Monday, 29 April 2013

He wears cor blimey trousers

UKIP's Nigel Farage is apparently upset because Ken Clarke called his party 'clowns.' If it bothers him that much, maybe Nige should think twice before campaigning in the sort of unfortunate trousers* that bring to mind the punch line from this detergent ad:

Having a leader who wears bright yellow clown trousers shouldn't, in itself, make a party unelectable, but when the slapstick extends from the leader's dress sense to the business of policy making ... well, your links are here and here - make up your own minds...

*photograph taken in April when 'Self proclaimed expert on Peterborough’s social ills Nigel Farage graced the city with his presence', as an unimpressed Peterborough Today columnist reported.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Trolls - a spotter's guide

Are people using the word "troll" (noun or verb) with sloppy imprecision, or is the word just changing its meaning with use? This is what on line trolling / being an Internet troll originally seems to have meant:
A troll is deliberately crafted to provoke others with the intention of wasting their time and energy ... Trolls can be identified by their disengagement from a conversation or argument. They do not believe what they say, but merely say it for effect. 
In other words, geek-speak for an old-fashioned wind-up.

Amanda Marcotte argues that people are now reaching for the T-word to describe any loudmouth who happens to share an obnoxious opinion on line, even when said loudmouth sincerely holds that opinion. Which is, of course, not the same as saying something outrageous that you don't really believe, simply for effect:
One of the most common practices on the Internet, ranking somewhere between sharing cat videos and griping about minutiae on Facebook, is to dismiss people who share repellent, shocking, or just plain controversial opinions as "trolls." People have somehow convinced themselves that sincere opinions and attention-seeking behavior are mutually exclusive. (See a discussion of this from Slate's Farhad Manjoo, who is reasonably sick of the term being applied to people who aren't even trying to be offensive, even if their opinions are controversial.) 
You could say that calling some knuckle-dragging misogynist, racist, homophobe, or other bigot a "troll" is to pay that person an unwarranted compliment. A troll, after all, needs to have the intelligence to think about another person's values, self image, or world-view, then come up with a statement calculated to cause that person annoyance or distress. Most trolls are probably dysfunctional attention-seekers,* but the successful ones aren't completely stupid. Unlike bigots who mouth repellent trash because they're dumb enough to actually believe it.

On the whole, I agree with Marcotte, that we shouldn't say "troll" when we mean "bigot" (I plead guilty to such sloppy usage myself). I'm not quite so sure when it comes to "trolling" clickbait though. Up to a point, much of the content of, say, the Mail Online is simple, mouth-breathing bigotry, people with a prejudiced world-view spEaking their bRanes, either for the benefit of people with a similar world-view, or to propagandise to anybody who might be sitting on the fence between either using their prefrontal cortex to navigate complicated and important issues, or simply relying on the reptilian brainstem (AKA "common sense" in Mail-speak). In this sense, it's mere bigotry.

But there's also calculation there, the realisation that you can get a two-for-one click through rate by appealing directly to the worst instincts of bigots and outraging Guardianistas who click through to prove to themselves what unbelievable new depths the Mail has sunk to, then go and tell all their friends. Some of this is an accidental by-product of producing bullshit in industrial quantities, but I don't think the Mail's generating the amount of traffic it does by accident. There's ignorance and prejudice here, in spades, but there's also enough business sense to turn the art of the wind-up into a profitable revenue stream. I don't like to pay the usual suspects at the Mail Online the compliment of calling them "trolls", but the fact that they've successfully commidified outrage suggests that they are - within their own limited domain - more than just stupid bigots. Never underestimate the enemy.

*with a few exceptions where the trolling is precisely targeted to demolish a particularly silly point of view, to tweak people who are taking themselves way too seriously, or to puncture pomposity

Friday, 26 April 2013

Learned helplessness is the way forward, insists Tony Blair

In the 1990s and the 2000s, right-wing parties were the enthusiasts of the market, pushing for the deregulation of banks, the privatisation of core state functions and the whittling away of social protections. All of these now look to have been very bad ideas. The economic crisis should really have discredited the right, not the left. So why is it the left that is paralysed? 
Asks Henry Farrell, suggesting a plausible explanation for why the dysfunctional status quo shows no sign of changing. Maybe he's right and there are inescapable structural reasons why nobody's yet been able to reverse some of those 'very bad ideas':
The problem that the centre-left now faces is not that it wants to make difficult or unpopular choices. It is that no real choices remain. It is lost in the maze, able neither to reach out to its traditional bases of support (which are largely dying or alienated from it anyway) nor to propose any grand new initiatives, the state no longer having the tools to implement them. When the important decisions are all made outside of democratic politics, the centre-left can only keep going through the ritualistic motions of democracy, all the while praying for intercession. 
I hope it ain't so, but at least not having the tools is an adequate excuse for not finishing the job. The Labour party's resident back seat driver, Tony Blair, sees the same paradox, but his own excuse for doing little more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic is about as convincing as 'the dog ate my homework':
The paradox of the financial crisis is that, despite being widely held to have been caused by under-regulated markets, it has not brought a decisive shift to the left. But what might happen is that the left believes such a shift has occurred and behaves accordingly.
The cataclysmic failure of a global economic and political consensus based on a distinct, explicit set of right-wing policies 'has not brought a decisive shift to the left', therefore Ed Miliband shouldn't even think about making any radical changes. We know it's broke, but we can't possibly fix it because Mondeo Man says no. The other lot can push the Overton Window as far to the right as they like, but woe betide Ed if he tries to push it back by a single inch.

It's one thing to recognise real obstacles to change, quite another to advocate learned helplessness as a political strategy. If this is the best Blair can come up with, he should stick to jetting around the world, offering his exclusive ego-massage service to the global elite, or enjoying drinks and nibbles with Toby Young and James Delingpole at the next meeting of the Michael Gove fan club.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Only in America

Like everybody else who's made this obvious point, I'm either preaching to the converted or talking to the hand, but what the hell:
Do the math.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Blade inflation

With most people's disposable incomes dwindling to the size of a banker's conscience, why does anybody still shave with those overpriced proprietary handle and cartridge razor systems? Refill cartridges for the heavily-marketed multi-bladed razors (like the Mach 3 or Fusion brands Gillette markets to guys, or the Venus Proskin, aimed at the laydeez) are currently selling at somewhere between £1.80 and a tad over £3.30 per unit.* You can easily get a bog-standard Bic or supermarket own-brand disposable razor at a unit price of around 10p.

The manufacturers claim that their fancy, multi-blade cartridges shave you better. I'm sceptical, but even if we allow that there might be some measurable difference in the quality of shave you get with an expensive cartridge, as opposed to some cheap disposable, it sure as hell won't shave you over eighteen times better. Ensuring that your skin and bristles are thoroughly softened by warm water will have far more of an effect on the quality of your shave than using an elaborate multi-blade cartridge system (they call it "wet shaving" for a reason).

Disposables are better value, which ever way you slice it, but it's a bit wasteful, throwing a whole disposable away after a few uses. Even better than disposables are your old-fashioned standard double-edged safety razor blades. It's becoming obvious that the manufacturers, supermarkets and chemists don't like stocking these (too little mark-up, presumably) and it's becoming common to find even large shops failing to stock them. On the supermarket web site I checked, they sold only one variety of double edged-blades (out of 115 products related to the search term 'razor blades'), their own brand, at a unit price that was a few pence higher than the price of an average disposable.

Look on the Internet, though, and generic, double-edged safety razor blades can be had at a unit price that easily matches or beats the cost of a bog-standard supermarket disposable razor. A lot of them seem to be manufactured in places like India and Russia where there must still be plenty of people outside the rising middle class or oligarchy who haven't got the disposable income to waste on overpriced multi-blade razor cartridges.

The business model for shaving cartridges is a bit like the one for ink jet printer cartridges. There's no money in selling a printer / razor handle. The real profits are to be made after you've persuaded the punter to buy your particular brand of printer / shaving system, which works with only with consumables that aren't compatible with any other brand. Once you've locked your customer in, you can charge whatever you think you can get away with for the consumables.

In the case of printers, there have always been competing and incompatible systems, so the manufacturers have had a head start when it comes to tying their customers in. When alternatives have come along, they're able to stay one step ahead of buyers by designing their printers to work badly, or not at all, when a consumer attempts to refill a cartridge or use a third-party cartridge.

Razor manufacturers have had to try harder when it comes to locking customers in. King C. Gillette's safety razor with disposable blades was protected by patent from 1903, when he started to manufacture, until 1921, but by the time the patent had expired, it was easy for other manufacturers to make generic, interchangeable razor blades very cheaply. The manufactures of ink jet cartridges have never had to deal with a similar threat of a common standard that completely destroyed their ability to lock consumers in to their expensive, proprietary consumables.

Wilkinson Sword took the first step away from the generic razor blade in 1970, when it introduced its "bonded shaving system", a single blade embedded in a disposable plastic cartridge, ostensibly to make changing blades easier and to reduce the risk of injury. This solved a problem which probably wasn't much of a problem in the first place - I've been wet shaving with single blades for quite a few years now and I've never come close to injuring myself when changing blades, although I'm as prone as the next person to being clumsy, especially when in a hurry in the early morning. I reckon that by the time I'm doddery enough to be at real risk of a blade-changing-related injury, I'll probably be too shaky to shave myself anyway.

The Gillette company "bettered" the single-blade cartridge by introducing a twin blade cartridge, marketed with the questionable claim that 'It's one blade better than whatever you're using now.' By 1998 Gillette, now confident that a generation of consumers had swallowed the hype about more blades equalling a better shave, introduced the "Mach 3" cartridge with - guess what - three blades. Schick/Wilkinson duly responded to the Mach 3 with its four-bladed Quattro cartridge.

By 2004, The Onion could see where all this marketing-led blade inflation was leading and, sure enough, in 2006, real life caught up with satire when Gillette introduced its five-bladed Fusion cartridge.

All this marketing-led "innovation" has been so profitable that even mighty professional bullshitters look on Gillette's works and despair. Associate professor of marketing and consultant to some of the world's biggest brands, Mark Ritson, was suitably awestruck:
First, drive profitability. Market share might have reached its zenith, but that doesn't mean your margins can't be squeezed. One industry insider recently claimed that, despite a pack of four Fusion razor blades retailing for £9.72, the manufacturing and packaging costs for the product are less than 30p. That's a whopping mark-up of more than 3000%. How about that for a margin?

Second, practise positive cannibalisation. Gillette launched its five-blade Fusion line in 2006 with a 30% price premium over Mach 3, its previous three-blade offering. With an 85% market share, it makes more sense for Gillette to focus its marketing on switching its own customers from Mach 3 to the more profitable Fusion line than trying to win any more competitor share. That is why Gillette is spending millions to compete against itself with ads and online comparisons to convince its Mach 3 consumers that their current razor is simply not good enough and to trade up to Fusion.

Third, drive usage. This has always been the number-one way to fuel profitability. In Gillette's case the company is now investing heavily in an online campaign to encourage consumers to use their Gillette razor downstairs as well as upstairs. Videos with powerful messages, such as 'When there's no underbrush, the tree looks taller', are increasing blade-use on the lower body. One of the joys of an 85% share is that you can run general campaigns to grow total category usage, safe in the knowledge that most of the upturn in sales will benefit your brands.
That's right, guys - shaving your pubes in the hope that your penis will look bigger is what all the cool kids are doing (a marketing professional told me, so it must be true). Even The Onion didn't see that one coming.

The wacky "innovations" of the modern Proctor and Gamble-owned Gillette company are a world away from the real innovation of King C. Gillette,** whose invention was undeniably better than the old cut throat razors (there's a subtle clue as to why they sucked, right there in the name) and rival safety blades that you had to spend ages sharpening, with mixed results.The safety razor he pioneered works well, it's cheap to use and generates a tiny amount of recyclable waste. Its replacement by cartridges has allowed corporations to profiteer hugely whilst providing no - or at best, marginal - benefits to the end user.

Today's top tip for life in an austerity-ridden world - ditch the overpriced shaving cartridges, get yourself a perfectly adequate double-edged razor in the fifteen to twenty five quid bracket (more expensive models are available, but if you spend much more, you're just showing off) and a few blades for pennies each.***

What marketing professionals say in public is that modern consumers are way too savvy and sophisticated to be taken in by the first stupid bit of marketing they see, polished up with he odd celebrity endorsement. Looking at the way shaving products are marketed, I suspect that what they think in private is 'there's a sucker born every minute.'

*as advertised on the web site of a major supermarket.

**There's a huge a divergence of values, too, at least according to Wikipedia, where Gillette is described as a 'Utopian socialist', a refreshing contrast with the predatory profiteers currently trading under his name. Mind you, some aspects of his Utopian socialism sounded pretty wacky, too - he apparently believed that everyone in the US should live in a giant city called Metropolis, powered by Niagara Falls. OK, the concept is pretty out there, but when a guy's made one really brilliant idea work, why begrudge him his bit of blue-skies thinking?

***Or buy the slightly more expensive premium Merkur brand blades, if you really must.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Irony Lady

I'm sick to the back teeth of the Thatcher retrospective, but there's one strange aspect to all of this that I haven't seen mentioned in the wall-to-wall commentary. You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss:
And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.
These words and their context have been endlessly argued about and analysed but, although the nuances may be blurry, the broad sentiment is as clear as gin. She's praising individuality, upholding the right of individuals and families to think and act for themselves, rather than being enslaved to groupthink and the pressure to conform.

Which is more or less the precise opposite of how the mainstream media/political complex has spun her passing. 'We are all Thatcherites now', 'Britain bids farewell to "Iron Lady"', 'We must show our respect on the day of Margaret Thatcher's funeral', 'her policies may have divided us, but her memory unites us'. All of a sudden, there is such a thing as society, there's a collective identity called 'Britain', united by the inescapable presence of The Blessed Margaret and the things she has bequeathed to The Collective.

There's a particularly stupid form of words that sums up the officially-approved way of thinking about Thatcher. It goes something like this -  'You can say what you like about Margaret Thatcher, but, love her or hate her, you have to admit that [insert platitude here].'

Hang on a minute. I have to admit something? Really? So I don't get to think for myself? And if I don't admit it, what are you going to do about it? Does it involve electrodes, or maybe a spot of waterboarding? No? Just a gentle application of moral blackmail, combined with a spot of groupthink? Is that all you've got? No mate, I'm not admitting anything. I 'm an individual and I'm quite capable of thinking for myself, thank you very much.

Not only is there now such a thing as society, but that society is portrayed as possessing a collective hive mind that must think appropriate thoughts on a shared occasion. There are certain truths to which every member of the hive 'has to' assent - to do otherwise would be as unthinkable as a worker bee questioning the queen's place in the hive hierarchy.

There are individuals who loved Thatcher(ism), others who hated her/it and others who couldn't have cared less. How ironic that the epitaph of the high priestess of individualism is starting to sound like a party political broadcast on behalf of the Borg:
And, you know, there are no such things as individual men and women. There is only Britain, our shared hive, and The Collective, my brood. Like it or not, you are all my children now.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


Well, I think we've done the subject of Our Greatest Ever Prime Minister With A Handbag to death (so to speak), bored with that now. But here's something I didn't know about Our Greatest Ever Prime Minister With A Cigar. Who knew that Winston wasn't considered safe at altitudes of over 8,000 feet, or that they manufactured a custom-made prime-ministerial survival pod* in order to avoid the PM popping like a badly-stored champagne bottle** whilst being shuttled to important conferences in the unpressurised planes of the day?

*in the event, the skyPod seems not to have been needed, although I'm not sure whether they resolved the problem by risking Winnie's health at high altitude, staying under 8,000 feet, or finding a pressurised or partly-pressurised plane (a rarity in those days).

**I was once told, by someone in the wine trade, that Winston's taste in bubbly extended to include Freixenet cava. Although Freixenet's not bad stuff and quite good enough for the wedding of somebody like me, unused to a champagne lifestyle, I rather doubt whether someone with Churchill's aristocratic pedigree would have bothered with a good imitation of champagne, when the family budget would have easily stretched to the best vintages of real thing. We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now, as the saying goes.

via Dieselpunk and io9 

Corrected - I originally suggested that the skyPod wasn't used, as Churchill's Avro York transport had a pressurised cabin fitted anyway. In fact it seems that the York's intended 'pressure chamber' was the skyPod, which was never fitted or used. 

A suitable tribute

It is a new dawn, is it not? The dawn of the dead, the dawn of the day when our political overlords say their last goodbyes to our Greatest Ever Prime Minister™, the woman behind Mr Whippy (allegedly). But who's this tinkling round the corner? Hello, Mr Dippy! A great big Mr Dippy Triple Dip for me please! With extra crushed nuts and a Cadbury's flake on top!

Could there be any more fitting tribute to the late dole-queue queen? Although, once the funeral tributes have been made, it's traditional to lay the deceased to rest. So, if it's all the same with you George, can we finish the job and give the mortal remains of your Plan A the decent burial it so richly deserves?

In my dreams, I guess. Still, when other helpers fail and comforts flee, I find that a tasteless joke always helps to lighten the mood:
April 2013 - Thatcher dies

May 2013 - Hell privatised
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Summertime in Motor City

A long time ago, a friend suggested that, for motorists in these latitudes, there are just two seasons, not the traditional four. The two motoring seasons are defined by the ambient temperature in your vehicle. When you need to have the heater on for most of the time to stay comfortable, it's winter. When your dominant urge is to blow cool air, or open the window, sunroof or soft top, it's summer.

By his reckoning, yesterday could have been my first day of summer - off to work in the car without an early-morning blast from the fan heater to take the chill off me and the windscreen, back home with the sun roof open. Barring a return of the unseasonable cold snap, this could be it until October.

The car heaters are going off all over Europe.* We may not see them turned on again in our summertime.

*this statement is probably not true for motorists in Narvik or Rhodes, but why let accuracy get in the way of a good sound-bite? Nobody else seems to.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Sun gods of metal

Reading this, it occurs to me that "Coronal Mass Ejection" would be an inspired name for a heavy metal band (maybe it already is,* in which case, apologies for wasting any passing metalheads' time by re-inventing the wheel).

Just an idle thought that wouldn't go anywhere else.

* or at the very least, the thought's probably unoriginal.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Restrictive practices

Cowed by some ostentatious offence-taking by some Very Important People, backed up by a furious chorus of incoherent snorts and bellows from the likes of the Daily Mail, the BBC has caved in and refused to play more than five seconds of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead on Sunday's chart show. This is, apparently, 'a “compromise” which will prevent the song, which is heading towards the number one slot ... being adopted as a posthumous protest by opponents of Lady Thatcher.'

The handling of taste and decency was weird enough (a thing's either too offensive to broadcast or it isn't - you can no more split the difference by playing five seconds of the tune than you can be "just a little bit" pregnant), but after being lectured by the Mail not to gloat or be offensively disrespectful about people who can't hit back, I had to re-paint the dial on my irony meter, which now goes up to eleven.

I'm getting this surreal thought that Paul Dacre has travelled back in time, to be reincarnated as a print union shop steward from the pre-Murdoch era, furiously steaming in to assert his rights in some touchy demarcation dispute:
Oi! What do you think you're doing? You can't just come in here, kicking people when they're down, upsetting grieving families and picking on somebody who's in no position to fight back. I'm the official representative of the Federated Union of Flamers, Trolls and Clickbait Manufacturers, and as you should know, taunting grieving families and causing gratuitous offence to anybody we feel like picking on, is our job and nobody else's. Now go and hop it, before I call a strike ballot.
More than a quarter of a century after Wapping, and our gutter press is still operating a closed shop policy towards causing offence. These sort of Spanish practices should have the old girl spinning in her urn.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Prague's Iron Lady

At 5 o'clock in the morning of April 28th, 1991, Czech art student David Černý, along with several accomplices, advanced on a plinth in Prague’s Kinsky Square, armed with brushes and paint pots. On top of the plinth stood a wartime Stalin II heavy tank, set up in the square by the former communist authorities as a monument to the Red Army's liberation of the city in 1945. Under cover of night, Černý and his band of pranksters painted the tank bright pink.

The next morning, when the authorities found out what had happened, they weren't amused. The Minister for National Defence, Mr. Dobrovsky, made a hasty apology to the Soviet Embassy for the "vandalism". The Czech Army mobilised a bunch of squaddies to re-paint the tank in a more respectful military drab green. By 8 May, the General Prosecutor had charged Černý with "public disturbances."

In April 2013, a 45 year old old drama teacher set up a Facebook group called "The Witch is Dead" in order to organise street parties to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher. This - and other acts of blatant disrespect for the deceased - provoked predictable outrage from members of the political establishment, along with a furious bout of naming and shaming from the Daily Mail and Telegraph, probably in the hope that she'll get the sack for expressing her dissent in such an offensive manner.

Respect and dissent continue to be touchy subjects. Listen to this boilerplate Iron Lady obit:
She was known as an iron lady, both loved and loathed....Consensus and compromise, they said, were not in her vocabulary. She'd won a bloody war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, took on Britain's powerful labor unions. She ignored IRA hunger strikes....Determined, dynamic, and deeply controversial, Thatcher leaves an indelible mark on the world's political landscape.
The Red Army was likewise loved and loathed, deeply controversial and won a war far bloodier than the Falklands spat. On the one hand it took, and inflicted, the vast majority of the casualties in the war against a genocidal Nazi regime bent on world conquest. Taking on something like two thirds of the Nazi war effort, and losing some nine to eleven million combatants in the process, was no small sacrifice - and that was just military deaths (thirteen to fifteen million Soviet civilians were killed). Heck, the Soviet Union was already spending blood and treasure on the fight against fascism during the Spanish Civil war, while the British and French governments were sitting around, allowing the fascists to carve up Spain in the name of "non-intervention" (conveniently ignoring the massive German and Italian military intervention propping up Franco's coup).

If that was the only context, defacing the Monument to Soviet Tank Crews seems like nothing more than an act of puerile disrespect. But there's more to the story.

There were terrified Soviet soldiers advancing against suicidal odds for fear of the NKVD goons in the rear who'd shoot anyone who retreated. There was complicity in the destruction of Poland (the occupation during the Nazi-Soviet pact, the Katyn massacre, the Red Army pausing on the outskirts of Warsaw to let the Nazis exterminate the participants in the Warsaw uprising). Then, the brutal occupation and oppression of eastern Europe, the tanks rolling in to crush the Hungarian uprising and the Prague Spring.

Under those circumstances, it'd be surprising if uncorking years of bottled-up anger and resentment didn't result in a spurt of joyous defiance.

It'd be a harsh world if we lost all respect and fellow feeling, whether it was for the unimaginable suffering and sacrifice of an army of millions, or for the grief of a single bereaved family. But it's also a harsh world where our instinctive feelings of respect and empathy for other people's loss is hijacked by cynical apparatchiks to airbrush history, to silence dissent, to justify cruelty and to rub the losers' faces in it. I don't want to dance on Thatcher's grave and I feel uneasy about the jubilation (which is, on a political level, misplaced, since so much of modern Britain is exactly how she'd have wanted it), but I'm also sickened by the carefully-orchestrated obsequies and sanitised half-truths of the establishment consensus:
All three party leaders united to praise the legacy of Margaret Thatcher today, as MPs returned to the Commons to mark the passing of one of Britain's most influential prime ministers. 
Pass the sick bag. It's enough to make you long for a bit of absurdest dissent. If we have to have a memorial to the Iron Lady on the Fourth Plinth, I reckon another pink tank would be an appropriate symbol for somebody who crushed everything in her path, had a steely hatred of compromise and was both loved and loathed by millions.

Monday, 8 April 2013


What's all this, then? William Hague and the rest of the cabinet backing David Cameron's claim that North Korea could launch a WMD attack on Britain within 45 minutes? Or just a bunch of hardcore Doctor Who fans getting ready for the 50th anniversary?

No. Photograph courtesy of Kitchener Lord's flikr stream (creative commons)

Are you thinking what we're thinking?

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Trolling the aspiration nation

There was no point in getting offended by the Daily Mail's biggest troll of the week, or with George Osborne, for living down to everybody's low expectations by parroting the Mail's hogwash. Like the man said, never wrestle with a pig - you get dirty, and besides, the pig enjoys it.

In radioland, professional troll A N Wilson crawled out from under his bridge to goad fellow interviewee, Labour MP Pamela Nash, by pontificating in a plummy drawl about how the Philpott case showed that the welfare state was way too generous and puts the morals of the undeserving poor in mortal danger. Sadly, instead of butting him into the river, Nash fell into the trap of being offended. 'No, no, no', I thought, 'the pig's enjoying it. Don't do it like that.' This is the way to do it:
The Daily Mail has apologised for failing to notice that people from wealthy backgrounds who are likely to inherit significant sums of money, might also be murderers.
Stephen Seddon, 46, was convicted of killing his parents for a quarter of a million pound inheritance in a story the Daily Mail failed to cover with the headline, “Vile product of affluent UK”.

Editor Paul Dacre apologised for the oversight, telling reporters, “We at the Daily Mail pride ourselves in drawing vociferous conclusions based on highly questionable evidence linked by wildly tenuous correlations – as yesterday’s front page about Mick Philpott showed.”

“Clearly we can link welfare payments and benefits to killing your children in a house fire, so how we missed this story about people with money killing people is anyone’s guess.”

“I would like to apologise to all of our readers for not telling them that Stephen Seddon is a product of UK’s truly awful culture of wealth accumulation and nepotism.” 
News Thump, skewers the whole manufactured "debate" like a shit kebab. If these sort of extreme, isolated cases had any relevance to anything (except for smearing the scapegoat du jour), the personal finance pages would be full of dire warnings that people were saving way too much for their retirement, without realising that the nest egg they'd been putting aside to keep them in Saga cruises or Werther's Originals was putting them at serious risk of being bumped off by their own greedy kids.

When even the right-wing Speccy concedes that this whole thing is nonsense, it's time to calm down and quit pig-wrangling.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Starstruck in London

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen we were having a family day out in London. I'd hoped to take my currently space-mad six-year-old to the old planetarium next to Madam Tussauds, but when I googled for details of prices and show times, All in London dot com cheerfully informed me that:
The London Planetarium, once located in Marylebone Street, in the green dome next to Madame Tussauds, has been closed in order to make way for a new celebrity-themed show that opened in July 2006. Although the planetarium used to be one of London’s attractions, there was less demand in recent years. The planetarium was therefore renames [sic] 'the Auditorium' and now hosts a show by Aardman Animations about celebrities.

Now a real* integrated part of the Madame Tussauds experience, the show was designed especially for projection onto the dome shaped ceiling. It takes visitors through a complete 360 degree circuit exploring how our earthly legends such as Marilyn Monroe are viewed by aliens!! 
I resisted the temptation to bang my head repeatedly against the desk (although if I'd done so for long enough I might have become sufficiently brain-damaged to enjoy a "real", integrated, celebrity-themed experience). Knowing that a working planetarium had been gutted in order to make way for this abomination was bad enough, but knowing that the people behind Wallace and Gromit were complicit in the sacrilege was almost too much to bear.

Instead, we took a boat downriver to Greenwich and visited the Royal Observatory, which now houses the Peter Harrison Planetarium, so we got our show with the added bonuses of a river trip in glorious, though chilly, sunshine followed by one of London's best short walks, from the Cutty Sark and Wren's Old Royal Naval College, up through Greenwich Park to the observatory. The Offspring enjoyed the show at the planetarium, which now proudly calls itself 'London's only planetarium.' Because you clearly couldn't find enough geeky kids to support more than one working planetarium in a city that only attracts one and a half million tourists a year and is home to a mere eight million people.

Now that we know that the universe in which we live is billions and billions of times less interesting than whatever Simon Cowell tweeted ten minutes ago, we can safely move on to your breaking sleb news. Our resident paparazzo has a sensational photograph from Greenwich, confirming gossip that celebrity foodstuffs bacon and chocolate have been collaborating on an exciting new project:
Compared to that, the whole of infinity sucks, obviously.

*If you're in the business of promoting waxwork replicas of airbrushed, PR-washed, image-controlled slebs who looked like waxworks to start with, I wouldn't bother with the word "real."