Tuesday, May 31, 2005

President Bertie Wooster

A friend drew my attention to the NY Times article, “From Jenna's Ex to a Presidential Jeeves”, a piece on President Bush’s personal aide Blake Gottesman (think Charlie in “The West Wing”, just to muddle the cultural references some more).

What I particularly adore is the (rather less than?) inadvertent intimation of a Woosterish President:

“But Gottesman, what are we going to do about Aunt Agatha’s stranglehold on Supreme Court nominations?”

“I have observed her grip tends to weaken after her third or fourth post-prandial refreshment. I would recommend, if it were my place, the holding of a State Ball immediately prior to the hearings.”

“And then a few whiskies and light on the soda, eh Gottesman?”

“As you say, sir, the merest intimation of soda would ordinarily suffice. The following day I suspect she would not have her usual appetite for drawn out skirmishes in the committee room. The tie perhaps a shade shorter, sir, if I may?”

“But if this first-rate plan of yours fails to ignite, I shall be left beaten and cowed, cowed I say, for the rest of the Senate session!”

“Well, sir, in that eventuality, one could always retreat to a safe distance until tempers had subsided. The former Soviet republics are particularly charming in the Spring.”

“I’d never make it out of the residence without her noticing.”

“Well sir, I have observed that there is a particularly stout drainpipe immediately adjacent the Lincoln bedroom balcony …”

Friday, May 27, 2005

Damn, missed it.

Me in the kitchen last night with the girls and MC Lars and chocolate cheesecake:

"Um. Sorry I missed the show. I was waylaid by the force of darkness."


"... and they had gin."

Since turning in my first-year paper 24 days early (have I mentioned that, yes, I have), it's been a hard week.

Monday I went to an open meeting of the MCR and told someone holding forth for far too long on whether we could/should vote in undergraduate committee elections to drop the subject because (1) the proposal "has an air of unreality verging on the ludicrous" and (2) the meeting was inquorate by this time so there was nothing we could do about it anyway.

Several were impressed by my 60 second tirade of constitutional lawyer babble. Apparently, though, what really commanded public acclaim was the way I then swirled the dregs of wine in my glass and tossed it back to punctuate that I was done talking. Ooops.

(I later apologised to the guy I'd more or less shouted down. But it did get the meeting over much faster.)

After I hit the bar with my friend who's working on a defence team at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She'd had a pretty intense first three weeks in the job, but it was probably for the best she'd started so close to a break in the trial. Summing up our conversation, inflicted on an engineer, she said: "... and three beers later, we've dissolved the UN. Excellent work, Doug. Time to go home."

Since then there's been a lot of dining. Dinner party Tuesday. Grad Hall Wednesday (sat opposite a fellow who was kind enough to share a very nice Chianti with me). Formal at Girton college last night. Formal dinner at New Hall tonight. Also need to get to the Cambridge Beer festival, dammit.

Anyway, though, last night Girton formal degenerated into more law-talk in the basement bar at Girton after watching the Spring dalyight fade around 8.30 pm over port in a wonderful college garden.

This proved incompatible with getting across town to the MC Lars gig by 10 for my dose of post-punk laptop rap. MC Lars is a good friend of one of my Californian neighbours and one helluva nice guy in person.

What I've heard of his music online has real wit and he apparently puts on a great show: one to watch out for if your in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane next month.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Funky new shoes Posted by Hello

Monday, May 23, 2005

A rather fine weekend: or "Glad that's behind me"

Friday: Midday. Beg off going to London on Saturday, as I'm feeling a bit flat and aiming to turn in my first year paper Monday.

4 pm. Supervisor (or "he who wields mighty red pen fiercely) informs me that my paper looks fine to submit and informs me the date of my first-year viva. I make "meep" noises and go to inform a flatmate.

5.45 pm. Yoga-riffic yoganess of yoga. Spend an hour with some of the other girls (when it come to yoga we are all, even at our most manly, one of the girls) in the new college sports pavilion. The weights room currently lacks, well, weights. Perfect space for yoga: lovely view of the grounds, and finishing with the sound of heavy rain on a tin roof.

8.15 pm. Float to the pub and curry, conversational speed down to 10 words a minute.

Saturday: decide I will go to London if I can get enough done by lunch. Buzz round to the library, check a few footnotes; print two copies of paper at the one place I can use a printer for free (even if the print quality's a little off); collect some stationary supplies prior to binding.

Bolt to London. Evening commences when I meet Jasmine and Peter and head to Sonia and Michael's drinks. A minor pub-crawl around Liverpool St ensues when it become apparent that (1) The Light Bar doesn't open until 6 pm; and (2) it's FA Cup Final day.

Evening finishes with mango daiquiris at a house party in East Putney. Or more aptly, with wandering past Regent's park looking for Marylebone Street at 3 am.

Not noticing, of course, that Marylebone Street in fact runs past Regent's park - in the opposite direction to the way we needed to be going from Baker St station.

I hate it when I confidently say: "We need to go left!" before contemplating that the Station may have exits on two different streets.

Sunday: return to Cambridge via a stop in the Camden markets for a quick goat curry and a spot of shoe-buying. Arrive in Cambridge too late for cricket, in time for the Pimms, and with long enough to scrub up before a blind wine-tasting.

Monday: submit first year paper by 11 am, 24 days early.

Proceed to lounge in the sun.

Academic life can be hell.

Well, it may yet be. My viva is scheduled for 10 am the morning after the Grad Law Ball. Nothing like turning up to an exam in black tie, empty champagne bottle in one hand and a glass of berrocca in the other ...

PS annual dinner photos are up ...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Piracy on the High Teas

From a recent reminder e-mail to my "People's Direct Action Committee" revolution-themed cake-club ...

Subject: Avast ye cake-loving sea dogs!

Ar har!

This week the revolution goes piratical! Bring your salty sea-biscuits to

The MCR! (Ar!)

At 4.00 pm! (Ar!)

On Thursday! (Ar har!)

But remember, piracy isn't all funny hats and parrots, it's a serious crime
placing you outside the bounds of civilisation and the protection of the

So, come be an enemy of all mankind, and eat cake.

Peg-leg Doug

... yes, my PhD is getting to me.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Film reviews: because someone has to ...

While Lyn continues to spurn a deeply-jilted blogosphere on the slender pretext of respecting workplace internet-use policies, I present brief reviews of my recent outings to the St John's college film group.

The Aviator

Who would have thought DiCaprio could act? Didn't see that coming. OK, his portrayal of Howard Hughes' superhuman energy and determination came through largely in a vertical crease of furrowed brow from nose to hairline, but what of that?

Despite moments of Scorsese-esque self-indulgence ("writhe like a madman Leonardo, you know you want to!"), it was thoroughly engaging and didn't feel like three hours at all.

Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn? Swaggeringly, brusquely perfect.

Yes, yes, it's about boys and toys, Hollywood navel gazing, and ... well, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn; but it's none the worse for any of those elements - especially the last-mentioned.

(Did I mention our Cate was good? She really was, you know.)

House of Flying Daggers

Holy chinese-puzzle box of a plot, Batman! This one's a cryptogram, wrapped in an enigma, bundled into a rebus, drowned with a puzzle and lost somewhere behind the couch.

Okay, the plot twists and turns aren't quite that bad, but they do arrive in rather a rush, turning the whole show from a kind of quest/entrapment plot into, well, melodrama.

But hey ho, no-one ever went to see a subtitled martial arts film for the plot, right?

This delivers a full quotient of really gratuitous cinematic beauty, lush costuming, extravagantly autumnal lanscapes and martial arts prowess that leaves the laws of physics and probability hanging by their fingernails.

On the action sequences, cinematography and use of colour alone this was threatening to displace "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" among my all time favourite unnecessarily beautiful martial arts pics (and it still wins "best fight in a bamboo forest") until somewhere in the last third of the film.

To say the ending is unnecessarily drawn out, with operatic emotion reaching a more than faintly cringeworthy heights would be ... well, about right really. I dislike a climactic fight sequence where you really can't help thinking: "Why aren't you dead yet, you tedious person?"

So close to greatness, but as a wise man once said, "Close don't count unless you're throwing hand grenades."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Punt-tastic photos of Spring ... Posted by Hello

More photos

I somewhat belatedly have some photos up of Spring in DC and Cambridge.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to play cricket.

Or maybe just stand in the outfield and hope a ball doesn't come my way before the tea-break. (Mmmm ... Pimms and cucumber sandwiches and scones ... )

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Another glorious spring afternoon Posted by Hello

Tennis anyone?

All this sunlight is going to my head. For the second time this Spring, and possibly the third time in my life, I strode out to a tennis court on Monday to manfully swat a ball about a bit.

My companion, a terribly dry-witted historian, was fortunately as unskilled as me, but considerably more versed in the theory of the game.

We played what I dubbed "gentleman's rules" - you can serve anywhere, return outside the court and the ball can bounce twice your side of the net. No score kept. 50 or 60 hours of this and I might improve enough to be able to play.

I had full-spectrum returns: I could miss the ball, return it, or send it merrily spinning beyond the confines of the Court, arching high over the fence onto the sports ground on the left, or equally as high to the right to land over the netting on the next court with about equal frequency. Quite impressive. Though not half so good as the amazing shots where it went straight up and came down somewhere over my right shoulder.

We got in just before a glorious afternoon turned to thunder.


I had last week the pleasure of another visitor, an old Balmain flatmate still incarcerated at the Big Evil Firm where once I toiled (soul not so much sold as leased with a right in reversion).

I managed to give him the full treatment. Arriving on a Wednesday afternoon, we buzzed round my standard selection of Colleges and the Backs, went to a pre-dinner talk on international law where I was presenting the speaker (my favourite guru of all time) and then went in to a formal dinner in hall.

Afterwards, drinks in the MCR and Bar and off to a late show at the ADC theatre, where I knew both actors involved, the director, producers and (by fluke) most of the people in the bar. I was apparently rather visibly and distractingly drunk in the front row. I'm sure I put no-one off their lines.

My former flatmate later said he felt he'd packed into his first 8 hours in Cambridge more experiences than in 4 days in London, certainly not a bad review.

He also appreciated getting out into the English countryside. Shame he was so allergic to it ...

Saturday, May 7, 2005

A note from the frontlines of democracy

To my vast amusement, as a resident Commonwealth citizen I was allowed to vote in the general election on Thursday.

The voting process seemed a bit, well, amateurish. You’re assigned one polling station to go to on the day. If you don’t like it, you need to apply for a postal vote. It makes the queues short and the electoral roll small, but the atmosphere is pretty quiet. First past the post voting is weird as well: one big childish cross in one box.

You could vote in crayon.

Anyway, I did my bit to get a LibDem elected in Cambridge, ousting the New Labour incumbent (who was I believe anti-war personally but has suffered for the sins of her PM).

In recent weeks the papers were filled with new revelations about the Attorney-General’s advice on the use of force against Iraq, but I doubt it affected the result. Those who opposed the government on the war had long since made up their minds.

Iraq was more of a lightning-rod for disaffection with Blairite government than a pivotal issue itself.

The whole “Iraq memo” scandal strikes me as odd anyway. The allegation is that the Attorney-General was pressured into changing his mind. It’s a fine argument: it seems in the original advice he lay out an arguable case for the legality of the war, but cautioned other States might disagree as might international courts. (Indeed, almost all international lawyers outside the US did disagree with him, so it was a worthy note of caution.)

Later he stated, in summary form, his “position”: being that war was legal, but without the caveats. More than anything it lends to the impression that nothing comes out of Blair’s Number 10 that isn’t heavily spun and that Cabinet is often not fully briefed.

Frankly, the idea of the memo is a little silly. It appears to have been demanded by the head of the Defence Force to provide “legal cover” against subsequent war crimes prosecutions.

If true, this shows a very poor understanding of international law on the part of Admiral Sir Michael Boyce. The only Court he could have had in mind is the ICC. The ICC will not have any jurisdiction over a government’s decision to go to war until the parties to the Rome Statute agree on a definition of the crime of “aggression”. (Don’t hold your breath: the UN has been battling over that for 50 years.)

Even once defined, it could not apply retrospectively to the Iraq conflict. Further, the legality of going to war (“jus ad bello”) cannot affect the legality of the conduct of the war (“jus in bello” or the law of war crimes and humanitarian law).

Put another way, the fact that a war is “legal” in no way means that the side that is “right” is incapable of committing war crimes.

But of course, the real reason for commissioning the advice was to try and bolster a moral case on the rather tortured ground that what is legal is also right. The kind of confusion an ex-barrister PM might make, but not one that cuts much ice with sensible people.

The protestors’ argument, that because it was illegal it was also wrong, is much more intuitive.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Here's a groovy visitor having his first go at punting! Happy birthday Jase! Posted by Hello

Land of the seven-hour garden party

Today I went to cricket practice at 3, then left to go to a garden party on Darwin Island, arriving at 3.30. A perfect Spring day in Cambridge by the river, finishing with drinks outdoors at the Anchor.

Got home at 10.30 from the pub and practiced my seminar presentation to the PhD group tomorrow. It needs trimming.

This week? Not too busy.

Give a seminar tomorrow (no, wait, later today dammit), then go train for Ultimate Frisbee. Going to formal hall at Cauis (say "keys") on Tuesday. Have a vistor Wednesday, and am organiser for a pre-dinner talk (in charge of publicity and looking after the guest speaker). Formal Hall after the talk (I have 5 or 6 guests and the speaker), followed by opening night of a friend's play. Thursday I have a reception hosted by the trustees of my funding body, followed by an election-night party. Friday another 30th birthday. Saturday a Dr Who viewing, and Sunday a cricket match.

I'm also supposed to squeeze in a game (OK, hit-about) of tennis at some point.

But the weirdest part of my life recently? Farewell drinks for a friend off to Rwanda to be part of a defence team for a general implicated in the genocide.

Surreal? Never.