Friday, 30 April 2010
Yeah, right - and Bob Holness played sax on Gerry Rafferty’s "Baker Street".
Hat tip to The Null Device.
The greatest failure of financial capitalism since 1929 ought to be an opportunity for Labour as it was for Obama and the American Democrats. But rather than face up to it, and by extension to its own failures in government, Labour has been unable to offer a credible banking reform programme or admit that the recession must bring change. Instead, it carries on as if the tax revenues were still rolling in and Fred Goodwin still pushing up the Royal Bank of Scotland's share price, and it pretends that the old war cries about "increasing investment" and fighting "Tory cuts" still have meaning. The LibDems are in better shape because at least they realised that a long boom built on debt could not be sustained. However, as we saw, they too could not accept the consequences of their insight.
As for the Conservatives, many people noticed an uneasiness about Cameron during the first leadership debate, a nagging fear visible in his flickering eyes and stilted movement that the times may not be propitious after all. If he isn't nervous, he ought to be. Only the bizarre sight of a centre-left government letting speculators run wild has hidden the problems for the Right. I've had an aide to Boris Johnson marvel to me at how in hard times people turn to the State, as if he was having to relearn everything he thought he knew, and gruff leaders of the Tory Right mutter that Cameron's biggest mistake was not supporting the nationalisation of the banks, as if it were the most natural complaint in the world for a tough-minded Tory to make. The extent of the rethink needed on the Right of politics can be encapsulated in a line. For a generation, Tories have repeated Baroness Thatcher's acid line: "The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."
Thursday, 29 April 2010
A smörgåsbord of tasty brain treats from a myriad-minded man. This one went straight onto my favourites* list.
*well, bookmarks (I'm using Firefox)
2. Bottle it all up.
3. Shake vigorously in the rough and tumble of a high-pressure election campaign.
4. Watch in horror as the seething inner rage you've been trying to suppress is sprayed all over the front pages to be lapped up by people who despise you.
"Bottler" Brown, indeed.
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
What Gordon should have said:
You’re worried about immigrants? Jesus wept woman, I had this guy shot for you. What more do you want?
If you really must engage with this tediously unimportant story, the first couple of lines of this post at Blood and Treasure sums it up far more neatly than the colossal deluge of pompous outrage blurting from the right-wing press.
Scrape into the sink
Constellation of black stars
A toast neglected
Angry Toastless Man
Angry toastless man
Senseless killing spree
I anticipate my toast
Somewhere a dog barks
From Toast Haiku - a blog that does exactly what it says on the tin, except when it's doing something else.
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Welcome to Longyearbyen (literally the city of the long year), a town that's so pro-life that nobody is permitted to die. In fact, it's illegal for anyone to die in this peaceful little Norwegian town, and should anyone break that law they'll find that they wont be buried as the town's graveyard stopped taking bodies over seventy years ago. A strange effect of the cold weather there means that bodies don't decompose, being preserved in permafrost along with any diseases they may have had. Anyone that does take a walk on the wild side of the law and passes away has their body shipped to another part of the country to be buried...
Situated near Longyearbyen is the "Doomsday Vault", an arctic safe capable of storing and preserving millions of seeds. The "Doomsday Vault" is one of many contingency plans spread around the world to help humankind survive something akin to a massive meteor hit or nuclear war.
So it goes, at least according to a rather old, but arresting, post by The Dark Furie that I came across recently. I'd quibble with the phrase "strange effect of the cold", though - there's nothing very strange about bodies failing to decompose in the chill of the Svalbard permafrost.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
Here's the most junior member of our family alongside an appropriately junior-sized submarine, spotted in Brighton recently. I liked this sub, clearly inspired by art director Harper Goff's design for Captain Nemo's "Nautilus", as used in Walt Disney's 1954 version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".
Apparently, Walt Disney originally wanted the "Nautilus" to be a simple cigar-tube shape, but after seeing Goff's prototype model of a more elaborate and compelling design, he changed his mind. The resulting film "Nautilus" looked fantastic - shaped like a great fish, clad in metal plates and rivets, embellished with spiky Victorian gothic details.
|Image courtesy of WikiFred|
Isn't she a beauty? There have been countless different attempts to visualise Jules Verne's "Nautilus" over the years, (including tinplate toys - I had one like this as a kid) but Goff's powerful design still blows me away.
Before he saw Goff's more visually exciting design, Walt Disney imagined that the film version of the "Nautilus" would obviously confirm to the canonical "cigar tube" submarine shape. A similar thing happened during the design of another pop culture classic - the starship "Enterprise" from "Star Trek". Again, there were preconceptions about what it should look like at the design stage. Gene Rodenberry knew the look he didn't want Enterprise to have - the streamlined bullet-with-fins appearance shared by early pulp fiction rocketships and the V2 missile. This design, Rodenberry decided, was hackneyed and not futuristic enough for a 23rd Century starship.
At that time there was an alternative generic design for science fiction spaceships. If they didn't look like rockets with fins, they reflected the current flying saucer hysteria. Think of the spaceships from "Lost in Space" or "Forbidden Planet". "Star Trek" art director Matt Jefferies started off doodling flying saucer shapes, rejected that idea, thought about his design from an engineering perspective, finally coming up with a synthesis of a modular design with the saucer shape that just looked right. In his own words:
I gathered that this ship had to have powerful engines—extremely powerful. To me, that meant that they had to be designed away from the body. Boy, I tried a lot of ideas. I wanted to stay away from the flying saucer shape. The ball or sphere, as you’ll see in some of the sketches, was my idea, but I ended up with the saucer after all...
[F]or the hull, I didn’t really want a saucer because of the term flying saucer, and the best pressure vessel of course is a ball, so I started playing with that. But the bulk got in the way and the ball just didn’t work. I flattened it out and I guess we wound up with a saucer! I did it in color on a black matt board, and by the time I finished I thought we really had something. [...] And that worked! It looked better than the other sketches and Gene said, “That one looks good!”
And it does look good. You can criticise aspects of the design on the grounds of plausibility,* but on the screen it does look right. The "Enterprise" looks distinctive, purposeful, futuristic and powerful. It's such a well-known image that it's sometimes hard to recognise it for what it is - in purely aesthetic terms, probably the best-looking fictional spaceship ever to have graced the small or big screens.
One thing that the Disney "Nautilus" and the "Star Trek" "Enterprise" have in common is their distinctive outline. Even in silhouette, they're unmistakable. I think that has a lot to do with the visual magic of the designs - a power they share with, among others, Bart Simpson, Batman and Mickey Mouse. Let "The Simpsons" creator, Matt Groening, explain:
The secret of designing cartoon characters — and I’m giving away this secret now to all of you out there — is: you make a character that you can tell who it is in silhouette. I learned this from watching Mickey Mouse as a kid. You can tell Mickey Mouse from a mile away…those two big ears. Same thing with Popeye, same thing with Batman. And so, if you look at the Simpsons, they’re all identifiable in silhouette. Bart with the picket fence hair, Marge with the beehive, and Homer with the two little hairs, and all the rest. So…I think about hair quite a lot.
USS Enterprise plan courtesy of alpoma's Flikr photostream
* Update - I didn't expand on the "plausibility" aspect as FTL travel is - as far as most scientists and engineers are concerned - fantasy and, anyhow, anybody alive now (or in the 1960s) has/had as little chance of imagining what real 23rd Century tech might actually look like as those quaint 19th Century illustrators of life in the 21st Century had of accurately predicting the look and feel of today's world. But I think I need to share the easily fixable thing that bugs me about the design of the Enterprise from the original series. Namely, the way that the engines seem to be obviously mounted above the craft's centre of mass, which makes no sense. This also bothered Andrew Probert, who designed the new Enterprise for the Next Generation series and mounted the engines in a more plausible-looking position.
I still prefer the look and feel of the Enterprise from the original series - I like the unstreamlined deep space vessel aesthetic better than the go-faster flared stylings of the NCC-1701-D and I think the flashy up-to-the-minute blue lights on the newer vessel will date more quickly than the restrained details on the original version (I particularly like the coppery colour of the deflector dish thingy from the old Enterprise). But they really should have got those engines looking right.
Saturday, 24 April 2010
Take mind controlling parasites, for example. These are viruses and simple organisms that have evolved such that they can alter the behavior of their hosts. Essentially, they cognitively re-engineer their victims, turning them into their transmission vectors. It is not uncommon for organisms to leech off several different species in this way as part of their reproductive cycle.
writes George Dvorsky. Speaking of mind controlling parasites, here's a really nasty one:
Rupert Murdoch, everybody's favourite unelected foreign billionaire, whose stranglehold on every British government in recent memory arouses approximately one thousandth as much vocal public ire as a duck house. That the News Corp chief has affected to endorse Cameron as the "candidate of change" is one of the satirical jokes that are his speciality. Obviously, Murdoch wants the opposite of change. He wishes to carry on exactly as things have for decades, with him calling the shots. To Murdoch, the Tory leader is nothing but a host organism, and a change of government merely the shuffling of junior personnel.
But something has gone wrong – or threatens to. Murdoch is distressed, we must assume from news that his UK avatars – son James and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks – barged into the Independent's offices this week, incensed the paper had used the advertising slogan "Rupert Murdoch won't decide the election – you will".
Friday, 23 April 2010
Gentlemen, choose your soundbites. Look straight into the camera, and may the best man win...
Images from the Flickr photostreams of ΠΑΣΟΚ and Nick Clegg have been clumsily butchered here (Cameron's giant, poisoned electric head was a leftover from mydavidcameron.com).
Thursday, 22 April 2010
One reason the Lib Dems are doing so well is that a lot of people don’t really want a government...
...what are the prospects for government now? We’re regularly told that there are years of nasty tax and spending decisions ahead, whoever’s in charge, and it’s understandable if a lot of us prefer not to think about the details...
It looks as though this general election, for more people than ever before, will be – call it what you will – a protest vote, a demand for something else, a frustrated cry of ‘not in my name’.
Says Tom Freeman. A relatively strong government wasn't able to control the last finance/property bubble, or save us from the long and painful recession that inevitably followed. Neither the government or the main opposition parties seem to have learned much from the mess. The more they say change, the more it looks like business as usual. Why vote for a strong government with weak ideas?
My hopes for an effective protest votes may be dashed if the Nick Clegg bandwagon runs out of steam, but it's refreshing to be able to choose something different from the tired alternatives of the stale New Labour project or "New Tory" Cameron getting the keys to No. 10 because it's now Buggins's Turn.
Saturday, 17 April 2010
It's like a Sinclair C5 made for two. There are a few differences and improvements, though. The Twike has an enclosed cabin. The bodywork's a lot lighter, so it's got a better power-to weight ratio. The C5 was limited to 15 miles per hour (24 km/h), so that users in the UK didn't have to have a driving licence. You need a licence to drive a Twike, which is said to have a top speed of "up to" 53 mph (85 km/h). According to the blurb on the Twike web site, the Twike is ten times more efficient than a normal car. I don't know what they mean by a "normal" car - there's plenty of room for "normal" in between a Hummer and a Smart car. Twikes apparently do about 150 miles (240 km) between charges. No road tax in the UK, no London congestion charge payable - why not buy one today?
Well, there are a few hundred models of car that sell new for less the £14,980 you'd pay for a Twike. Most of them will carry four or five people, not just two and/or a large load of shopping into the bargain, or all your holiday gear, or that modest piece of furniture you wanted to move, etc, etc. A lot of them are quite fuel efficient - around 500 miles (800 km) on a tank of gas isn't out of the question. And, for long journeys, they can all get up to the legal maximum speed of 70 mph (112 km/h).
So the Twike's trying to enter a market already full of cheaper vehicles that can carry more people / stuff further and faster. Paying no road tax is all fine and dandy, but the price of a Twike quoted above is "batteries not included". I f you're planning to use efficientNiCad or Li-ion batteries, as opposed to heavy, slow-to-charge and inefficient lead-acid ones, you'll be paying several thousand pounds. Admittedly the amortized cost could be reasonable - it's claimed that these batteries can last for up to 1,500 cycles if you look after them, in which case your cost per mile could be almost down to 5p, but the cost of a battery is still a big up-front cost for most people.
I guess the target demographic for this vehicle must be fit (people who don't mid pedalling some of the way), affluent and interested in green issues. At the moment, I think a more sensible choice for this group would be a couple of bikes and a small, fuel efficient car for the price of a Twike. Use bikes /Shanks's pony for local journeys, use public transport whenever possible and use the car as sparingly as possible. For a lot of other people, the Twike's simply unaffordable or impractical.
I hope that personal transport will get a lot greener and more efficient, and we'll eventually get over our total dependence on oil, but I think the Twike's destined to fill a very small niche. The fact that it costs a lot for what it can do is the big deal-breaker. I'm guessing that the cost of manufacturing a light but strong plastic/aluminium body is a lot higher than bashing a car body out of steel. Combine this with the problem of starting small without economies of scale and the Twike becomes a green luxury for the enthusiast. Batteries at their current stage of development are another problem and will continue to be unless superseded a new generation of far more efficient batteries /fuel cells that can be mass produced affordably.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
This piece of art, just off the A303, is called "dragonfly". It could be a dragonfly flying towards the camera. It could almost equally be a duck flying away from the camera. I'm not sure whether this is the sort of intentional ambiguity demonstrated in the duck-rabbit illusion:
It might look like an insect or fowl now, but the sculpture was created from old army helicopter bits on a stick, the hole that could be the duck's eye having started life as the housing for the shrouded tail rotor:
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Atheist Nick Clegg, David Cameron with his pro-sodomy kitchen cabinet* and the anti-family Gordon Brown have gone out of their way in the last three months to court the perverted vote.
Cool! You wait ages for a candidate to swing behind the perverted vote, then three of them come along at once. Better still, 'each is pro-EU, favouring that bastion of Antichrist which refused to put God into its constitution'. Not just boring men in grey suits, then, but minions of your actual Antichrist. Please, somebody make Stephen Green the BBC's political correspondent. More of his surreal comedy gold here.
*I saw one of those pro-sodomy kitchen cabinets last time I was in Ikea. I think it had a birch veneer, was called Sven, and was in an open relationship with a bookcase named Billy.
A post at Shuggy's blog identifies 'an interesting paradox for those religious believers that whine about a lack of religion in 'public life' and also for those of us who are strongly opposed to it: perhaps what we wish for has exactly the opposite effect from the one we desire'. In particular:
The Chinese experience repeats what has been observed in history many times. China's Christians have flourished under persecution. This would be real persecution - imprisonment, torture - as opposed to the light and momentary experience of adverse publicity in the liberal media.
The relationship to state power seems to be crucial here. It was the same in first century Rome or Bismarck's Germany. Religion also seems to flourish when it is confronted with legal indifference, as in the United States. But the prognosis when it is sponsored by the state is not so good. Organised religion suffers the most when it is associated with state oppression - and especially if said state is overthrown and a revolutionary regime takes revenge, as in Jacobin France or Stalinist Russia. But while less catastrophic, it also seems to wither on the vine if it has the sort of state patronage that it has in the English constitution.
Read the full post here.
Tuesday, 6 April 2010
Makes you want to up sticks and go live somewhere else. This is only anecdotal, but Denmark sounds a lot better:
Copenhagen is, quite simply, stunning. One of the most beautiful cities I've ever visited. Not only is it an architectural dream, with its thousands of amazing constructions (both old and new), it is also an urban planner's paradise, with a fantastically organised layout, spaces, parks, cycle lanes.
You're immediately blown away by how clean and well-kept everything is. Perhaps I was lucky, but I think I only noticed one dogshit in five days, and that includes parks....
The first thing that strikes you in Copenhagen is calm and tranquility. Denmark must be the one country I've visited with the lowest volume of traffic I've ever seen in my life. Whether it's a weekday, rush hour or the weekend, there are very very few cars around. It's almost like when you watch a documentary of Britain (or any other Western country) in the 1960s.
This trip confirmed that stereotypes are just an enormous pile of bollocks. That old crap that Scandinavians are distant and unfriendly? Balls. Sure, you can't judge over a few days, but then we must have been quite lucky because everywhere we went people were extremely friendly, courteous and helpful.
The old chit chat with shop assistants or staff, which is so unusual amongst the supposedly caliente Spaniards, seems to be the order of the day in Copenhagen. The same with "have a good day", "enjoy your day" and similar expressions. From the grottiest shop to department stores, it looks like routine behaviour. Think of the friendliest establishment in England applied on a wider scale.
As soon as you arrive at the airport and look around for directions (there are both metro and trains taking you to whichever destination directly from there), staff will be on hand to offer help and advice. In our case a very nice chap came over to us and offered help.
Another thing that happened straightaway was that, as we got off the metro taking us into town from the airport, there was a man who left an empty bag on the train and made for the exit door. Immediately another bloke pulled him up on that and sure enough the man apologised, collected his rubbish and then got off the train. Interesting....
We did not spot a single beggar or homeless person. Again, I'm sure they exist, but go to London, Milan, Barcelona or Paris and count the seconds until you see one. In five days travelling the length and breadth of Copenhagen we didn't see any at all.
The Danes will tell you that they pride themselves on being an "egalitarian" society. Their percentage of workers on low pay is amongst the lowest in the EU and their system of flexicurity (that is, easy to hire and fire but with extremely generous safety nets that include unemployment benefits at up to 80 per cent of your last wage) seems to be working alright. Their current unemployment rate stands at 4,2% with the country left virtually unscathed by the global crisis.
Travelogue courtesy of "Hagley Road to Ladywood".
Monday, 5 April 2010
According to Selwyn Gummer's article in "The Catholic Herald", the organisation that gave the world the words "Inquisition" and "propaganda" is under "attack" from "hard-line", intolerant militants with "an extremist moral agenda". The word "irony" seems inadequate.
Catholics should realise that really tough times are ahead. The secularists are on the march and intend to push Christianity to the sidelines. They’ll use all sorts of diversions; playing on people’s concerns about Muslim extremists in order to attack the principle of faith schools; suggesting that it is education that perpetuates the division in the North of Ireland; and using the creationist beliefs of extreme Protestants to ridicule all Christian education. They will use anything to eradicate Christian influence in mainstream society. What they want is a state that treats faith as an eccentric hobby – akin to motor sport or stamp collecting and about as relevant to real life.
Part of that equation is to insist that all religions are on a par. It is seen as unacceptable to distinguish between the manifestly crooked or historically nonsensical and that which has serious academic validation. So the views of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Scientologists are to be treated as if as worthy of serious consideration as the doctrines of the Catholic Church. It is a short step from that to dismissing all religion as equally worthless.
The new secularists use the language of Christian liberalism to promote a hard-line and exclusive view of the world. Their tactics over the Equality Bill are typical. By bandying words like “equality”, “fairness” and “respect” they seek to portray themselves as open-minded and evenhanded. In fact they have an extremist moral agenda and they want to impose their new morality on us all.
Of course, what's going on here is a slippery rhetorical trick - when your opponent criticises you, play the victim and accuse them of stifling your free speech, as if having a right to express your opinions and ideology freely was precisely the same thing as being entitled never to be challenged or criticised in any way. Arch-secularist Philip Pullman recently set out some rather more grown-up thoughts about criticism, offence and free speech:
No one has the right to spend their lives without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it, and if they open it and read it they don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me. You can complain about it. You can write to the publisher. You can write to the papers. You can write your own book. You can do all those things. But there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought or read. And that’s all I have to say on that subject.
Free speech is important, but the freedom to speak out doesn't equal the automatic right to be agreed with, or to have your views respected. Here's Russell Blackford pointing with a few more home truths to make the John Selwyn Gummers of this world squirm:
Some ideas do merit marginalisation, and some opponents do lack intellectual legitimacy. That isn't to say that these ideas and opponents should be censored. There are many reasons why it is best to allow people to speak their minds. But the political freedom to speak your mind does not entail a right to be taken seriously or given deference, or even to be accorded intellectual legitimacy. Indeed, there are plenty of ideas that people should be free to advocate, but which are so clearly foolish or even repugnant that they will, quite rightly, be ignored or treated with derision. Often, ideas that are treated with respect in one generation come to fall in this category in later generations.
The Russell Blackford quote is from his scarily-titled "Metamagician and the Hellfire Club" blog.
I personally always took the view that... if you look at the case of 'Should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from their hotel?'
I took the view that if it's a question of somebody who's doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn't come into their own home.
If they are running a hotel on the High Street, I really don't think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes.
So prejudice and discrimination are wrong on the High Street, but OK in somebody's own home, is that it, Chris? If I was renting out a room in my own house and put up a sign reading "No Irish, no Blacks, no dogs,", that would be just fine, would it? No problem, (so long as those words reflated my own personal "conscience" and "genuinely held principles"). Idiot
Sunday, 4 April 2010
David and Ed Miliband launching a launching a useless Labour election poster isn't newsworthy in itself - the surprising part of this story is that the poster actually won some sort of competition - I can only presume the competition was to come up with something that would backfire as badly as the recent Conservative efforts. As Channel 4 News notes:
On the final weekend before Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to call a general election for 6 May, brothers David and Ed Miliband launched the poster campaign, which was the winner of a public competition,
The poster the Conservative leader sitting on the bonnet of an Audi Quattro like that driven by politically-incorrect TV detective Gene Hunt in the BBC1 series Ashes To Ashes, next to the slogan: "Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s..."
But Mr Cameron said he was "flattered" by the comparison and Tories quickly produced a spoof version of the poster drawing on Hunt's catchphrase: "Fire up the Quattro. It's time for change."
All this eighties nostalgia seems to have gone to shadow home secretary Chris Grayling's head:
Section 28, anybody? Back to the good old homophobic eighties...