify the party and I will.”

~ · ~

Continue reading Quotes of the week …

Boris Johnson to run for Mayor in 2012

To-day’s announcement by Boris Johnson of his intention to seek a second term as Mayor of London will be welcomed by many Londoners and come as a huge relief to the current leaders of the Conservative Party.  A recent discussion of the question “Should Boris return to Parliament ?” prompts a well-wisher to offer —

Some Suggestions

Background

For some time a popular, although little organized, movement has been proposing the adoption of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, as leader of Conserv­atism in the u.k.  Let us first consider the reality of the situation.

David Cameron, smilingSome years ago David Cameron, either off his own bat or at Mr. Johnson’s suggestion, stood for election to leadership of the Conserv­ative Party (c.p.) ;  his period as leader of H.M. Opposition was reasonably successful and, as 2009 drew to a close with a general election just six months away, the c.p. looked set to take power, after thirteen years, by a margin that brought to mind the days of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Mr. Cameron however, although enjoying general popularity, espoused many ideas decisively unpopular not only with swing voters but even with the core supporters of the c.p. :  most of all the subjugation of the British parliament to the profligate and unaccountable European Union (e.u.) and — in line with the vast majority of the scientifically illiterate body politic — the supranational anthropogenic-global-warming fraud.

On May 7, when the votes had been counted, the consequences were clear :  as the electorate had come to realize just how close these critical policies of the c.p. were to those of not only the Liberal-Democrats but even the retiring Labour administration, the vital marginal support the c.p. had enjoyed at the turn of the year had evaporated

The beneficiaries ?  The U.K. Independence Party ;  perhaps the British National Party ;  in all likelihood, however, the greatest winner of the lost ballots was the ‘none of the above’ party.  I suspect even the Liberal-Democrats benefited from the fact that there was nothing to choose between them and the c.p. in the two most important matters before the British people.  (“The Conservatives are no different from the Liberals :  might as well let the Liberals have a go.  They can’t do any worse, can they ?”)

Labour, despite having presided over the most disastrous phase of British history since the Civil War, managed to turn its own vote out ;  despite their strenuous efforts, c.p. workers — under the burden of the product they were having to sell — could not match their opponents’ performance.

Continue reading Boris Johnson to run for Mayor in 2012

Summer in the City

Yes, it’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk (but don’t – the gum is bad enough) but summer is also time when we are spoiled for choice when it comes things to do, enjoy and experience.

gotham girlIf one more person says, “It’s not the heat – it’s the humidity,” I may have to hurt someone. Why? Because it’s the heat and the humidity. Trust me. ‘Gotham Girl’ I may be but I was raised on the Gulf Coast. I know of what I speak. Lest anyone think I am becoming Gotham Grouch however, rest assured that I actually love this time of year – despite grumbling about the weather. Sure, summer in the city can be frustrating and annoying but can also be great fun and amazing.

The good: Ice cream, tennis tournaments, music festivals, Shakespeare alfresco, dining alfresco, movies alfresco – everything alfresco. The less good: The heat that presses down on you, radiates up off the sidewalks and bouncing back at you from reflective building surfaces. The crowds that flock in to see the same top ten attractions as last year’s crowd flocked in to see. The resigned look of those heading underground who know stifling platforms await them.

Whether I am referring to London or New York is completely up to you. All of the above apply to either or both. Of course, you can’t help but notice how distinctly different all those similarities can be.

Ice cream always tastes good but there is something about strolling down the street on a warm summer evening – perhaps indulging in a bit of window shopping – that makes it taste even better. I can’t pick just one ‘best ice cream in NYC’ at the moment – I have too many choices and each is a slightly different experience. The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory makes amazing ice cream and it is right near the Brooklyn Promenade. If there is a more perfect place for an ice cream cone stroll than that, I have yet to find it. Looking for something a bit more out of the ordinary on a sultry summer night in Gotham? Try Ciao Bella Café – known for unusual flavors – maker of my favorite mango sorbet. I don’t have wide experience of ice cream in London but I’ve indulged myself at The Parlour at Fortnum and Mason (their raspberry ripple is calling my name even now) and enjoyed some of the best café affogato I’ve ever had at Scoop. It was so good, my friend and I sent back for more. What is your favorite London ice cream stop?

I could talk about ice cream all day but there’s more to summer in the city than that.

One of the most summer-defining events in London is the Proms. It has a heavy Broadway element to it this year with events celebrating both Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Is it just me or does it seem like Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday has been going on for years now? Also this year there will be two ‘Last Night of the Proms’ – the actual Last Night and the recreation of the initial Last Night. Check out the Proms schedule to see what’s on and where. NYC also has a summer classical music festival – Lincoln Center’s annual Mostly Mozart Festival. It’s a bit shorter than the Proms (only running a month), but like the Proms was founded to offer a more informal ambiance and relatively inexpensive tickets to attract new audiences who wouldn’t normally attend such events as well as more regular classical music lovers. Mostly Mozart will be especially interesting since so many of the venues have recently undergone massive refurbishment. Lincoln Center was always a dramatic place – indoors and out – but now the whole complex is being transformed into an even more dramatic, greener and more inviting place.

Feeling more sporty than musical? Then summer in the city is your time of year. I’d talk about baseball but wouldn’t be equipped to compare and contrast it to what may or may not be its nearest British equivalent – cricket. This is largely due to my ongoing failure to understand cricket. And I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried. I just don’t get it. There. I’ve said it. Can we move on, now? What about something we all understand, like tennis.

Continue reading Summer in the City

Just Like Riding A Bike

Will the new London bike share program be perfect? Probably not. But at least you all have the courage and wisdom to try.

gotham girlWhen we settled on bike share programs as the subject of this week’s Gotham Girl, I admit – I was worried. I wasn’t worried about the new Barclays Cycle Hire. I find that very exciting and clearly so does Boris. The closer we draw to the July 30th launch – yes, July 30th! Just a little over a month! –  the giddier he seems.

I wasn’t worried about finding facts and figures on bike share programs. These facts and figures are everywhere – in discussions on urban planning, mass transit, environmental issues, health, energy conservation, etc. Nor was I worried that I’d struggle to find an array of opinions. Plenty of people on both sides of the debate share their views with little prompting needed.

So what was my problem? I was worried that I was going to spend too much time whining about New York City’s lack of a bike share program. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have one, that we’re not even planning one. Of course, even if we were planning one – we’d need more cycling infrastructure before it had any chance of being implemented.

Boris knows this type of infrastructure is central to developing a successful bike culture. He said, “If we are to get more Londoners on to two wheels rather than four we need to provide the facilities to help them do so.” Such as? Well, secure bike storage and parking, for one. Places like the London Bridge Cycle Park for people who commute and use their own bikes regularly. There are other issues as well – junction design, route management, etc. – but none of them require reinventing the wheel. So why can’t NYC wrap its collective head around this.

Despite what the opposition here says, creating this infrastructure is not an engineering obstacle. Lots of cities have done it. London is doing it and London is larger, denser and (layout-wise) more complicated than NYC. Is it an economic stumbling block? Hardly. Planning and implementation costs are dwarfed by what the Metropolitan Transit Authority spends on their shoddy quick fixes for long-term problems. Add in what it costs them to keep patching those quick fixes and bike share ends up being a veritable bargain.

No, this is a political stumbling block. NYC lacks the political will and London doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. I don’t blame Mayor Bloomberg particularly. He’s shown more support for the expansion of bike culture than any mayor has for – well, since I can remember. I blame the city council and the state government and I blame them for several administrations back. They seem content with announcing grand plans and then implementing only very abbreviated versions of those plans. Just the other week the city announced a bike lane expansion so sweeping that it almost took my breath away. Guess how long it took for them to back pedal on it? Two days. It was nice while it lasted.

New York City isn’t wholly without cycling infrastructure, of course. We have some bike lanes – loosely defined as pictures of bikes painted on a particular section of road. Of course, only cyclists seem to know or care that these are bike lanes. Certainly few cars and buses behave as if they know what a bike lane is for.  They seem to believe it has something to do with parking.

Looking back at what I’ve just written, I was right to be worried. I’m almost half way in and I haven’t talked about any actual bike share programs yet. All I’ve done is complain. So let’s ignore New York’s biking blind spot for now and look at bike share in action.
Continue reading Just Like Riding A Bike

Sartorial Streets of NYC & London

Style isn’t about wearing exactly the right thing in just exactly the right way at just precisely the right time. If it were, Boris wouldn’t be the style icon he has seemingly (and to many – bizarrely) become.

gotham girlIt is confession time, my friends. Gotham Girl is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fashionista. If I were, I’d be dismayed – even pained – by Boris’s perpetually rumpled state. As it is, I find it adorkable. Besides, I’m hardly in a position to throw sartorial stones. I’m lucky to get out the door in matching socks.  Despite these sock issues and a preference for tousled rather than tidy blondes, I am not uninterested in fashion. I enjoy experimenting with different outfits, am thrilled by vintage clothing stores and love seeing how different people use their personal style to express themselves.

Luckily for me, both London and New York have rich and inspiring style scenes. Oh, I don’t mean the fashion establishment. Sure both cities host their own media frenzied fashion week and are home to the biggest names in the biz. I’m aware that as an industry, fashion contributes directly and indirectly to the bottom line in London as much as it does here. It’s just that I find that part of fashion rather dull at best and bizarre at worst. It’s all trends (that come and go so fast that you feel you might have imagined them) and wildly impractical designs (intended to be weird for weird sake rather than to be worn). As for fashion magazines – the only thing the giant annual fall issue of Vogue inspires me to do is use it as a door stop.

To me, the inspiration comes from the people rushing past on the street, lounging on museum steps, crowded onto buses or wandering the aisles of the flea markets. There’s something compelling and inspiring about people watching in London and New York. Both cities are teeming with people who have a strong sense of personal style, a will to wear it and the ability to wear it well.

Of course, it would be hard to beat London as the historical street style capital of the world. Even if we just look at the last 50 or 60 years, London is way out in front – giving rise to the Edwardian-inspired teddy boys, the mods and rockers, punk, glam rock, goth, the New Romantics, etc. London has produced the richest source of “trickle up” fashion in the world. New York is practically a style infant in comparison – and is less an incubator for youth culture than sort of style laboratory for trends born elsewhere. New York may have given rise to the Greasers of the 50s and the hip-hop styles of the 80s-90s but the beat generation and counter-culture movements, valley girls and grunge styles all came out of the west coast. New York youth culture certainly put their stamp on them and other styles through the years but we must give credit where credit is due.

Of course, fashion trends that begin or bloom on the streets of London and New York almost always end up adopted, refined and commercialized by the fashion establishment. They know a good thing when they see it. And so do I. So what’s happening on the streets of my two favorite cities right now?

Continue reading Sartorial Streets of NYC & London

Festival Season is Upon Us

“I would give anything – anything at all – to see Boris participate in the Big World Dance and would be eternally grateful to whoever would film him doing it”

gotham girlMy friends, my friends – Gotham Girl is back and how I have missed you! Everyone’s winter went well? Wasn’t too snowy or bone-chillingly cold?   I must say it went rather smoothly here in Gotham. Oh, sure we had lots of snow but the city is efficiency itself when it comes to clearing the streets. The snow is simply plowed into the nearest river – and Manhattan being a narrowish strip of land, the nearest river is never more than a few blocks away.

But winter is behind us now – which means festival season is upon us. Obviously festivals can happen at any time of year – I don’t say they can’t. Winter festivals are quite rightly scheduled in winter and pumpkin festivals during any season other than autumn would just be wrong.  But there is a density of festivals when the weather warms — festivals celebrating everything from music, sport, history, or holidays and which draw crowds from near and far, bringing people and their enthusiasms together.

Since there’s no way to cover all upcoming festivals in a single post, consider it a teaser of what awaits you when you check out the local “what’s happening” calendar online or in your local paper.

Both London and New York cities host major film festivals such as Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival or the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival but both are also home to film festivals that celebrate specific genres such as NYC’s Horror Film Festival or its London counterpart, Frightfest Film Festival) or gatherings that focus on particular neighborhoods – East End Film Festival in London and the Queens International Film Festival in NYC).

One of my favorite NYC film festivals is the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. I have already set aside my Monday evenings from late June to the end of August for these free outdoor movies. Think of it as a cross between a drive-in movie and a picnic. This year’s lineup is fantastic and every year, the musical selection – this year it is the 1956 hit Carousel – sees a park full of people singing in unison with enough enthusiasm to make up for any lack of skill (well, almost). I’m sure the crowd at last year’s screening of Sound of Music wouldn’t have won any awards but we had a great time.

I am told that there is a similar film series held at Somerset House each summer called the Film4 Summer Screen. Now, I don’t know what this year’s line up of titles is but if previous year’s selections are anything to go by, there is quite an entertaining range of films to choose from – everything from classic sci-fi to films fresh from their debut at Cannes.

Another thing that London and NYC share is a multi-layered, very robust food scene so it’s not surprising that food festivals are heavily featured in the event schedules for both cities. If food is your thing – all kinds, a certain kind, talking about it, eating it, cooking it, looking at it – there are more and more festivals every year aimed at food lovers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Taste of London (June 17-20) offers live demonstrations so you can watch chefs in action, champagne master classes and tasting menus. If all that talk of food has made you thirsty, never fear – beer is here. Or rather it will be at the Great British Beer Festival (Aug 3-7).

One of the great food festivals in NYC is the San Gennero Festival (Sept 16-26) down in Little Italy. I’m not sure how to do the colors, food and people justice. What I can tell you is that after consuming all the food you were unable to resist – and why would you want to? – you may feel more like rolling than walking. Of course, there’s more than food – there are live bands, shopping and book signings as well. But you know the real reason to go is the annual Cannoli Eating Competition, right?

Travel to foreign lands is great not to mention educational but let’s face it – it takes time and money, two things none of us seem to have going spare these days. Not to worry! There is a way to immerse yourself in other cultures with much less travel time, significantly less money and in a way that does not involve dodging clouds of volcanic ash. In both New York and London, you’ll find festivals featuring the sights, sounds and tastes of almost any culture you can imagine (and some that might never have occurred to you).

Thinking Thai? For one day, the food and fashion, the music and sport and regional variations that make up Thai culture will be in one place at one time – the place is the Thailand@Trafalgar and the time is June 5. Want something with a more Latin vibe? Try Carnaval del Pueblo (August 1), the largest Latin American outdoor festival in Europe. Activities include salsa competitions (warm up those hips and get twirling), food (you don’t realize how diverse Latin American cuisine is until you see it stretched out before you region by region) because you can’t have Carnaval without it – a Carnaval Parade. Looking for more scope? Toast Festival 2010 (September 24-26) celebrates not a single culture but the whole Southern hemisphere! Maori performers will perform, Gumboot dancers will dance, African drummers will drum and festival attendees can enjoy all of it while sampling regional delicacies and drinking regional wines.

Over here in NYC, Caribbean Week is on my must do list this year – “Rum & Rhythm” event in particular. There’s something really exciting about Caribbean culture – that mix of Dutch, French and Spanish that comes through in the food and the music in so many ways. While Sweden Day promises less spice than Caribbean Week, it sounds no less interesting and I’m always up for a good maypole raising.

There are so many ways to celebrate the arts in both New York and London, visitors and residents of each are spoilt for choice. But one of the great things about going the “festival” route to get your artistic fix is that so many of the events are free!

One event I look forward to every year in NYC is the Museum Mile Festival. Museum Mile is a 20 block-stretch of Fifth Avenue that is home to some of the greatest Museums in the world (the Cooper-Hewitt, Guggenheim & the Metropolitan Museum of Art to name just a few) and on Festival day, those blocks become a pedestrian plaza featuring live musical performances in front of each museum and special programs (indoors and out).

Feeling bookish? Try the London Literature Festival (July 1-15). This is more than just literary types deconstructing Derrida (do they even do that anymore? Have I dated myself?). There may well be a few people discussing Derrida (and dating themselves much as I have here) but there will also be debates on democracy, writing workshops, author talks, outdoor performances of great works – and yes, reading.

I did notice that London will be getting its groove thing on this summer with The Big Dance 2010 from July 3-11. Apparently it all comes to a toe-tapping, hip-swiveling, hand-waving climax on July 10 with the Big World Dance – 10,000 people dancing their way to Trafalgar Square on Saturday 10 July 2010. I would give anything – anything at all – to see Boris participate in the Big World Dance and would be eternally grateful to whoever manages to film him doing it.

Some festivals strive to be all things to all people. And some – like River to River here in NYC and the City of London Festival – are big enough to accomplish it. These mega-festivals bring events of all kinds to spaces across the cities. They might be musical concerts, dance performances, film screenings, lectures and walking tours – and – again – the majority of events are free.

Those pianos scattered randomly around London last summer? That was part of the City of London Festival and they are coming back by popular demand. This year, the City of London festival has an interesting triptych of themes including: 1) culture and arts from the Portuguese-speaking world, 2) the 200th birthday of Chopin and finally 3) most intriguing to me a program of events featuring bees and beehives. Yes, I said bees. There will be bee-related poetry and bee seminars. The Festival will also be ‘commissioning’ new honey. And by commissioning, they appear to mean through the installation of beehives throughout the City.

I didn’t seen anything bee-related on the schedule for the River to River Festival, the mother of all NYC festivals, but there was quite a lot that did catch my eye – like the Swedish Midsummer Festival, the World Financial Center Restaurant Showcase and the New Amsterdam Walking Tour.

So, go on and get festive! Try the food, dance the dance, watch the film, “travel the world” in your own backyard. There are so many festivals I didn’t have room to include – the Mayor’s Thames Festival for one but he knows what deadlines are like so I hope he will forgive me. Here are some online resources for finding upcoming London festivals:

Successors to Augustus

 · The Julio-Claudian Dynasty · 

Much already exists, in print and on the Internet, about ancient Rome ;  most of it deals with the conflicts fought and lands conquered by her leaders.  A rehearsal of that material here is unnecessary ;  a summary of the family tree of the dynasty founded by Augustus might, however, interest the reader and add to the colour of to-day’s* broadcast in the entertaining series A History of the World in 100 Objects on B.B.C. Radio-4, presented by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.

* Friday, 21st. May

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Caesar Augustus

The lines of descent themselves within this family tree are reasonably simple, despite quite a lot of marriage amongst cousins ;  what complicates it are the manifold adoptions, as one emperor after another attempts to secure his succession — either by a blood relative or by a perhaps unrelated individual considered suitable.

The dynasty — known as the Julio-Claudian — really begins in the time of C. Julius Caesar.  The ‘C.’ stands for his praenomen (plural praenomina) or forename, Gaius ;  for a detailed description of Roman naming conventions see this excellent Wikipedia article ;  and a list of the most common praenomina and their conventional abbreviations.  (Links to Wikipedia articles have been given throughout :  not only are they often well presented ;  they themselves give extensive references for those wanting to pursue the subject.)

Follow the story through the links on our simplified form of the Julio-Claudian family tree.