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Monday, April 28, 2008

I saw one! I saw one!

According the U.K. newspapers, the American grey squirrels that have been driving our own British red squirrels to extinction are now about to get their come-uppance from a new master race of mutant black super squirrels.

Scientists say the testosterone-charged black is fitter, faster and more fiercely competitive than both reds or greys.
[From The pack of mutant black squirrels that are giving Britain's grey population a taste of their own medicine| News | This is London]

I nearly fell off the couch when I read this, because I saw a mutant black squirrel in New York two weeks ago, in Central Park. I'd never seen a black squirrel before so I stopped to look and take a picture to show the folks back home...

Mutant super-squirrel caught on camera

Even more amazingly, not 20 yards away I saw the dead body of grey squirrel! Seriously! They're here already! You're next! You're next!

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Top comment on Glastonbury

I wish I could write as well as Emily Hill at Spiked...

Glastonbury’s got 99 problems – but Jay-Z ain’t one.

[From Who killed Glastonbury? | spiked]

A sentence that works on so many levels. In order to understand it, you need to know about Glastonbury's slide from countercultural Mecca (when I used to go, of course) to flabby post-modern dreariness, one of Jay-Z's greatest hits (and a work of modern poetry, "99 Problems") and the fact that ticket sales are down this year. All beautifully encapsulated in a single sentence that literally shines from the page. Sometimes, writing like this makes me want to cry, because I fancy myself as a writer (I've even been to my first editorial conference at a real magazine) yet I know I'll never write that line now.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wireless whingeing

I was staying at the Okura in Amsterdam for a couple of days. They put me in one of their refurbished rooms, which was great. It had a bath as well as shower and a flat-screen TV in the bathroom wall. Normally, I just have a shower and then get on with things, but it was genuine pleasure to lay back and soak in the tub while watching (in my case) football on the telly. The shower cubicle was glass-sided as well, so I watched Sky News while having a shower in the morning. Most convenient.

The room was very comfortable, with a well-configured desk for working (it has U.S., European and U.K. power sockets -- nice touch!) and a comfy bed. All in all, very good. Except... it was 27 euros per day for Internet access. Why do they do this? It drives me mad. I got in late and was very tired, I flopped into bed and quickly typed a couple of e-mails, but when I wanted to send them to had to get up, go and find my wallet and type in the usual rubbish before I was able to log in. There should be a law forcing hotels to display their internet charges -- these are, essentially, a hidden charge since it's simply not possible to go for a couple of days without internet access in the modern world. If only my dongle came with more reasonable roaming charges then these outrageous hotel charges would be a thing of the past.

One more point: like most people in the hotel, I'm sure, I didn't really care what the Internet access cost since I wasn't paying for it, but it's the principle of the thing (and the hassle) that bothers me. Why isn't Internet bundled into the room cost with water and electricity?

By the way, I stayed at the Empire Hotel in New York a few days later and it had free wifi, just as wifi should be.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Guru gloats

There's something quite strange about the looking-glass world that is Britain today. I know this is the case because when I relay news stories from the U.K. to friends, relatives and colleagues in other countries, I find myself having to begin my tale with "I'm not making this up". That, sadly, tells you something terrible about our society. Anyway, sometime back, I said in a post about the Home Secretary's extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that

I'd lay a pound to a penny that the first time Woking council invoke their new Stalinist powers it will not be to defeat a cunning plot by international terrorists dedicated to our destruction but in a dispute over hedges or car parking.

[From Citizen of the World... (Well, Woking)]

I can't tell you how upset I am to find my status as a guru confirmed by the news of the last couple of days. It transpires that

Councils and other public bodies are using legislation designed to combat terrorism in order to spy on people, obtain their telephone records and find out who they are emailing... Last year, councils and government departments made 12,494 applications for "directed surveillance", according to figures released by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner. This was almost double the number for the previous year.

[From Council spy cases hit 1,000 a month - Telegraph]

Note that, in comparison, applications from police and other law enforcement agencies fell during the same period, to about 19,000. The trend is very clear: soon, councils will be conducting more surveillance than MI5. Are the councils using the legislation to keep track of budding suicide bombers? No, of course not. The whole reason that this has blown up now is that one council was caught... well, I'm not making this up:

A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment. A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks. The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total. Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications. It said two offers of school places were withdrawn as a consequence.

[From BBC NEWS | England | Dorset | Council admits spying on family]

For puzzled overseas readers I must point out that the education system in the U.K. is so bad that parents who are unable to afford private school fees that have been inflated by Russian oligarchs, civil servants and celebrities will do anything to try and get their kids into the dwindling number of decent schools. One couple I know (not in Woking) gave their in-laws address, for example, because it was in the catchment area of a good school. In the socialist paradise of local authorities, this is considered an unpardonable sin. Hence the campaign to drive these terrible people (ie, middle class parents who want a good education for their kids) out of our neighbourhoods.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people. [posted with ecto]

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Global cooling

Woke up this morning to a fairytale Christmas scene, with flakes falling gently outside and the garden covered in snow. The kids leaped out of bed and went out to have snowball fights and build a snowman with their friends. I started thinking about roast turkey with all the trimmings this afternoon... but hold on a minute, it's already a week after Easter!

Woking Easter

This must be global cooling at work. Or was it global warming?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Truly shocking figure

Pottering around on the interweb, you now and then come across some news (ie, a fact you didn't know before) that is so shocking that you can't stop reflecting on it. The most recent case of this came when I was browsing the news headlines and saw a sidebar link to the NPR story:

In 1850, a slave would cost roughly $30,000 to $40,000 — in other words it was like investing in a Mercedes. Today you can go to Haiti and buy a 9-year-old girl to use as a sexual and domestic slave for $50."

[From Author Struggles to Stay Removed from Slave Trade : NPR]

I have no idea why this keeps bothering me so much, when you read about so many horrible things going on the world every day, but I think it's something to do with the fact that we congratulate ourselves on ending slavery -- William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace and all that -- but we haven't even come close to ending it. We shouldn't be so smug sometimes. Anyway, sorry to lecture. I'll be back to moaning about travel shortly since I will be flying into Terminal 5 for the very first time in a while.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]