Category Archives: personal notes

Go on, sport, pay up !  In the name of Her Majesty.

Somewhere out there is a vaguely Left-wing Aussie professor who owes me a hundred bucks. The only trouble is that I can't remember his name, so I am shamelessly using this column to jog his memory.
Come on, cobber. Cough up. You remember the bet. It must have been about 20 years ago that we were all sitting in a bar in Melbourne, drinking prodigious quantities of Victoria Bitter. I was then a visiting professor of European Thought at Monash University. (I know, I know: I want to thank the academic who invited me for his excellent sense of humour, and I continue to regret that he was mysteriously deprived of his post shortly after my last lecture, a frenzied dithyramb of unreconstructed Euro-scepticism).
On that particular evening, I was teasing some of my colleagues about their ever-so-slightly correct way of thinking. There was a scholar of gender studies and a theorist of animal rights, and there was some tut-tutting when I suggested that Aboriginal art could not really be compared in quality with, say, the masterpieces of the Florentine Renaissance. But what really got them going was when we moved on to the constitution. Tell you what, I said: I bet you the Queen is still the Australian head of state in – and I paused, trying to think of a date so far in the future as to make the bet seem fair – the year 2000! A throaty cackle went up from the group. "No way, mate," they said, republicans to a person. Continue reading Go on, sport, pay up !  In the name of Her Majesty.

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

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

~ · ~

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.

Augustus is coming

· · · · ·
Listen to Boris talk about the Roman emperor Augustus this Friday, 21st. May, on Radio 4 at 9.45 a.m., repeated at 7.45 p.m. and on Saturday at 12.30 a.m.
 
· · · · ·
Although Rome’s empire grew throughout the late republic — from the middle of the third century to the death of Julius Caesar in 44 b.c. — the first emperor, appointed by the Senate, was Augustus. On Friday, 21st. May, Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor — in his interesting and entertaining series A History of the World in 100 Objects (B.B.C. Radio-4, 0945, 1945 and the following morning at 0030) — will introduce Augustus in the form of a larger-than-life bronze head with inlaid eyes of glass, calcite and metal rings, staring in to the distance.
~ · ~
  Caesar Augustus
The head — originally part of a statue in Egypt, which Augustus had annexed following the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII — had been severed and taken home by an invading Kushite army from Meroë (in to-day’s Sudan), there to be buried beneath the threshold of a temple.  Any-one crossing the threshold would have deliberately trodden on the head of Augustus in the process, demonstrating contempt for him and the Roman Empire :  ironically the Kushites ensured the head’s survival in to our age.
~ · ~
With contributions from Dr. Susan Walker, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Ashmolean, and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, Neil will tell how Augustus significantly enlarged the Empire, his image projecting everywhere the power of Rome. Read more about Augustus at the B.B.C.’s History of the World site. The wives of the emperors were no less colourful :  a recently published account of the life of Livia, third – and enduring – wife of Augustus, is reviewed in this week’s edition of The Spectator. ΠΞ

Cameron is PM

Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron is the Prime Minister

 

Ministers announced here First Cabinet appointments in the Cameron-Clegg Cabinet here  See photos of Dave's first days in Downing Street via flickr Keep up to date with all the Cabinet and Ministerial appointments on the Number 10 website including the Cabinet appointments list Boris Johnson is delighted at the news and felt that the public would:  "want to hear what these guys are going to do to sort out the country .. it's a robust and interesting new specimen."

DON’T FORGET TO VOTE

How should you vote? Vote Match is a very straightforward brief quiz in The Daily Telegraph and helps you decide who to vote by matching your views on the issues most important to you with each party's policies.  Have a go and click here You can also predict the result of the Election with a free £5 and win £10.  The Times are offering a free £5 bet with Betfair if you think you can pick a winner from the closest election in decades.  Place your bet by midnight on 5th May 2010 here Look out for the following key seats on election night: Orpington - Boris's brother, Jo Johnson, is expecting the results at around 5.a.m. Richmond Park - Zac  Goldsmith Brighton Pavilion Torbay Romsey and Southampton North Briston North West Hastings and Rye Feltham and Heston Harrow West Eltham Waveney Northampton North Dudley North North Warwickshire Erewash Lancaster and Fleetwood Bolton North East Wakefield Tynemouth