Monday, 23 July 2012

Hotel Rooms

I've stayed in some of the best, I've stayed in some of the worst. Mostly I've stayed in the middling sort.

However, they all present challenges, some unique, many common to them all.

One almost ubiquitous challenge is figuring out the lights. This can be especially problematic in the larger "chain" hotels, and, in my experience, the more expensive the chain, the more puzzling the lights. In whose perverse brain were these challenges devised? And furthermore, which bright spark decided to implement them?

There you are, the weary traveller, far from home, you have done the check-in thing, the lift thing, the corridor thing, and the key-card thing.

Now for the light thing.

You can tell immediately if a hotel is having a laugh if, even though it's daytime, they've closed the blackout curtains. So in the absence of prior knowledge, you jam the door open with your suitcase so you can find the slot thingy you have to plunge your key-card into to activate the electrical supply.

Now what happens? Why, the lights go on of course. In this illuminated interval, you do the unpacking thing, and the checking that the TV works thing. You fill the nifty little kettle and turn it on so you can have a "nice cup of tea" once you've put your things away. (And that's another irritation. Hotel chains seem to believe that their guests' overwhelming motive for staying with them is to steal hangers. So another bright spark invented the un-stealable hanger, the only removable part of which has no hook. How bloody insulting.)

Returning to the lights, it can take many hours to work out the exact sequence of switching before you arrive at the situation where, when you eventually get into bed, you can turn all the lights off from there.

Before bed, however, you have one more thing to do: hide the Gideon Bible so that, preferably, it is not found until the hotel is subject to archaeological excavation some time in the distant future. There are rules for this. One must not damage the Bible, nor place it somewhere where it might be damaged. Purely out of respect for any book, I would add. This is not as easy as you may think. The best hiding-place I have yet to use was placing one, spine to wall, in the narrow slot between the safe the wardrobe wall. Hiding in plain sight.

And with that accomplished, one retires for the night, reflecting on whether it is possible to find a more uninspiring dinner than that so recently consumed in one's business trip singularity.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Right to Bear Arms

As we all indulge in collective outrage over the dreadful events in Aurora, Colorado, many of us reflect on the wisdom or foolishness of the Second Amendment to the United States constitution which codifies the right of its citizens to "keep and bear arms". It is not a lengthy amendment, and here it is, in full:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Though so brief there have probably been many hundreds of thousands of words of commentary - both scholarly and otherwise - written about these few.

I do not claim to have made any real study of these many works, nor of the historical context, but here are my thoughts.

The first words are key, and are easy to understand in the historical and political setting in which they were framed. It was felt, with some justification, that liberty from despotism and defense against attack by foreign states, required an effective and collective response by a free citizenry, appropriately armed and regulated, at least for the duration of the threat.

The second amendment itself probably had its roots in the English Bill of Rights (1689), which restored many long standing rights to the English after the depredations of Charles I, and particularly of James II. The English Bill of Rights was saying, in effect, why should arms only be borne by the ruling class? Why indeed?

But whatever the intentions of the lawmakers may have been, either in England or the United States, they surely did not include the right of individuals to keep an arsenal capable of equipping a whole platoon, nor to deploy such an arsenal in murderous mass attacks. Many well-intended laws have proved to have ghastly unintended consequences. Clearly something must be done. Repeal the amendment entirely? Re-draft it? Is such a law needed in a modern democracy? Trouble is, democracy is a frail and ill-defined thing and easily destroyed without vigilance and constant checks and balances. By definition, vigilance must be the job of the people, not the ruling class. A working democracy depends upon this vigilance being performed through effective opposition political parties and by a trades union movement willing and able to defend the working person.

It is this which would make second amendments and the like surplus to requirements and which, in turn, would open the door to effective gun laws, both in the United States and elsewhere.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

British Journalism has some proud and decent history after all

This is obituary is from The Graphic, and reading it is worth a few minutes' time. The Graphic was a reforming newspaper and took as its principles the employment of the very best young artists and writers and the covering of news, not only of the doings and pleasures of the mighty, but of the distress and pain of the many.

A brave and successful undertaking by all involved, and not least by William Luson Thomas, its founder.