Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Punisher

I should publicly thank Ben for his 'Stop! Grammar Time' pun. We are humbled in the presence of a master. 

Talking of humbled, the richest team in the world have been, by 10-man Stoke City. All hail the mighty Potters!

Hubble, bubble…

I know that most Americans are kind, intelligent and dignified people, and I'm wary of the easy slip from critiquing that nation's shocking governance over the past few years into generalised Yank-bashing, but this really is a shocker: schoolgirl harassed by local education authority for witchcraft - specifically making a teacher sick by cursing her. No, really, now and not in Salem but in Oklahoma - story covered by Pharyngula here and the ACLU statement here.

OK, so Brandi Blackbear is a Wiccan and therefore a typical teenage misfit and wacko, but that's no reason for the school to take her seriously. Furthermore, doesn't suspending someone for successfully hexing the teacher mean that the school board are Wiccan believers too? They've also banned all non-Christian symbols in school, despite the Founding Fathers' (see that apostrophe use?) insistence that the US be founded on non-discriminatory grounds. 

My thought's on apostrophes'

Cynical Ben has reached the giddy heights of blogging fame: somebody he doesn't know personally has listed him on their blogroll (there's a fortuitous word invented by Americans with little grasp of colloquial English). 

As usual, he's written rather a lot of good sense over there, and seems to want to goad me into ranting about Birmingham Council's attack on apostrophes. However, this piece of news merely depressed me and confirmed my suspicion that the world is being run by my students, who have prosecuted their own war on grammar for many years. Let's be clearly: apostrophes distinguish alternative meanings. However, I do remember proposing a lucrative little business: sheets of self-adhesive apostrophes of varying sizes and fonts handily packaged for the mobile grammatarian. Now Ben's inspired a name: Stickler's Stickers. Any backers?

I do like his vision of me as a man 'marking the world's biggest essay'. I award the world an E on current performance.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Ebony and Ivory

Hat-tip to Alex Ross who pointed out that Amazon has the complete Stravinsky, on 22CDs, recorded by top orchestras, for £17.99. Admittedly, I didn't think that he'd written 6CDs-worth of ballet, but it's still an astonishing bargain. I don't mind plugging Amazon in this case: Wolverhampton doesn't have a classical music shop. HMV is pitifully inadequate for anything outside the top 40, let alone top composers. Try asking for Nono in there… I'm also revelling in the Perahia and Gould Goldberg Variations. Perhaps the Perahia is technically superior, but there's just something weirdly compelling about Gould's twisty, moaning performance that tops every other recording since 1955. Phantom Band's Checkmate Savage is also doing it for me today.

Obamania… yn Cymraeg

Ie - gallwn ni! (Or 'Yes, We Can', in Welsh).


Welcome, fans directed here from Richard Thompson's site. Come for the music criticism - stay for the cheap sarcasm…

For the rest of you, last night I went to Richard Thompson's '1000 Years of Popular Music' show. He's the brilliant folk/rock guitarist formerly of Fairport Convention fame, of whom you should have heard. I was definitely the youngest person in the audience, which was a shame as the show was astonishing. 

I missed the first 15 minutes, so arrived in time for 1603 - madrigals, some Purcell, then a stream of strikers' ballads, music hall, light opera, country, jazz, rock'n'roll, Australian Beatles-light, The Korgis, a Beatles medley (would the purists approve?) and finally a Nelly Furtado track, all sung by Thompson, Debra Dobkin (a cool drumming singer who looked like Marsha from Spaced) and Judith Owen who rather over-egged some of it, such as Down By The Sally Garden. What a raconteur RT is too - almost as good as Julian Cope, who actually made me cry with laughter at the Glee Club a couple of years ago.

Here's Thompson doing his party-piece. 

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Possibly the highlight of my sporting career

Most of what I laughably consider my achievements are tinged with disappointment. Not last night's glory though. Last night, I executed a perfect prime parry-riposte. Obviously this will thrill precisely none of you, but it impressed me, and my opponent, who clearly wasn't expecting me to land something which requires precision, speed, timing and low cunning. When you have a plan and it works, time slows. You can both see what's happening - the inevitability of the hit is apparent from the first move. Nothing is so satisfying - or nothing in my life anyway!

Though looking back, should I feel bad that my victim, Becky, is off to Uganda to do charitable work? Her last action as a fencer was to receive my wrath - though perhaps the multiple bruises I carry from fencing her should compensate for the humiliation.

The photo isn't of me, and there's a far more dynamic shot in this month's The Sword which I'll scan in another day.

Ben - another apology

I also feel slightly guilty towards Ben for playing 'Short Fat Ben' while Djing his wedding to Jo. The chorus does ameliorate the cruelty - 'You ought to see that fat man dance / oh dance dance dance / fat man dance dance dance…'
Clearly I've harassed him into exercise driven by self-loathing. Welcome to my world

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

We're with you, Cynical Ben

I feel quite guilty now. Over at Cynical Ben, he's bemoaning the misery of exercise, forced on him by a steadfast and admirable refusal to give up his diet of cheese (and civet-intestine coffee). I'm feeling bad because I just sent him a link to The Cheese Boat, which is currently infesting my dreams. Despite Ben's diatribe against BMX-riding youths turning into the comment section of the Daily Mail website, I do sympathise. I too, am a victim of The Youth - for things like picking their litter up, and looking like a porky David Mitchell. 

My response was similar - I started swimming, partly because I couldn't keep up with the Map Twats and because I went to a meeting with the British Olympic Association and noticed, passing the plate glass windows, that I was half the height and twice the weight of my colleagues, few of whom were endowed with the sagging breasts of a lazy 50-yr old. 

I am reformed. I drag my carcass to the pool for 40-50 lengths three times a week, plus fencing once or twice. Am I better for it? Spiritually, no. I'm still spiteful, sarcastic, misanthropic and boring. But at least I've added a few more years to my life expectancy in which I can hone these qualities. I've lost a fair amount of weight and appear to have developed a waist and pectorals. My knees are now within visual range and I can stagger a little further on our walks. I hate swimming though - the boredom's broken only by the frequent sense that a watery doom is imminent. It's not made better by Neal's seal-like speed and grace. 

Still, if I capsize the Cheese Boat, at least I'll be able to swim to safety, perhaps dragging a sack of salvaged cheese behind me. 

Another random act of bibliophilic kindness

A few weeks ago, Brunhilde sent me a rather rare book out of the blue, to thank me for a bit of help I gave her. Today, I got another very fine book in the post. Peter Dean (of that very fine company, Advertising Constructions - for all your exhibition needs) sent me an Arnold Bennett collection, The Matador of the Five Towns, which his accompanying note describes as 'the best collection of short stories I have ever read' - and he's a man who knows. As a Potter and a reader (a rare combination, I can hear you exclaiming), it's a doubly excellent gift. Thank you. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A little light blasphemy

I was speculating about the reasons behind priestly celibacy yesterday, as you do while wandering Asda's aisles looking for something that tastes of food (mission failed). The official reason for banning priests from marrying seem quite good. They were married until the 1300s, when it was decided that families complicated the relationship between priest and congregation, and cost a lot of money and legal hassle. 

But that's just the official discourse. Imagine yourself in a Jerusalem bar, c. 45.
'Hello love. I'm Peter. I'm a tramp with an anger management problem - cut off a bloke's ear once for looking funny at my mate. Wander around the Med most of the time. I used to be a fisherman until I met this bloke who fed 5000 blokes with two fish. Bottom of the market dropped out after that. Anyway, I got to know this bloke and it only turns out he's God and I'm his PR man. Anyway, mind if we go back to your place sharpish? Only I've got the Roman Empire looking for me and I don't want them to turn up before the Second Coming - know what I mean?'

Och no!

I was meant to go to a Burns night supper on Sunday, but had to disappear for an unexpected family event. No haggis, no cranachan lovingly handmade by a MacBeth (though I seem to remember that an earlier dinner with the MacBeths went quite badly - someone got drunk and thought he might have seen daggers floating around). So I felt rather guilty and very pleased to hear that Burns Night was postponed until I can make it. 

On culinary matters, the Map Twats are also going to pursue and board The Cheese Boat. What a work of sublime genius - a narrowboat which patrols the canals, selling cheese.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Ode to the Vole

Comrade Gerry has written a poem in honour of The Plashing Vole. A rhyming dictionary may have been consulted…

The plashing vole
has its eye on the goal
it scoffs at those
that would console
and from its knoll
it exerts control
with a hard blank eye
upon your soul
 - oh no, sorry, that's the plashing pit viper I had in mind...

Why Paul Dacre should commit hara-kiri, pt. 93

Headline in today's Daily Nazi: 'Coffee May Raise Child Cancer Risk: New Evidence that Caffeine Could Damage Babies' DNA'. 

Incredibly irresponsible (though packed with conditionals) and unscientific headline anyway (which is why sells a t-shirt reading 'I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that' - I've bought one), but if you steel yourself and plunge deeper into the cesspool, you find in the third paragraph that the research hasn't actually been done! There's a lot of 'doctors believe' and 'scientists think', but Dr. Marcus Cooke thinks that he might find a link when the study starts - hardly 'evidence' (and he's careful to say that ruling it out is equally plausible). The poor lamb seems a bit confused though: 'Although there's no evidence at all of a link between caffeine and cancer…' he says - which somehow translates as "Coffee May Cause Child Cancer risk". I wonder exactly how much caffeine might 'raise the risk' and how much may 'damage babies' DNA'. A shovelful? A truckful? Let's not be picky - it's a great scare story. Back to water for you, mums.

Genuine art masterpieces

If you're stuck for presents for that difficult person who has everything, how about a photographic print on canvas of a daytime TV presenter. I kid you not, they're on Amazon and the customer base is, well, sarcastic, judging by the brilliant comments. (Hat tip to Phil).

Sunday, 25 January 2009

It's OK, the cavalry's here

Of all people, Alistair Campbell and John Prescott have decided they're the team to save the Labour Party! They're involved in a campaign called 'Go Fourth' (and multiply?) which refers to seeking a fourth term. Go fourth? Come fourth more likely… I've put John's Blog in the list on the left - and if you think he's writing it, you probably think property is a good investment.

Evil, cynical genius

In the old days, politicians would appeal to your political interests. Now, it's just a matter of selling you a lifestyle. This is both the best and worst political broadcast I've ever seen. Want policies? Tough. The message is, nice girls don't boff socialists (she cries because she's just slept with someone who has filled in an application for the Socialist Party of Austria). But that doesn't matter. It could just as easily sell holidays, insurance, the Nazis, whatever. Hollow… so hollow that it doesn't need dialogue.

Stream of consciousness

Temporarily away from my music (because it's on an external hard drive I keep in the office, and on vinyl at home) but in range of wi-fi, I've finally seen the point of - I'm not convinced by all of its recommendations but there's enough streamed music by people I like and plenty of potential new finds to surprise me. I'm listening to John Adams' Phrygian Gates and planning to see what other fans think I should go for next. Like most music sites though, it's weaker on classical and related music than any other genre. 


I haven't posted anything geeky for a while (hey, by my standards anyway), so here goes. I run Mac OS X 10.4 on an old iBook G4 which is frankly struggling now. However, it means I can run Phantom Gorilla's Unofficial BBC Widget - a brilliant, free little app on the Dashboard which simplifies listening to the BBC's radio streams like you wouldn't believe. As it's a good idea invented by a person who only wants to help us and support the BBC, the inevitable result was harassment by letter, e-mail and phone by the BBC legal department - despite technical support from BBC geeks- for using BBC logos in the display. The absolute morons. 

Friday, 23 January 2009

Happy Birthday, old man

Happy Birthday to Alan Apperley, star of stage and lecture hall. He's the dazed looking one on the right… and he's 51. Inspiration by…?

Health fascists ruin a little boy's fun

Poor kid. The Welsh three-year-old's only joy in life (like most of the working class, according to Health Secretary Alan Johnson MP) was the occasional cigarette with his mother, and now she's been convicted of child cruelty because a so-called friend filmed the little tyke sparking up! It's political correctness gone mad! In earlier days he'd have been down a mine or up a chimney anyway, so no doubt his Cambrian little lungs are adapted to huge amounts of poisonous particles anyway.

New York's new Senator

I ranted earlier about Caroline Kennedy's monarchical progress towards the New York Senate seat. Now it turns out that the Democrats have made an even worse choice: Kirsten Gillibrand, angel of the NRA and guardian of those bastards at the NYSE. Just when the Democrats have got enough credit in the bank to make some bold choices, they go back to their nasty triangulating ways. It's a sign of weakness. Picking neo-Republicans (DINOs - Democrats In Name Only) reveals a covert belief that the US population is essentially Republican - just as the actual election results reveal otherwise.

The death list - more candidates

Late addition to the death list. My aunt Clodagh suggests that golfers and bridge players belong there. I'm not bothered about bridge - I gather that it's quite a good game played by the moneyed classes, but golfers will certainly be dealt with harshly, in the early days of my regime. In fact, why waste all those useful cells in Guantanamo Bay? We can re-use them for real offenders. Where to start with golfers? The cliquishness? The racism? The sartorial horrors? The greedy, polluting, water-hungry courses which are nothing but green deserts, maintained by huge quantities of pesticides and an anal approach to plantlife? The fact that they all vote Tory, mostly hate women and behave as though it's the outdoors branch of the Masons? (Obviously golf isn't quite the same in some areas of Scotland and Ireland). Not a sport. Just a way of filling in time before you die which doesn't involve meeting the poor, the black and the intelligent. 

Conclusive evidence: Donald Trump and his bullying tyrannical (successful) campaign to turn a pristine stretch of Scottish coastline into another course for dull blowhards. Plus of course the Spanish coastline - concrete and golf courses causing endless drought. If you're out for a walk and get caught short, avail yourself of the facilities found in the centre of the green…

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Neal: an apology

I described Neal as my 'trusty sidekick, The Green Cruiser', because he's green-minded and looks like Tom Cruise in his Magnolia period ('Respect the Cock' was TC's catchphrase). Neal objects to the 'sidekick' bit, which I withdraw. Clearly I'm one of nature's sidekicks. 

PS. A photo of Neal can be found here for any ladeez tempted by my description of him…

All because the lecturer loves… Milk Tray

Thank heavens for kind, grateful students: Gosia has brought in a box of chocolates! They're all I've eaten today, and they've made up for the stream of plagiarism I've been chasing.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Boulot métro dodo

It's 9.52. I've been at work for 12 hours. The only relief from marking was a union meeting, which angried up the blood good and proper. Same again tomorrow…

And I'm back - exactly 12 hours since I switched off my computer last night - and 11.5 hours since I left the building, having been locked in! I'd have stayed there were it not for a lack of food…

A dose of common sense

Like most people, I'm sceptical of Big Pharma, commercial scientific organisations and the like (how's the Malaria cure coming on boys? Coming up after yet another treatment for 'erectile dysfunction' or halitosis?) because let's face it, their motivation is profit and that, you'll be amazed to hear, distorts their priorities. 

However, I am fascinated by scientific research - and horrified by supposedly intelligent people who put their faith in quacks (who are also naked capitalists). So I thought I'd point you to two great science communicators, both linked to from my blog list. Ben Goldacre is the acerbic nerd who writes Bad Science in the Guardian every Saturday, patiently explaining to us how and why dodgy corporations, rip-off merchants and the media conspire, through greed, malice or incompetence, to mislead us about pretty much every science story which reaches us. Buy his book.

The other author I'd like to direct you towards is someone whose blog I discovered only recently. Pharyngula is a practising scientist who has a great gift for direct, outspoken communication and the great joy of living in a country seemingly run by obscurantist medievalist cranks, on whom he practises his scorn - like this:

I wrote about the Kara Neumann case last year — it was the tragic story of an 11 year old girl in Wisconsin who died of treatable juvenile diabetes because her parents were faith-healing morons. Morons who still claim they did no wrong by neglecting their daughter when she lapsed into unconsciousness, choosing to call on the congregation of their wackaloon church to pray harder, instead of calling a doctor.

The parents are finally going to trial this spring, and it could be an interesting case. They are clearly and self-admittedly guilty of lethal negligence, but Wisconsin law actually has an exemption for people who choose to treat their children with prayer. It's an evil law, but it is on the books, and that makes this a case where justice and reason are on one side, and narrow legalism and superstition are on the other. I'm not betting on which side will win out, not in America

All hail P Z Myers.

Tyburn Tree's too good for them

Cynical Ben, like me, opposes the use of capital punishment in the judicial process, but proposes death to anyone referring to the BBC as 'auntie'. I agree, but have a few more candidates for the list:

apostrophe offenders, people who oppose the licence fee but pay loads more to get 800 bum-achingly awful channels on Sky, Tories, Green Lantern doubters, climate-change deniers, mobile-phone bullies, 'Blue Badge Abusers' (as Half Man Half Biscuit have it), plagiarists, litterers, Jools Holland (I think it's posh-cool for Julian), people who think that they have the right to bore you at parties because they've taken some drugs, pheasant-kickers, 4x4 drivers, those who say 'bless', fashion magazines, DIY and house-sale programmes, fake doctor Gillian McKeith, Edward Stourton, soi-disant arts types who proudly profess their ignorance of science, the RCP and the Manifesto Club, repeaters of TV catchphrases, management, the cyclist who told me to fuck myself for walking on the pavement in front of him (he then knocked over a toddler), the Any Questions contributors, anybody concerned with the production, narration and consumption of police-propaganda 'reality' TV, local news scriptwriters, the Daily Mail, MELVYN BRAGG… and intolerant people.

Feel free to add your own offenders to the list. I know I will.

The Plashing Vole to the Rescue

The Green Lantern t-shirt is already working. Pausing only to remove my disguise, I leapt into action to help a young lady who fell heavily from her bicycle this morning, aided by my trusty sidekick, The Green Cruiser. Tomorrow: Plashing Vole picks up some litter and the world is saved.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Slight return

Cynical Ben has pointed out in the comments to the previous entry that I was overly negative about Obama's speech, which you can read here, and that Obama stressed the importance of science, mentioned atheists and critiqued the oil companies. OK, you're right. I'm grumpy from marking, but then again - these things wouldn't be remarkable in a lot of countries. Why we don't subcontract our governance to Norway, I can't fathom. I will say that Obama is a brilliant speaker. He's an intelligent man, has a powerful voice and seems to be determined to stamp his authority on events. Just what America needs at this point. The KKK must be furious - an African-American and a Catholic in charge. I hope there's a Jew and a Muslim near the top too!

Also, Ben, I was being sarcastic about the poem - it's hard to convey in text. It was painfully bad. I don't think ceremonial poetry ever works. 

Dick Cheney attended the ceremony in a wheelchair after doing his back in moving into his new house (surely cell?). This means of course that Bush was there as a lame duck and Cheney was his lame fuck.

My friend Jim Hiam was there - having wangled a ticket from a Senator who's a friend of his American family. Lucky guy. He must be freezing…

Inauguration blues

Obama's just finished his speech. Obviously it contained all the usual stuff about the greatest nation on earth, and all his brilliant trademarks, but what really struck me was the seriousness of tone. Quoting Washington's address from the darkest moments of the Independence War was stunning - he really does appear to feel that the US is endangered by the financial, moral and environmental challenges ahead. 

He promised, of course, to spread democracy around the globe. So did Blair and Bush. What they, and I suspect, Obama meant, is capitalism for all and democracy for the unimportant or annoying. Hamas are elected, and that didn't help. The Saudis and Burmese (and the North Koreans) compete for the title of worst government, but nobody's planning to ask them when the elections are. As long as the oil etc. keeps flowing, we won't ask any awkward questions. 

Aretha Franklin was embarrassingly awful, Yo-Yo Ma and Co. were tunefully bland, and the poet (missed her name) is rather good - applause from the crowd distinctly muted. 

What if?

At 11.30 a.m. (US time), Joe Biden takes the oath of office as vice-president. So at least Cheney's out of the way, but Bush is still President. So if Bush has a heart-attack (out of sheer Texan fury) before Obama is sworn in, does Biden become President? Does Biden have any authority as VP while Bush is still President or is it only activated when Obama's sworn-in at 12.00? What if Obama has a heart-attack (or gets shot) between Biden's oath and his own? Who's in charge?

Monday, 19 January 2009

Brave satirical warriors

Like most people, I'm overjoyed to see the back of GWB (roll on the experience of being disappointed by someone meant to be on our side - like 1997 all over again), but I'm getting bored with spiteful digs at little Bush by institutions who've only just discovered their spines. I can understand the Guardian publishing its special insert on the Bush years because most of its writers were antiwar, but Radio 4's satirical condensed history of the presidency is a) not very funny and b) not especially brave, being broadcast on Radio Middle Class less than 48 hours before he leaves (I wonder how it fits into the BBC's 'balance' doctrine). It's an even more cowardly version of Israel's Bush going-away party, the one with all the fireworks and Palestinians sleeping it off in the streets. 

An argument isn't bold unless there's a possibility of disagreement. That's why American (and British) political speeches are so vacuous. 'I believe Insert Country Here is the greatest nation on earth' Wow. Radical stance. 

I shall take this opportunity to say a few words

This was my acceptance speech on being made a 0.5 lecturer in Media Studies:
"Fellow-citizens, being fully invested with that high office to which the partiality of my countrymen has called me, I now take an affectionate leave of you. You will bear with you to your homes the remembrance of the pledge I have this day given to discharge all the high duties of my exalted station according to the best of my ability, and I shall enter upon their performance with entire confidence in the support of a just and generous people." 
Actually, it wasn't. These are the closing lines of William Harrison's Presidential Inauguration Speech in 1841. He spoke for two hours in a snowstorm, without a coat on, and died a month later. Yahoo News has a feature on the worst inaugural speeches. Can anyone remember Bush's? Not me. Something about God, Texas, compassionate conservatism no doubt. It was probably better than Blair's 'A new age has dawned, has it not?' Or was it 'A new day has dawned'? Whenever people say he was a great orator or connector I want to hurl - I doubt he has the histrionic skills to say 'good morning' sincerely. How he asks with a straight face for his massive cheques after the speeches he gives the University of Dead Dog Arizona or wherever, I just don't know.

My secret identity revealed

I am now complete. The long walk to the post room was worth it: I am now the proud owner of a Green Lantern t-shirt. It's not quite like the leotard-style one above.
"In brightest day... in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight! Let those who worship evil's might beware my power--Green Lantern's light!"
Even more excitingly, it's the first Medium t-shirt I've bought in years! I'm not going to be mistaken for Comic-Book Guy!

Health Solutions

I'm still gutted by Stoke's 94th-minute defeat by Chelsea the other day - I doubt we'd ever get those extra minutes from a referee should we need them. But it's put me in a sporting frame of mind. Neal thinks that Monkey Tennis should be an Olympic Sport. Perhaps. But my money's on the Obesity Olympics. I'd make participation compulsory for anyone seeking medical help for weight-related health problems, unless it's genuinely a genetic disease. I'd televise it, and the medals would carry with them enough medication for a fixed period. 

I'd also ban the obese from car ownership and short trips on public transport. I'd repeal all laws covering abusive behaviour so that you could hurl epithets at plus-sized citizens (of which I am, shamefully, one, though in remission). I will also gradually ban luxury accessories on private vehicles. I'd start with stereos, DVD players, air-conditioning, tinted windows, then move on to heaters, cushioned seats, seatbelts, ABS, lights and windows, doors and key-ignition. Eventually, if you own a car, you'll be sitting on a board and pedalling it along. 

Friday, 16 January 2009

Academic top tips for students

Students: when copying and pasting from Wikipedia and other webpages, take the time to change the font to the same one you're using in the rest of the essay. Removing the hyperlinks is also a good idea when trying to make me think that you wrote the paragraphs in question. Otherwise there's no challenge or fun playing these games of mental chess…

Emma from Limerick suggests that instead of handing plagiarised essays in, you could send me the URL of whatever site you plan to plunder. Then I could mark you on your choice of source and no paper is wasted, thus saving the environment.

The world's worst newspaper in another triumph

An informant tells me that the Daily Nazi has an article screaming about a doctor who earns £290,000 and 'hundreds' earning £190,000. The greedy life-saving bastards. 

Now I know some medics very well indeed. Some of them are indeed Freemasons, Tory-voting, golf-playing, privately-educated gits who would undoubtedly read the Daily Mail if they weren't slightly better-educated. However, even this wing of the medical profession is worth £300,000. 

'The consultant in question is a breast surgeon' according to the report, on a 'basic salary of £120,000', plus £90,000 for 'clinical excellence', being 'highly productive' and he receives another £40,000 for doing 'overtime' and having an 'onerous on-call commitment'. What an evil parasite. He spends all day undertaking serious, radical surgery to remove cancers, takes on a lot of overtime and has to spend a lot of time in a less-than-salubrious hospital on call, and then receives a decent wage. Fair enough. I'd rather he lived in the lap of luxury and turned up to work full of the joys of life, rested, steady-handed and equable, than have him moonlight doing cosmetic surgery or a paper round. I wonder if this story is covertly based on suspicion that this surgeon is of a foreign persuasion… they come over here, saving our lives… I wouldn't be surprised, given the Mail's track record.

We pay for their training and they save lives. If we have to pay any sector of society a lot of money, it should be them (and the nurses, who are often far more down-to-earth and informative). We don't see articles in the Mail whinging about lawyers earning multiples of this amount of money. Man City are about to offer Kaka £24 million per year for being good at ball games. 

The editor of the Daily Mail earns £1.62 million. It is unclear how many lives he has saved this year. 

Meanwhile, the owners of the Daily Mail, presumably the most concentrated bunch of racists outside the BNP given the output of their papers, are selling the Evening Standard to a Russian billionaire who used to be a KGB agent in London. Funny how principles dissolve when money's around.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

All hail John McDonnell

He's the hard left Labour MP who has been suspended from Parliament for a few days after picking up the Mace in protest over the government's decision to authorise a third runway for Heathrow (the turncoat, hypocritical arseholes) despite claiming to be green and despite the obvious fact that Britain's already in breach of EU pollution laws with only 2 runways.  

OK, you might say, why should a bit of theatre in a Victorian fantasy building be so praiseworthy? He's hardly loaded an anti-aircraft missile in Terminal 5. However, John is the MP for Heathrow, and a dyed in the wool socialist. He understands and represents the working classes. He knows the importance of jobs for all. BAA and its tame ex-socialists like Clive Soley have corralled the unions under the banner of '3rd runway or nobody will ever work again' because the unions think that greens are toff trustafarians out to close down every industry going: socialism or environmentalism. But they can't use that argument with people like McDonnell because he knows that environmentalism will provide huge numbers of jobs as we re-engineer the entire country. He's that rare thing, a forward-looking socialist - and being the MP for Heathrow is a delicious extra. 

Picture this

A couple of pictures. One of the aftermath of all our Map Twats days out. The other is of a postcard I bought recently from Left on the Shelf, my favourite leftwing book and memorabilia shop. It seems strangely up to date, leaving aside the design of the old job centres. I also bought a Wapping-era 'boycott The Sun, News of the World and The Times' mug for using in the Media office. 

This time it's personal

After five years, my old mobile phone is defunct and I've replaced it. Not, you might think, earth-shatteringly interesting or notable even in the life described to you so lovingly day-by-day. 

However, it's a big thing for me. At last, I can have my revenge. I'm tormented on the street, on trains and on buses by selfish, arrogant, noise-polluting gits who play music through those rubbish little speakers on their mobiles. It's a form of bullying, an announcement that their pleasure is more important than the comfort of the many people around them. When I'm in charge, there will be a special camp for them, with Penderecki's Threnody piped into the cells 24 hours a day.

In the meantime, my new phone will suffice. It's a cheap, boring phone, but it has a radio, a speaker and a 'record radio' function. I shall abuse these features mightily. I intend to record Veg Talk, You and Yours, Moneybox or even a specially bad episode of The Archers, one of the ones with Linda Snell or Jack Woolley in, and use them as weapons of retaliation. The next time some selfish bastard poisons the air with Akon, or Pussycat Dolls or some godforsaken emo, I shall blast them with the very worst of Radio 4 until they go away. Or stab me.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Thanks Kate

I also received a birthday present today - a mere 6 months after (and before) my birthday to the day! So thanks to Kate for a beautifully-selected pile of CDs and DVD.

Blah blah blah

Not much to post today. Between swimming this morning, marking fora this afternoon and going over to Shrewsbury for fencing this evening, I haven't time to find things on the web to rant about (and that's what blogging is for, isn't it?). 

I did finally get through the Anne of Green Gables marathon (the main eight novels, not the side-projects). I thought they'd be a quick canter but one can only take so much sentiment at a time. Some patches were spectacularly good, others were spectacularly bad. The tendency to introduce Poochie-style new characters when the old ones got dull or their lives became too adult to entertain the target audience was a little wearing. Children may be adorable, but not so many of them. 

The last volume, Rilla of Ingleside, though it had touching moments, was by far the worst. It's a female Bildungsroman set against the backdrop of World War One, but rapidly degenerates into propaganda with very little room for nuance: dying brothers, declarations that the Kaiser needs a spanking, authorially-approved violence towards pacifist deacons. Worst of all, everybody agrees that Canada's bright future can only come about by a blood sacrifice in advance - remind anybody of a certain other nation and political movement?

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

In memoriam

Today marks the deaths of two authors intimately connected to Ireland: Joyce and Spenser. What links them, I suppose, is their hatred of the place, though Joyce's relationship to Ireland was of course much more complex. Spenser went there as a murdering imperialist, then propagandised his and others' activities as the beginning of the British Empire. Joyce's best work is a love song to urban, shiftless, modern Ireland, even though the dominant anti-intellectual, illiberal, backwoods strand of Irish culture ensured that he soon went into exile to create an Ireland of the mind. 

Close encounters of the ovine kind

I've previously posted pictures of the Map Twats with dead sheep on two successive walks. Just to prove that there's no sinister, ongoing narrative, here's one of me with a live sheep, taken on Kinder Scout last summer. The sheep is believed to be alive and well.

Monday, 12 January 2009

To whom it may concern

My esteemed linguistics colleague wonders about the origins of 'Plashing Vole'. I posted it several months ago so it's buried in the archive. Briefly, in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, William Boot is the hapless nature diary author on The Beast (not The Daily Beast as Tina Brown and - shamefully - the author of the synopsis on the back of the new Penguin Classics edition, seem to think). He is sent to cover an African war because Lord Copper, the proprietor, confuses him with Boot the star reporter. Until then, Boot's breathless literary prose mainly consists of tracking the activities of the vole as it plashes through the fens (correction, quests through the plashy fens: thanks Debbie). He's allegedly based on the legendary Bill Deedes of the Telegraph. 

I chose him because we're both amateur writers who've ended up out of our depth in the media (as anyone who knows my PhD subject) is well aware.

The death of journalism

'Joe the Plumber', the spectacularly uninformed McCain supporter and tax-delinquent who turned out not to be called Joe nor to be a qualified plumber, has become… a reporter. More specifically, Pajamas Media, an outfit set up by the usual range of skill-free, dyspeptic American who in earlier times would be parading round in pointy masks, voting for Senator Bilbo or shouting 'Ham and Eggs' but now have the keyboard skills to shout down all reasoned opinion, have sent him to Israel to add the world's stock of dispassionate and disinterested knowledge.

In a stunning debut, 'Joe' has berated the Israeli media for … er … not being patriotic enough. Joe, you're not Israeli. Israelis aren't American. You can't read Hebrew (unless that's what you picked up instead of plumbing certificates). You're not a journalist, or even an informed citizen. You're simply a symptom of mid-America's decision that they'd rather listen to an uninformed bozo they agree with than an informed one from a different class who might (though given the state of the American media, might not) actually know a little about the subject. Cognitive dissonance anybody?

More to the point: even the 'liberal' papers like Ha'aretz are supporting this war, stopping only to point out that shelling schools packed with refugee children isn't necessarily a top tactic in winning the peace. Never mind though. Tabloid journalism operates on the basis of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Web journalism of the kind practised by Pajamas Media tends to ignore the story (current score: 900+ dead Palestinians to 13 Israelis) altogether and grind out political points. That's my job: I'm not a journalist and 3 people read this. There is a place for citizen journalism, but drowning out professional investigation and howling down anyone you disagree with isn't what it should be for. 

Senator Bilbo might be a useful touchstone for the Blagojevich scandal: while a state senator in Mississippi he took a bribe to change sides in a vote on whom to send to the US Senate. Despite being impeached and described as 'unfit to serve' by his fellow senators, this was only the start of his career. While Lt. Governor he hid in a barn to evade a sub-poena, and removed the references to his unfitness from the record. He also opposed sending the National Guard to prevent a lynching on the basis that black people didn't merit protection, and won the state for Smith by claiming that Herbert Hoover had once danced with a black man. There's a great Pete Seeger song, 'Listen Mr. Bilbo' that skewers him good.

This just in: Israel bans Arab parties from contesting the election. So much for the claim that it's a democratic oasis in the desert.

Queen Caroline

Katha Pollitt, the brilliant Nation author, has written a stunningly sarcastic piece on the putative Senatorial career of Caroline Kennedy. If all you know about Kennedy is that the surname rings a bell in American political terms, that pretty much sums up her application form. Nobody knows what her politics actually are ('Democrat' ranges from rightwing Labour to rightwing Tory), and she has no public visibility. Just because Bush is going (8 days and counting) doesn't mean that our cousins have dumped the hereditary principle. Perhaps it was just George III personally they objected to…

A Cold Sheep Was My Table

The Map Twats had a glorious day in Shropshire on Saturday. The wind was biting, the snow still lay round about deep and crisp and even, and the beer was good. Typically, the spot we chose to shelter for our lunch turned out to be the last resting place of a sheep - Dan noticed the ribcage sticking up, and John turned out to have been sitting on its skull. A dead-sheep theme is starting to emerge on our walks. Lots of photos here, including some of the natural ice-sculpture we found.

To top off a great weekend, Stoke drew with Liverpool, and we could have beaten them. If we'd scored a goal, that is. I wonder what Diego Maradona made of his first (I presume) visit to Stoke…

Friday, 9 January 2009

Oh Salopia!

The Map Twats and John are off to the Stiperstones tomorrow - a long, steep ridge of Stiperstones Quartzite packed with prehistoric sites, geological curiosities and other fun stuff. Picture by Sabine

War's bad…

While Ronaldo is driving recklessly in his Ferrari, Freddie Kanouté celebrates his goal by revealing a shirt proclaiming solidarity with Palestine: brave political stance or celebrity indulgence? I'm going with mostly political stance on this one. The link's from - they appear to think that 'words in Arabic' constitutes decent investigative journalism. 

Lines on the closure of Dell in Limerick, a great disaster

Dell were based in Limerick until they scuttled off, so here goes… (apologies to Euterpe, the Muse of Poetry)

There was a PC maker called Dell
Who decided paying wages was Hell
So they went off to Poland
Where they were given a hand
In setting up a low wage factory and their taxes fell

How capitalism works pt. 324

Dell Computers have decided to pull out of Ireland and build their PCs in Poland. Fair enough, you might think. They've taken an economic decision to relocate in a cheaper country. 

Except that the Irish government subsidised these carpetbaggers, and got suckered into basing their economy on bigger and bigger payouts for mobile industries who could then push off to an even cheaper country at the drop of a massive cheque. Dell, according to Slugger, have accepted a Polish offer of €52 million to leave Ireland in the lurch. Off goes another multinational, having been paid to open up, forgiven the taxes due by local companies… The Poles know that Dell won't stay once they actually have to invest in the factory - no doubt they'll end up in Burkina Faso, Somalia or Haiti if they can find a skilled workforce which will work for food. The Irish government knew the score too - but considered that a good photo-op and headlines about major corporations coming to Ireland more than made up politically for the hit to the exchequer. 

What really annoys me is that Ireland and Poland are seriously pro-capitalist states, doing business with dyed-in-the-wool capitalist companies, but they're all happy to operate socialist economies with regards to corporate entities at the same time as rejecting socialist solutions for the actual citizens.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

A new era dawns

Web 2.0 is going to transform our lives. We'll all be empowered, efficient and informed. A new era of democracy will dawn. 

Of course it will. 

Meanwhile, here's the Twitter feed for the new Star Trek film. Apparently some toys are on sale, you can play your part in fixing a poll (sorry, participate in a democratic consultation) and see some pictures. Doesn't that make everybody warm and fuzzy inside, empowered and informed? What do you mean, all new technologies are appropriated for the purpose of extending capitalist hegemony?

I, for one, welcome our Vulcan overlords. Actually, I am looking forward to the film. 

Keep it up!

Despite being a sordid pornographer, Larry Flynt plays a useful role as America's court jester. What with announcing the release of 'Who's Nailin' Palin'' during the election, his part in various freedom of speech court actions and his wicked sense of humour, he's played his part in pricking the pomposity of the ruling classes (perhaps because he's simply an honest capitalist). In this vein, his latest PR stunt is genius. On the eve of some porn-industry event, he's applied to Congress for $5bn dollars of the bailout money available, to revive the flagging industry. On hard (sorry) economic grounds, who could refuse him? Or does America's turn away from capitalism also include a morality clause?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Will the last journalist on the Daily Mail please switch off the lights?

Normally, I treat the Daily Mail like flatulence at a bridge night: if nobody mentions it, it doesn't exist. But seeing the front page in the newsagents today reminded me what a squalid rag it is. The headline is: 

The Great Lightbulb Revolt: Robbed of their Right to buy Traditional Lightbulbs, Millions are Clearing Shelves of Last Supplies.

Obviously, there's no actual, y'know, evidence that 'millions' of people are 'clearing the shelves', though I'm prepared to accept that some people are taking the opportunity to buy bulbs for odd fittings which may not be compatible with non-wasteful, less-polluting bulbs (and in any case, they may be all that's left in Woolworths). What I really object to is the idea that some 'they' has 'robbed' decent honest English folk of the right to buy 'traditional' bulbs. They've only been around for 100 years or so. What's the qualification for traditional now? Is a tradition simply something that's been around for a while? Or is there some kind of whites-only dance associated with the installation of 'traditional' bulbs? And 'robbed' clearly means simply 'phased out for the public good by an elected government in concert with other elected governments on the basis that they're useless, outdated and damaging'. 
Hang on, I think I understand why the Daily Mail might be feeling threatened.

PS. According to Radio 4 just now, the bulbs aren't even being withdrawn by law: it's a voluntary initiative by retailers. Fascists!


Thanks, I think, to Gabi, who has just presented me with a big bag of Buffy spin-off books discarded by her sons. Up goes my nerd quotient, down goes my IQ…

Black Wednesday: the fallout

I ran out of juice halfway through the questions. The general feeling amongst the staff is suspicion that the new 20-credit (instead of 15) system is an attempt to reduce staffing and educational provision for the same qualification - supported by the total absence of any prior discussion, consultation or justification. People are worried about important, small subjects, and about workload. 

As for me: my English .5 expires in September and it looks unlikely that it will be extended or replaced by hourly-paid teaching. There's a chill wind blowing inside and out - but at least it's snowing outside. Big Issue, anyone?

Black Wednesday 6 - questions.

Have subject closures been discussed?
'We clearly have to look at the viability of subjects but our situation is that small subjects can be viable if their modules contribute to other subjects…' Can't keep up. Repeats 'may remain viable' several times. Joint degrees may save some smaller subjects. 

Black Wednesday 5 - questions.

How is the curriculum refocussing related to the cuts? Why run them together? The curriculum changes are going to be costly in themselves?
-- 'They are connected' but independent! Very informative.
-- Divisions reduce modules by 30% to allow for more CPD activity, skills development etc. Recruitment expected to drop for demographic reasons anyway.

Short, fat modules or long thin ones? 
-- They don't know and will invite input. Other schools will mix short and long modules. 

Black Wednesday 4 - questions

20-credit scheme starts Sept 2010. Questioner points out the total lack of consultation / pedagogical justification. Will it be phased in or applied across all levels? Response: 'it has been announced'. Well, that's good enough for me! 'Big Bang' implementation. Suggests that consultation on the 'shape' of the system may occur. It's a 'policy' change rather than an educational one and apparently happening in other universities. Someone else says it follows a funding decision to tie money to successful completion of 20-credit modules. So if we fail someone, it will hit our budget. There won't be any pressure to mark more generously at all then…

Unclear what mechanisms exist to maintain students' access to additional language programs etc. 
Will 10-credit sub-modules run?

How is HLSS performing? A: budget of c. £12m. We're £200,000 in deficit, perhaps less: minimal as there aren't many schools. Our deficit has come down from well over a million.

Why wasn't 20-credit idea raised for discussion? Reduces modules to 6 per student per year. Will there be voluntary redundancies? Response: each module might involve 4 hrs contact time and thus no less teaching. Sounds rather shaky. VR: executive hasn't announced VR nor has any procedure been initiated. Current savings plan wouldn't cover the whole £5m though - so something else is coming.

Lots of extra work and hassle involved in this at best, horrendous at worst. Distortion of modules, undermining of teaching. Actual question unclear (as management point out). Has Executive arsed it up, and how are they going to share the burden? 
-- Silence from stage, giggles from us.

Black Wednesday 3

Each school has to cut 2% off the budget - despite no breakdown in school-level finances - to cover the pay rise. 2% = £240,000. 
Freeze 'selectively new and replacement posts'. 
'Rationalise portfolios and implement a 20-credit based curriculum'. E.g. worse education with fewer staff and less choice. 

New section:
decrease in VL spending - bad news for moi. Reduced capital spending (printing etc.). Review of all appointments. 

Consultation on 20-credit scheme starts after the decision is made - genius. Inquiry into staffing levels - I can only see one result for that report, whatever the actual situation is. 

Big marketing push and search for external £££.

'Continued focus on retention and progression' = pupils mean pounds!

Black Wednesday 2

Surprise, surprise, we're starting with money. Deficit of £5.6 million across the uni and an expected decrease in student numbers. Our pay rise (which brings us to parity with kindergarten attendants) is high up the list. The V-C's famous £12,000 pay rise doesn't appear.

HEFCE have clawed back £3m too. So much for widening participation.

The executive arsed up their inflation predictions, and apparently our colleagues are living too long on their pensions. He slips in something about the 'costs of pay moderation exercise', which I suspect is a way of glossing over consultancies. Would love to know how much that cost.

Black Wednesday

A minute to go before we hear on whom the axe will fall… if you listen to the doom-mongers. 
The 'School Senior Management Team' are looking grey and forbidding. All the other schools are hosting simultaneous meetings. 
Of course, there's a bloody Powerpoint presentation.

Cravat Twats

The Map Twats went indoors yesterday, for a performance by the National Youth Orchestra at Birmingham Symphony Hall. Before that, we went to The Wellington, a fine real ale pub in central Brum which encourages customers to bring their own cheese. Dan did the honours, providing some fine Brie, and Oxford Blue, some goats' cheese, good bread, Greek olives and onion marmalade. I turned up with Italian salami and game pie. The other customers seemed to be divided between admiration and contempt for our effete picnic. 

The concert was partly aimed at getting under-25s into classical music. Musically, it was a great success, but demographically it was an utter failure. The thin crowd consisted of players' relatives, very old people and the Map Twats (average age 33). The 12-year old behind me loftily informed his mother that the NYO are 'copying the NCO and aren't nearly as good this year as they were last year'. I moved seats. Unfortunately, the man next to me was no improvement. He poked me every time the Berio and Strauss pieces quoted from Mahler, recommended Bruckner's Fourth because 'Hitler played it after supper every evening' and then poked into my shopping bag. I'd bought a new shirt from Lewin, reduced from £85 to £25: he told me that when he worked in the city, Lewin used to make 'good' shirts but now they might come from anywhere…

Anyway, audience aside, the concert was stunning. The Berio was complex, fun and compelling, the Wiegold piece they started with was a nice piece of lightweight contemporary theatre, and the Strauss (Richard) was, well, German. Huge orchestra, kitchen sink, post-Romantic but impressive in its way. 

Today, it's the university's Black Wednesday meeting - I'll be live-blogging my last day in employment.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Cutting back on the luxuries

I watched David Cameron's speech about the economy yesterday and agreed with his main point: that 'spend spend spend' is not the way to get out of a recession partially caused by rampant consumerism. Inspired by his message of hair-shirt self-denial, I invite you all to join me in promising to never again indulge in high-end accessories and decor, particularly those retailed by Smythson of Bond Street (director: one Samantha Cameron - gifts available under £100) and Osborne and Little, the source of Gideon 'George' Osborne's wealth. 

Unless, of course, you think that Mr. Cameron's point is that government should stop spend spend spending money on poor people (public transport, infrastructure, the environment) so that the rich can pay even less tax, and so that Cameron's gloriously retro monetarist/small government/Friedmanite plans can be implemented. Naomi Klein's latest, The Shock Doctrine, points out that disasters are merely opportunities for these bastards to seize power. If you don't believe me, watch Niall Ferguson's appalling recent documentary, The Ascent of Money. Sponsored by a tax haven (!), he praised the Pinochet dictatorship for its embrace of monetarism, repeatedly referred to Allende's 'communist' 'regime' (e.g. its democratically-elected socialist government), but couldn't find enough time to discuss the thousands of deaths, torture chambers etc. etc. etc.

Monday, 5 January 2009

I'm such a middle-class w*nker

How gloriously bourgeois: I'm marking essays while listening to a Belle and Sebastian live album. Ben would hate it. James would secretly like it but is too cool to admit it. Jo, I feel, would approve.


New year's resolution: actually do more cultural stuff than buying Crumb CDs and listening to them in my room. As a good start, the Map Twats are having a rare foray inside, to hear the National Youth Orchestra playing Strauss (yuck), Berio and something new by Wiegold. All for £5: it's tomorrow so you can still make it.

Nerd heaven

Twas bliss to be alive… when Amazon delivers the complete Buffy and the first three series of Star Trek and there's a new Star Trek movie coming out (though it does look like The O. C. in space). Forget books: I'm watching TV from now on. 

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Competitive bird-seeing

My chums are getting competitive about their birdwatching - degenerating into spotting really. Cynical Ben is especially pleased that he's seen fringilla montifringilla (depicted above courtesy of the RSPB who love birds except for pheasants). Seen one finch, seen them all, I say. He's overjoyed that Dan didn't because he got the wrong bus in Wigan. If you have to go to Wigan to see a bird, it's not worth it. Orwell didn't give up his wanderings there for no reason, you know. Even Stoke didn't make him turn round. 

Dan's response is, of course, masterly. He quietly pointed out that Ben hasn't yet seen 'the rather more common pied wagtail'. Stick that in your binoculars!

Free the Tarnac 9

Well, after that bracing holiday, I'm back and raring to lacerate someone with mildly barbed commentary. First up, the French.

No, not on the usual lines (garlic, surrender, strikes, arrogance). I like those aspects of that country. When de Gaulle despaired of being able to govern a country with 300+ cheeses, I thought he was mad - why would you not want to? I like French bloody-mindedness, their concern for food and quality of life (lunch with red wine or an e. coli sandwich at your desk?)  and their love of an old-fashioned, all-in demonstration or riot. 

Which is what brings me to whinge about our cousins now. In the past, they've had a healthy hard left shading into revolutionary factions. They even gave sanctuary to various Italians who'd had, shall we say, an interesting 1970s. But now, the party est finie. The freelance left may be coming back but the French government has decided that under the guise of 'extremism', they can nick everybody who doesn't want to go to Disneyworld Paris - even the inoffensive anarchists of Tarnac who allegedly delayed a train and may (or may not) have had a hand in writing 'The Coming Insurrection', a rather sweet neoTrotskyist tract which shares some values with my mother's terrorist sect, the Women's Institute

What the Tarnac 9 seem to have done is lived The Good Life - gone to a depopulated area of France (Limousin) and joined the remaining locals in making their village viable again - which seems rather in keeping with the new spirit of the times, given that globalisation has allowed the stupidity of a tiny élite of financiers to push the entire global economy into recession. In return, the police judiciaire swooped in full anti-terrorist gear and kidnapped nine of them: the Swiss sitcom actor, the clarinettist, the archaeologist, the student nurse and the grocer amongst them… dangerous criminals all. I bet their veg boxes were packed with loads of subversively-shaped goodies. Perhaps even a sausage hiding the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies

However, Sarko is determined to prove that he's a forward-thinking rightwing global capitalist like… er… Tony Blair just in time for the New 1930s. Hélas

Some of the Tarnac 9, plotting another fiendish outrage