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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Genetic engineering

I was reading New Scientist this week and found an article about why women have sex with men who have Porsches. Or at least that was my interpretation. It turns out that a series of psychology experiments have determined that quite a wide range of ladies from young to old will drop them for a man who shows off wealth rather than a man who may have more money but does not show it off. If a dreary, balding, grey-haired, overweight, middle-aged man (eg, me) turns up in a Volvo having invested the balance of his disposable income in a variety of savings instruments directed at long term security, the knickers stay on. On the other hand, if I were to ditch the Volvo and the Schroeders Capital Growth fund and use the proceeds to buy even the dullest of Porsches, they would literally fly off. But why? Are women generally stupid and unable to make calculations as to the long-term best investments to support offspring (as I had thought that natural selection would have demanded)?

Well, it transpires that women of childbearing age will do the Porsche guy not because they think he is a rich and can therefore provide for them and their offspring in the future, but because their hormones mistakenly assume that the Porsche signals good genes (experiments show that the long-term cashflow is heavily discounted). This is clearly a throwback to our pre-civilised past, when the possession of (say) a dead wildebeast probably did signal that the owner was stronger, faster, smarter and therefore had a better genetic makeup. Possession of a Porsche signals no such thing, and yet the ovaries still throb at the display.

Some women will be reassured to know that the experiments demonstrate that men display no such behaviour, because they will have sex with absolutely anyone under any absolutely any circumstances and, even better, will spend their every last penny to do so:

In short, men who saw attractive women became much more motivated to get whatever money they could in the short term, presumably so they could spend it on conspicuous consumption to attract mates

[From Sex and shopping – it's a guy thing - life - 01 January 2010 - New Scientist]

Nature or nurture?

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Deserve got nuttin' to do wiv it

Having replaced the merciless dance marathons of the great depression with the merciless karaoke-to-the-death X-Factor of this one, Simon Cowell is well on course to be the richest person in TV (if I heard the Today programme correctly). This is surely the final incontrovertible piece of evidence for atheism that Richard Dawkins has been lokking for. In a universe designed by an intelligent creator, this could not possibly happen. My hatred for the X-Factor may be the only opinion I have about anything that is shared with Elton John, but who are we against so many. Anyway, envy aside, good luck to Cowell and the money he wrings from a credulous public. He deserves it, doesn't he?

As Felicia "Snoop" Pearson notes in the greatest-ever television drama, The Wire, the universe is an uncaring arbiter. People don't get what they deserve. But what do they deserve?

Take me, for example. I’m smart and hard-working. I don’t know if it’s because of my genes, or because my parents brought me up right. But whatever the cause, I didn’t do anything to become smart or hard-working.

[From Do Smart, Hard-Working People Deserve to Make More Money? « The Baseline Scenario]

That's a really good point. This why when people on radio phone-ins talk about nurses "deserving" more than bankers or policemen "deserving" more than TV presenters, they are barking up the wrong tree. By starting off with a category error, then you find yourself in a system that cannot resolve even the most basic questions. Why should David Beckham get paid more than me just because of his parents (they were the ones who gave him the genes for being good at football)? Why should Zac Goldsmith have more capital than me because of this parents (who were very rich)? Why should Marcus Brigstocke get on Question Time just because of his parents (who sent him to a 25 grand per year public school) when I am right about most political and economic issues and he is wrong?

Perhaps no-one gets what they deserve, and Simon Cowell is no different. By the way, Simon Cowell got his break because of his parents. His father, who was an EMI executive, got him a job in the A&R department there. Snoop was right.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Anthropology, Woking-style

I happened to be wandering through Woking town centre when I came across a group of welfare heffers grazing peacefully at a food court. No men were visible. There were a number of infants strapped into various kinds of pushchairs distributed through the herd, and a number of hatchet-faced crones (who I took to be mothers and grandmothers of herd members) circling the group. I was shocked at my own revulsion, but it was nevertheless real. I'm decidedly overweight, but couldn't help but reflect that many of these girls -- still teenagers -- were absolutely huge.

How does this happen? Eleven years of compulsory edukashun has left most of them pretty thick, for sure, but they must be at least vaguely aware of the connection between food and obesity (even if they don't seem aware of the connection between sex and pregnancy). I wonder if the Green Party should make more of an effort to target this group: they are consuming far more than their share of the world's resources and they are causing problems for the overcrowded world of the future by continually having children that they rely on the rest of the world to support.

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

Thursday, December 03, 2009


It's competition time (just for fun, don't phone in). One of these is a real person and the other is made up.

Poo Bah, First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral, Master of the Buckhounds, Groom of the Back Stairs, Archbishop of Titipu, Lord Mayor, both acting and elect, and Lord High Everything Else.

Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool and Foy, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, President of the Board of Trade and Lord President of the Council and Church Commissioner.

Difficult isn't it? Especially when I tell you that one of them is planning sacrifice economic growth to a few content oligarchs via a draconian and expensive scheme that will never actually work.

Well, as was covered on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, Poo Bah is a made-up character from Gilbert & Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado, whereas Lord Mandelson is, sadly, real.

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The doormen of perception

In a sane society, you don't have the right to show "fire" in a crowded theatre and nor do you have the right to force (for example) airlines to respect your view that the world is flat. Developed countries live with a post-renaissance notion of scientific progress that rests on evidence and argument, not emotion and belief. However, here in Gordon Brown's Looking Glass Britain (the Land of Perverse Incentives), the institutionalising of stupidity of all forms has substituted for more traditional notions of progress.

A police worker who was sacked because he believed psychics can help solve criminal investigations is to go to court today to defend his right to legal protection from religious discrimination.

[From Man sacked for belief in psychics backed by judge (but, of course, he knew that would happen) - Home News, UK - The Independent]

You can see his thinking -- even without extra-sensory powers -- with absolute clarity. Nowhere does the inviolable law of unintended consequences exert such vengance as in the strange world of equality legislation, where hard cases make very bad law indeed. It's difficult to fault his logic, though: since you're not allowed to sack me for stupidity, because stupidity is my religion, I deserve recompense. It's only a matter of time before a burglar is able to demonstrate that his attraction to your property is a sacrament and therefore obtain similar legal protection.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Age and beauty

I was listening to the radio the other day, and the government's age commissar Joan Bakewell was making some point about impending legislation to end age discrimination. At first, I thought this might be a good idea, as I could use a free bus pass and I've often been tempted to order the pensioners' half-price lunchtime special at the fish and chip shop round the corner. I shall do this, and when they say no, I'll sue the for the mental distress they cause me because of their blatant age discrimination. That goodness for the new approach.

You should check that your recruitment process is non-discriminatory, eg aim to place advertisements in publications read by a range of age groups, and avoid using terms which imply a particular age group, such as 'mature', 'enthusiastic', 'highly experienced' or 'recent graduate'. See our guide on employing older workers.

[From Age discrimination | Business Link]

Enthusiastic? Oh well, I'm sure businesses will get used to advertising for people who are disinterested, I must mention that to our HR people. But there's something else that started to bother me about the automatic assumption that getting older persons to stay at work is a good thing. Isn't it better for society if they move over to provide more jobs for young people? Unemployed young persons are quite likely to beat me to death in the street (this happens about once a week in the UK as far as I can see) whereas unemployed old people will go and join a bridge four (which is one of things I look forward to about being old, frankly).

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Healthty scepticism

I see things are going well over at the NHS Supercomputer (for £20 billion, it better be pretty bloody super) and having spent god knows what on new software for the NHS' million staff, virtually none of them are using it.

here are only 174 clinicians using Lorenzo patient software across the five early adopter trusts, according to Mike O'Brien, minister for the National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

[From Only 175 people using flagship NHS software, says minister - 30 Oct 2009 - Computing]

The acumen of those in charge continues to stagger.

the recently signed contracts with BT to deploy Cerner Millennium at hospitals in the south require BT to be paid even if the hospitals refuse the systems – a possibility if they think they will not work... Junior Treasury minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry defended The NPfIT in the debate.

[From Only 175 people using flagship NHS software, says minister - 30 Oct 2009 - Computing]

I have a memory of the head of Westminster council (was it the Tesco woman, Porter?) being prosecuted for wasting public money on stupid schemes for party political reasons, and that was only a few million. Shouldn't some of the NHS IT people be in jail by now?

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The other tsunami

How do you get to be an MP? And where are all of the prostitutes? I started wondering about this because I read that

On Monday, Labour MP Fiona McTaggart asked Tessa Jowell, Minister for the Olympics whether she had commissioned any research on the effect of increased visitor numbers for the London 2012 Olympics on demand for the sex industry.

[From MPs prepare to beat off phantom Olympic hooker invasion • The Register]

I was wondering when this tidal wave of prostitutes would arrive. When I was last in Woking town centre after 10pm (last week) I did notice a number of very scantily glad young woman (all wearing mini skirts and shoulderless dresses despite a wind chill of -12) simultaneously shivering and smoking. But they were hardly of normal build, let alone size zero, and too badly-dressed to be Eastern European prostitutes. But then the name, and topic, rang a bell. I had a vague memory of reading a newspaper report that all of this stuff about sporting event-related tart tsunamis had been completely made up, and sure enough, it had been. When even The Guardian says that it's a "moral panic", you know they must be on shaky ground. In fact that august body came up with a rather nice phrase for ill-informed, evidence-free government lunatics egging each other on in order to waste public money:

The cacophony of voices has created the illusion of confirmation.

[From Prostitution and trafficking – the anatomy of a moral panic | UK news | The Guardian]

That's rather a good way to put it, and I will certainly use it again! But it led me to think: how do you get to be an MP? Surely, you'd think, you must have a certain amount of intelligence. Surely you would know when you are parroting made-up rubbish? So much for evidence-based policy.

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

Monday, November 02, 2009

Chip the lot of them

Isn't it typical of us British that we love our pets so much that we will hapily go along with a law to help us manage them better. If we've lost our dog, or it's been injured in accident, or whatever, then we want the vet to be able to contact us and get hold of their records. And, of course, we want to be able to track miscreants.

Owners will be forced to install the microchip containing a barcode that can store their pet's name, breed, age and health along with their own address and phone number.

[From All dogs to be microchipped with owner's details to 'help track pets' - Telegraph]

Surely it would make more sense to insist that these chips are installed in the feral children of the underclass that roam freely along our highways and byways. We could put detectors in all public places and then we could easily solve crimes like this. I doubt we would go so far as to actually punish the offenders, but at least we would know who they are.

This is important because one of the government's newest mental schemes is to set up public league tables of yobs. Their idiotic notion is that the underclass would somehow be shamed by having their names published.

Every yob handed an Asbo will be named and shamed online under radical plans outlined last night. All local councils will be told to publish names and photographs of louts.

[From - Asbo yobs shamed in web move]

They won't, of course, since in our new responsibility-free Britain they will only be interested in getting themselves to the top of the league. I bet they'll link their Facebook pages to the councils' online hall of shame, and firmly predict an immediate rise in anti-social behaviour once the system goes live.

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

Being digital

I always loved Ian Hunter's first solo album, the one that he made immediately after leaving Mott the Hoople back in 1974 (I was shocked to find out, earlier this year, that Ian is now 70). So when I was working earlier today, I suddenly thought to myself that I hadn't heard it for a while. I know that I have the CD in a box somewhere, but am far to lazy (and busy) to go and try and find it. In the circumstances, I did what any normal person would to, which was to use screen sharing to log on to the Mac in my study and remotely run iTunes then go to the iTunes Store to buy it. When I searched on iTunes I discovered that there was a remastered 30th anniversary edition. I bought it, it's fabulous.

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Saved my bacon

I had to go to Copenhagen for something, and when I was at Heathrow, I read about a splendid new green initiative from All Nippon Airways.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) claims that empty bladders mean lighter passengers, a lighter aircraft and thus lower fuel use.

[From Airline goes green by asking passengers to use the toilet before boarding | Mail Online]

Apparently, the gate staff there are reminding travellers to go to the toilet before they get on the plane. The idea of this is to reduce weight on the flights, thereby saving on jet fuel, thereby helping the environment. What a brilliant idea! It struck me as just the sort of vacuous, irrelevant gesture that is perfect for Looking Glass Britain. I'm surprised that Bono didn't mention this in his address to the Tory Party conference. Usually, you just get celebrities flying around in private jets while telling the rest of us to use low-energy light bulbs, but this is so much better. A "take-a-dump for Gaia" campaign will get the public on board and certainly raise awareness of climate change issues. It will make people feel like they are doing something about climate, without really inconveniencing anyone (conveniencing, them in fact). I enthusiastically joined the campaign, and then boarded the flight.

When I got to the airport in Copenhagen, I thought I would continue with my heartfelt commitment to saving the planet and decided to take a bus to the hotel, as it looked as if it was directly on the 5A bus route from the airport. So I wandered out and hurrah! There was a 5A bus waiting. I jumped on, and then ran into a problem, since it hadn't occurred to me that I would have to pay, and I hadn't bothered to get any Danish Kroner and the bus didn't take cards. So I asked the driver if I could pay in euros, and he said it would be five euro. But oh no, I only had a 10 euro note and the driver didn't have any chance. I was just about to get off, when a youngish (I'd say mid-20s) man came forward and paid the fare for me. I asked him if he had a card or could write his address, and he told me in near-perfect English that the driver was trying to rip me off because the fare should have been half that, and please don't worry about the money. What a gentleman! The historic relationship between England and Denmark continues (I still consider the the crowns to be united, as I do not recognise the claim of King William I to the English throne).

In true pay-it-forward fashion, I swear the next time I see someone get on the bus and then get stuck because they have no change, I will cheerfully pay for them.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You don't need to make this stuff up

The government is on the verge of denying me one of my few remaining simple pleasures, because it's becoming increasingly more difficult to pluck up the courage to open a newspaper in the bizarre looking-glass world that is Brown's Britain. I fought the phobia this morning and managed to get all the way to page 3 (of the Telegraph, I hasten to ad) before I find a story about a criminal case being dropped because the Crown Prosecution Service, the bastard offspring of the Keystone Cops and the Criminal Justice Act of 2003, had (after six months) not managed to photocopy some document that was required for the case. Why hadn't they photocopied it? Well, it was because the "person responsible for photocopying had been off work for an operation".

It reminded of an old joke -- which I think may have been on Spitting Image, but I can't really remember -- about Prince Charles and Lady Diana at the breakfast table. Prince Charles is staring blankly at an envelope and then says to her "where's the letter opener", Lady Diana replies "it's his day off".

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hope this doesn't seem sexist

I sat down in an aisle seat on the train. An extremely attractive young woman got on the train, walked down and sat in the aisle seat opposite me. She had long blonde hair and was wearing a white blouse, a bright scarlet jacket and a short black skirt, with black tights and black stiletto heels. As she walked down the carriage, the heads of a large number of overweight, balding, grey-haired elderly gentlemen (eg, me) turned to follow, which I imagine was the desired effect.

After a few minutes, I noticed she was writing in a notepad and I glanced over to see what she might be doodling. She was doing integral calculus. Really, really, hard integral calculus.

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

Monday, October 12, 2009

New playlist

I tried out my new playlist going into London today.

As the SWT Animal Transport approached, I kicked off with Blondie's pacy "Call Me", by far and away my favourite Blondie song. I wasn't much of a Blondie fan back in the day, but this one grew on me as the years passed, and now I appreciate the construction as well as the delivery.

Settling down on the train -- I managed to get one of the few remaining seats even though it meant getting jammed in the middle between two other commuters, who were both clearly devasted that I'd decided to go for it instead of politely leaving the middle seat empty -- I eased into the Joe Perry Project's version of the old Aerosmith number "Let the music do the talking". I've always preferred Joe's solo version. I couldn't find it to download, so I had to buy a whole CD to get it, which was really annoying, but I thought it would fit nicely in the playlist, and I was right.

Buzz Buzz. A simple bit of uptempo guitar-based rock from the Joe Perry Project eases the train through the sunny Surrey countryside.

I've Got to Rock (To Say Alive) by Saxon with Lemmy got me pumped up as we entered the London suburbs.

I Got a Line on You, the first rate Jeff Healey rework of the old Spirit classic which carried me along nicely through towards Clapham Junction.

On the final approach to Waterloo, the absolutely fantastic live version of Messin' with the Kid by legendary Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher.

I Wanna Be Your Dog from Iggy & The Stooges carries me out of the train, shuffling down into the underworld and across the Styx (the Waterloo & City line).

I was never really crazy about ELP (Emerson, Lake and Powell in this case), but I loved Greg Lake's sound with King Crimson (I can still remember buying the first album with money I made from working in a factory on Saturdays). "Touch And Go" is one of those tracks I don't get bored with.

I finished the journey with Jo Jo Gunne's timeless "Run Run Run" so that I was in a upbeat mood at just the right tempo coming out of the tube and starting the walk to the first meeting. Something of a success I feel.

Another Jeff Healey track, his own I Think I Love You Too Much, helps me along the road to the Royal Exchange. The combination of first rate guitar playing and sunshine helps me to recover from the travails of the tube.

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

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The world's favourite...

There's no doubt about it. I've been singing the praises of Terminal 5 which, after the initial stutter, is now quite pleasant as airports go. The key metric -- how long does it take from getting off the plane to getting into your card -- holds up well, except on the odd occasion when the border police forget that planes are arriving. I sympathise with John Redwood. He had a conversation with them about this.

The issue was how they handled the peaks. Surely it was one of flexible hours, the balance between full time and part time, and the use of intelligent rosters... He countered by saying the peaks were unpredictable. I argued that on the whole they were entirely predictable, as there are timetables telling them when all the large jets are expected in.

[From John Redwood MP]

Indeed. I've often wondered the same. Anyway, despite its great leaps forward, I have to say that Terminal 5 still doesn't reach the benchmark: Singapore Changi. This is the most efficient place on Earth. I came in tonight on a BA flight that had a technical fault and was nearly an hour late. No big deal, these things happen. I thought I would miss my connection, but wasn't too bothered since I figured there must be plenty of flights to KL and I'd get on one of them. Nevertheless, when the jetway opened I rushed up as fast as I could in order to see if there was a chance of making the Singapore Airlines flight or to head to a help desk if not. What was I thinking? This isn't Heathrow.

At the top of the jetway a super-efficient Singapore Airlines lady was holding a sign with my name on it. They thought it would be stressful for me to run and try and catch the flight, and I probably wouldn't make it anyway, so that had rebooked me on a JAL flight an hour later. She took me to the transfer area where I took a ticket and waited in an orderly manner. My number was called in five minutes and five minutes later I had my new boarding pass and pottered off to Starbucks to relax (and use the free wifi - Heathrow should take a leaf out of their book). If you have to change planes anywhere, make it Changi.

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

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Primary colour

Along with a couple of friends, I went along to the Woking open primary for the Conservative Party. It's an interesting new fad to have open primaries, so that anyone can come along and vote to see who will become the Tory candidate, in this case to succeed Humphrey Malins in Woking. They held in the H.G. Wells suite, which was completely full. I was genuinely surprised at the size (and, frankly, the average age) of the audience.

There were four candidates: a barrister, a couple of lady doctors and a marketing wallah. They were brought in one at a time -- in a random order, determined by lottery -- and asked the same questions, some of which had been selected from the floor ("has multiculturalism failed?") and some that had been set by, I suppose, the selection committee. They all did reasonably well: I'd sort of assumed that one of them would have really stood out to make the voting easy, but it wasn't like that at all. They handily gave out score sheets for you to fill in as you went along, and all of the candidates scored within a couple of points by my tallying.

I was sure the marketing guy would lose -- I didn't like his speaking style, which seems stilted and slightly unreal -- and although I was inclined towards both of the doctors -- my reasoning being that unlike barristers or marketing wallahs, doctors are forced to meet "real people" on a daily basis, and therefore experience the devastation that the New Labour plague has visited on our land at first hand -- but somehow just wasn't convinced by them as MPs. So I voted for the barrister, who had actually lived in Goldsworth Park in Woking. My friends each chose one of the doctors. On being told that the count would take half an hour, we went off for a beer and then came back.

We were totally shocked when the marketing wallah won, although to give him his due he did give a victory speech that wasn't bad (it was better than his "choose me" speech), so good luck to him.

Incidentally, I didn't understand why all of the candidates felt obliged to say that they support a return to grammars schools, unless it was because the audience was so old. The solution isn't to go back to the 1950 but to go forward: the candidates should have been calling for school vouchers.

None of them put forward any radical policies at all. I wanted one of them to call for the abolition of income tax, the legalisation of drugs and a few other things, but they were all quite moderate.

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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

They will always be the world's favourite to me

Twice in the last couple of weeks I've forgotten my iPhone at airport security and twice the fine people from BA have got it back for me. The first time was at Heathrow. I wandered into the lounge, got a paper and a coffee and sat down. As I did so, I realised that the comforting bulge of my iPhone was missing from my pocket. I searched my person in panic, and then realised that the last time I could remember having the phone was before security. I explained my predicament to the BA lady at the desk and one of her colleagues went back through the Concorde lounge short cut to T5 security, got the iPhone for me and brought it back. Phew. The second time was at Charles de Gaulle. I bumped into a friend as I entered the lounge and we were chatting all the way down the stairs and on to the bus, across the tarmac and into the plane. As I sat down, I realised I didn't have my phone. I got my bag down to search it, but no luck. The stewardess asked me if I'd lost something so I explained the problem to her. We were still on the ground waiting for the last few passengers. The captain radioed back to the gate and a gate person went to security. Sure enough, my iPhone was there. The stewardess ushered me down the steps and into an airport car which whizzed me back to gate. I ran (seriously) up the stairs and back to security to retrieve the iPhone. Hurrah. Then back out the gate, and back into the car which whizzed me back across the airport and to the plane again. The last couple of passengers were climbing the steps so I followed them in and sat down. Phew.

Excellent service, thanks chaps.

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

Friday, September 11, 2009

The exams get easier, but are they learning any more?

Our criminals are pretty rubbish, which is why the jails are stuffed full. The ones who are any good go and work for banks, whereas the ones who are hopeless are left to terrorise the citizenry with little reward. I notice that Japan, always a go-ahead sort of place, has introduced a sort of 11-plus for criminals. This makes obvious sense: the ones who pass can be sent on the fast track to business school or to some politician's office, whereas the ones who fail can be schooled in practical, day-to-day thuggery.

Japan's largest and most notorious organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, is forcing members to take a "gangster exam" in order to reduce costly damages suits, police have discovered.

[From Yakuza group forcing members to take 'gangster exam' - The Mainichi Daily News]

I'm sure that their mechanism for avoiding grade inflation might be seen as a little harsh, but I bet they'll work to keep the standards up.

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

Monday, September 07, 2009

Madame Mental

Fantastic news from the Land of the Rising Fun. It turns out that new Japanese Prime Minister's wife is a mentalist, and not in the dreary Cherie Blair bonkers crystal healing kind of way, but in the full on "I was taken to Venus by aliens" kind of way.

Miyuki, 66, described the extraterrestrial experience, which she said took place some 20 years ago, in a book entitled "Very Strange Things I've Encountered."

[From Japan's new first lady says rode UFO to Venus | U.S. | Reuters]

The adds greatly to the gaiety of nations. This is why I feel quite strongly that the Conservatives should consider inviting former BBC man David Icke to be the new head of the Beeb following the next election. Sanity does not seem to be winning strategy any more, so encouraging the population to take refuge in madness could be a better alternative.

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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Working on a chain letter

Cycling along a couple of days ago, I was enjoying a traditional English rural scene. Picking my way round broken glass on the canal towpath, admiring the group of drunken tramps who inhabit the green behind the magistrate's court, I was watching an eclectic collection of rubbish floating by: plastic bags, empty lager cans and a couple of discarded soft drink bottles as normal, but also some bits of wood that looked like a part assembled piece of Ikea furniture and something unidentifiable thing with string trailing behind it. I suddenly wondered why in all the time I have been taking this route (more than a year) I had never seen chain-gangs of young offenders cleaning the mess up, which I thought I had been promised by get-tough no-nonsense pinnacle of probity Hazel Blears when she was a Home Office minister. It turns out that she'd just made it up, there was no such policy, disappointingly.

The move towards US-style chain gangs was suggested by a Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, who said it would improve confidence in the criminal justice system.

[From Community chain-gang plan 'a cheap gimmick' - Crime, UK - The Independent]

This may well have been the only sensible policy that she has ever proposed, but anyway it never happened. It turns out that our tough-on-crime Commissariat opted for more drastic action, requiring young offenders to carry out between 10 and 42 minutes of community service PER WEEK. No wonder our streets are safe again.

Under joint guidance from the Ministry of Justice, Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Youth Justice Board, young criminals may only have to do limited community work.

[From Teenage offenders could do just ten minutes community work a week - Telegraph]

Well, "limited" is one way to put it I suppose.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Green policy in tatters

Here at the beating heart of Digital Britain, testament to the Virtual Jerusalem under construction by New Labour's visionaries, privately-educated millionairesses and Peer-to-Peer networkers, I've been trying to be green and take the bus instead of driving to the station. Unfortunately, our 21st-century Woking buses don't take cards (contactless or otherwise) and so I have to chase around the house looking for cash in the morning. Today I couldn't find any cash anywhere until, by good fortune, I found two fivers and some loose coins at the bottom of a briefcase. When I got on the bus, the bus driver refused my fiver because it was "too tatty". They have high standards in Woking. Fortunately, he decided that my other tatty fiver met the new minimum standards and I was able to continue my journey. They've already put the fare up to £3.70, so pretty soon a fiver won't be enough anyway. It's not easy being green.

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

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Token gestures

Waitrose are running a promotion that means that every time you buy something they give you a small green plastic token. On the way out of the store there are three large perspex containers with a slot in the top. Each container advertises a different local charity. You put your token into the container of your favoured charity. At the end of the month, Waitrose give money to the charities in proportion to wishes of the people and then changes to another three charities. The charities are supports groups for senile dementia, a drop-in centre for troubled teenagers, something for stroke victims, and so forth.

This being England, the animal charity always has about twice the tokens of any human-oriented charity, no matter what it is. At the moment, the animal charity is the local RSPCA centre, and it has more tokens than the other two put together. It makes you proud to come from a country which had a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals some years before it had a society for the prevention of cruelty to children. To be fair, children's work in mines was limited to a mere eight hours per day in 1833 -- only 11 years after the precursor to the RSPCA had been formed -- and it was only another decade before the subsequent Coal Mines Act of 1842 made it illegal for girls, boys under 10 and women to work in mines.

So, just to remind you of this critical measure: society for the prevention of cruelty to animals 1822, society for the prevention of cruelty to children 1884.

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

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Modern dilemmas no.97

I got on the train and walked through to the "quiet" carriage, where there are blue signs clearly telling people not to use mobile phones. I sit down, open up may laptop and start reading through some stuff that I need to comment on (to do with mobile money transfer, since you ask). The woman opposite me takes out her mobile phone, places a call and starts talking loudly. Then she hangs up and calls someone else. I took her picture, continuing my fantasy about starting a web page called "inconsiderate sods on South West Trains".

But what was I to do? Some twitterers, unfamiliar with the mores and norms of Digital Britain, suggested that I ask her to be quiet. But around about one law-abiding middle-class person a week is beaten to death by yobs at the moment, so it's not worth the risk. Look at the news story from last week where a woman asked some teenagers to be quiet in the cinema and they followed her into a cafe and threw bleach in her face. I was in no mood to get stabbed by an enraged boyfriend, older brother or pimp, so I had to just sit and fume for the whole journey. Is my only reasonable course of action to either stop using trains or emigrate? That doesn't seem fair to me.

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

Sunday, August 02, 2009

News and not news

Settled down on the train after a long day in town and picked up a couple of discarded newspapers to leaf through, thought I'd catch up on the news. Let's see... Doctor kicked to death by muggers near Buckingham palace... Father beaten to death by yobs in own front garden... Members of feral underclass beat to death yet another of their own children (this only happens once a week on average, so I shouldn't exaggerate), the usual kind of thing in a city where you are now seven times more likely to be a crime victim in New York. These stories are hardly news any more.

When I was in Texas last, I remember seeing a story in a local paper about a man who had shot dead someone who trying to rob him. Rather than a prosecution under health & safety regulations, he got some sort of prize from a community association. Needless to say, my brother-in-law's family, who live in Dallas, do not live in fear of yobs beating them up in their front garden or making their lives hell in the town centre on a Friday. I used the think that the American solution -- of segregating the middle class from the underclass -- was primitive and unsustainable, but our alternative (providing generous welfare to the underclass as a kind of danegeld) doesn't seem to be working. I'm racking my brain for a third way.

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

Thursday, July 30, 2009

They're on drugs, and we're still losing

I see the war on drugs has been going well.

A Royal Navy frigate has seized cocaine with an estimated wholesale value of £33 million from a speedboat off the coast of South America.

[From Royal Navy seize £33m of cocaine from speedboat - Telegraph]

£33 million? Peanuts, a (very literally) a drop in the ocean which won't make the slightest difference to the price of drugs on the street in the UK. Meanwhile, a few miles to the north.

Federal and state agents have arrested 83 people accused of growing more than $1.2 billion worth of marijuana in a crackdown on illegal pot gardens in California's Sierra Nevada range.

[From $1.2 billion worth of pot seized in Calif. - Crime & courts-]

This is a "war" against economics, not against drugs, and is doomed to the same tragic trajectory as other attempts to put the laws of economics into abeyance (cf noted Scottish marxist history lecturer, Gordon Brown).

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

Monday, July 27, 2009

I don't think this is racist

OK, this may sound like inappropriate affluence in a time of economic disaster, but I forgot my watch on a trip the other day so I bought another one. The reason is complicated: when I go overseas, I can't be bothered to change the time on my laptop and iPhone because I get confused about putting things into calendars and do it wrong. So it's easier to leave them on UK time and wear a watch set to local time. Anyway, the watch is an Accurist, but the instructions have an Epson logo on them. I'm not normally one to read instructions, but I happened to glance at the page about the stopwatch function, and I was intrigued to find a new timing mode that I hadn't heard about before.


I spent a few minutes wondering what "spirit" timing was -- I just figured it was some sporting term that I hadn't heard of, before I suddenly realised that I had been misreading the misprint. Say it out loud, and the instructions betray their Japanese origin.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dum de dum dum dum I must be para-noid

I was walking down the road and the woman next to me -- mid-20s, standard chav attire of ill-fitting tracksuit pants and a T-shirt combined with a Croydon facelift -- was screaming obscenities into her mobile phone. This is considered normal in Digital Britain, so no-one paid attention. And nor did I. Until she started screaming "I am not f**cking paranoid" into the handset. A few seconds later, "NO, NO, NO, I'm not f**cking paranoid". I started to wonder if there was anyone else on the call. Remember that magnificent, and I do mean magnificent, book "The Airloom Gang""? Paranoid schizophrenics think they're hearing voices and they will project on to whatever new and slightly mysterious technology they can. Three hundred years ago that woman would have been screaming obscenities at the fairies at the bottom of her garden, now she is screaming into a mobile handset.

Since we're no longer institutionalising such people, and since there's only a limited number of reality TV programmes to put them on, we ought to have a proper debate about what to do with them. When the woman started screaming, I was slightly afraid. For all i know, she might have had a knife or something. It doesn't seem right.

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

Friday, June 26, 2009

Spreading out

In the City, spreads are measured in points. But, as I moaned about before, at British Airways the BA Miles spreads are absurd: they "buy" the miles back for about one-sixtieth of the price they "sell" them for. Their marketing department just did it again. They sent me an e-mail saying something along the lines of "you can now use your BA Miles to upgrade flights". OK. I have a Word Traveller Plus flight booked, so I phoned up to upgrade it to business for what I thought was a reasonable price of 25,000 BA Miles. No dice. There are no upgrades available on that flight. Nor, as it turns out, on any other flight in a one month window either side of it. Once again: I'm now more annoyed than if they had never sent me the email in the first place. I'm sure their marketing people must be wondering how to make travellers choose BA over other airline in these straightened times. Here's a tip: have a reward programme that is worth something, and makes customers feel good instead of continually infuriating them.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boosh systems

If you've been to America recently, you'll have discovered (as least on British Airways) that when you log on to check in online you are directed to fill out your Visa waiver form online at the same time. The first time this happened to me, I thought that it was jolly modern and it made sense to fill it out before you fly, so if you tick the box that says "yes I am a terrorist" then they can stop you from getting on the plane. A good example of IT in action, as step on the road to Digital Britain, environmentally-friendly and efficient. Of course, I thought, it makes sense to do this online and I was am only surprised they didn't replace the paper forms with the online version sooner. But the system still offered me the option to print out a paper version, and I did it anyway.

When I got to America, I discovered that the online form-filling is in addition to the offline form-filling and hasn't replaced it at all. I had to fill out a green Visa waiver form just as before and the printed version that I got from the web (which could have coded all of the data in a barcode or something) was entirely pointless.

Thus the US government has, in the words of my childrens' favourite television programme The Mighty Boosh, combined the past and the future to create something that's not as good as either of them. This system isn't as good as an all-online digital system of the future and it's more expensive and inconvenient than the analgoue system that it is layered on. I wonder the Boosh's pronouncement isn't more generally true of Analogue Britain (the state we apparently trapped in until 2012, when the government's shiny new Digital Britain comes into existence). In fact, I suspect the government has actually had an operational strategy called Boosh Britain that has been in operation for some time.

P.S. I used to look at The Mighty Boosh the way my parents used to look at Monty Python when I wanted to watch it, but having actually watched it with the boys and think it's very funny indeed in places. Give it a try sometime.

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

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We fought for this

Ah, the exercise of democracy. When I took no.2 son round to the polling station and into the polling booth with me, to show him how we in the free world make informed choices to be governed with consent, I hope I was doing something good.

When I got into the booth, though, I had to reflect. I took me a while to look through the list and decide, but I did eventually exercise my democratic rights. Sadly, my first choice was not available: the Scottish Nationalists were not fielding any candidates in Woking, so I was unable to express my deep and abiding commitment to Scottish independence through formal channels. I couldn't see Joanna Lumley anywhere on my ballot paper either, so that left me a bit stumped.

In an age of personal podcast channels, Facebook and post-industrial capitalism, the whole "party" thing looks a bit outdated to me. I would have preferred to have gone into the booth to check off against a list of policies, not against a list of chancers hoping to win the lottery by being elected to the European "Parliament" (I use the quotes because it's not a real parliament, just a talking shop). I want to see a list that instead of giving me the choice between John Smith, Fred Bloggs and Joe Soap gives me a choice between abolishing income tax, re-instituting the death penalty and raising the voting age to 31. That would be democracy.

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

Monday, June 08, 2009

Who would want to be a satirist in these times?

You've got no chance, going head-to-head with the madmen "in charge of" Britain today. The weekend papers were full of the story of the resignation from the Cabinet of Labour M.P. Caroline Flint, who was the minister for something or other. One of her reasons for resigning was

Several of the women attending Cabinet – myself included – have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing.

[From Caroline Flint: resignation letter in full - Telegraph]

It's an outrageous slur that she would allow herself to be seen as mere window-dressing, as this recent picture of her confirms.

No wonder she was upset: who, looking at this picture, could possibly imagine that she would want her femininity to form any part of her proposition, a point she emphasised when arriving for a Cabinet meeting the other day.

She won't survive a general election, but she must have valuable skills gained during her time as as a Policy Officer at the Inner London Education Authority from 1985-87 and head of the Women's Unit at the National Union of Students from 1988-89, before joining Lambeth Council as an Equal Opportunities Officer from 1989-91. I can see how this experience contributed to the governments stewardship of Britain in critical ways. But how will the Cabinet get by now? If we're going to get out of this recession, we need people like her.

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

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Nature, nuture

Now, as I think we all know, political opinions are not founded on facts. Some research I came across proves this beyond any reasonable doubt.

Again, the findings suggest that facts that contradicted political ideology were simply not taken in; if anything, challenging misbelief with fact checking has the counterintuitive effect of reinforcing that misbelief.

[From Does ideology trump facts? Studies say it often does]

A good example is the incumbent Prime Minister, who seems more convinced of his unique genius the more the country collapses around him. The general situation may be even worse than the research suggests, however. Not only do people formulate political beliefs on dogma rather than evidence, but because they are, on the whole, a bit thick, they don't even understand the dogma. The result is that there is no political discourse of any value in this country any more. We may as well choose the next Prime Minister on a "Britain's Got Talent"-style phone-in as go through the ridiculous theatre of the secret ballot.

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

Friday, June 05, 2009

F**k the SWT

I was standing on a jam-packed SWT service yesterday -- in conditions that would cause national outrage if applied to horses or dogs or cute bunnies, but are apparently perfectly acceptable for human beings -- listening to 'F**k the Police" by NWA on my iPod. I don't normally listen to hardcore rap, but I was listening to Rolling Stones 500 greatest songs of all time and that happened to come on. I was trying to sing along by saying (under my breath, naturally, this being a British commuter service) "F**k the SWT" but I couldn't make it scan. Shame, because the sentiments were perfect for my mood because of morning's experiences.

When I got to the station the ticket hall was closed again for further development. I could see a huge queue snaking out of the area where the ticket machines are, but noticed a sign pointing out that a temporary ticket office had been established a few yards further on, so I ambled down there. When I got to the temporary ticket office, which was indeed physically there, I discovered that SWT had decided to celebrate rush hour by closing all of the ticket windows. In essence, it was an artists impression of a ticket office rather than an actual ticket office where you could engage in a transactions (such as ticket purchasing). So I had to go back and stand in line. And when I eventually got on to the platform, looking forward to a cup of coffee since I hadn't had time to grab one at home, the buffet was shut.

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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Quantum theory

I've had an idea. An agnostic is someone who is not sure whether there is a god or not. But suppose, in the light of modern physics, there was such a thing as a quantum agnostic: someone who simultaneously does and does not believe in god. It's not that they are waiting for evidence of one or other, it's that they are waiting to be measured.

I rather like this idea of Schroedingers God, and it's given me the germ of a short story. But then, pretty much everything gives me the germ of a short story in the week before or after going to the writers' circle.

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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Current affairs

As I'm always moaning about how rubbish everything is today, I thought it important to point out that I do not withdraw from modern life into order to live in the past, refusing to trade the certainties of reaction for the uncertainties of revolution. That's not true. I tale a keen interest in current affairs and always try to be bang up to date on the key issues affecting Britain. Here I am just a couple of days ago reading the Saturday newspaper.


Not this Saturday, obviously, but Saturday, 19th February 1881. I'm reading the Illustrated London News for that day. The editorial I was reading said, amongst other things, that...

[Britain] should be glad to get out of Afghanistan without any breach of national honour, but it is even at this moment doubtful, notwithstanding the obvious and declared decision of the Government, whether we shall be able to give complete effect to the policy we have resolved upon.

Well, well. Now if I had been reading an actual Saturday newspaper for 23rd May 2009, I would have been reading about Jordan and Peter, MP's expenses and the finals of Britain's (not) Got Talent.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Here's some news of interest to 0.0001% of the population: government ministers and pop stars, basically. BA's new planes won't have a first class cabin.

British Airways is eliminating the First Class cabin on its new plane. I'm not surprised. First Class costs thousands out pounds more than business class, and the only substantial difference between the two services is that First comes with a free pair of cheap pyjamas and a lobster salad. [From BA getting rid of first class in new planes]

Based on my only ever expedition in BA First Class, I would say that the pyjamas and lobster ravioli (not salad) were very good indeed. The seat was bigger and the duvet much more comfortable than a blanket. But the seats didn't have power sockets and they weren't as comfortable for working in as the business class seats, which I think are more ergonomically designed. And I thought the toilets would be much nicer, but they weren't. Surely, however, the big story is that the economy has been so devastated by a decade of New Labour that there are no people who want to travel in first class any more. The bankers can't afford it, and it's not grand enough for our elected representatives.

The government is seeking to rent a private jet for the use of Foreign Secretary David Miliband. [From BBC NEWS | Politics | Miliband seeks private plane hire]

I'm flying on BA tomorrow, so I'll see if I can find a suggestion box. I've got a few ideas about what to do with the space vacated by first. I was thinking what about a little TV lounge, as it can be enjoyable watching a funny movie with other people, or perhaps a games room so that you can play Call of Duty against other passengers.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lend me your earphones

I feel it my duty to report when I get a great new product that I'm very happy with. So "hear" (yuk yuk) we go. I lost my Shure in-ear earphones for my iPod. Well, I say lost. In fact they were almost certainly lifted by an (unsanitary) tea-leaf at a London hotel. I left them on a wooden cabinet and when I came back they had gone. Anyway, they were three years old, so I didn't grieve, I just got out my credit card and wandered into an iPod (etc) shop. I asked the assistant what he recommended: I wanted good quality in-ear headphones, good for speech as well as music, with a microphone on the cord. The assistant pointed me towards some earphones I'd not seen before, the V-moda in-ears. I bought them. Later on, when I was going shopping, I plugged in my new earphones and set off. The first track up on my shopping playlist was "Let the music do the talking". Not the Aerosmith version, but the Joe Perry Project version. I was stopped in my tracks. The sound was astounding. The clarity, response and "depth" of the sound pulled me up sharp. I had no idea that new earphones would be so much better than my old ones. I love the fit, I love the cloth cord (just the right length, and with a convenient lapel clip), I love the microphone. But most of all I love the way they sound. So much so that I've gone and blogged about it.

I'm listening to my the Paul Jones Rhythm and Blues show from Radio 2 right now (not on the radio, naturally, but on my iPhone -- I used iPlayerGrabber to pull the show down into my iTunes) and it's Little Feat up at the moment. Wow. The music is crystal clear, rich and full. I can't recommend these earphones highly enough.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Years ago, I read an essay by P. J. O'Rourke called "Just enough of us, far too many of you". I think it was in "All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death" but I can't confirm this in seven seconds of googling so we'll move on. Anyway, I remembered the essay when I read that noted BBC naturalist David Attenborough

has become a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, a think tank on population growth and environment with a scary website showing the global population as it grows.

[From David Attenborough: Our planet is overcrowded - opinion - 15 May 2009 - New Scientist]

I'm really uncomfortable with the word "optimum" here. For one thing, I'm sure all of the members of the Trust see themselves as part of the optimum population, so clearly they are thinking that there are some other non-optimum people who are going to be somewhat reduced in number. Fair enough, I suppose: they are entitled to think this. I think they should be a little more up front with their name though: what about "More Tigers, Less Indians"? It's snappy and to the point.

I have New Scientist in front of me, being a subscriber to said publication. Nowhere in the article does Sir David mention how the optimum population might be achieved other than some vague talk about persuading women to have fewer children. He doesn't, for example, discuss the most sensible and straightforward approach. If the Trust could persuade millions of people to join up and pledge to hurl themselves lemming-like off of cliffs at the age of (say) 50, then the population would be under control within a generation. And there would be less unemployment too. If they are not going to adopt this morally unimpeachable self-help approach, then I fail to see what plans they might be considering. Mass starvation? Mandatory contraception for people who are too poor to look after their children properly? (Wait a minute: that's a quarter of the population of the UK -- a decade of Labour maladministration means that a great many of our citizens would qualify for such a programme.

The children's minister, Beverley Hughes, said that in the current economic climate, "meeting the 2010 target is very difficult. It is very difficult to model the impact of the recession on child poverty".

[From No progress on child poverty, new figures show | Society |]

I would have thought that modelling it was rather simple: it will get worse. But not to worry, the UK is, apparently, the 24th best place in Europe for children to grow up. Let's hope the Optimum Population Trust don't set the bar too high.

Child Poverty Action Group has published a briefing drawn from a new league table of child wellbeing in European countries, in which the UK comes in 24th place out of 29 countries.

[From CPAG Press Release: New child wellbeing league table: UK in 24th place out of 29 European countries]

I have no sense that we are certain to make the cut.

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

Friday, May 08, 2009

Every day, in every way

As the tide of ignorance moves up the estuary of British society, it is threatening to turn into a Seven Bore of Stupidity.

A shopper was left baffled after she went to Asda to stock up on picnic equipment and was asked for proof of age to buy a set of teaspoons. The shop assistant reportedly informed the customer that someone had once been murdered with a teaspoon, and therefore age identification was now required.

[From Shopper asked for proof of age to buy Asda teaspoons - Telegraph]

The shop assistant had clearly made this up, having no idea why proof of age were needed to buy teaspoons. Oddly, the made up response seemed entirely plausible to me. I can imagine Jacqui Spliff announcing it, displaying an appropriately grave face, on breakfast television with no-one batting an eyelid at the pointless illiberal fatuous measure. Yes, Eamonn Holmes, might intone liltingly, something must be done about the teaspoon menace. Had I heard, half asleep at 10 to 7 in the morning, that the Home Office was working on a teaspoon strategy, I would have groaned and turned over, but would not have thought it April Fool's day.

Who knows why Asda are policing teaspoon sales? A number of theories are floating around on the web, ranging from worries about sharpened teaspoons being smuggled into jails to teenage boys using teaspoons from the fridge to delay premature ejaculation (I genuinely have no idea how: I did some pretty unusual things when I was a teenage boy, but I'd never even heard of this one). Personally, I suspect that teaspoons may have been classified as drug paraphernalia, and we have thus become a society where drugs are freely available to every teenager in Britain but teaspoons are not, which seems a fitting doom for a once-proud nation.

P.S. Since I wrote this, but didn't post it, I went on to do a bit more googling and have discovered, I think, the truth. Which is even more disturbing, in a way. It transpires that the shop assistants do not think for themselves at all: so when the POS terminal tells them to check age, they do unquestioningly. Hence a 75-year old war veteran found himself having to prove he was over 18 to buy a bottle of wine. Anyway, the likely explanation for the teaspoon event is, as is so often the case, a programming cock-up: the POS system was supposed to flag up proof of age demands for knife purchases, but somehow the code was flagging all cutlery. I imagine the people responsible have been fired and I hope Asda outsource their programming to Vietnam or somewhere in time to start registering people for the Second Home Secretary's flagship national identity card scheme.

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

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Evidence-based misery

One of the reasons why things are getting, generally, worse is because people are getting, generally, stupider. Now you may dismiss this as the opinion of a curmudgeon reaching 50, but there is concrete evidence to support my depressing assertion. Consider, for example, the report (which I think I saw in New Scientist but can't at this instant remember) that a fifth of the UK population believe horoscopes today, compared to only a twentieth in 1950. There you have it in black and white. The gene pool is lapping around our knees already, and in another century or so it will drown us. Instead of evolving into super-intelligent beings enjoying the fruits of the universe, we're evolving into patients in a mental asylum whose doctors, nurses and other staff have been dying from a mysterious disease.

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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

So it's not just being a grumpy old man

I was very sad to hear about J. G. Ballard's passing. He's my favourite modern writer by a long way, and I'm very sad that I didn't discover him earlier in life. I hadn't really thought that deeply about why I like his work so much and why I find his books so thought-provoking. But an article in The Spectator contained a potential clue:

Ballard was always, pace Hobbes, a little pessimistic about the human condition — the traditional disposition of the thinking conservative. I wonder if we will ever see a British writer with such a breadth of imagination again?

[From J.G. Ballard was a man of the Right — not that the Right really wanted him | The Spectator]

I mentioned before that my personal confirmation of Ballard's greatness came when I got deja-vu visiting a place I'd never been to before purely as a result of his powers of description and imagination, but I can now see that something in the bleakness of his vision resonates with me.

Ballard's descriptions of the buildings, the executive cars lined up out side them, the trees partly hiding the landscape, are so perfect that my brain slipped out of gear for a moment as it tried to come to terms with the fact that I hadn't actually been there before.

[From Citizen of the World (Well, Woking): May 2008]

Since I'm going to be spending a lot of time on planes over the next couple months, I'm going to be reading a lot of Ballard, so my tone may be somewhat bleak. But hey, we're living in his world now.

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

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Good citizens

It looks as if things really are worse than we might have thought. Unemployable history lecturer Gordon Brown and provincial solicitor Alastair Darling were, for unfathomable reasons, put "in charge" of the British economy and they have managed to completely destroy in a decade. It took much longer for Stalin to ruin Russia's economy, didn't it?

So what should a good citizen do? Should we flee and leave the people to the fate they deserve having put the lunatics in charge of the asylum or do we stay and try and make things better? It's a difficult question. A quick review of the history of this century seems to indicate that Labour governments are a bit like biblical plagues: they come along from time to time and devastate the economy, then move on. But this time it might really be different: the land may never recover from this visitation, or at least it may not recover within my children's lifetimes, which is the same thing as far as I'm concerned. There is only one course of action open to the patriot: independence, as soon as is practical. We must be freed from the crushing yokes that are the legacy of Danish and French invasion. The experiment is over: we want a free Wessex, and we want it now. I can't see an alternative.

The problem, for normal middle class people like me, is that we're going to be paying vastly more tax to support the public sector (a public sector which is, by the way, planning to spend four billion pounds on management consultants over the next four years) and getting vastly worse services. Only the super rich will be able to send their children to good schools, take foreign holidays (now that the government is putting up the air ticket tax it will cost us £240 in tax to go to the US) and afford imported consumer goods. The tragedy of universal suffrage means that the half of the population dependent on the state can block any kind of action that might try and bring the budget back under control, so if you're not super rich or working for the government (or in a position to capture part of the national revenue through economically senseless political action, such as farmers or songwriters) you don't have much of a future.

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

Sunday, April 19, 2009

And I thought they were the Utah jazz

What an odd pair of facts I came across while leafing through that excellent publication Prospect today. Apparently, Utah is the US state that consumes the most online pornography (according to New Scientist). Surely it is not entirely coincidental that Utah also reports the highest level of well-being. There must be a lesson here for government policy. If one of our national goals is going to be to increase well-being, then we need to step up broadband deployment and simultaneously block all attempt at internet monitoring, filtering and recording. Perhaps the Home Secretary could appoint someone to advise on the topic?

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Celebrity views

According to a newspaper that I was reading on a plane, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow thinks that shampoo causes cancer.

"The research is troubling; the incidence of diseases in children such as asthma, cancer and autism have shot up exponentially and many children we all know and love have been diagnosed with developmental issues like ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]."

[From Gwyneth Paltrow slammed by experts over shampoo cancer claim - Telegraph]

She says that childhood cancer cases are growing exponentially (they're not, incidentally: in fact the rate hasn't changed for a decade) because of the "environmental toxins" in shampoo. I don't know about incidence of ADHD (or, as some people call it, "busy parent syndrome") but I strongly doubt a shampoo-related link. Anyhow, the newspapers reported a leading expert in the field (an actual scientist) as calling her views "loopy", as I'm sure they are, and saying that you "may as well ask someone on the Underground" about the causes and incidence of childhood cancers. On this I'm sure he's wrong: the average person on the Underground may well have stupid or uneducated views on the subject of childhood cancers, but they are unlikely to have such loopy views. This is because the views of the celebretariat are much loopier than the views of merely uninformed people. I'm not having a go at the noted actress Ms. Paltrow. While she is

the daughter of noted film director Bruce Paltrow and Tony award-winning actress Blythe Danner,

[From Gwyneth Paltrow - Biography]

her success has been earned entirely on her own merits. I don't really know much about her, except that she was OK in Iron Man. Oh, and I never liked Coldplay, and she is married to one of the band members, Mr. Chris Martin, who is on record as saying that

I think shareholders are the greatest evil of this modern world.

[From Coldplay's frontman turns on 'evil' shareholders - News, Music - The Independent]

He doesn't mean the shareholders of EMI, who paid the band millions of pounds for a five album deal, of course, but shareholders in other enterprises who put AIDS, climate change, genocide and ethnic cleansing into the shade. So he clearly has some pretty loopy views too. But I'm not picking him out either. I'm just making a general point about the loopiness of celebrities views.

Now, it's easy to imagine the launch pad for loopy opinions in these privileged and distant lives. They have no natural dampers for their mental oscillations. If you are an A-lister, you spend your days surrounded by flunkies who reinforce your opinion that you are the centre of the world. They cater to your every whim. You control every aspect of your environment. Whatever you want -- whether it's a bath of champagne or a belief in aliens -- there are people around you to make your every whim come true. In the circumstances, why would you listen to science, when all that science tells you is that you are not the centre of the world. Worse still, rationality may kick in the door at any time, shouting out awful truths: "you're not special, you're lucky" or "you only got this job because of your famous Dad", or similar undermining messages.

Ultimately, I suspect that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable problem with science, though, which is why they have no interest in engaging with it. Science tells that A-listers that they are going to get old and die and until science has a more positive message for them, they'll continue to channel long-dead Native American spirit guides rather than pick up an issue of Scientific American.

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

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Been there, took the t-shirt

I had to go into the City on the Thursday of the G20 meeting in London. I was asked to "dress down", like many bankers, to avoid trouble with the G20 protestors. So I borrowed some clothes from my son and set off. When I got to my destination, near Cannon Street, we checked in at reception, then I put on balaclava and dark glasses. The other visitors didn't bat an eyelid as I stood there in full riot-ready gear, reading The Daily Telegraph.

Anarchy in the UK

Fortunately, when my host arrived he appreciated the joke -- I don't think I'll be asked to dress down again. Anyway, a bit later on, in full bobo disguise I went down to Bank to join in the mass demonstration. I was going to demonstrate in favour of the sirens on police cars in the UK being replaced by the music from the Benny Hill show. When we got there, there were about 20 "demonstrators", about 200 journalists and about 50 policemen. Nothing was happening at all. But I did get moved on by a policemen, who told me I couldn't demonstrate on the pavement, so I claim that my disguise worked.

Whaddya got?

As my friend Pete pointed out, it was a bit like the point in "The Great Escape" when Gordon Jackosn's character gets caught out by the Gestapo agent because he answers him in English. This, incidentally, is actually based on a real event...

Gordon Jackson (MacDonald, Security). This is a compilation of George Harsh and Tim Kirby-Green (both security) and Bernard Scheidhauer (Bushell's escaping companion). Harsh was one of those transferred to Belaria just before the escape, but Scheidhauer, a Frenchman, partnered Bushell. It was Scheidhauer, used to speaking English in the camp, who inadvertently answered a Gestapo agent in English, a mistake which led to he and Bushell being caught. This is shown very clearly in the film.

[From Real Great Escape - The Movie]

Anyway, when the policemen moved me on and I wandered off, Pete pointed out that I'd left my British Airways Gold card on my rucksack. Drat! There was nothing much going on, so we left. I thought the bobos were booboos, a kind of protest theatre troupe rather than actual protestors. The whole thing was a group affectation as far as I could see, and I noticed a similar conclusion from one of the Spiked reports on the same.

For the time being, anti-capitalist protest looks very much like a lifestyle affectation. It has an inherently unstable character, which can one day target a rich, high-profile banker and a week later take strong exception to the building of a power station. In many respects, this form of lifestyle protest represents the mirror image of the consumerism that it so despises. Anti-capitalism has become a brand with about as much content as KFC or FCUK. This is about playing at protest.

[From A caricature of a riot | spiked]

Exactly. It reminds of when I used to go to festivals for the weekend to play at being a hippie: which, I have to say, was pretty good fun.

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

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What have you got?

Remember "The Wild One"? Almost the archetype for movies of teenage rebellion, released at the time when teenagers were invented, the film (which, amazingly, was banned in Britain until 1968) features Marlon Brando. It also declares the fundamental cannon of the newly-invented teenager.

As he and his boys are guzzling beer and dancing with some of the ladies in the bar, one female dance partner questions Johnny:

Hey, Johnny, What are you rebelling against?

While tapping out a jazzy beat on the top of the jukebox, he raises his eyebrow and drawls his amorphous reason for rebellion:

What've you got?

I was listening to the radio earlier on, and the reporter was somewhere in the society talking to a group of G20 protestors. They were fairly clear on what they were against (everything, essentially: nuclear weapons, meat, war, capitalism, climate change etc etc) but not clear on what they were for. I guess that's unsurprising, because they are in favour of all sorts of different and mutually exclusive things. I was mingling with the bobos (*) in the City today, by the Royal Exchange, and they certainly did have an interesting range of banners.

(*) This is my new word that I learned from a French person yesterday. He called the protestors "bourgeois bohemes" (in other words, middle class kids out for some adventure) or "bobos" for short. It's perfect.

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

History lessons

Unusually (weekends are not a terribly relaxing time for me at the moment) I had nothing to do for a while last Sunday. After doing the football run, the play rehearsal run, the shopping run etc, I sat down with a cup of tea and the rest of yesterday's paper. Feeling tired, I decided to put my feet and watch TV for a while. I flipped on the History Channel, thinking that I might relax and learn something interesting. Guess what was on: something about the French revolution maybe, or perhaps an old episode of Time Team, maybe a David Starkey programme? No. It was a "documentary" about Nostradamus. When I check in later on, there was something about Roswell. Now, the only reason that I can see for having these programmes on would be to remove the name of anyone viewing them from the electoral roll, but since it's not against the law to show patent rubbish to a credulous populace I suppose I should simply shut up.

But it bothers me. It's distressing enough to live in a society that shows programmes purporting to communicate with the dead, photograph ghosts and contact UFOs, but it's even more distressing to see this claptrap presented as factual rather than as mindless entertainment (even though they are not in the least entertaining). Note that I'm not being grumpy about people paying for demonstrably false services. Since I'm of a broadly libertarian bent, I go along with Brian Dunning from Skeptoid:

Most of the time, people who buy paranormal products or services — be it goddess worshipping seminars, homeopathy, acupuncture, or psychic readings — are buying completely harmless services that P.T. Barnum would have been happy to sell... The customer is happy, the peddler is happy, nobody is hurt, everybody involved is enriched by the transaction. This is their choice. They don't have a problem with it, why should you? It's none of your business.

[From Ethics of Peddling the Paranormal]

Yet I'm not completely comfortable with this laissez-faire attitude. As society becomes stupider, the populace more gullible and our scientific base crumbles, that will affect all of us negatively, not just the goddess worshippers. It's a bit like leaving the Taliban alone and then, when they ban vaccinations as being un-Islamic (as they in fact have done), saying "oh well, it's their culture, it's racist to interfere" but accepting the fact that you are now more likely to get polio.

I wonder just what it would take to get the History Channel to show some actual history? Oh wait, I apologise. Right now they are showing "Eat like a King", a show about Henry VIII's diet, so fair enough. But I am a tad concerned about the forthcoming Nostradamus 2012, which is being trailed. Here's the blurb...

Could we be facing a massive cosmic collision, a global environmental disaster, or an Armageddon on December 21st 2012? Throughout history, prophets including Nostradamus have independently produced these doomsday predictions pointing to the year 2012. Could they be right?

[From March Season | Nostradamus: 2012]

No, of course not. It's total bollocks, and a pretty poor advertisement for their "Award-winning history site combining professional articles on historical events people and places, as well as study aids for GCSE and A-Level students." Is it any wonder that the lack of historical knowledge in Britain is so shocking?

The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth. And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist... Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Holmes actually existed; 33 percent thought the same of W. E. Johns’ fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles.

[From Winston Churchill a Myth, Sherlock Holmes Real]

There's a toxic cloud of stupidity steadily spreading out across our once-great nation.

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