Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Womble of Westminster

I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up the mess others leave behind.

Members of the commentariat, like this one in The Speccy have been impressed by Danny Alexander's allegedly witty response to Harriet Harman's 'ginger rodent' insult. Some people are easily impressed.

Harman's original comment wasn't the smartest thing she's ever said - making fun of ginger people in Scotland was about as astute as naming an accident-prone submarine "Astute", but Danny boy's sound bite was hardly Dorothy Parker either. Rodents 'do valuable work cleaning up the mess others leave behind'? I think Danny's getting rodents mixed up with the Wombles. Maybe he believes that mice and rats just flit around the house like furry 1970's environmentalists, doing a little light dusting, taking out the bins and sorting out the the recycling.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Trick or treat

Parents groups have begun lobbying government to insist that the entire country is CRB checked in preparation for them to take their inappropriately dressed children to the houses of complete strangers for Halloween....

Caroline Farquharson, spokeswomen for Altringham Concerned Parents Association said, “It’s simply unacceptable that we can’t be sure of the safety of our children when we send them out at night begging for sweets from the doorsteps of complete strangers... And we are simply no longer prepared to send them out alone in the dark to threaten and harass our neighbours in an environment which could pose a potential risk to their safety.”

From this spot-on parody, summing up exactly why I'm more of a Guy Fawkes night guy.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Get me to the church on time

I've never met anybody who wanted to marry a table or a clock. I didn't even know that such people existed. Luckily, there's a timely heads up on the looming menace of furniture betrothal from Rebecca Kleefisch, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin lieutenant governor, as reported in the Wisconsin Daily News, (via) .

Bang go our traditional nursery rhymes:

Hickory dickory dock
The mouse (with a fully functioning human brain)* ran up the clock
The clock and mouse
Became espoused
And, supported by taxpayer-funded domestic partner benefits, lived happily ever after...
Won't somebody please think of the children?

*OK,  it's old news, but the Christine O'Donnell human-mouse hybrid vid was still the funniest thing on HIGNFY last night....

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The price of bread and circuses

There is a really interesting new book by an economist Raghuram Rajan called Fault Lines. He argues that what led to the change was not just greedy banks, but growing social inequality in the West.

And - to put it crudely - when western governments were threatened by growing protests and dissatisfaction with this inequality, they simply bought the people off by giving them a mass of cheap money.

Raghuram Rajan has an extraordinary statistic. That if you look at the the growth in real incomes between 1976 and 2007, 58% of it went to the top 1%.

Faced with this, governments made a political choice. Rather than reform society, they removed all restrictions, gave up on their moral disapproval, and allowed a system to be created by the bankers that let everyone borrow.

It was better to give in and allow the "little people" to borrow rather than let them keep on striking and threaten social order. And what's more you could make lots of money out of it.
The BBC's Adam Curtis, back in June, summarising Raghuram G. Rajan’s Fault Lines. Rajan's book has just won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. Yet the housing bubble, which was an integral part of the debt crisis. is being quietly airbrushed out of the picture and our patrician rulers are endlessly - if inaccurately - trying to pin the blame for our troubles on the welfare state and public services that at least went some way towards ironing out the massive inequalities that caused this almighty mess in the first place.

It'll be interesting to see what happens now that the social lubricant of worry-free debt has dried up. "Interesting" as in the famous curse "may you live in interesting times"...

Friday, 22 October 2010

'As bright as Moscow on a cloudy day in June'

But quite a bit hotter...

Punching above their weight

A former British special forces soldier speaks out on some of the kit being used in the Afghan war. For a change, he's quite impressed:

“I’d say the appeal is pretty simple,” he says. “You can’t underestimate the value of having a vehicle that is fast, will never break down, and is strong enough to mount a heavy weapon in the back.”

Oh, wait a minute - he's talking about the enemy's kit. Namely, a Toyota Hi Lux with a big gun on the back. To use a tired expression, somebody's 'punching above their weight' - but it's not the Brits.

We probably wouldn't want British squaddies riding around in those things - at least, not until Top Gear demonstrates that they're also roadside bomb proof (Jeremy Clarkson + Improvised Explosive Device = pure television gold), but it's still a graphic illustration of how much defence spending is wasted on kit that's not that much better than something you could buy cheaply off the shelf (after all, as numerous grieving relatives have found out in tragic circumstances, a lot of expensive military-spec vehicles used by our armed forces haven't been IED-proof either).

Plentiful, good enough, and here right now might serve our forces better than perfect, scarce and probably ready some time this decade.

Although, if the exit strategy from Afghanistan involves bringing the bad guys back into government, maybe we could save even more money by just bringing everyone back home from Afghanistan right now. Human rights in Afghanistan have been abysmal, and elections are better than warlords and crazed fundamentalists, but when I read things like this, I wonder how long any changes for the better will last:
The new negotiations involve agreements to allow Taliban leaders positions in the Afghan government and the withdrawal of US and NATO forces according to an agreed timetable, the newspaper said.
The White House on Wednesday backed the idea of Afghan government reconciliation talks with the Taliban...
(AFP)  Maybe, when NATO has packed up and gone home, the Taliban ministers will play nicely and not get up to any naughty human rights abuses or seizing power, but I wouldn't bet the house on it.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Lightbulb joke

There's a very, very old joke that goes like this:

Q: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: None - Microsoft will just redefine darkness as the new industry standard

It just popped into my head when I read this:

A German entrepreneur is bypassing a European Union ban on light bulbs of more than 60 watts by marketing his own brand as mini heaters.


Terrify your kids with a giant robotic clown

No, nothing to do with the spending review this time - been there, done that. But anybody who doesn't find this seriously disturbing probably needs to be securely fastened into a straitjacket, topped off with one of those Hannibal Lecter-style anti-biting masks.

I predict a string of lawsuits if the severely traumatized child victims ever make it to adulthood.


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Goldmans bankers are lovin' it

An advertisment spotted on Facebook today, of all days. Well, I suppose the Goldmans bankers must be among the very few sections of society celebrating their good fortune today:

The banking industry appeared to have got off lightly in the spending review even as George Osborne pledged to extract the "maximum sustainable" tax revenue from the sector in the coming years.

As the chancellor prepared to announce details of his £2.5bn a year levy on bank balance sheets tomorrow, he won approval in the City for making clear that he was aware of the risks that some firms might leave London if the tax regime was more draconian than in other financial centres.

In contrast to his blitz on benefit-dependent sections of society, Osborne did not spell out any fresh policies on banks. Although he acknowledged public anger about high bonuses, he did not demand banks reduce payouts to staff.

Writes Jill Treanor.

'Ever wondered what sort of people are members of lifestyle concierge services?' the breathless advertising copy reads. A fair question, to which the straight answer is 'a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes'.

And just in case they haven't rubbed our noses in it enough, the copywriters go on to say:

The only limit to our service is your imagination. Here are just a few ways that Ten can help make life easier and more enjoyable:

   1. Our great relationships with the world’s best restaurants mean we can book tables that no-one else can
   2. Our entertainment team can put you on the guest-list for the best bars and clubs or help you plan your own party
   3. Thanks to our contacts in the industry, we can get you access to the hottest tickets, sold out events and VIP parties or film-premieres. We can also let you know whenever tickets for your favourite acts are about to go on sale
   4. Our travel team specialise in bespoke and luxury holiday packages and our destination specialists can advise on the best restaurants, things to see and places to visit
   5. For emergency assistance abroad, we’re only a phone call away. Our team speaks 19 languages fluently and we are available 24 hours a day
   6. Our motor team can help you whether you’re looking to buy a supercar or upgrade the family run-around
   7. If you’re looking to treat yourself, we could organise for you to have your own personal shopper, or our health and beauty specialists can arrange a visit to one of our favourite spas
   8. Use our reminder service for birthdays or special occasions - a member of our retail team can also recommend gifts or source you those hard-to-find items
   9. Moving house can be a stressful experience, but we can provide support in the run-up and on the day. Once you’ve moved in, our home team can find you good, reliable professional help, in the form of cleaners, gardeners, nannies and maintenance companies
  10. If you have children, our dedicated family experts can find you last-minute babysitters, recommend personal tutors, and offer advice on a variety of topics

Looks like those investment bankers are really having to tighten their belts along with the rest of us...

He shoots - he scores!

It’s weird; we’re having a drip-fed disembowelling of the public sector and above it all looms the gibbous, lowering visage of Wayne Rooney. It’s all round doom here in Aburdistan, like a horror movie where the baboon escapes from confinement when the villagers are distracted by the witch burning. In the end, everything is destroyed.

Some more top quality spending apocalypse porn, this time served up on the Blood and Treasure blog.

Listening to the Spending Review: Shorter version

Lots of middle-aged fat white men who are all going to be completely untouched by the cuts, sitting around in a nice warm studio talking about why everyone else needs to be dumped out on the scrapheap as if they really do share the pain of it all - HIT SELF IN FACE WITH BOTTLE, COLLAPSE IN HEAP ON BLOODSTAINED CARPET, SOBBING ABOUT GENERAL ELECTION RESULT, WAKE UP AT 3AM, HATE SELF, REPEAT.

Anton Vowl just summed up the whole wretched mess more succinctly than I did - the swine.

‘We are the radicals now’

Today, radical extremists launched an unprecedented series of  unprovoked, devastating, co-ordinated attacks on British jobs and public services. Almost as stunning as the attacks themselves, was the shock realization that the enemy isn’t an overseas power, or foreign terrorist group, but a close-knit cell of homegrown extremists, with strong links to the British establishment.

The attacks have stirred fears that elite British universities have become a breeding ground for extremists who operate through private networks and campus dining societies rather than high-profile university political societies.

Why did the ringleaders, David Cameron, Gideon Osborne and Nick Clegg, three enormously wealthy, college-educated young men with a bright future ahead of them, allow themselves to be lured into such a destructive plot?

The new radical ideology seems to be an elite phenomenon, based on money and contacts made at exclusive schools like Eton, St Pauls and Westminster, rather than a product of the presumed grievances of the downtrodden.

There is evidence to suggest that Cameron and Osborne were radicalized while still students at Oxford and that conditions at Oxford at that time were conducive to such radicalization. Despite persistent rumours that he joined the Cambridge University Conservative Association between 1986 and 1987, the third plotter, Clegg, seems to have been a more naïve individual, only recently drawn into the extremist ideology of waging jihad against public services. But by the spring of 2010, all of them were burning with excitement to strike at the heart of British society.

At University, Cameron and Clegg were both keen tennis players, while the pudgy-faced Osborne struck contemporaries as being entirely unremarkable, if well spoken and affable. Former fellow students have professed astonishment at the three’s involvement in the October 20th incident, although some have seen Cameron and Osborne’s membership of the secretive, restaurant-trashing Bullingdon Club as a chilling warning of their appetite for destruction.

According to our security correspondent, Nick Robinson, Cameron, Osborne and Clegg held meetings with their militant followers this September and October in order to make final preparations for today’s attack.

In their propaganda, the extremists have sought to place the responsibility for waging an ideological jihad against the public sector upon the British public themselves. In a time of austerity, this is seen as more cost-effective than having mujahideen come from other parts of the world to attack the UK.

Over the next decade, the influence that such extremists are able to bear on the rest of society is likely to increase greatly. Without setting off one explosive device or spilling a drop of blood, extremists are able to disrupt the life of a nation and its citizens in ways that few of us can yet imagine.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

T'aint what a horse looks like...

The Uffington White Horse has been caught up in an identity battle after it was suggested it could be a dog.

Retired vet Olaf Swarbrick has said the ancient carving in the Oxfordshire hillside is not anatomically correct and has more canine-like features.

According to the BBC. The National Trust aren't convinced by the Swarbrick's theory - Kate Blaxhall of the National Trust still thinks it's a horse, albeit a very stylised one. I tend to agree - I'm no vet, but the figure looks like a horse to me. A horse with poetic licence, a horse pared down to its essence, but a horse nonetheless.

As one of Terry Pratchett's characters once said, 'T'aint what a horse looks like, it's what a horse be'.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Fright night

 They [adults/parents] should not carve menacing or scary faces into pumpkins, but give them smiley expressions and crosses cut into the foreheads instead, the campaign advises.

I've tried to imagine what this idea from various bishops keen to re-brand Hallow e'en as a "Night of Light", purged of all pagan devilry, would look like. Frankly, the result looks way more sinister than some schoolkid mucking about in a witch cozzie, or any of the other mischief that seems to be upsetting the clergy. I usually ignore the whole thing, anyway - I'm more of Guy Fawkes' night guy.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Stacey Island

No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII

Shorter version:

No man is an island... apart from Barry

A scared calf's face gilded with marmalade

Young shouts of moneyed voices in Clive Kempthorpe's rooms. Palefaces: they hold their ribs with laughter, one clasping another. O, I shall expire! Break the news to her gently, Aubrey! I shall die! With slit ribbons of his shirt whipping the air he hops and hobbles round the table, with trousers down at heels, chased by Ades of Magdalen with the tailor's shears. A scared calf's face gilded with marmalade. I don't want to be debagged! Don't you play the giddy ox with me!

Shouts from the open window startling evening in the quadrangle. A deaf gardener, aproned, masked with Matthew Arnold's face, pushes his mower on the sombre lawn watching narrowly the dancing motes of grasshalms. 

James Joyce "Ulysses". 

Does this remind you of anybody? Brought to mind by this.

Sick man of Europe?

Advocates of the "Anglo-Saxon" economic model (low taxes, little regulation, small government) argue that their favourite system produces greater overall prosperity. Those statist continentals may have better public services, but they pay for it by being inefficient and having higher unemployment. Never mind all that woolly social democratic waffle about fairness and equality - the Anglo-Saxon model is objectively performing better - or is it?

The UK has a total of 11.5% of households where no adults are working, compared to 10.5% in France, 9.2% in Germany and only 6% in the Netherlands, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) study has shown. 

Via The Independent Getting people off benefits and into work is allegedly one of the Coalition's key goals. When the Conservative CPS has to admit that the Anglo-Saxon model can't compete with France, Germany and the Netherlands, I think it's time British politicians stopped endlessly lecturing the rest of Europe on the need to "modernise", reform and generally be more like us.

Big State 1, Big Society 0.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

But where's the giant custard cream?

Press release from the Department of Pointless Records - a Sri Lankan tea exporter has bagged a Guinness World Record with the world's largest-ever cup of tea (64 kilos of tea and 4,000 litres of water, in a giant cup, if you must know).

Marginally less pointless than the other tea party, though...

Diamonds are forever...

Small engagement ring, clean, 5-10 point diamond, will trade for small revolver.


Friday, 8 October 2010

This vegetable universe

Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.
William Blake

There are some broccoli plants growing in the garden. They're looking a bit tired and pigeon-pecked, so I'm not sure whether they'll actually produce any florets. If they do, though, they'll be something special, because they're not ordinary broccoli but Romanesco broccoli, like the one above. With its spiral florets made up of self-similar spiral patterns on a smaller scale, this striking vegetable looks like a 3D fractal pattern generated by computer.

Step forward Aleksandar Rodić, with a 3D computer rendition of Romanesco broccoli .

For more striking examples of natural forms with fractal or Fibonacci sequence patterns check this article out. I particularly liked the Mandelbulb-like sea urchin.

Question of the day

What, if anything, does the word "radical" mean?

“We are the radicals now”, said David Cameron in his speech to the Tory conference in Birmingham.

A man accused of trying to blow up a transatlantic airliner was not radicalised while at a UK university, a report has concluded...

Passengers overpowered the former UCL student after he had allegedly attempted to ignite explosives hidden in his underwear.

BBC News

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Oh! What a Lovely Crisis

We're now governed by PR professionals who aren't even very good at PR, as Scepticisle points out:

Cameron's "your country needs you" motif ... must have passed Coulson and Hilton by. Not just that in the most famous case of the government declaring that it needed you personally the reality behind the slogan was the establishment sending off a generation to needless suffering and slaughter in the trenches... also ... next week the government is going to be declaring loudly and clearly that it doesn't need tens of thousands of current state employees, told in no uncertain terms that their country doesn't need their services in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat imposed age of austerity.

There is always an alternative

David Cameron's objectives at the Conservative Party conference have been to rally his own troops, whilst keeping his Lib-Dem Allies on side and to feed the rest of us this simple PR message: 

1. The financial crisis and the deficit are unprecedented.

2. Point 1. is the fault of Gordon Brown, overpaid public sector workers and benefit scroungers.

3. There Is No Alternative to massive, immediate, painful cuts.

4. The Big Society will make everything better in the end.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Lest we forget:  

The crisis of the 2010s ... is a crisis about the power of the financial markets.

No one holds Britain's enfeebled unions responsible for the Great Crash of 2008. If you want to blame the left by blaming Gordon Brown for breaking every rule in the book and running a deficit during a boom, do so by all means and be my guest. You would do better to blame him for his failure to regulate the banks, however.

Your taxes are rising, your services will be cut and, if you are unlucky, your jobs and homes will be on the line not because Brown spent too much on hospitals and diversity outreach officers but because the most overpaid men in the world created a recession and compelled the rest of society to bear the cost of their folly.
Nick Cohen, summing up the things that David Cameron would like you to forget.

Furthermore, taking inflation into account, the current public debt isn't that catastrophic:

Labour reduced public debt and it has only risen by a modest amount in comparison to most of Britain’s recent history.

1 picture = 1 kiloword. Via.

After the cuts, apparently, comes The Big Society. There was a "Big Society" before there was a welfare state. Back then, it was called charity (and it was all fields round here):

Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.

Said Clement Attlee, going on to think about the alternatives:

In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways - they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice.

Lifted shamelessly from here, because it bears much repetition.

The greatest story ever told?

The New Testament v. Dan Brown

...a conspiracy theory is usually a more outlandish, often more colourful, but less plausible version of history than the official one. There is seldom any evidence for the conspiracy theory beyond hearsay. Roswell, the death of Diana, the faked moon landings – all follow a familiar pattern. However, in the case of Christianity, the ‘conspiracy’ theory (Jesus was a rabbi who married Mary Magdalene and had children) seems far more plausible than the official version (Jesus was divine, born of a virgin, didn’t marry, died on the cross and was resurrected), which is surely an outlandish claim for which there is no evidence beyond hearsay....

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Heirs to Blair?

New Tories? Old Tories? New Blairites? Old Blairites? Who are these people

Maybe a new party slogan would help us to remember who they really are:

We're clowns - take us seriously

Asinine yet frightening - a perfect summing up of our overlords' brand values via Fips the clown.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Quote of the day

We're clowns - take us seriously and have a laugh with us.

Said Fips the clown, an interviewee on tonight's PM programme on Radio 4.

Fips and his fellow slapstick professionals are apparently upset by the Halloween "Carnival of Screams" attraction at Alton Towers which features, among other Halloween ghouls, scary clowns lurking in the horror maze. The Register helpfully picks up the story and runs with it, with further Fips quotes:

It's very unfair to portray us as evil. I have always been a clown, I have grown up around clowns, my father and my grandfather were clowns and we are not evil... I think the attraction will make people view us in the wrong sort of light. It could even have a knock-on effect - once children have got it into their heads that clowns are evil and scary, it stays with them and it makes our job a lot, lot harder.

I don't know if clowns will frighten the punters at Alton Towers, but by God they frighten me!

Friday, 1 October 2010

India's actual shame

Raja Murthy writing in Asia Times Online thinks that the India's real Commonwealth Games shame isn't the less-than-spotless room or unfinished facilities, but in the wasted money in a country where the poor and needy are still very poor and very needy.

Well, anyone worried that the Commonwealth Games is a disastrous waste of money, should try this for size. Yes, India has started building a massive centralized database, holding the details of 1.2 billion people. Biometrics will, apparently, render the massive scheme foolproof. Making this dream / nightmare- a reality will be the responsibility of something called the Unique Identification Authority of India, headed by the founder of India's second-largest outsourcing company.

I haven't checked where the Unique Identification Authority is based but, personally, I think Calcutta would be an appropriate location for UIAI HQ. Wherever it is, the rest of the world will soon be able to watch in horror as billions of rupees are sucked into the new Black Hole of Calcutta (or wherever) until the whole juggernaut collapses under the sheer weight of its own stupidity. If anybody in India ever reads this, please go to the No2ID site to check out why this was a very, very bad idea in the UK and ask yourself why such a scheme would work any better in a vastly more populous country...