Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Getting Worked Up Over Gibraltar

Spain periodically gets upset about Gibraltar, which is a sort of British naval base and minor tourist resort with 'apes'. The usual position on this in the British press is 'Sod off, Pancho' or variations on that theme. But a more nuanced response might be to point out that Spain is hypocritical and perhaps a wee bit racist over the issue.

Gibraltar is undeniably a bit of Spain that was grabbed by Britain (or England, or whatever) in days of yore. The fact that historic treaties confirm UK sovereignty and that the people of Gibraltar seem fairly happy with the current arrangements aren't seen - by Spanish politicians - as significant compared the geographical claim i.e. you've nicked a bit of our land.

Fair enough. But why, if it's all about geographical integrity, doesn't Spain hand back its two enclaves in North Africa? Ceuta and Melilla have majority Spanish populations who don't want to be handed over to the government of Morocco. Instead they are happy to remain as 'autonomous cities' within the kingdom of Spain.

If Spain doesn't accept that Morocco has a claim on two bits of what would appear to be its land why all this fuss over Gibraltar? Might it be because Moroccans are brown folks, and therefore their right to national integrity etc can't be taken seriously? I wonder. There are legal distinctions to be made between Ceuta and Gibraltar, but they are just that - legalistic niceties. The basic fact that a foreign flag is flying 'inside' someone else's country is at the heart of both disputes.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Lord Howell solution

So an unelected Tory MP suggested that, while fracking would obviously be awful (I mean, absolutely ghastly, old boy) in nice parts of England, it would be fine in the North East because the whole region is a post-industrial wasteland inhabited by ugly inbred morons. That's what he really thinks. He later apologised, but that's just marzipan - his first remarks reveal his real thoughts, the apology reflected the fact that there's at least one Tory marginal in the North East.

Lord Howell is a piece of work. He's a former Thatcher minister, he's George Osborne's father-in-law, and he went to Eton and Oxford. He's a classic example of a posh bloke who started climbing the power ladder about three rungs from the top and still failed to amount to much. Another upper-class mediocrity who - because he's gone through life pretty much getting everything that matters his own way - thinks of himself as quite the clever chap. Whereas in fact he's a stupid bastard, but one so well-connected that his stupid bastardy can't do him much harm. Like Boris, Cameron, and the rest of them.

Well, so what? Big deal. The Tory mask slips so often these days that anyone who doubts they are a party of amoral chancers who worship money and power just isn't paying attention. Cameron's desperate attempts to whitewash the essential posh-boy shittiness of the Tory brand isn't working well, partly because he's a crap leader and partly because the right-wing press keeps revealing the deep-seating homophobia, racism, and misogyny that have long characterised the Tory brand. No surprises there.

However, Lord Howell's brilliant suggestion does raise another issue. Gas fracking is all very well, but we need some kind of non-fossil fuel energy source for the long-term future. Despite massive bungling in high places nuclear power is still an option, not least because it can produce lots of lovely electricity round the clock. Sure, there are risks of accidents and contamination and a nuclear plant nearby isn't going to do property values any good. But let's take a dispassionate look at the harsh economic realities right-wingers love to talk about.

Nuclear power is needed most in the South of England. London and its environs need more and more power, and nuclear energy is the best way to ensure that power is provided. Since a lot of power is lost in transmission through the grid it makes no sense to build a power station in Sellafield to cater to Southwark. No, nuclear plants in the South East would be the most efficient option. So where should they be built?

First, choose an area of moral desolation. Lord Howell and those like him went to Eton, Oxford, and then into the City. Nuclear plants in those areas would not threaten many decent human beings, and in fact an accident might well increase the basic decency of the nation. As a bonus, the chilling effect on property prices across the entire South East would be a tremendous boon for young couples seeking a first home. Oh, and if accidents became fairly common enough it might deter all those economic migrants Londoners seem to hate so much. It's a bargain bucket of radioactive win!


Monday, 29 July 2013

Trollbusting in Twit City

Imagine you live in a city, one where there are lots of stupid, thoughtless, sometimes dangerous people, but where - on balance - most people are reasonably civilized and decent most of the time. Now imagine that somebody comes into town and sets up a new shop. This emporium sells disguises, in the form of masks and costumes. The shop soon becomes popular with people going to parties, putting on plays, and so forth. 

But then a disturbing trend arises. Individuals and even gangs of young men start putting on disguises and hanging out in public places, where they routinely abuse and threaten passers-by. Because they are all young men, women are often the targets of their unpleasant antics. Sometimes an irate person grabs the mask from an abusers and punches him in the face, usually to widespread applause. But sometimes a masked mob descends on a person and beats him or her senseless. The city constabulary struggle to deal with the increasing disorder linked to the mask craze.

The mayor decides that Something Must Be Done. But what? A debate is called in the forum, but before it can get properly under way a masked mob bursts in and starts shouting down the speakers. Once again fights break out. The constabulary, yet again, have to intervene to prevent worse bloodshed. When all the masked intruders have been ejected and the seriously injured taken to hospital, the debate proper can begin.

Some argue for an outright ban on masks. 'Let everyone go barefaced!' they declare. 'If these troublemakers want to say anything controversial or inflammatory in public, let them be man enough to do so openly, not skulk in disguise like cowards!' Another group of councillors who think themselves wise counsel caution, arguing that depriving people of the right to wear masks infringes free speech. The 'unmaskers' ask why some should need disguises to freely speak while others seem to do all right without them? 

And third school of thought holds that people should be allowed to go in disguise if they wish, but should be deprived of the protection of ordinary citizens i,e. if an unmasked person encounters one or more masked persons in a dark alley at night, they former should be allowed to take any defensive action he sees fit, up to and including shooting them all.

Finally, after long deliberations, a vote is held and... 

Silly, but...


Monday, 22 July 2013

The inevitable happens inevitably again

Do you Regret having Tattoos and Piercings? - UK   Other : Do you Regret having Tattoos and Piercings? - UK

NEW Katie Piper Beauty Series - Channel 4
Casting no. 479017     All regions, United Kingdom
Do you Regret having Tattoos and Piercings? - UK
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Remarkable are making a new exciting primetime Channel 4 series about beauty fronted by former beautician, Katie Piper.

We are producing 6 x 1 hour shows looking at the reasons and motivations for have beauty procedures, cosmetic or non- cosmetic, done or undone.

We are looking to feature people who may want to change their current look for any reason. E.g. Trends have changed, they have grown out of the look or it has hindered them gaining employment.

So, from flesh tunnels to tattoos to any other body modification

Location: London, United Kingdom

Payment details: Expenses and cost of reversal procedure covered


Okay, what's a flesh tunnel? No, on second thoughts, don't tell me.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Elementary?

Amazon reviews of things yet-to-be-released can be great fun. Since the BBC is advertising a DVD for the third series of Sherlock, which hasn't been shown yet, you can bet that some wacky dudes and dudettes have decided to offer their own opinions on what it's all about. Or might involve. Or something.


Who'd have known that Mrs. Hudson was actually a man? And that scene where John practises giving oral satisfaction on a banana?! Cracked me up. I'll have to say, Bendybumble Cucumberbatch turning out to be Robert Downey Jnr. at the end made me happy. Great actors.

Now that was unexpected. Sherlock gets hit by a car on leaving the cemetery and wakes up in 1881, where he has to deal with a strange case that resembles one he worked on back in the first season? A stunning idea, and it's almost a shame that it only lasted for the first two episodes. I'm sure that concept could be extended to a longer series....
I must say, it was a master stroke to combine two shows - I never expected the TARDIS to show up while Sherlock was in mid-fall, allowing him to be saved from certain death, then returned just before the point of impact, being lowered gently to the ground and playing dead for Watson. Plus it allowed Benedict Cumberbatch to go off and be the Doctor for four years before returning to Sherlock without anyone noticing.

Well! I didn't see that twist coming! The fact that Sherlock Holmes is actually a 14 year old girl called Chantelle, who has spent the last 5 years in a mental asylum, and all the characters are her multiple personalities! Blew me away! I started to suspect something was not quite right when John moved out, and Barney the Purple Dinosaur moved in, but I thought, heck, I'll go with it. And by the time Sherlock and Barney had got married I was totally gripped! Moffat, you genius, you've done it again!

Wow. Bringing Keyser Soze into the third series was an inspired move, even though Sherlock traditionalists may have some reservations. Also, revealing that Watson was Moriarty in disguise all along - WOW. Masterful twist.
Also watch out for cameos from Harvey Keitel, Michael Crawford and Simon Pegg.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Could you invade us instead, please?


Egyptian Boy Talks Some Sense

Has he been coached? Well, I think if it's possible for a 12-year-old to formulate immensely complex theories on superheroes or Doctor Who - and they all can, by and large - then a 12-year-old should be able to figure out what's wrong with a draft constitution. I particularly like the way he nails the hypocrisy of the Islamists on women's rights. He may be a prodigy, but if enough young Egyptians agree with him, there's some hope.


It's been a good month for young Muslims.


Monday, 15 July 2013

Two Forms of Levitation

One involves the familiar use of magnets, which is effective but problematic because of energy requirements and some other stuff. However, once we have room-temperature superconductors, we can build Moebius monorails and have all sorts of fun.


Then there's levitation involving sound waves, which works well but has the obvious drawback of being quite loud. Apparently the way round that is to use 24 kilohertz, above the range of human hearing. Annoying for dogs, though. Anyway, in the absence of sound-levitated monorails that upset Fido, scientists use this amazing technology for manipulating liquid droplets and stuff. Useful if you want to avoid contamination, which is a risk if you're wielding a pipette. Anyway, here's sodium and water drifting together, whereupon wackiness ensues.






Monday, 8 July 2013

Lies, Damn Lies, and Opinion Formers

The Royal Statistical Society has found that most people have no clue about the real percentage of under-age mothers, Muslims, or benefit fraudsters. One particularly significant area is the political equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant - pension spending.
Job-seekers allowance: 29% of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn).
Some of the misperceptions are astonishing, and show how far down dishonest politics and downright bigoted journalism can get you.
Immigration and ethnicity: the public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%. There are similar misperceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups).
Gosh, it's almost as if some powerful ideological faction had spent decades telling white people they're about to become extinct.

The RSS is a touchingly naive organisation:
‘Our data poses real challenges for policymakers,’ said Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society. ‘How can you develop good policy when public perceptions can be so out of kilter with the evidence? We need to see three things happen. Firstly, politicians need to be better at talking about the real state of affairs of the country, rather than spinning the numbers. Secondly, the media has to try and genuinely illuminate issues, rather than use statistics to sensationalise. And finally, we need better teaching of statistical literacy in schools, so that people get more comfortable in understanding evidence. Our getstats campaign is trying to create change at all of these levels.’
Firstly, I'd love to live in a world where politicians talk about 'the real state of affairs of the country', but that would involve asking why government policy always seems to boil down to handing lots of taxpayers' money to corporations that end up employing ex-MPs. It's a corrupt system and it doesn't want to be scrutinised.

Secondly, I dare say some sections of the media 'genuinely illuminate issues', but they are mostly bloggers and the like. Expecting the national press to do this raises the prospects of imminent porcine aviation - they are a slowly dying industry that survives by advertising, not honesty, and sensationalism is vital to get people looking at those ads.

Thirdly, teaching statistical literacy is a lovely idea and I'm sure the Germans do a fine job. In this country good teaching of hard topics is not genuinely valued by government because it requires the teaching of genuine critical thinking, and that would lead to a smarter electorate.

We are screwed. We have an establishment that, whatever it says it wants, thrives on ignorance. In the long run this will destroy our country as we fall disastrously behind younger, cleverer nations. But in the short term a policy of promoting ignorance works for the politicians and their paymasters. The next time you wonder why education 'reforms' always seem to be idiotic, consider this - perhaps their is an unconscious (or semi-conscious) desire among the pols to make them that way.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

The fragile feelings of fascists

Yes, it indeed a terrible thing when a man's controversial political views lose him his job. Andrew Walker, a BNP activist who taught in County Durham (just up the road from my domicile) has been banned for life from teaching in the UK. He was annoyed:
He said: "This sets a dangerous precedent. We're talking about the realms of thought crime. 
"What I make of it is it may not necessarily be someone like myself - it could happen to anyone who might hold any type of views that do not fit in to the politically correct way of thinking. 
"We may have teachers who are on the extreme left wing, who attend demonstrations against people with my views, we may have Muslim extremists in the classroom. 
"I have never taken politics into the classroom."
Which sounds almost reasonable until you read the actual facts, whereby we discover that our racist hero took politics out of the classroom to the extent that he chased a group of boys aged 10 to 12 in his car, and then slashed the tyres of their bikes. The boys' offence had been to take the piss out of a teacher who was on a BNP march i.e. they exercised their freedom of expression (and showed fairly good judgement). Anything else? Well, there's this little insight into Wanker Walker's fitness to act in loco parentis.
He was given a six-month suspended prison sentence and lost his driving licence for 12 months after he admitted dangerous driving at Durham Crown Court last September.
Oh, and since Walker had been disciplined for making racist remarks in 2010, he was 'taking politics into the classroom' every time he walked into it, because after his first little transgression everyone knew he was a fascist, right? And I understand kids today get taught stuff about Nazis and the bad things they did, so...

It's funny how these defenders of our traditional rights are so quick to ignore the right we all have to judge them by their words and deeds. If a teacher goes Morris dancing, you can bet the kids will know about it and take the piss to some extent. Same goes for extremist politics, or having Jason King sideburns, or - God help you - poor personal hygiene.

Teaching is obviously not for poor shrinking violet karate instructors(!) who can't take a bit of verbal stick from 10-year-olds.

But the BNP is, apparently.

So, in conclusion, no actual thoughtcrime has occurred in the northern sectors of Airstrip One. Pity, I went to the trouble of learning all the words.










A conservative you can trust


Referendumb

See what I did there? It's a dumb idea to have a referendum on EU membership because...

*TARDIS noise*

Yes, it's the FUTURE and stuff!

TV PERSON: Well, with the results finally in, we find that the people who voted have decided, by just over fifty per cent, to stay in the EU. The referendum cost eleventy million pounds - roughly half a hospital - and tied up our entire politico-media culture for the best part of a year. We're all heartily fed up with it, and some of us now have failed marriages because of a shock dispute over fisheries policy. So, Euro-sceptic campaign spokesman Nigel Farnsbarn, the people have spoken, will you accept their verdict?

NIGEL FARNSBARN: Well, Jomanthia, I think you'll find that, given the turnout, less than a third of people actually voted to stay in, which is simply not a democratic mandate...

TV PERSON: *noise of some sort*

NIGEL FARNSBARN:  Please do me the courtesy of letting me finish! And of course the wording of the question was far from ideal. It should of course have been 'Did our brave boys die at Gallipolli just so stinking foreigners could ban smoky bacon crisps and establish a Fourth Reich run by gay Muslims?' So, in answer to your question, No, Nay, and thrice Nope! We will not be folding our tents and stealing away. Tomorrow begins the new campaign for a proper referendum, one that will get the correct result. And if the next one doesn't, well, we'll  keep going...

TV PERSON: Oh, for fuck's sake get a life! *pause* Sorry, did I say that out loud?

And so on, year in, year out, until the EU is as irrelevant to our lives as the Schmalkaldic League.


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Fair Play to France

Got to concede it, you won that revenge war back in the 1770s. Got us back for that Seven Years' of malarkey. The Spanish helped you out, of course. Oh, and the Americans.







Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Final Frontier? That'll Do Nicely

Splendid article here on why all the private enterprise spaceship stuff going on is so much flummery nonsense. I mean, Virgin Galactic is obvious bullshit, but it's worth reading just to see how fatuous the media coverage has been. And there's a deeply unfashionable but rock-solid point at the core of it all.

What we are meant to believe is that private firms managed by brilliant entrepreneurs can and will take over responsibility for human space exploration from government agencies. We will soon be touring the solar system—or is it the galaxy?—all thanks to the magic of free enterprise. 
The problem with this particular millennial vision is that private firms do not open new frontiers. States do. Private firms profit from frontiers after they have been opened by states. The reason for this division of institutional labor is that opening a new frontier involves accepting high risk and absorbing unrecoverable cost. Businesses hate both. That’s why they wait for governments to do the heavy lifting. Mind you, if the real space frontier that lies beyond low Earth orbit is ever reopened to human exploration and opened to economic development, private investment will have an important role to play. However when humans return to the Moon and if they land on Mars for the first time, count on a state to have paid the freight. The real question is not whether but which state will be writing the check.

Yep, that's what you won't hear about Branson, Musk, et al, even from the dear old BBC. None of these guys are going further than low-earth orbit, if that. Rich men and their toys con't conquer the solar system. I doubt any of them will even risk orbiting hotels, to be honest. Too dangerous, too limited in appeal, and above all too expensive. But when you're sucking up to tycoons, pretending they're brilliant pioneers is always a good line to take. And not a word about the real heroes and the real achievements.





Monday, 1 July 2013

It's So Easy...

It's so easy to email dozens of people a picture of your wedding tackle, isn't it? I mean, we've all been there, haven't we guys? Guys? I mean...
The embarrassing incident occurred around 7:15 a.m. June 21 after Gerard Robson, a project manager for private contractor FJC Security, responded to an airport parking-lot fender bender involving a security guard’s car. 
Robson had hoped to alert his bosses and PA execs to what happened by taking photos of the cars and e-mailing the images with his company-issued BlackBerry, sources said.
Seriously, if there's one thing you should never do with any picture-takin' irons, it's snap your genitals. And while the unpleasant mental imagery conjured up by that last sentence lodges deep in your subconscious, here is a song.


 



Sunday, 30 June 2013

America the Baffling

I just don't understand this sort of thing.
A University of Virginia student had just bought some bottled water, cookie dough and ice cream for a sorority fundraiser when a group of people in plainclothes approached her car. One person jumped on her hood, another pulled a gun on her, and the student, logically, began trying to drive her car as fast as she could out of the parking lot. 
Unfortunately for the student, the people attacking her car were state Alcoholic Beverage Control officers, who mistook her purchase of LaCroix sparkling water for a 12-pack of beer.
And you thought Prohibition ended when Hoover was ousted by Dyson Roosevelt. Americans are always up in everyone's face about freedom, democracy, and due process. Yet again and again stories like this show they are willing to subject themselves to the kind of thuggish state oppression that one finds in Russia or China. And all to stop - wait for it - 'people under the age of 21 from purchasing any type of beverage'. Holy crap.

The next time some NRA-affiliated lunatic shoots a few dozen people at a school or university, we can at least give thanks that the authorities deployed teams of highly-trained, armed operative to protect that heap of dead kids from beer.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Saudi Conference on Women in Society


Story is here.

The Saudi government is our ally and our government never criticises it for its misogynistic policies, never calls upon it to uphold any of the treaties on human rights it is party to, and never calls chides it for banning free speech, or any of that soppy stuff. The Saudis have got too much oil to ever be wrong about anything, and that's official, if never stated outright.

When we high-tail it out of Afghanistan, I dare say the Taliban will 'do a Saudi' after they take over. They'll probably have conferences about women, too. And if they do, we'll read a lot more about them in our wonderful free press.

If We Could Talk to the Taliban...

Who'd have thought that a guerilla war in Afghanistan would be so tricky?

*cicadas*

Now it is claimed by someone quite important (I suppose) that the first thing to do, about ten years ago, would have been negotiate with the Taliban. It seems that, contrary to popular strategic thinking, the Taliban are not a race of ant-people from another planet/dimension, but human beings. What's more, they are not a disciplined military force but a rag-tag coalition of warriors, ideologues, fanatics, pragmatists, patriots, mercenaries - in fact, it's almost as if they were some kind of nationalist movement! And some of them would have been ready to talk and reach a settlement, seriously weakening the clout of the die-hard extremists.

Pity it didn't happen. I'm assuming that, after most Western forces leave, the Afghan army and police will collapse and there'll be a televised race to the last American helicopter in Kabul. Scenes like this will occur. Once the evacuation of Saigon was an iconic image of What Not To End Up Doing. But for the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair, and their enablers in the media it was all ancient history, I suppose.





And in jolly old Britain the lesson learned will be Don't Get Involved in Costly Wars When You Haven't Got a Coherent Plan. Ha ha, only joking, because we do have a coherent plan. It's called Obeying Orders from Americans who've obviously got no fucking clue. Except when it comes to ripping off the natives, of course.

U.S. and other foreign contractors owe Afghan workers and companies potentially tens of millions of dollars, heightening security risks for Westerners living and working in Afghanistan, according to a government report released Thursday. 
The report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) details how local subcontractors in Afghanistan are threatening to kidnap or kill Western businessmen and employers over alleged nonpayment for U.S.-financed work. One man threatened to set himself on fire in front of the U.S. Embassy over the issue.

Since I'm feeling a mite cynical, let's also mention that great tradition of treating out Brave Boys (and Girls) as paladins till the war's over, then dumping them on the streets and/or in the prisons while the right-wing press look the other way. That's going to be executed to perfection by the coalition, I just know it. Expect drunken, drug-addled, mentally ill, and of course just plain violent soldiery in your shopping street of choice. They will not be helped.

Hey ho, here's to the next war we'll pretend we haven't expensively lost, even when a Taliban official sets up shop at the Afghan Embassy.


Friday, 28 June 2013

Yeah, it's all about taxes and big government

The standard yackety-yack of the right-wing press in the UK is that the American Tea Party movement - basically right-wing Republicans - are largely about people upset about taxes and the heavy hand of the state. It's not true, of course, because it's a movement dominated by religious bigots and white racists. And that means homophobia. So when a gay Democrat stood up to speak in the Pennsylvania senate, guess what happened?
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe was one of the House Republicans who objected. 
"I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law," said Metcalfe, R-Butler.
 But we'll keep hearing that right-wing opposition to Obama and his policies is all about principled conservatism. Not bigotry. Even though it is mostly about the bigotry.


Nunkie Theatre's Time Machine

A review is in for Nunkie's H.G. Wells adaptation, which I'm going to see next month. Sounds good. The remarkable Robert Lloyd Parry triumphs again.
Parry’s performance as the Time Traveller is very engaging. He performs the piece with an air of disbelief; as if he still isn't convinced it happened to him. The character is clearly a genius, given his creation, but comes across as fallible, honest and warm. Parry’s physicality is tremendous; he didn't stand still for more than a minute at a time.
And here's the man himself, complete with Victorian scientific beard.


Do I need an excuse to include a clip from the classic George Pal movie with Rod Taylor? Did I ever need an excuse to do anything vaguely Wellsian?


Renoir Painting and Having a Smoke

The Post Office House at Cagnes, 1906

... despite being disabled by severe arthritis.





Two Sisters (On the Terrace) 1881






Thursday, 27 June 2013

Adult Entertainment

There's a big debate going on about violent porn (i.e. porn that simulates violence, is consensually violent, or may in some cases actually depict rape). It's not a subject upon which I can claim any expertise, but one thing does strike me. There's an implicit assumption in the 'anti' brigade that all porn is inherently bad. This in turn leads me to suspect they want to ban all of it. This is just plain bonkers. Yes, bonkers about bonking - I went there and bought the tee shirt with the dubious slogan.

An obvious analogy - I'm enjoying the French drama series Les Revenants (The Returned) on Channel 4. When I watch it online using 4OD I am informed that it's not suitable for younger viewers. I get the same message when I watch some fairly innocuous comedy on the BBC iPlayer. When I watch Scandinavian crime series like Arne Dahl I get a warning that they include not only violence but also naughty language, even though the latter is only found in the subtitles unless you speak Swedish. (Is it better or worse to read the word 'fuck' at the bottom of the screen, as opposed to hearing it?)

None of the above shows is pornographic, though between them they include sexually explicit language and images. Few people today think such entertainment made for adults should be banned or censored. Once, they did, and films that were deemed offensive didn't get shown in some towns because the local council did indeed ban them. The same went for books, which is why businesses like Olympia Press were created. It seems that whenever any medium achieves a high level of saturation - books (courtesy of state education), then cinema, then television, now the internet - there's a moral panic over its supposedly corrosive influence. And yet society survives relatively unscathed.

Perhaps a more sensible campaign would be to try and promote better porn, though perhaps the official term should be erotica or something. So my solution is to give the BBC and C4 - both recipients of public funding, one way or another - to create high quality erotic TV. The fact that this would give numerous MPs, newspaper editors, and clergy apoplexy is a fringe benefit. Also, I quite like the idea of tuning in to the unexpurgated edition of The Archers at bedtime. 'That's a mighty big silage clamp you've got there, Ed.'


Special Delivery

I'm not sure what sort of disorder - mental, physical, or moral - can be at the root of this.

A postman’s deliver-wees to one couple left them horrified – after he repeatedly urinated on their doorstep. 
The Royal Mail worker regularly relieved himself outside the home of Luke Osborne, 27, and partner Keyleigh Rawlings, 23. 
The couple thought drunks were to blame for the puddles but when they began to suspect the postie, Luke hid in the hall to catch him in the act.

Why didn't he use one of those little red elastic bands, I ask myself? Which says a lot about me. 

Another thing struck me about this vignette of modern British life, though. Mr Osborne said: 'This is the Royal Mail, they deliver in the Queen’s name and there he was having a wee on my front step.' True, but I don't think the Queen vets applicants for the service in person. 

Also, the Royal Mail is going to be privatised soon, and it will therefore end up as just another corporation. So rapacious, profit-driven free enterprise, not a modified form of feudalism, will be piddling on our doorsteps ere long.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

RIP Richard Matheson

A brilliant writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, Matheson was one of the handful of fiction writers who helped shape modern culture simply by telling great stories. And he didn't do young Stevie Spielberg any harm, by providing him with a brilliant script for his first film...



BBC obituary is here.

Friday, 21 June 2013

This will be, most likely

In Philip Larkin's poem 'Going, Going...' the grumpy old bastard of English letters talks about environmental degradation (a term he would never have spoken in real life, or at least without raising an eyebrow in contempt). The poem is about the rampant housing development of Sixties Britain, which saw the bloating of suburbs and - occurring simultaneously with industrial-scale agri-business - destroyed much of the old countryside. The familiar seaside resort also went into a long decline as cheap package holidays caught on. For Larkin this was the loss of the 'green and pleasant land' of his childhood. He was not pleased, and he reflected that he and others had arguably been complacent about warnings about the destruction of the nation's green heritage from people like his friend and rival John Betjeman.

I knew there’d be false alarms 
In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far...

In conclusion, Larkin tries to reassure himself with 'Most things are never meant./This won’t be, most likely''. (That use of meant, implying so much of planning, fate, and negligence, is typical of the man's sly genius.) But what made me think of 'Going, Going...' was how much smaller and simpler Larkin's problem was when considered in the light of the End of the World as We Know It.


So, there's a World Bank Report that, in summary, says Asia will Drown, Africa will Starve in 30 years. Put another way, all the stuff that's already happening will happen more often, and more intensely, and hurt a lot more people. The denialist response to this is to try and trash the science, which - as climate change becomes more obvious - will work progressively less well. But so long as there's good money in it, they'll keep on doing it. Science denial is insane, collectively speaking, but must often be very profitable at a personal level.

A common denialist canard from a few years ago (don't see so much of it now) is the claim that the Greens who want to curb CO2 emissions are racists (by implication) because they want to deny the world's poor people a Western living standard. 'Why do think you're entitled to cars and fridges and plasma TVs if you insist Africans and Chinese can't have them?' Oh, how clever they thought themselves, attacking liberal lefties for being all fearfully racist. How the well-born and expensively-educated must have giggled over dinners worth more than a month's income for one of the Africans they pretended to care about.

Well, the obvious answer is that you can't watch TV when you're dead (given our current state of technology). And that inability to enjoy Gossip Girl in the grave is very relevant to Westerners, because anyone who thinks mass flooding and starvation won't affect the entire word in very bad ways is an idiot. Today's problems with displaced populations are a minor appetiser compared to what is coming - a Wandering of the Nations on a scale never seen before.

Oh, and another quote that sprang to mind:

Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together. The legendary hosts of Goths and Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede--a stampede gigantic and terrible--without order and without a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the massacre of mankind.

The fact that a simple message is being consistently rejected or garbled isn't because of a lack of scientific consensus, or because boffins are making stuff up to get research grants, or because Zionist lizard people from the earth's core are running the UN. It's largely because newspapers in Britain and other countries are essentially vanity publishing projects for rich old men, and as such wildly out of tune with except the rich old men and their hangers-on. The right-wing press constantly laments the failure of the British people to be right-wing enough, not seeing itself for the cabal of bought-and-paid for arselickers it so obviously is. But they still do plenty of damage. They run interference, as the trendy folk say.

The reason we should reduce our own energy use and try to curb fossil fuel use in developing countries is because if we don't hang together we will surely hang separately. Not easy, but it's important to get it done. Otherwise that nice Mr Patel and Mrs Patel and all the little Patels probably won't get to enjoy air conditioning, home cinema, and a Mercedes SUV. They won't enjoy them because most of them will die in a flood, or a famine, or a plague, or a war - with or without nukes. And if any of them survive they will end up in a stinking refugee camp, quite possibly in Sussex.

It might not happen, of course. By the same token, if you play Russian Roulette for ten minutes, you might not blow your brains out. If you let your children run into rush hour traffic they may grow up to be sound in wind and limb. At this very moment an inventor in a garden shed in Rotherham, or a white-coated team of nanotech types in Osaka, might be inventing the Amazing Thing That Solves The Problem. Slightly less improbably, the convergence of many new and old technologies combined with good political ideas might stave off the worst of it.

Might.

Well, the next time some renowned expert starts to explain that the future will be a race for global dominance between India and China, excuse me if I change the channel. Or maybe go to the park and read poetry in the sunlight.




Monday, 17 June 2013

Tory Trifecta on Legal Aid

The government's legal aid 'reforms' - i.e. effective destruction of the system as a public service - represent a triumph of rightist thought. The Tories have seldom been so blatant in their contempt for this 'society' nonsense. Even Thatcher wouldn't have tried this.

Firstly, they'll channel legal aid cash away from small, local law firms to huge corporations, a standard righty thing to do. They talk about personal freedom and the plucky little shopkeeper, inventor etc., but in fact these guys are all about the money, and we know where the biggest of the big money is. Multinational corporations are the future, and the Tories are their willing bumsuckers allies.

Secondly, they'll clobber the poor, and much of the middle class. Clobbering the poor goes without saying - they're Tories, it's what they do. The point is that the papers won't tell white, professional Middle Englanders that the Tories are clobbering them too till after it happens. When the unholy row finally breaks out it will all be declared a fait accompli that can only be tinkered with, not reversed. Bear in mind that anyone with a disposable income of more than £37,500 a year will be ineligible for any legal aid subsidy, at all. That's not a huge income.

Thirdly, it will further discredit the legal system, because providing shitty bargain-basement representation means a lot more people will be found guilty. Indeed, since a 'one fee fits all' approach is being introduced, it's in the interests of the big McLawfirms to urge clients to plead guilty, get it over quickly, and move on to the next human cashpoint British citizen accused of a criminal offence. Some verdicts will be so blatant an affront to reason and morality that there'll be appeals, leading to acquittals, though many will inevitably take years to get justice and some innocents will die in jail. A system that often jails the innocent cannot be held in high esteem. It's far worse than letting the guilty go free.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Prose Puzzle

“Dimly, for he was not accustomed to thinking along these lines, he perceived the numbing truth that we human beings are merely as many pieces in a jig-saw puzzle and that our every movement affects the fortunes of some other piece. Just so, faintly at first and taking shape by degrees, must the germ of civic spirit have come to Prehistoric Man. We are all individualists till we wake up.”


Now there's a fine quote. One I agree with wholeheartedly. Most of the so-called 'libertarian' thinking of our time comes from people who are white, male, wealthy, have had it very easy thanks to Daddy's money and connections or similar private-sector safety net. For all their chat about history and such, libertarians seem to lack the imagination to visualise what can happen to supposedly smart, resourceful individuals when society breaks down. Oh, and they're also narcissistic little wankers with no moral compass, obviously. 

But, insults aside, who was the author of the above? You can, I think, narrow it down. Obviously an elegant prose stylist - 'numbing truth' is a clever use of two commonplace words, far more effective than some bit of polysyllabic obscurity. The same goes for the commonplace term 'wake up', recruited here to perform an uncommon task. To me it suggests a person born maybe a hundred years ago, or not much less. 'Prehistoric Man' is more of a pre-war expression. Also a lightweight one - a more intellectual author might have said Neolithic Man or something along those lines. 

Well, Google can reveal the truth, if you're interested.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Thou Shalt Not...


Have more intelligent fun with those loveable Tree Lobsters here.

Having it all

Well, ladies, you've certainly got it made here in the woolly liberal West, haven't you? I mean, you're allowed to vote, you can actually talk without permission, some of you even have jobs. It's almost as if we've achieved a kind of feminist Utopia that...

Oh hang on, there's this shit.
Second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth is out of a job, but not for anything she did in the classroom. Her school district considers her a liability and too unsafe to have around following a domestic violence dispute that happened earlier this year.

A letter sent to Charlesworth said that school officials are concerned about her ex-husband's "threatening and menacing behavior," and as a result they "cannot allow" her to continue teaching at the Holy Trinity School. 
"They’ve taken away my ability to care for my kids,” said Charlesworth. “It’s not like I can go out and find a teaching job anywhere.” 
The mother of four children didn’t think this would ever be her story to tell, but she is using her name and showing her face in hopes of bringing attention to a larger problem. 
It’s a story that has domestic violence advocates outraged, fearing it will only reinforce an age-old problem where victims stay silent — but equally concerned are the school's parents, not wanting their kids in the middle of it.
A classic instance of Victim Blaming by a Roman Catholic institution. It's easy to forget that religion is, by and large, about oppressing women, and the weakening of religious power in the West has probably done more to help liberate women than academic theorising or political campaigning.

Not much consolation to women, like Carie Charlesworth, who find themselves beating beaten up by a man, and then punished for it by a misogynist system. As she remarked: “I have not been back to a Catholic church since this happened”. I'm sure they're praying for you, Carie. Prayers are so good at putting meals on the table and a roof over your kids' heads.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Doubleplusdodgy

It's been a good week for George Orwell, considering that Eric Arthur Blair has been dead for a long while. Firstly, there's a campaign to send 100,000 copies of his most famous book to Washington DC, which hasn't done publishing revenues any harm.

Then there's the determined attempts by both the US and UK regimes governments to pay tribute to 1984 by taking us there in a kind of securocratic time machine.

In Britain we've seen the pre-emptive arrest of would-be protesters on the grounds that they might have been about to commit crimes. I wonder why the same principle can't be applied to, say, members of parliament? I'm sure there's a good reason. I'm not a huge fan of anti-capitalist squatter anarchists, because a lot of them do seem to enjoy smashing stuff up. But I am a huge fan of giving everyone the right to peaceful protest and arresting them if and when they break the law.

And in case you think - as I'm sure many do - that all this fuss about state surveillance doesn't apply to normal people, think again. In Britain there is a thing called RIPA (presumably pronounced 'Reaper' - never let it be said these people have no sense of humour, grim thought it may be). Under RIPA various government departments, plus MI5 and other agencies, can obtain phone data i.e. who you've called, when, how long you talked etc. They can't actually listen in to your calls, but of course they can instantly build up a picture of all your phone contacts and - depending on how much you use your phone - a picture of your life at work and play. 'Under RIPA, various organs of the UK State can obtain from telecoms company data about users. This can range from a registered user’s name to every piece of information on a customer held by the telecoms company.' Every piece of information. Hold that thought.

How many times a year do you think UK state agencies obtain phone data on individuals? 15,000 times? 150,000? Try nearly half a million. With that level of info, working on the 'six degrees' principle, it might be possible to build up a rather nifty database on tens of millions of people. Of course, there almost certainly isn't one. Now.

As Jack of Kent (linked to above) puts it:
The only limits to the State’s desire to obtain data on its own citizens are probably only practicality, competence, and expense. 
There is a debate to be had as to the correct limits are to this intrusion (and those officials who say that “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” are usually most reluctant to tell you what they are doing); but we will not get that debate unless it is demanded. The State certainly does not want to discuss its intentions with us and get our prior approval. 
It may well be that the wider claims made this week about Prism are “baseless” – and even false. 
But it would not be because the State does not want to have such powers, if they were to become available.

Oh, and there's this absurd old principle that someone charged with a criminal offence has certain rights. Nonsense, of course. The US are charging inmates at Guantanamo with the most heinous crimes. Fair enough, you may say. But some are not allowed to know the crimes they are charged with...
(...) what makes the no-name government motion so intriguing is that those who've read it can't say what it's about, and those who haven't don't have a clue. Not even the accused, who, unless the judge rules for the defense, is not allowed to get an unclassified explanation of it - and cannot sit in on the court session when it's argued in secret.
Well, at least we can turn off our telescreens. It's just that we don't want to...

Monday, 10 June 2013

Wild About Harry

This story is rather interesting, because a lot of people who have gut-reaction dislike of gays are also gut-reaction royalists.
A gay former soldier has claimed that Prince Harry saved him from homophobic intimidation by members of a rival regiment.

Trooper James Wharton said the Prince stepped in when he told him six soldiers had threatened to "batter" him during a training exercise in Canada in 2008 (...)
"Harry climbed out of the tank and started having a go. I worried he was about to make the whole thing worse, but he wasn't holding back. Prince Harry was sticking up for me and putting a stop to the trouble. I had been on track for a battering and had been rescued."

And I didn't realise Harry and Wills were gay icons, but apparently they are. Amazing what you miss out on when you're a boring old straightypants.

Meanwhile, the anti-gay brigade continues to prove that they're a bunch of swivel-eyed bastards, really. It's so obvious that there's a right side and wrong side in this one.

Dead Writers

Two writers whose work I've enjoyed died recently. Iain M. Banks, science fiction and mainstream Scottish author, died from cancer on the weekend of June 8-9th. Not long before, on May 26th Jack Vance, the American science fiction and fantasy author, died.

The one obvious thing they had in common was that they were genre-jumping authors. Jack Vance began as a pulp sci-fi writer in the Forties, but he was also an award-winning mystery/crime writer - indeed, Vance often asserted that he wasn't really a science fiction writer at all. (The only TV adaptation of a Vance story, Bad Ronald, is not science fiction, but does emphasise the power of fantasy.) Iain (M.) Banks enjoyed mainstream literary success but also wrote popular science fiction, something many 'serious' critics obviously found hard to deal with.

Vance influenced Banks in obvious ways. The sheer flamboyance of the former's invention is apparent in the latter's Culture series. Vance was not the first sf writer to create a consistent future universe (that of the Alastor Cluster and the Demon Princes series) but his was one of the biggest and brightest. Banks' Culture and various rival powers were just as flamboyant as Vance's galactic realms.



Both men were strongly atheistic in outlook, and often cast a sceptical eye at the way religion prompts people (and other beings) to do bizarre and brutal things. And both had a wry sense of humour - neither was at all po-faced. There's a sense of the absurd about many of their invented cultures (as well as in The Culture), and there is an emphasis upon games, gambling, sport, and related matters. These recreations often have a lethal side: there's Banks' game of Damage, which can burn out the brain, while in The Dirdir Vance depicts the hunting of humans by aliens in an enclosed ecosystem called The Glass Box. It's worth noting that in both cases people volunteer to take part.

They were very different, though, in other ways. Vance was essentially conservative in outlook, and his books reflect traditional attitudes towards gender roles - not surprisingly, as he was born in 1916. Banks' Culture novels depict a world where genetic and other biological modifications are normal and desirable, and his post-war Scottish origins led - not surprisingly - to his embracing feminist and generally progressive views.



Vance's invented worlds, for all their bizarre customs and beliefs, are often modified forms of 'traditional' civilizations, based on a money economy and fairly familiar social class distinctions. On the few occasions when he describes a highly governed or socialistic society it is clear he doesn't think much of it. In Wyst: Alastor 1716, for instance, an 'egalistic' society is depicted as economically hopeless. (Vance is just as hard on stratified cultures propped up by religion, a stance taken to extremes in the excellent Emphyrio.)

By contrast, Banks' Culture is techno-socialist and run - most of the time - by extremely intelligent machines, and in The Player of Games he sets it against an alien space empire that embodies all the worst traits of modern Britain. He was clearly fascinated by militarism and the paraphernalia of warfare at all technological levels, but often describes militarists with a kind of jovial contempt.

One very obvious common thread in the books of both men is the way that (again, very traditionally) they tend to focus on the saga of one key individual to illuminate the worlds they invent. In Vance there is usually a quest to set out upon or vengeance to be wrought. Things are not always so clearly defined with Banks, but damaged or marginalised characters are more likely to set things in motion. The authors were both civilized, generous men who offered their readers bizarre, dangerous worlds and ruthless heroes: they will both be missed.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Iain Banks, 1954-2013

The writer was somewhat opinionated.

So they're back (The axe falls on the poor, 21 October). The last time the Tories were in power I used to think of them as the hyena party, because they tended to pick on the most vulnerable members of the herd: the young, the weak, the old. Now, after flat-out lying about the inescapability of cuts and the reason we're in this mess, this bunch of upper-class landed louts, this cabinet of share-portfolioed millionaires, this gang of Greedists – along with their willing chums, the hopelessly deluded, now credibility-free Lib Dems – have returned to cut and butcher their way through our society again, picking on the young through picking on their parents, picking on the poor and the vulnerable, the disabled and disadvantaged, running down precisely those least able to help themselves, the very people any decent society ought to be doing most to help, while the bankers and the City boys sip their Cristal and drool over their upcoming bonuses. 
A little has changed; the grey vote has held off direct attacks on today's pensioners, but even that is temporary; the old too will miss the buses withdrawn from service and the police removed from the streets, feel ignored and cut off when their local library closes and the remaining post offices turn into charity shops; and the old will suffer most as a hyper-stressed NHS tries to cope with the trauma of yet another needless privatisation-inspired reorganisation. The hyenas that lope and crunch their way across the plains are blameless; just animals behaving as evolution has shaped them, quite free of morality, ethics or guilt. We might have expected better from our own species, but no; the snarling horrors have returned, and we'll rue the wasted years that let all three major parties swing so decisively to the right and present us with so little real choice at the last election. 
Iain Banks 
North Queensferry, Fife

Search William Hague's House, He Might Have Something To Hide

It's just a suggestion. After all, if William Hague, our weird-voiced-slap-head-failed-Tory-leader Foreign Secretary, has nothing to fear, he couldn't possibly object to the police rummaging through his private possessions. Or indeed those of his family. Could he? I mean, if it's okay to randomly trawl people's phone records and emails looking for badness, then randomly searching people's homes is equally good, if not better. After all, it's in their actual homes that all the baddies keep their guns and bombs and drugs and stuff, not on their iPhones! Am I right?

The argument that only those with something to hide need fear having their private conservations or emails scrutinised by unaccountable (i.e. reporting to a handful of dodgy politicians) state bureaucrats is extraordinary, and revealing. It's the logic of the Stasi, the KGB, and the Gestapo. The right to a private life for the individual is casually denied by dictatorships in the interests of 'security', of course. But it so happens that in the EU, which is where we are, the right to a private life is guaranteed by law.

Respect for correspondence

Everyone has the right to uninterrupted and uncensored communication with others – a right particularly of relevance in relation to phone-tapping; email surveillance; and the reading of letters.

How soon before the rightist rhetoric starts, telling us that the evil EU is helping terrorists by trying to protect people's privacy? And of course we'll hear about all the terrorist crimes thwarted by the security services - well, we won't, because we have to take it on trust that they are doing anything at all to protect us. Oh, it's not true, like most 'hate Europe' stuff; the treaty in question does allow the state to spy on people for reasons of national security. Or, more precisely:
...in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
That 'protection of health or morals' leaps out for some reason. I approve of MI5 intercepting orders for takeaway pizzas if they come from the clinically obese. As for morals, MI5 breaking into a call from some creep to his girlfriend to tell her that 'he went and shagged that minger Shanice last night, so just dump him love' would seem a perfectly valid use of taxpayers' money.

Apart from anything else, it might give them something to do. I mean, do they fight terrorism with ruthless efficiency, or just sort of vaguely thrash about and hope the baddies trap themselves through sheer incompetence? Who knows? We're certainly not allowed to. If there are no terrorist bombings, it's because the spooks have done a great job. Give 'em some more money! If there are terrorist bombings, it's because they're under-funded and overworked. Give 'em some more money! Win-win situation for the MI5 boys and girls, methinks.

It doesn't matter if they're utterly lazy and incompetent, because - for all practical purposes - nothing can be done to bring them to book for their failings. And they can find out whatever they damn well like about anyone, apparently. Let's hope the spooks are not as keen to flog information as some police officers have been.

Hello There, Denizens of the Anglosphere!


Saturday, 8 June 2013

Tinfoil Hat Corner


Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the Polls

All the Single Doctors
Identifying Arsewits is not always easy. Certainly the people who framed the YouGov polls on Doctor Who qualify as mild cases, as they refer to the character (as opposed  to the series) by that name. Now whether he's called Doctor Who or not is a vacuum-sealed can of telepathic Denebian mindworms. Peter Cushing played a very human eccentric Doctor Who in two films, and Jon Pertwee was definitely in 'Doctor Who and the Silurians'. But its a bit silly to go around asking people 'Who's Your Favourite Doctor Who?', because many fans will be so apoplectic about the question that they can't think straight about the answer. Not that I get annoyed about that sort of thing. I've literally never written an angry letter in my life. About Doctor Who. So far as I recall. The Seventies were a wild time. Anything was possible.

Not right-wing - note Co-op affiliation. Also, most cake-y Doctor

That said, it's nice to see DW fans (or just people who have opinions about it) broken down by political affiliation. The New Statesman decided to come up with some dodgy claims about the poll, such as 'Jon Pertwee is the most right-wing doctor'. They base this on the fact that Pertwee is the only pre-revival Doctor other than Tom Baker to score above statistical 'blip' level. Indeed, Pertwee scores slightly better than Christopher Eccleston with some demographics. Which is of course FASCINATING.

Pertwee's Doctor, as any fule kno, was pretty left-wing in his attempts to forge peace between different intelligent species and his unwavering hostility to militarism. That's why UNIT and the Brigadier were there, so that a basically left-wing bunch of scriptwriters could bang on about peace 'n' stuff. Which is why, dumbass Guardian New Statesman person, in the 2010 election he had the support of 11 per cent of Labour voters and only 8 per cent of Tories. Yes, I know he didn't stand in that election, but if he had...

Indeed, one obvious point about the poll is that the Seventies Doctors - Pertwee and Tom Baker - still have 'mainstream' fans while the Eighties ones, plus Paul McGann in the Nineties are pretty much forgotten. The same goes for Hartnell and Troughton in the Sixties; too long ago, Daddy-o. And when it comes to the least popular Doctor? Oh, do you really need to ask? Poor bastard, it's not like there's even much money in it.



One rock-solid obvious factoid is that David Tennant really revived the franchise, especially with the laydeez. He wins hands down for overall popularity and scores 55 per cent among female voters. He also has an impressive spread of fans across all age ranges, and British regions. Overall the show itself is popular with all age ranges, but it's not surprising that there's a bias towards the trendy young people.

The Guardian is nearer the mark when it comes to the question of who might play the next Doctor. Dear old UKIP win the Golden Arsewit, with no less than 50 per cent of them opining that the actor should be white, because they are non-racists, obvs. For the Tories it's 33 per cent, and 14 per cent for Labour. UKIP and the Tories are also strongly inclined to a male Doctor compared to Labour and the LDs.

So, to really piss off the Arsewits the next Doctor should probably be someone like...

Andi Osho

Place your bets.