Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A tonic for the nation

 I think we need a party in Calais for all good republicans who can’t stand the nauseating tosh that surrounds this event. I managed to avoid the last disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll, and hope to avoid this one too ... I wish them well, but their nuptials are nothing to do with me. Leave them to get married somewhere out of the limelight and leave them alone ... I give the marriage seven years.

Three hearty cheers for the Reverend Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, whose wonderful outburst on Facebook is the most lively and entertaining thing that has yet been, and probably ever will be, written about next year's dreary royal tat-fest. I'm indebted to The Frisky ("Love.Life.Stars.Style") for the extended quotation.

Sadly, the good Bishop has been suspended. Surely a Facebook group demanding his immediate reinstatement  is called for?

A day in the life

...guitar groups are on the way out...the Beatles have no future in show business

Attributed to Dick Rowe of Decca Records, 1962

A generation ago, the very idea that a British politician would go to Ireland to see how to run an economy would have been laughable.

The Irish Republic was seen as Britain's poor and troubled country cousin, a rural backwater on the edge of Europe. Today things are different. Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking, and that is why I am in Dublin: to listen and to learn.

George Osborne, 2006

And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Protocol droid

Japan's Justice Minister, Minoru Yanagida, just let the cat out of the bag:

Yanagida said ... that justice ministers had to remember only two responses to deal with tough questions in the Diet: "I want to refrain from commenting on specific cases" and "We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on the law and evidence."

At Thursday's Upper House Budget Committee, the LDP's Hiroshige Seko reviewed Yanagida's past Diet responses and counted 16 occasions when he used the "refrain from commenting" response and 17 times when he resorted to the "law and evidence" response.

Yanagida replied, "I apologize for comments that lacked thinking, and I will seriously respond in the future."

However, he repeatedly used the same words, prompting Seko to say that Yanagida had simply come up with a third pat answer. 

As reported in Asahi Shimbun. This validates the following observations:

  • Senior politicians and spokespeople are routinely coached to limit their public utterances to a narrow range of anodyne cut-and-paste generalisations pre-screened to eliminate any useful information and/or hostages to fortune. When they stray from this simple script and say something concrete, original and understandable, they are said to have made a "gaffe."
  • Statements from gaffe-averse senior politicians or spokespeople are either totally unspecific or irrelevant. In interviews, their responses are so littered with unanswered questions and bizarre non sequiturs that they scarcely seem able to pass the Turing Test.

Perhaps, to avoid public relations "gaffes", political parties and other PR-sensitive organisations need to avoid letting humans make statements and do interviews. You wouldn't need to develop a super-intelligent AI that could pass the Turing Test - just a far cruder automaton that could mimic the robotic stock responses of a politician avoiding straight answers to questions and staying on message, no matter how tenuous the link between the question being asked and anything resembling an intelligent response. Come to think of it, the Japanese have already developed the hardware, if not the software...

Friday, 19 November 2010

A nice cup of tea and a biscuit

From the blog that brought you the world's largest cup of tea, comes news of the globe's most gratuitously embiggened custard cream. Posted in haste, because if you want to buy, the Ebay listing hasn't got long to go. You can even become a fan of a giant biscuit on Facebook, should you feel the urge. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

I'm more indebted than words can possibly express to Simon Morgan for the heads up.

And to finish, would Sir care for a wafer thin mint?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Epic public health FAIL

epic fail photos - Location FAIL

Re-posted here because this reminds me of something I read in The Guardian a few days ago:

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.
Image courtesy of FAIL Blog

Christmas time

With the annual Christmas shopathon just around the corner, here are some tips for a saner kind of Christmas:

Yes, it’s the thought that counts.  But if it’s the thought that counts, then it is perfectly acceptable for people to exchange the kind of gift that cannot be purchased in a store, namely, the gift of time.  Tell the adults on your Christmas list that this year you’re giving them the gift of free time; you are releasing them from the obligation to buy for you a gift, and you are encouraging them to spend in some other way the time they would otherwise spend at the mall purchasing a material gift for you.  Offer to make time in January for a long and relaxed lunch date (and then make good on the offer).  For friends with children, offer to babysit so that they may have time for themselves or for each other.  For far-away friends and relatives, resolve to write letters; real letters, with details and thoughts just for them, with questions and occasions for beginning ongoing conversation.

From 3 Quarks Daily. The British Retail Consortium has not approved this message.

The epidemiology of General Ignorance

Did you know that studies have shown big breasted women are cleverer than their less amply-endowed peers? Or that evangelical Christians in Brazil have banned the use of USB devices on the grounds that the USB trident is a Satanic symbol? Or that the Early Learning Centre have been removing plastic pigs from toy farm sets to avoid offending Muslims?

If you did, go straight to the back of the class, because these "strange but true" news stories got into the mainstream media despite being total nonsense, as Anthony Cox  points out in his blog. Interestingly, two out of the three stories above seem to have originated as jokes on satirical spoof news sites and were re-reported in the "serious" press as real news. It's a funny old world where questions like this need asking:

Should the readership of the newspaper have to go fact-checking dubious stories? Or should the journalists go and check the facts before publishing them?

So long as simply cutting and pasting juicy, unverified factiods from press releases, The Weekly World News or The Onion is easier and cheaper than the tedious business of fact-checking, I suspect, Dear Reader, that verification up to you.

And while you're about it, check your own preconceptions, too - it's no accident that the loony USB-hating evangelicals story was served up for Guardian readers, many of whom would have no difficulty in believing that religious fundamentalists would come up with some crazy-assed idea like that. It's frighteningly similar to the way that many Daily Mail journalists and readers are ready to uncritically believe that shops are waging war on plastic toy pigs in order to appease Muslims and politically correct liberals.

Lazy, incompetent journalism only flourishes with the reader's consent.

Circa 980: The Conquest of Paradise

Archaeological fragments combined with passages from the Norse sagas have long suggested that the Vikings reached the Americas centuries before Christopher Columbus. Now there's genetic evidence for this early contact:

Researchers said today that a woman from the Americas probably arrived in Iceland 1,000 years ago, leaving behind genes that are reflected in about 80 Icelanders today....

"As the island was practically isolated from the 10th century onwards, the most probable hypothesis is that these genes correspond to an Amerindian woman who was taken from America by the Vikings some time around the year 1000," Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Pompeu Fabra university in Spain, said.

As reported in The Guardian (via). At least, that's the simplified version. As Discover points out, it's actually a bit more complicated than that:

The core of the article [A new subclade of mtDNA haplogroup C1 found in icelanders: Evidence of pre-columbian contact?] treads the confusing gray zone between rock-hard precise science and the more vague and intuitive truths of history. One the rock-hard part, there is a huge literature on maternal genetic lineages, the mtDNA....But synthesizing this clarity with human history is more difficult, because we are dependent on the bias of text, and even more tendentious clues from oral history and archaeology.

For example, it's certain that there were Viking settlements in Greenland, which eventually perished, probably because of the arrival of harsher conditions in the shape of a "mini ice age" which the Viking settlers, unlike the native Inuit, lacked the survival skills to cope with. Maybe there were some Amerindian genes in the Greenlandic population when the Vikings arrived - after all, via the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Greenland isn't far from the North American mainland.

Anyway, eventually the Discovery article gets fed up with such speculation and asks the big question on everyone's lips:

Finally, does this explain Bjork?

If it does, they could go on to have a shot at the following queries (humanity's Top 10 "unanswerable" questions, according to Ask Jeeves):

1. What is the meaning of life?

2. Is there a God?

3. Do blondes have more fun?

4. What is the best diet?

5. Is there anybody out there?

6. Who is the most famous person in the world?

7. What is love?

8. What is the secret to happiness?

9. Did Tony Soprano die?

10. How long will I live?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Blog of the day

I've just discovered a rather splendid blog. Here are some tasters:

Excerpt 1 (especially for the current generation of "Honey I Shrunk The State" libertarians, to be filed under "I think you'll find it's a little more complicated than you imagine"):

Money and property rights are both creations of the state. If the state were abolished, neither would exist. The ‘money’ point is obvious, but the same applies to property: the fact that you happened to own a nice house would be irrelevant, because someone bigger than you would come along and tell you to get out of it or he’d kill you

In other words, when people complain about the money that the state takes off them in taxes, comparing it to their pre-tax paycheque, they’re talking complete and utter nonsense. The correct figure for comparison is the amount of money that they’d have in Hobbes-world. Which, apart from musclebound psychotic thugs, would be vastly less than they’d have under any plausible liberal-ish-democratic-ish society.

Excerpt 2 (a precis of a Reuters article, to be filed under "interesting fact I didn't previously know"):

During the Korean War, Congress enacted an excess profits tax meant to keep military contractors from, well, profiteering. In its infinite wisdom, Congress defined excess profits as anything above what a company had been making during the peacetime years 1946-1949.

 Boeing was mostly a military contractor in those days (Lockheed and Douglas dominated the passenger-plane business), and had made hardly any money at all from 1946 to 1949. So pretty much any profits it earned during the Korean conflict were by definition excess, and its effective tax rate in 1951 was going to be 82%…

It being 1951, Boeing instead sucked it up and let the tax incentives inadvertently devised by Congress steer it toward a bold and fateful decision. CEO Bill Allen decided, and was able to persuade Boeing’s board, to plow all those profits and more into developing what became the 707, a company-defining and world-changing innovation.

And finally, I'm regretfully filing this under "something I've thought for a long time, but never got round to blogging about myself":

Since I’ve already tweeted that it annoys me, as a left-wing kind of person, that some people in the 1980s hated Mrs Thatcher so much that they opposed the most reasonable and fair war that the UK has ever fought, I thought I’d make clear on my blog that anyone who opposes it is pretty much evil.
Back in 1986, I remember watching England being beaten by Argentina in the World Cup quarter finals and listening to left-wing friends cheering Maradonna's infamous "hand of God" goal. It was a reflexive gesture against Thatcher's war and the bellicose jingoism that it inspired. But the thing about reflexes is that they are mindless. As a bit of a Billy Bragg-listening lefty myself, I was sick of hearing about the war and sicker still about the way it had rescued the hated Thatcher government from electoral oblivion, but I also realised that it was about as just as war ever can be.

Nobody lived on the islands before the Brits decided to plant a flag on them back in the 19th Century, so it wasn't a question of colonising downtrodden locals who had a right of self determination. Unless somebody can prove that the native penguins have a strong opinion about which piece of coloured cloth on a stick flies over their islands, it's up to the islanders whether they want to be British, Argentine or whatever else they damn well want. The settlers overwhelmingly wanted to be British, yet they were invaded by the troops of a brutal, undemocratic military junta that wanted to annexe their homeland by force.

You can bewail the loss of life, but it's still not unjust to eject a repressive, near-fascist junta from islands they've invaded against the clearly expressed will of the islands' population.  The Thatcher government can be criticized for the Falklands war, but only in the narrower sense of not preventing it in the first place. By seeming way too relaxed about South America's more unpleasant right-wing juntas before the war and by withdrawing HMS Endurance, the only British naval asset in the South Atlantic, you could argue that the Conservatives gave the Galtieri regime the impression that Britain would be unwilling or unable to defend the islands against the attack it was considering.

This is what I should have said to my fellow lefties back in the eighties but, to my shame, didn't.Well done to Banditry for putting the record straight.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Fog in Channel; Continent Cut Off

Saddling students with crippling levels of life-long debt and effectively making higher education the preseve of the very rich and a few charity cases may be regrettable, but there is no alternative in the real world and our "pampered" students should just shut up and stop whingeing. Right?

Well, in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Spain they seem to have found perfectly satisfactory alternatives. Of course, as far as large sections of the Tory Party and the British press are concerned, the rest of Europe doesn't exist in the real world.

Endlessly repeating 'it's harsh, but there's simply no alternative' when there clearly are plenty of alternatives in plain view just across the Channel is worse than just wrong - it's bordering on the delusional.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Milton Keynes as Ballardian consumerist dystopia

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been treated to a surreal sight. The roads in this area (Newport Pagnell and the North East end of Milton Keynes) have been lined by people wearing giant pizza boxes. It’s a promotional stunt by a well-known pizza outlet.

 Posted strategically on both sides of the road, by every roundabout, the shivering human billboards wave at passing motorists, some with apparent good cheer, some robotically.  Muffled up against the November chill, most of the faces are reduced to a pair of eyes looking out from between hat and scarf, although a few have taken to wearing Spiderman masks. Whether the masks are just for a laugh, or a disguise, I don’t know.

It doesn’t make me want to rush out and order a pizza, but as a faintly chilling piece of dystopian  performance art, about the commodification of human beings, it works pretty well.

Cameron condemns badly-dressed student vandals

On Thursday Prime Minister David Cameron condemned as ‘unseemly’ violence at a demonstration in London against his government's plans to increase tuition fees for students.

Speaking to the BBC, the Prime Minister said:

I saw pictures of people who were bent on violence and on destruction and on destroying private property and that is completely unacceptable.

Speaking as a former Bullingdonian, I fully accept that a young chap may sometimes need to engage in a bit of high-spirited horseplay and trash the occasional restaurant in order to let off a little steam, but it is quite clear that the students who broke into Millbank Tower were inappropriately dressed for the occasion. None of the individuals I saw on the television had made the slightest effort to don a navy-blue tailcoat with a velvet collar, a dapper waistcoat or even so much as a club tie.

No Bullingdonian would have behaved in such an unbecoming manner. As any gentleman could have told those students, the correct form when organising a destructive rampage is to book a private dining room under an assumed name, get bally well plastered, then wreck the place. After a rollicking good night, one’s valet should be dispatched to the premises in question, bearing a cheque sufficient to engage tradespeople to make good the damage, along with a friendly reminder that any restaurateur foolish enough to consider contacting the press or police, would incur the wrath of one’s pater, who could make life dashed uncomfortable.

Such vulgar behaviour by students is a clear vindication of our settled intention to put higher education beyond of the reach of the lower orders, who clearly lack the breeding and savoir-faire to benefit from a sojourn in the jolly old halls of academe.

We need to make sure that this behaviour does not go unpunished and, should the police prove incapable of keeping these oiks off our property, I’ve a mind to order my manservant to go and give them all a damn good thrashing.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Yet another slap in the face

This just makes me want to bury my head in my hands and weep:

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has faced anger from Labour MPs after her decision to disown expelled MP Phil Woolas...

According to one MP present at the Monday meeting, Ms Harman was described to her face by one colleague as "a disgrace". Another suggested she should "consider her position" - political code for resignation, BBC Radio 5 Live's chief political correspondent John Pienaar said.

A senior figure in the Labour party takes a decisive, principled stand and says in no uncertain terms that the Party should have nothing more to do with Woolas' disgraceful campaign of racist lies designed to 'get the white vote angry' and this bunch of chimps start hurling abuse at her. The government we've got is lamentable enough - what we don't need now is an opposition stuffed with unprincipled clowns who slap people in the face for displaying an ounce of guts and common decency.

For old times' sake here's the most memorable moment in the career of the odious nonentity Woolas, as he looks suitably uncomfortable after having been publicly slapped down by Joanna Lumley for trying to do the dirty on the Ghurkas. 

Another slap in the face

First, we were told that being given a box of Milk Tray by a friend or relation was no better than a slap in the face. Today's proposition is that being denied the continuing TV spectacle of political has-been Ann Widdecome allowing herself to be dragged around a dance floor like a hundredweight of spuds in a sequined sack by some grinning Rob Brydon look-alike, in a desperate bid to re-launch herself as the nation's number one celebrity eccentric is also a slap in the face.

Surely, no sane person could be remotely upset by either of these eventualities? Or is there some sort of competition going on, with a prize for the person who can find the most bizarrely trivial circumstance to be offended by? I just hope first prize isn't a box of Milk Tray, or there'll be tears before bedtime...

A modest proposal

What sort of work will Iain Duncan Smith's army of serfs be set to? It's reported to be necessary but unglamorous labour:

Scroungers to clear rubbish for £1 an hour

The feckless unemployed will be forced to take part in a punishing U.S.-style 'workfare' scheme involving gardening, clearing litter and other menial tasks for just £1 an hour in a new crackdown on scroungers.

As gloatingly reported in the Daily Fail. There's just a little bit of a problem with this policy - it takes work opportunities away from employers and self-employed people in the private sector, who might otherwise do some of this necessary stuff for a living wage:

There are lots of people who work as street cleaners, toilet cleaners, gardeners and other unglamorous and poorly paid jobs. If these policies go ahead, they will lose their jobs. No employer in their right mind would pay £6 or £7 per hour to employ street cleaners if they could get an unemployed person to do it for free.

Comments donpaskini. This is a bit of a problem when you're expecting the private sector (already being hit by a hefty VAT increase) to replace the jobs lost by the -at least - 610,000 public sector workers you'll be throwing out of work.

My solution - leave the street cleaners who still have a job to earn an honest bob and 'volunteer' some of the army of unemployed to perform the sort of unnecessary, but glamorous, jobs that would otherwise just waste taxpayers' money. For example, why pay somebody an undisclosed, but no doubt generous, taxpayer-funded salary to be David Cameron's personal photographer, when some random unemployed person could come along and take a few snaps for next to nothing?

Nobody loses out seriously. The professional photographer might be a bit miffed, but as someone with the skill and contacts to get such a high profile gig in the first place, this person should find it easy to find alternative work (e.g. a commission from David Cameron to take pictures of David Cameron, paid for with some of David Cameron's own considerable stash of cash). OK, some of the pictures taken by an unskilled claimant might catch the PM with his eyes shut, chop his head off or be a bit shaky but, hey, didn't he remind us that we were all in this together? What better way for Dave to show that he's just an ordinary bloke like the rest of us than to sacrifice his slick professional photos in favour of the sort of dodgy holiday snaps that grace normal people's photo albums.

If the photos of David Cameron were no good, nobody would really care anyway. And if, after a bit of practice, a hitherto unskilled person developed into a half-way decent photographer, then we'd be addressing the skills shortage, one job at a time. And the headlines would get better:

Scroungers to photograph millionaires for £1 an hour

The feckless unemployed will be forced to take part in a punishing Hello Magazine style photo-shoot involving menial tasks like taking pictures of a brilliant Old Etonian with a taste for the good life for just £1 an hour in a new crackdown on scroungers.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Helicopter view

Because everybody likes pictures of helicopters. At least that's what I conclude from the fact that this is by far the most popular photograph I've ever posted on Panoramio, with 4,970 views to date, (over three times more views than any other photo I've posted). The location, in the Shetland Isles, probably helped (the most popular six photos were all taken there).

Which is all slightly annoying, as the Shetland photographs are the only ones I didn't take myself - my partner took them whilst on a trip to Lerwick, where she was overseeing an Open University degree ceremony. Ho, hum...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

This is a slap in the face

Seriously, stay away from this, if you’re going to buy some chocolates for someone you care about, this is a slap in the face to them, spend a little bit extra and get them something really good. If you’re reading this Cadbury, I have a message for you: Wake up.

Seriously, angry chocolate reviewer, life's too short to get that worked up about a box of Milk Tray. Fortunately, Cecil, The Straight Dope's polymath-in-residence is on hand with some rather calmer chocolate analysis.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Factiod goes up in smoke

Following on from yesterday's post -  it was illegal in England, until 1959, NOT to celebrate the anniversary of Guy Fawkes' arrest - fact or fiction?

Well, the QI Forum has come up trumps.  The Act of Parliament in question was the Observance of 5th November Act 1605. I was pointed to this article:

Also known as "Firework Night" and "Bonfire Night," November 5th was designated by King James I (via an Act of Parliament) as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance." This Act remained in force until 1859.

So, the Act was repealed in1859, rather than 1959 - as confirmed by this (and several references to the Act having been in force for 250 years):

The publication in 1857 of author David Jardine's A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot only stoked the flames [of anti-Catholic sentiment] higher, and in 1859 the thanksgiving prayer of 5 November contained in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was removed, and the 1606 Act repealed.
As for it being "illegal" not to celebrate Fawkes' arrest. I haven't yet seen the full wording of the Act, (passed in 1606), but Wikipedia simply states that the Act 'called for a public, annual thanksgiving for the failure of the Plot'. This sounds way more plausible than Parliament trying to achieve the impossible and police the observance of a national celebration (imagine the magistrates' November backlog as they tried to process every subject of the crown accused of not celebrating the failure of the11/5 terror plot). I'm guessing that the "illegal not to celebrate Guy Fawkes' Night" meme was kicked off by nothing more than an imprecise description of the Act. Perhaps, given the sectarian origins of the celebration, some disgruntled Catholic's account of "having to" celebrate the arrest and execution of a coreligionist might have been the source of the "fact".

Only a reading of the Act's wording could kill this one stone dead, but I'm now 99%+ sure that the "strange but true - it was once illegal not to celebrate Guy Fawkes' Night" factoid is going straight onto the bonfire of General Ignorance. Along, it would seem, with Wayne Rooney...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Remember, remember the Fifth of November (or else)

Various web sites, ranging in authoritativeness from The Big Site of Amazing Facts to BBC Cambridgeshire, state that it was illegal in England, until 1959, NOT to celebrate the anniversary of Guy Fawkes' arrest. I've done a little light googling and seen this alleged fact repeated quite a few times, but I haven't been able to find any more concrete details about this law. Further exhaustive research (asking my mum if she'd ever heard of such a thing) drew a blank, so I've posted a query on one of QI's talk forums to see whether anybody there knows anything about it.

If this turns out to be a fact, not just a piece of General Ignorance, I'm intrigued - what a bizarre law. What would have constituted a "celebration" for the purposes of staying on the right side of the law? It must have been a bugger to enforce.

Guy Fawkes was educated at St. Peters School in York, a private school that exists to this day and apparently has a policy of not celebrating the arrest and execution of an "old boy" - I wonder whether the school ever ended up on the wrong side of the law. More info to follow, if I find it.

They're in lurve...

They pretend to hate one another, but Spiked e-zine and the Daily Mail clearly fancy each other something rotten. Janet Street-Porter's infamously idiotic article dismissing depression as a middle class fad could easily settle down and make itself at home with Spiked and Brendan O'Neill can whip up a tasty 'political correctness gone mad'  confection that would grace the Mail's bumper buffet of bonkers. Those two really should get together. They're made for each other...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

'I was somewhat tickled'

I recall that a few years ago I was somewhat tickled by a quote from slovenly artist Tracy Emin, as she unveiled a stick with a sparrow on it in Liverpool (funded by BBC licence payers to the tune of £60,000… ah those carefree New Labour days). She warbled: “I’ve always had the idea that birds are the angels of this earth and that they represent freedom.”

I was tickled because “birds are the angels of this earth”  struck me as just the sort of thing that Madeleine Basset from the Jeeves and Wooster stories might say, in addition to the stars being God’s daisy chain and that every time a fairy sneezes a wee baby is born.

Top blogging from Brit in The Dabbler. Brit goes on to contrast Emin's saccharine little angel on a stick with Ted Hughes' colder description of birds as half machine, half pitiless force of nature in his  poem Thrushes:

Terrifying are the attent sleek thrushes on the lawn,
More coiled steel than living – a poised
Dark deadly eye, those delicate legs
Triggered to stirrings beyond sense – with a start, a bounce, a stab
Overtake the instant and drag out some writhing thing.
No indolent procrastinations and no yawning states,
No sighs or head-scratchings. Nothing but bounce and stab
And a ravening second.

I think Hughes is almost spot on there - almost, because his description always makes me think of starlings rather than thrushes - with their sharp beaks, jerky but strictly controlled movements and metallic, iridescent plumage, there's something automaton-like about starlings. And when thousands of the robotic little blighters flock together, there's no doubting that they're a primal force of nature...

Geting out of bed on the wrong side

I'm a generally a morning person, more active and (relatively) alert it in the first half of the day. Some mornings are better than others, though, and there are days when I'm awake ridiculously early, but would prefer to dive straight back into unconsciousness, rather than spending the pre-dawn darkness fending off the raging tyrannosaurus of despair armed only with the puny toothpick of hope. After a shower, a cup of coffee and bit of activity, I generally get over it, but I was interested to read a blog post about what may be happening to the brain on mornings like that:

Suppose that, for whatever reason, you woke up during REM sleep, but your serotonin cells didn't wake up quick enough, leaving you awake, but with no serotonin (a situation which never normally occurs, remember). How would that feel?

I didn't know that the brain produces less and less serotonin as you go into REM sleep, so I'm grateful  to Neuroskeptic for the information and the theory that a disturbed sleep pattern could mean in waking a serotonin-deprived condition.

The post is speculative, but it makes it seem worth trying to beat the early morning blues by staying a up just a little bit later than normal in the evening, (like most morning people, I tend to go early to bed). Unsurprisingly, people tend to sleep better after being sightly sleep deprived and they also tend to go into REM sleep earlier in the sleep cycle. If a person was doing most of their REM sleep earlier and tired, they might get through that serotonin-deprived phase of the sleep cycle in blissful unconsciousness rather than snapping awake in the wee small hours without the benefit of an important mood-regulating neurotransmitter.

Going to bed tired and triggering a different sleep pattern might also be one of the fringe benefits of taking a bit more exercise, during the day (besides the immediate natural high and the social context of exercising). Finally, just knowing that an early morning feeling of hopeless doom may, at least in part, be a passing illusion caused by a quirk of brain chemistry is a cheering reality check.

I was also quite interested to see the lack of consensus on whether or not REM sleep is important.- the Neuroskeptic thinks it might be dispensable, whilst somebody in the comments section clearly thinks that's a completely barmy notion - nice to see a healthy battle of ideas going on there.