Thursday, 31 March 2016

Conspiracy theory of the day #2

Now if you're looking for a really meaty hunk of conspiracy fodder, get your tin-foil hats around this :
With apocalyptic murals, a terrifying giant horse statue and curiously laid-out runways, Denver International Airport has been the subject of many conspiracy theories since it opened in 1995...

...Visitors are greeted by a massive statue of a horse rearing on its hind legs with glowing red eyes. To add to the creepiness, the statue - titled Blue Mustang - killed its sculptor Luis Jimenez in 2006, when it fell on him and severed an artery in his leg.

Inside the terminal, the unsettling iconography continues. A gargoyle pops out of a suitcase at baggage claim and a mysterious plaque states that the airport was paid for by the "New World Airport Commission" - which doesn't exist...

...But strange murals by Leo Tanguma, which have since been removed, generated much of the interest from conspiracy theorists.

The paintings show a figure resembling a Nazi Stormtrooper killing a dove, and distraught children standing over extinct animals while a city burns in the background.

Another painting shows children handing weapons to a boy in lederhosen, who destroys them with a giant hammer.

Via

Conspiracy theory of the day

According to a recent headline "Education reforms have brought 'chaos' to classrooms, says NUT leader." From the point of view of Christine Blower, most other education professionals, parents and, most importantly, children, Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove and every other destructively meddling reforming education secretary, going back at least to David Blunkett* (who first rolled out the notion that academy schools would somehow solve the "problem" of "bog-standard" comprehensives), have all been doing a terrible job.

But you could also say they've been making an excellent job of furthering elite interests by keeping the plebs demoralised, ignorant and tractable -  "...the political establishment decided that the best way to keep the British** public passive and servile would be to systematically deny them the thinking skills they need to see through the right-wing political propaganda they're being drip-fed..."

Conspiracy theory? Well, Hanlon's razor warns against attributing to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. But on the other hand, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you...
"Conspiracy theory" can also be used as a snarl word to dismiss a valid worry that a group is up to something. A good example would be the discovery of COINTELPRO. People such as the Black Panthers and Abbie Hoffman suspected that the FBI had a covert program dedicated to tracking, discrediting and destroying them; however, they were largely written off as paranoid radicals finding a way to blame the man for their failures. (All sane people knew J. Edgar Hoover would never do anything such as these freaks were claiming!) Then, lo and behold, in 1971 the "FBI Burglars" released documents mentioning COINTELPRO. This in turn led journalists to investigate and expose the program and prove that the radicals were right.
Anyway, it's just a theory - use your own critical thinking skills to decide whether cock-up or conspiracy best explains our ongoing educational catastrophe. Right, Brian?


Brian: You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals.
[Crowd, together]: Yes, we're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different.
[Crowd, together]: Yes, we're all different!
Lone voice in crowd: I'm not...
[Crowd, together]: Shhh!
*The Tories have the most terrible record on educational "reform", but New Labour deserves a dishonourable mention for cobbling together such Frankenstein's monsters as academy schools and student-paid tuition fees in the first place.

** "English" if we're talking forced academisation. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The medieval Internet


Quite a lot of people have noticed how rising inequality within states looks like a throwback to the hierarchical age of feudalism. The Null Device makes the more original observation that the hyper-modern technology of mass surveillance also has an ironically medieval vibe:
So, in the age of mass surveillance ... we may be facing a psychological retreat from modernity towards the mediaeval mindset; only instead of the omniscient God and His recording angels seeing every sinful thought in our fallible souls and recording it for the final judgment, it is the temporal powers with their intercepts and algorithms, and the judgment is potentially a lot closer. Most sinners will hope that, if they keep their heads down, they can squeeze through purgatory relatively quickly, while a hard core who know they are already damned will raise hell.
For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.
Proverbs 5:21

Some people actually talk like this

We grew it from a dangerous idea to a brand that resonated globally. Of course it’s disappointing that the first broadcast window in the UK is then sold to the highest bidder, ignoring the risk a publicly owned channel like 4 took backing it.
Channel 4's chief creative officer, Jay Hunt.

I particularly like the concept of global resonance, which sounds like something from a New Age workshop for people who believe in Deepak Chopra and healing crystals - and bonus points for use of that bloodless expression of managerialist displeasure  "disappointing."

And the idea of a "creative officer" is quietly hilarious, too. Right now, I'm imagining a squad of creative privates doing drill practice, with the creative sergeant major screaming orders at them.



Via

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Oh my ears and whiskers


An idle thought that occurred to me over Easter - it's easier to imagine how Lewis Carroll was inspired to come up with the surreal fantasy world of the Alice books when you fully appreciate the everyday weirdness of the Victorian ephemera which surrounded him.

Idle thought prompted by this collection of Victorian Easter cards posted on the BBC website. Looking at these, it's not hard to believe that the Victorians used tincture of laudanum like we use paracetamol, and frequently OD'd.

Ceci n'est pas un jouet

The free gift that the people at the Clarks shoe shop gave us when we bought The Offspring's latest pair of school shoes. Maybe, even with the addition of a violent orange pom-pom and promotional branding for the latest Disney movie, a novelty pen is NOT A TOY. Maybe it's just another ABOMINATION.

But it's the thought that counts, so thanks for the abomination, folks.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Design iconoclasm

As well as praising the hexagonal cross-section pencil for being a good thing in itself, I recently wrote that another good thing about it was how it inspired the design of the iconic Bic ballpoint pen.

Having slept on it, I've woken up to the realisation that the disposable plastic biro is not a good thing. It is an abomination which deserves to die.

Think about it. How many billion disposable plastic things do we want to produce?* Even ostensibly small-government-loving governments want to discourage the commercial proliferation of toxic, landfill-hogging, wildlife-destroying, petrochemical-slurping plastic trash with things like plastic bag taxes.

It's not as if we need disposable plastic ballpoints most of the time. Most of the stuff scribbled down in biro is ephemeral: notes to self, meeting notes, course notes, revision notes, shopping lists, messages to phone people back and so on. You could do all this stuff perfectly well with an HB pencil which ends its life as a few wood shavings and a biodegradable stump.

There are a few circumstances when you can't use a pencil - those hard-copy official forms where they ask you to write in black ink and keep your signature inside the box, and it's considered bad form to sign the letter you just printed, or somebody's birth, marriage or death certificate, in pencil.

Then there are cheque books and bank deposit slips (banks are a vector of disposable pen proliferation, now they no longer have a handful of pens chained to up for customers to use in branch, but encourage you to just take the biro equivalent of an Ikea stubby pencil from their endless supply). Oh, and you might want the top copy of an one of those carbon-papered invoices to be inked in but, honestly, how many people use carbon paper these days?

For some of these things, solutions already exist - the registrar can sign off the hatches, matches and despatches with a non-disposable fountain pen or similar (would you really want stuff like that scrawled in biro, anyway?). And if you send out hard-copy official letters, save your signature as a .gif file.

I think I've already established that the majority of disposable biro use can be done away with by just switching to pencils. But what about the small, stubborn residue of hard cases where we want a cheap way of making an indelible mark?

Well, the indelible pencil has already been invented. Maybe we need something better than the existing indelible pencil, but not much better. The cheap disposable biro has always been second-best, anyway. My handwriting is pretty shonky, but if I switch from a biro to a decent fountain, cartridge or fibre-tip pen which dictates a slower, more fluid writing action, it gets better. For a person with neat handwriting the eqivalent change would be from merely neat to beautiful, calligraphy-standard script. 

So the bar for a biro replacement isn't set too high. It's a technical challenge but we've had nearly eighty years of technological innovation and materials science since László Bíró patented the ball point tip, so I reckon there's a clever somebody out there who'd be able to come up with an indelible pencil core that writes no worse than a biro. Maybe micro or nano-scale ink-filled spheres in a suitable matrix or something? After all, it's only needed for a small subset of the things we now use biros for and, in an increasingly digital world, that subset is shrinking all the time.

I wonder if the main barrier to change is psychological. After all, one place where you see a lot of people writing in biro is schools. Moving up from writing in pencil to writing in pen is an educational rite of passage, a necessary preparation for the adult world. At least it is now. But most of the stuff most kids will be writing as adults will be on keyboards, anyway, and, if grown-ups woke up, smelled the coffee and abandoned their environmentally-unfriendly disposable ballpoints in favour of greener pencils, learning to write in biro would no longer be a preparation for anything relevant.

However digital things get, we'll still need to grab a piece of paper or a Post-It and scribble something down on most days for the forseeable future. But there's no reason I can see why we need to continue manufacturing a toxic mountain of disposable plastic things to do so.



*The 100 billionth Bic Cristal Pen was produced in 2006. How many other-branded disposable plastic pens have been produced, or the up-to-date total, are figures I don't know, but they're certainly going to be big numbers.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

I'm a pencil. That's how I roll.


Or how I don't. Forget your Bialetti coffee maker, Vespa scooter and Wassily Chair, my design classic for today is the humble hexagonal cross-sectioned pencil. They're everywhere, but you don't notice them in the same way that fish don't notice water. Except when you find yourself using a cylindrical pencil and the damn thing rolls off your work surface and disappears under the furniture, or into the midst of whatever localised accumulation of clutter characterises your workspace.

The inventor* of the hex pencil took on a real, if trivial, problem and solved it. But that's what innovators do, right (only sometimes with less trivial problems)? Well, you'd think so until you look at some of the world's less useful innovations. In a narrow sense, I'm in no way technically competent to have an opinion on stuff like the fashionable Internet of Things - but in a broader sense, like everybody else, I'm a potential end user with a reasonable level of expertise about the sort of things that cause problems in my life and reasonably well equipped to work out whether a suggested fix would make things better, worse, or simply be irrelevant.

I had a bit of a moan about IoT hype a while back. It seems to me that there are three problems with uncritically accepting a lot of this stuff. The second two are about implementation and unintended consequences, either related to cock-up ("What time is it?" "I don't know - sorry, my watch is updating."), or enemy action ("The modern car's operating system is such a mess that researchers were once able to get complete control of a vehicle by playing a song laced with malicious code"). But the first problem is, by far, the most fundamental - your *solution* doesn't seem to solve any actually existing problem. Two scenarios:
  1. Problem: my pencil just rolled off the desk. Solution: hex pencil. Small problem solved.
  2. Problem: my toaster isn't connected to the Internet. Solu ... er ... hang on, since when was this even a problem?
Rule of thumb - if you can't easily explain how your new thing helps the end user, the thing probably doesn't help the end user.**

In many cases it's an awful lot easier to explain how people other than the end user might benefit. For example:
  • the manufacturer, by using DRM to retain control over the thing you just parted with good money to buy and naively think you now own
  • the manufacturer and the "carefully selected third parties" who they sold your personal data to, because one gets a kick back and the others get a shot at trying to sell you stuff, whether you want it, or need it, or not
  • bad people trying to get their hands on your personal data for personal gain, or in order to perform random acts of malice (if your home has crummy door locks, it's only a bug for you - for burglars, it's a feature) 
  • the police, security services and other designated snoopers (who would, naturally, only ever violate the privacy of people who, if left unwatched, would present a clear risk of embarrassing people in authority to the public).
The question of who really benefits is a political one and applies as much to mainly political innovations as to mainly technical ones. For example I'm against things like George Osborne's deficit elimination plans, the forced academisation of schools, measures to prevent alleged health tourism, or The Great Wall of Trump, but not necessarily because I think that the planning or implementation is shoddy. I'm against these ideas because they fail at a far more fundamental level - like the Internet-connected toaster, I believe that the problems they purport to solve are (for all practical purposes) non-existent.

My naive view is that politicians ought to be in the business of looking for solutions to problems which actually exist, as opposed to wasting everybody's time by blathering on about problems that are salient, but not existent, whilst leaving real ones to fester. With my less naive head on, I think that these policies do have beneficiaries - but the beneficiaries are a tiny minority of well-connected people already far more powerful than the median voters and "hard working families" who are supposedly the ones being helped. These sort of problem-free solutions can either directly benefit these tiny groups, or indirectly benefit them by misdirecting the subject of political discourse away from changing realities which might threaten the interests of the powerful.

The hex pencil at least passed this first test with flying colours - it solved an actual problem. But did it have unintended consequences? And was it just the end user who benefited?

From personal experience, I'd say there's no significant downside for the end user - hex pencils work just fine for me. But then, I'm just a casual pencil user. What about more serious users? John Steinbeck, for example, had a 24-a-day pencil habit:***
On the third finger of my right hand I have a great callus just from using a pencil for so many hours every day. It has become a big lump by now and it doesn't ever go away. Sometimes it is very rough and other times, as today, it is as shiny as glass. It is peculiar how touchy one can become about little things. Pencils must be round. A hexagonal pencil cuts my fingers after a long day. You see I hold a pencil for about six hours every day.
So, maybe if you're writing The Grapes of Wrath out in pencil, the hex cross-section might not be for you. But then again, I'm not 100% sure what type of hexagonal pencil Steinbeck was having problems with. The modern hexagonal pencil isn't a true hexagon, having the sharp angles rounded off, but apparently this wasn't always the case, as the creators of the Roundhex graphic design company note on their web site:
As John Steinbeck wrote, “Pencils must be round. Hexagonal pencils cut my fingers after a long day.” Thus, we have arrived at the shape of most pencils today: the rounded hexagon. A compromise between utility and comfort. 
Which suggests that, maybe, when Steinbeck wrote this, hex pencils had sharper edges than modern designs and - perhaps - he'd have been OK with 24 modern roundhex pencils. Alternatively, another site has this to say about Steinbeck's pencil of choice:
Blackwing Pencils, Mongol 480
John Steinbeck's love of pencils and his search for the perfect pencil is legendary. He described Blackwing Pencils as "soft and fine" floating "over the paper just wonderfully". But at other days the Blackwings "cracked on him", their points breaking and "all hell is let loose". And then it was the Mongol 480 #2 3/8 round. Jay Parini identifies the Mongol pencil as Steinbeck's preferred writing instrument.
The illustration on the site seems to show roundhex pencils, although these bear the number 602. I couldn't immediately find an illustration of a Blackwing Mongol 480, but I did find a eBay pic of some Mongol 482s which might be the same as the "Mongol 480 #2" Lito Apostolakou mentions. And, guess what, they're roundhexes:

Mongol horde
But, then again, Apostolakou calls them "Mongol 480 #2 3/8 round", so maybe those are a different kind of pencil altogether.

Going back to the "who benefits?" question, the answer is "not just the end user." But, in this case, the other beneficiaries don't win out in a bad way. The manufacturer is happy because basic geometry dictates that you can produce more hex pencils from a given quantity of the wood you bought than you can round ones. And with less waste, the environment wins, too. These are not zero-sum benefits - it's a win-win-win situation.

Perhaps even a win-win-win-win situation if, as I suspect, the roundhex pencil inspired the cross-section of the classic Bic ballpoint pen and its many imitators, which must collectively have prevented millions of unattended biros from rolling off work surfaces to slip quietly away through wormholes in space to a world where they knew they could enjoy a uniquely biroid lifestyle, responding to highly biro-oriented stimuli, and generally leading the biro equivalent of the good life.



*Lothar von Faber, or maybe Ebenezer Wood, depending on who you believe.

** Usually, but not always. There were once plenty of people, including me, who couldn't see the point of putting a camera on a mobile phone just because you could. Most of us now admit that it was actually quite a nifty idea and occasionally even useful.

*** Not that he actually used up 24 whole pencils in a day, but that was apparently the number of sharpened pencils he started his writing day with, discarding them as each one became blunt.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Priggy McPoface

As the world + dog now knows, many members the great British public have done us all proud with the joyously silly decision to vote to name a £200 million polar research vessel "Boaty McBoatface."

Helena Horton, writing for the Telegraph, is not amused. Her sense of humour bypass doesn't surprise me in the least - when your day job is writing about things like George Osborne's economic competence, Iain Duncan Smith's social conscience and Boris Johnson's prime ministerial qualifications, whilst keeping a straight face, having your funny bone surgically removed must be more or less an entry-level qualification.*
"... public have decided to christen this magnificent ship with a ridiculous name ... blow for democracy ... not taking it seriously ... no respect ... disgraceful ... young people nowadays ... grrrr ... hrrumph!"
Interestingly, though, there's a readers' on-line poll at the bottom of Ms Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' article and - guess what. I completed the on line poll this morning and, to my great glee was informed that I - along with 76% of the readers who'd completed the Telegraph's own poll - had voted Boaty McBoatface. I guess you have to take this with a pinch of salt - there was nothing like e-mail verification to stop a group of jolly pranksters tampering with the result and, for all I know, by now all the retired Colonels have had the hired help clear up after they sprayed Darjeeling and kedgeree over the breakfast table in spluttering outrage, logged on and voted to make the Telegraph's front runner something less impertinent, like the "RRS Very Earnest Shackleton (No Talking In The Ranks)." Still, it made me smile.


* To be fair, Helena Horton is described as "a trending news journalist for the Telegraph, trawling the depths of the internet [sic] so you don't have to" so maybe her day job has more to do with skateboarding ducks than Boris on a zip wire, although these days, mainstream politics and infotainment are more or less indistinguishable, anyway.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Your seasonal tune for today


Cruel and unusual


This is how replacement flesh unit work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb has voted on Welfare and Benefits:

  • Consistently voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the "bedroom tax")
  • Consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
  • Consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
  • Consistently voted for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support
  • Consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
  • Almost always voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed

The new unit should feature equivalent functionality, but has an unusual modification:
He was known to have taken interns from Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), an organisation which co-sponsored the “Judaeo-Christian” event ‘Sex and the City: Redeeming sex today’ in 2012.*

The £50-a-head conference included talks on “mentoring the sexually broken” from speakers including Jospeh Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and author of books on how to clinically “treat” being gay.
The modification should enable the new unit to operate seamlessly with the startled owl responsible for programming the human sub-adults:

Error. 409 Conflict.



* or 2009, according to the leaflet still up on the Anglican Mainstream web site. Or was the first event so popular it came back in 2012?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Lobbyists lobbied for "lobbying" ban

The UK government has passed rules banning academics who receive public funding from "lobbying" ministers and MPs about their research, meaning that the people whom the government pays to acquire expertise in matters of public policy aren't allowed to speak to policy-makers anymore.

The problem, from the UK government's perspective, is that it wants to do things that scientists understand to be stupid: impose austerity as a means of stimulating the economy, give tax breaks to the rich as a means of stimulating the economy, limit migration as a means of stimulating the economy, and, of course, deny climate change. 
Put like that, it like sounds like a daft idea. Then you realise who first came up with this notion and your head explodes:
Ironically, the rules derive from lobbying by the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA)– a right-wing think tank that does not declare the source of its funding – and were explicitly directed at charities and NGOs like Save the Children, Action on Smoking and Health and Alcohol Concern.

And the truthiness shall make you free

In his 2012 book, "In Praise of Reason," [Michael P.] Lynch identified three sources of skepticism about reason: the suspicion that all reasoning is rationalization, the idea that science is just another faith, and the notion that objectivity is an illusion. These ideas have a specific intellectual history, and none of them are on the wane. Their consequences, he believes, are dire: "Without a common background of standards against which we measure what counts as a reliable source of information, or a reliable method of inquiry, and what doesn't, we won't be able to agree on the facts, let alone values. Indeed, this is precisely the situation we seem to be headed toward in the United States." Hence, truthiness.
In short, the usual bastards will carry on getting away with it, so long as we assent to the fact-free *realities* they create.

Depressing.

Via.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Horror from the deep

I can't help thinking that the Carmagnolle brothers deserved an Oscar for costume design when they created this nightmarish entity out of a sci-fi horror movie:


But they never got one, because:
a)  they created this in 1878, when moving pictures weren't yet a gleam in the Lumière brothers' eyes
and
b) they weren't really trying to design a horrific cybernetic monster with freakish multiple eyes - just a diving suit.
But that's still the most frightening thing I've seen in a long time.

Via.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

In space no one can hear you bark


And while we're in a doggy mood, Belka and Strelka might have been the first space dogs to survive their flight, but it was poor, doomed, Laika whose memory lingered longest. Especially in the hearts of a marching squad of silver-booted, disco-loving Norwegian lesbian space marines, apparently: I'm not entirely sure that I'll be humming that one any time soon, but full marks for turning the weirdness up to eleven, girls. Humanity needs more of this kind of thing, I feel.

via

Best of breed winners

Part 3 of my "Why BorisTM is Britain's Trump" series (parts 1 and 2 here and here):
My entire life, I've watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn't the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office... ...How smart can they be? They're morons.
Trump

I am afraid that violent economic centrifuge is operating on human beings who are already far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth.

Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to the conversation about equality that 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130. The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.
Johnson

This should tell you all you need to know about the pair of 'em. Never mind making a coherent argument about how you'd make the world a better place. It all comes down to breeding - there is, obviously, a small pool of pedigree winners who are worth far more than your bog-standard mongrel. Therefore, you should vote for me, because - Dunning-Kruger alert - I am one of those top dogs. It's political leadership gone to Crufts.

Some might label this crude eugenicist determinism "Fascism", or you could argue that it's a throwback to feudalism. My take is that it's not even sufficiently thought through to warrant an "ism" and we're just on the receiving end of the unreflective self-love of two spoiled rich kids.

Some "winners" can be noisy, over-bred, pampered "characters" with no coherent policies and weird hair but, before everybody lost their minds, we just gave those sort of winners a shot at a rosette, a blow-dry and a bowl of premium dogfood, not the leadership of a major political party, or - God help us - what we used to call the free world:
Photo courtesy of  SheltieBoy

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Going through the Queen's rubbish

First Nick Clegg denied the "Queen Backs Brexit" story, now Michael Gove is not quite managing to deny it. I just don't know what to think...
... except that a lot of grovelling seems to have gone to waste, now that Govey's thrown away any chance of a knighthood by his non-denial of having either leaked, or made up, a comment that the Queen made in private. I wouldn't be surprised if she takes his hi viz away, too.

Naughty boy.

_______________

Update

Is that a sack you're holding, Michael?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Implausible deniability

The Sun's "Queen Backs Brexit" scoop must be the week's daftest story - a sign of desperate flailing from a once-mighty tabloid in decline?
Well, we can always hope. But it also shows a touch of the old Murdoch magic that once made the Currant Bun such an efficient vector for made-up stuff.

Not because the underlying premise isn't completely stupid - a famously tight-lipped monarch who's only on the throne because she's descended from the royal house of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha, and is married to a Greek migrant, sounding off about Britain being subject to European rule?

Nor because the story's convincingly sourced - it's just a "he-said/she-said" story about something somebody might, or might not, have said five years ago, splashed over the front page, then spun up to 4,000 RPM.

The clever bit, I thought, was alleging that she said all this to Nick Clegg, thus forcing him to deny it. This takes the old adage "Never believe anything until it has been officially denied" to a new level - if you've got a story that consists of nothing but anecdote and spin, how the hell do you make it sound believable? Have it officially denied by Nick Clegg. Brilliant.

Mind you, they can't keep on doing this for ever - I expect that there are already plenty of Sun readers whose attention spans don't stretch back to Nick's meteoric fall from Britain's New Hope to ineffectual Coalition yes-man and it probably won't be too long before the whole readership - and most of the rest of us - will start responding to Clegg stories with a "Nick who?" and, shortly thereafter, "Leader of the Liberal Democrats? What were they?"

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Stormy weather

Something apocalyptic to alternately darken and illuminate your day - lightning in the Swiss mountains, captured by Tobias Van Der Elst on Flikr.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Tanks for the retweet

Returning the compliment to @ilduce2016, via an anomaly in the space-time continuum, @realDonaldTrump1940 tweeted:
And he referred to my tanks —if they are small, something else must be small—I guarantee you there’s no problem. 
Well, that's me told.

#MakeItalyGreatAgain

Question of the day

The First Bag Lady

Critics took to calling [Nancy Reagan] “Queen Nancy,” which eventually became a popular postcard. By December 1981, a Newsweek poll reported that 61 percent of the public considered her less sympathetic than previous first ladies to the needs of the disadvantaged...

...In an attempt to deflect the criticism a year after arriving in Washington, she donned a bag-lady costume at the 1982 Gridiron Dinner and sang “Second Hand Clothes,” a parody of “Second Hand Rose,” before the assembled journalists and Washington power players. 
Washington Post

Astonishingly, Nancy Reagan seemed to be more popular after this insensitive, self-absorbed "Aren't homeless people just adorable?" performance (at least with the hacks and Washington power players - nobody knew how her parody played with the genuninely destitute because who the hell, after the Reagan Revolution, cared about the opinions of bums and losers?).

For anybody who remembers the buffoonish antics of the celebrity couple occupying the White House through most of the 1980s, the idea of a ludicrous showbiz presidential candidate seems depressingly repetitive, rather than shockingly novel.

There was a time when the idea of that dumb actor Reagan becoming president was a hilarious joke:

Until people stopped getting the joke. It's incredible, isn't it?

Which reminds me, appropriately, of a famous Hollywood exchange:
Joe Gillis:You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.

Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small. 
Or, as the inexplicably influential former Hollwood star might have said (had he ever been troubled by anything so humdrum and unglamourous as honesty):
Reporter: You're Ronald Reagan. You used to be in pictures. You used to be a big joke.

Ronald Reagan: I am a big joke. It's the presidency that I made small.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Men with silly hats in tiny tanks

Posted for no other reason than the unintended hilarity of the image.

I don't know much about the photo, but I believe that the serious-looking gentlemen wearing the campy mitteleuropäische hats are the bold Hungarian gendarmes and that their comically undersized tanks are Italian Carro Veloce "fast tanks", a design based on the British Carden Loyd Tankette, which itself sounds like the least terrifying weapon of war ever devised.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Banker, caught red-handed, flounces off in teenage strop


Further proof, if you needed it, that the banking industry is still having problems accepting responsibility for the consequences of its own actions. After his bank was fined for foreign exchange rigging and sundry other wrongdoing, John McFarlane, the chairman of Barclay's Bank, said "sorry" and promised to stop running his bank like a criminal enterprise in future sacked a load of underlings, then complained "Now look what you made me do! That's so unfair!!!" before storming off to his bedroom, muttering " I hate you!" and slamming the door. Well, that's the gist of his argument - here are his exact words:
“When conduct charges consume our profits, as they have for the past three years, we have no choice but to meet them by shrinking our franchise – selling or closing businesses – which reduces our capacity to support the real economy,” [McFarlane] said.
“A £50m fine or penalty is the equivalent of closing 100 small regional branches, or foregoing the capacity to lend over £500m to small businesses or consumers. The societal costs of excessive penalties is [sic] very real. The charges are not proportionate to our smaller size and ability to pay relative to many of our peers.”

John McFarlane is 68 years old.

Imagine what it would be like if all grown ups who got caught red-handed behaved like that. Say Joe Bloggs, aged 68, got fined for dropping litter:
“When a fine for littering consumes my pension, I have no choice but to meet it by shrinking my household budget, which reduces my capacity to support the real economy,” Bloggs said.

"A £100 fine is the equivalent of foregoing 10 buffet lunches at the Taj Mahal Indian restaurant, 15 matinee performances at the Nuneaton Odeon, or the purchase of nearly 100 bags of Werther's Originals, which will result in an inevitable knock-on effect on local businesses. The societal costs of excessive penalties is very real. The charges are not proportionate to my retirement income and ability to pay relative to many of my peers.”