Wednesday, 30 June 2010

'I'm superhorny like Paxman on Newsnight'

Not me, you understand, but David Wrench. When I passingly knew him, he was a Welsh-language folk-rock-goth singer: a bit like Nick Cave with a Blake obsession.

I recently bought his Spades and Hoes and Plows, a collaboration with countercultural polymath Julian Cope in which 3 traditional rebel songs and one written by Wrench are dragged out to 65 glorious minutes.

However, the above quote comes from his second album, The Atomic World of Tomorrow, a (presumably) ironic LP of synth-pop disco-soul tracks. I can't think of many more frightening things than a cadaverous 6'5" albino shimmying towards me in a lamé posing pouch singing of Paxman's sex-appeal. There's an image I can't shift.

I finished Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr Y the other day. If you like sex, mice, campus novels, postgraduate poverty, physics, Derrida and Baudrillard, you'll love it. It's creepy, driven and written in a cool, detached tone. I hated the final chapter though - rushed - and the last page is a shocker.

PS. This is Paxman:

Lying Tory Scum

When Gideon Osborne stood up for the budget a few days ago, he said that the private sector needed nurturing, and that more jobs were the key to saving the economy.

In private, he was saying something else.

George Osborne's austerity budget will result in the loss of up to 1.3m jobs across the economy over the next five years according to a private Treasury assessment of the planned spending cuts, the Guardian has learned.
Unpublished estimates of the impact of the biggest squeeze on public spending since the second world war show that the government is expecting between 500,000 and 600,000 jobs to go in the public sector and between 600,000 and 700,000 to disappear in the private sector by 2015.
 he would have had access to the forecasts traditionally prepared for ministers and senior civil servants 

So it looks like this utterly evil budget is designed to help the low-employment, tax avoiding financial services sector (big Tory donors) while abandoning everybody else. So much for 'we're all in this together'.

Uppal and at 'em

Well, Mr Paul Uppal MP has broken his two month duck and finally made his maiden speech in the House of Commons (cost so far, £5500 salary + expenses), and it's a thriller, on the Local Government Financing Bill (which doesn't get a mention): 

I have waited patiently, deliberately not rushing to make this speech-after all, in reality, I have probably been waiting for more than a quarter of a century to make this speech. That long wait commenced during a particularly inspiring lecture by one of my A-level politics tutors on a wet Wednesday afternoon, so a few weeks, and indeed a couple of hours, are a small price to pay.
Absolutely right Paul, I feel like I've been waiting 25 years too.

I have not traditionally been an individual who has subscribed to a fatalistic view of life, but I have found my scepticism tested by the fact that my majority of 691 that has bought me to this great House is exactly the same as that of another young Conservative Member of Parliament who won the seat of Wolverhampton South West for the first time in 1950-one Enoch Powell. I make that statement with my tongue firmly pressed against the inside of my cheek and an ironic smile on my face.
Oh dear. I'd have thought that Paul would steer clear of references to the Tory Party's most famous racist. But then, his own views on race relations are very, very dodgy indeed

… the McCarthyistic mouth foaming utterances of the race relations industry, which through accusation alone can slay political careers and stifle well intentioned and principled debate. I say this because I have seen with my very own eyes the modus operandi of this circus, employing individuals to perpetuate this climate of political correctness. In reality this industry/business does dreadful damage to Britain’s race relations. It seems more concerned with securing it’s own funding streams and non jobs for it’s membership of zealots. The cost of this is all is so much more than financial, as we lose decent people and gag those who point to the emperor’s new clothes.

Is he claiming to be the heir to Powell? I hope not - Powell was evil, but he was also an intellectual and a stunning rhetorician. Uppal may be the former, but he's certainly not the latter.

He proclaims that he's the first Sikh Tory MP. Woo-hoo. Every ethnic or religious group has a individualist traitor. 

What's next?
In terms of the Wolverhampton South West constituency, perhaps one of the most impressive sights to meet anyone coming in from the city centre is the Molineux stadium, which is home to Wolverhampton Wanderers football club. I am delighted to say that I am a season ticket holder and fan, and I am even more delighted by the fact that we stayed in the premiership this year.
Hmmm. It's very unclear how long he's had that season ticket - my hunch is that it materialized the day he was adopted as a candidate. It's one of the questions I asked him 8 weeks ago. Someone else doesn't think much of his intellectual or personal qualities either:
…we made it up to Wolverhampton on Saturday to meet some of the lesser-known candidates doing the leg-work for their campaigns. There is an apparent significance to the Conservatives fielding a non-white candidate in Enoch “Rivers of Blood” Powell’s old constituency, but this kind of symbolism is lost on Dazed. The man in question is Paul Uppal, who told us on the phone that he wouldn’t be out campaigning this Saturday. It was surprising, then, that one of the first things we saw after getting off the train was Mr Uppal sat in the town centre, handing out balloons to children and canvassing for votes among the Saturday shoppers. He had already lied to us, and we hadn’t met him yet. He didn’t seem to be drumming up much support, either. Wolverhampton local and Dazed tour guide Alex Oaten explained why: “He’s standing where all the grebos and morons hang out. They’re not going to vote. It just proves that he doesn’t really know the area.” 
We encouraged some of the grebos and morons to approach their Tory candidate and put his people skills to the test. 19-year-old Sam (pictured) confronted Mr Uppal with her concerns about not being able to get a job, to which he replied with the standard Conservative policy of cutting taxes to encourage enterprise. If he was elected, he would give young people a free pitch at the market to sell things. His answer to the recession appears to be inspired by Steptoe and Son. He also looks like Apu from The Simpsons, and doesn’t like people who take notes while he’s speaking, as Dazed was. Like Emily Benn, whom we met last week, he seems comfortable talking to people who aren’t very inquisitive about how he can help them, because they just let him drone on, but you can see the shutters go up as soon as he is confronted by a notepad and pencil.
But back to the great man's speech:

The seat is entirely urban and it is also home to the Express & Star newspaper, the country's largest regional newspaper, which reaches more than 136,000 regular readers. One thing that does stand out for the Express & Star is that, uniquely, it has more than nine editions, covering local areas across the west midlands and maintaining a community base that is not just Wolverhampton-centric.

That'll be the newspaper which gave Enoch Powell a weekly column to spout his racist drivel. Commonly known as the Express and Swastika or the Depress and Scar for its nakedly hard-right views on the poor and brown. This little plug is, presumably, payback for its slavish support for Tory Scum. No mention of its cancellation of training courses, its horrendously low wages and - most notably given Uppal's praise - its closure of several regional offices and editions

Anyway, on to praising another Tory Party supporter:

The constituency is also home to the brewer Marston's, and only recently I was honoured to be present at the opening of its new visitors centre. I would heartily recommend anybody visiting Wolverhampton, including fellow Members, to sample our fine local ale during a visit to the constituency.
It's awful beer, apart from the mild. Don't trust him: Sikhs don't drink.

 One will not find a city populated by a more decent people, who always speak straight from their soul.
How would he know? As far as I can tell, he doesn't live here. He's just met the Tory supporters coralled to make him look popular. This is boiler-plate crap anyway. I'd have far more respect if he'd said 'Some of the people are decent. Others are bastards, especially those who didn't vote for me'. 

But now we're on to the meat of the speech. What's he up to? What's really on his mind about a city with the highest unemployment rate in the Midlands (7.8%) and in which a quarter of the shops in the town centre are empty?

 However, through my discussions with various individuals and numerous bodies I have uncovered a great deal of frustration with the fact that for the last six years, under the last Government, just under £100 million of private investment in health care provision in Wolverhampton had not been spent after discussion after discussion after procrastination.
To get to the nub of the issue, Wolverhampton has been involved in a dialogue with a LIFTCo-a local improvement finance trust company. A LIFTCo is essentially a PFI initiative to push forward service-led initiatives to bring about radical change in primary and social care.  
Ah, of course. He wants to privatise the NHS. Yes, the NHS that was in a disastrous, dangerous state under the Tories and is now very good indeed (although I have massive problems with the Labour Party's pro-privatisation approach). Who has he spoken to? As he doesn't name any bodies, I'm assuming that he's spoken to The Dark Place's Conservative Club. They're a representative bunch of people. I wonder if he has business interests in this direction. We won't know until the new Register of Interests is published.

Then we're into the traditional, and clichéd, attack on 

health and safety
which inevitably leads to youngsters becoming evil:

a gang and a pecking order became established, with antisocial behaviour becoming a badge of honour.
to which the solution is

if we endeavour to eliminate risk, we emasculate society and it appears that young men in particular feel that acutely. To put this as bluntly as possible, in terms of our public-private service providers we need to put radical thinking and calculated risk taking and decision making at the centre of provision.
Interesting mix of Daily Mail bullshit and speak-your-weight management balls.

Then he finds a way to explain why he won the seat by only 691 votes against an unpopular Labour Party:

I would make a plea for all Members to revisit the issue of postal voting fraud, which, I am sad to say, appears to be alive and well in many of our metropolitan areas. Since I was elected, I have been approached by numerous individuals in my own constituency who have spoken to me about the issue. In my case, it worked against me
Oh yeah? Any complaints to the police? Or is this just anecdote? I suspect the latter. The truth is that the Tories gained fewer than 1000 votes, while 2000-3000 Labour voters didn't vote for anyone this time. He didn't win: Labour lost.

In fact, according to his favourite newspaper, the only locals arrested for voting fraud are Conservatives! 

A Tory election candidate has been arrested on suspicion of postal vote fraud in the first West Midlands Police operation of its kind linked to the 2010 polls.
Gulfam Wali was held by detectives probing claims that postal votes in the Walsall ward where he stood for election were inappropriately used. He was held on suspicion of personation, which is an allegation that votes have been cast in other people’s names.
In a separate case, Walsall Tory councillor Mohammed Munir, aged 57, and his 30-year-old son Ali Hayder Munir, both of Thorpe Road in Caldmore, appeared in court last week to deny allegations of electoral fraud
Perhaps we should examine Uppal's 619 majority a little more closely. But on with his peroration.
As a child, I often faced brutal stereotyping on my daily journey to school, but even more painful was the pigeonholing inflicted on me on my first day in a new primary school: I was placed in a remedial class for a few years because the natural assumption was that I could not speak English.
But Paul - things are better now. Thanks to the sterling efforts of the race relations bodies you hate so much. 
when the Conservatives are castigated for being uncaring over the next few years, I ask hon. Members to remember that I am somebody's son, father, brother, husband, cousin and friend and that in their eyes one could not find a person further removed from that caricature.
Er… firstly, you're meant to be looking after people who aren't your relatives and friends, and secondly they - like you - don't live in your constituency. 

My verdict - dumb, dumb, dumb. Largely a collection of classic Conservative clichés mixed with a helping of shoulder-chips topped off with a large helping of lies and insinuation. I can confidently predict that Mr. Uppal will not be drafting groundbreaking legislation, publishing beautifully-crafted memoirs or scaling the heights of power, unless Tory HQ decide that they need a Sikh minister to make them look less racist. 

Sorry about the messy presentation - Blogger is resisting my efforts at neatness.

The eagle flies at midnight

I'm quite enjoying this Russian spy scandal. One of the set-pieces whenever these stories come around is the confected outrage expressed by the 'victims', in this case the US. It implies that such behaviour is beyond the moral pale, whereas every country does it, all the time. The US has spies in Russia, as does the UK, and Russia spies on both countries. They're all at it because they see each other as political and commercial rivals.

In the last decade, we have had two major expulsions of our spies in Moscow, who were caught on film red-handed trying to do exactly what the FBI caught the Murphys at. In one case, the British resident spymaster used a mentally unstable junior Russian diplomat, Platon Obukhov, to spy on his father, a former Soviet deputy foreign minister and one of the main negotiators of the intermediate nuclear forces treaty removing medium-range missiles from Europe.

The real hypocrisy is the self-righteousness expressed when they catch others at it.

Two aspects interest me. Firstly, these 'spies' seemed to do little more than gather gossip and publicly available information. So why are they being treated more harshly than the Israeli spies (and here, and here) in the US (and let's not forget Israel's repeated forgery of allied countries' passports, the kidnapping of Mordechai Vanunu from Italy and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior). Rosen and Weismann were let off because the 'secrets' they disclosed (on US-Iran attitudes) weren't hugely secret - I assume these Russians will get off on the same grounds, and be expelled for immigration/passport offences.

The other thing that caught my eye was this delightful statement by a neighbour of one of these super-spies:
They couldn't have been spies," said Jessie Gugig. "Look what she did with the hydrangeas."

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Off the wagon?

As you may know, I'm on a book diet. It's now ten days since I bought a book.

That doesn't, obviously, include books for work, even though I buy them myself. I am trying to cut down on those too, however. It's becoming a miserable experience, peeking into my pigeonhole and seeing only pigeons roosting undisturbed by the postman. But it's good for me. Time to become slightly less capitalist.

A work book came today: Lea and Schoene's Posting the Male: Masculinities in Post-War Contemporary British Literature. I really hope the rest of the book is up to that pun. A bargain at £25.

Grandma, what big teeth you have!

You know that I have a problem with the police - too many of them think that a uniform gives them the right to bully citizens.

Be thankful we don't live in Oklahoma, if this is true:

When Lonnie Tinsley's 86-year-old bedridden grandmother refused to take her medicine, he called emergency services in El Reno, Oklahoma and requested a medical technician. Instead, a dozen armed officers arrived at the scene.

According to officer Duran’s official report, Mrs Varner had taken an 'aggressive posture' in her hospital bed. In order to ensure 'officer safety', one of his men 'stepped on her oxygen hose until she began to suffer oxygen deprivation'.
Another of the officers then shot her with a taser, but the connection wasn’t solid. A second fired his taser, 'striking her to the left of the midline of her upper chest, and applied high voltage, causing burns to her chest, extreme pain', and unconsciousness. Lona was then handcuffed with sufficient ruthlessness to tear the soft flesh of her forearms, causing her to bleed. After her wounds were treated at a local hospital, Lona was confined for six days in the psychiatric ward at the insistence of the El Reno Police Department.


This is rather wonderful. Of course, the Germans will need to practice a little more, whereas English fans' hotels will be littered with abandoned vuvuzelas by now…

These gentlemen from the Berlin Konzerthaus Orchestra are playing Brahms and Ravel.

…smoke in slow suspended skeins

I'm on a Larkin binge at the moment. This annoys me a lot. As a human being, he was basically repulsive. Behind the librarian's façade (Wellington, near Telford; Leicester University; Hull University), writhed a racist, misogynist git - exactly what you'd expect from the son of a man who had a bust of Hitler on his mantelpiece!

But. But, but, but. Virtually none of this appears in the poetry nor, apparently, in his day to day relationships. Does he self-censor, or are his opinions some kind of performance for Kingsley Amis and his other friends?

Here's 'An Arundel Tomb'. The last line is engraved on the headstone of Maeve Brennan, one of the several women with whom he had prickly, uncertain relationships.

An Arundel Tomb
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd —
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
From The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin (Faber&Faber)

Monday, 28 June 2010

You are Uppal but I like you

No, sorry. I know you're all wondering when Paul Uppal MP was going to deign to respond to a letter from a constituent (as is his legal duty). Nada. Zip. Nothing. I was as disappointed as an orphan on Christmas Day to find my e-mail box remained in a state of Uppal-virginity.

Perhaps he's taken a vow of silence. And inactivity (as has his party, which appears not to know that the election's over)

Behold the faces of evil

Peace reigns once more

I watched England in the World Cup for the first time this competition. Obviously many better qualified people than I am will explain how exactly these players managed to lose 4-1 to Germany, but I was surprised. During the Premiership season, we're constantly being told that they're world-class, and sometimes they demonstrate it - but on yesterday's evidence, they're nowhere near Germany, Brazil, Argentina (poor Mexico), The Netherlands and several other teams.

Update: if you want a depressing explanation of why good people are turned off English football, read this excellent and worrying piece by Benjamin.

Here's an explanation for England's 'phantom' goal, sent to me by a German friend who isn't gloating. No sir. Not one bit. No way.

Did I mention that the Daily Mail is evil?

Here's their front page for today, on which Richard Littlejohn compares the Battle of Britain (fought by, amongst others, Polish airmen) to a football match. It feels creepily racist to me. Oh yes, and the 'main' article is an attack on women. As usual.

The Gnomadic lifestyle

Hello everyone. I'm skulking indoors from the relentless searing heat (it's about 26C here), but I didn't skulk at the weekend. 

Instead, the Map Twats dressed up as Gnomes (woolly hat, pipe, waistcoat, belt etc) to travel to a beautiful corner of Shropshire (overlooking High Vinnals, near Ludlow) to celebrate Christine's birthday, and the formal unveiling of the caravan she and James won by writing this song


The Silverline Nova (c. 1980) is a work of unearthly beauty - decorated like a 1970s downstairs lavatory. It is also, under the layers of decoration, a bit of a wreck, despite the best efforts of its proud owners. 

Our hostess

So 30+ people gathered with varying degrees of posh camping equipment. My tent was last used by German friends, so everything was beautifully folded and nothing was missing. I'm less organised, so managed to bring a camera with approximately 10 minutes of battery life. The result is that there are no pictures of the stunning ridge with views for 50 miles in every direction - Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and lots of Wales - or of the amazing sunset and orange moonrise. There are pictures of happy liberals, a deaf sheepdog (which amused itself by chasing the sheep away from their water trough), the caravan, and the buzzards which circled us hopefully and hungrily. I was woken around 5 a.m. by the sound of massive wings flapping around the remains of the barbecue. 

The blue remembered hills of Shropshire

In summertime on Bredon
  The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
  In steeples far and near,
  A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
  My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
  And hear the larks so high
  About us in the sky.
A.E. Housman, 'Bredon Hill'

Into my heart an air that kills
  From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
  What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
  I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
  And cannot come again.
Housman, XL

The deaf sheepdog. Appropriately, Christine teaches sign. 

You can see more excellent photographs by Carolyn, here. Amongst other things, someone launched a Chinese lantern which flew glittering into outer space, or at least near, and a polymath called Matthew who makes fine plum jam and set up a moth box (a powerful light and box to harmlessly attract moths for study: some amazing fluttery things are out there).

Life after academia

Thanks to Adam, for sending me this. My contract runs for another year…


Friday, 25 June 2010

Khaled Said RIP

Egypt is one of the biggest recipients of Western aid, military supplies and support. Lots of people go on holiday there.

It's also a brutal, repressive dictatorship.

This was Khaled Said:

This is Khaled Said too, but dead:

and this is how he got like this:

Numerous witnesses say Khaled Said, 28, died after being kicked and punched by the officers before eventually smashing his head against a marble shelf in an internet cafe on 6 June . Security officials claim Said died of asphyxiation after he swallowed a packet of narcotics hidden under his tongue.
The officers dragged Said into their car and drove off, before returning to dump his body on the street in front of the cafe, the witnesses said.
Human Rights Watch called for the prosecution of the two officers, who remain on active duty. The campaign group also criticised the police investigation and the interior ministry, which accused Said of being a wanted criminal, an accusation his family denies.
"Even if Khaled Said had been wanted, that does not give licence to police to attack and murder him in cold blood," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for the organisation. 
This is what happens if you're a friend of the West - you can do what you want. Just ask any Saudi Arabian woman, Palestinian, Western Saharan or Diego Garcian (and any black South African until the Soviet Union collapsed and the West no longer needed apartheid SA's services) if human rights and democracy are universal.

In the Cameron factory

Is this our fault? We demand robots but enjoy it when they fail to be perfect.

This frightening chap could be Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Milibands 1 and 2, Balls… the whole lot.

It's a Gas…

This is utterly shocking. Neal sent me a video of a new and expanding energy source: pump chemicals down into the water table to extract natural gas. Pay people to do this on their land. Pollute their water supply for ever. Poisoned people, poisoned land.

Watch out for 6.40 minutes in when the guy lights the water coming out of his tap.

Watch the full episode. See more NOW on PBS.

Live in London - save me money!

Despite the constant stream of greenwash, the UK is repeatedly proved to be the dirtiest country in Europe. Despite having abolished heavy industry, coal fires and mining, London in particular breaks all EU regulations about clean air, thanks to its citizens' demand for Chelsea tractors and its political leaders' inaction. After several years of warnings, unlimited fines are about to be imposed.

 A study (pdf) commissioned by Boris Johnson, mayor of London, calculated that more than 4,300 deaths are caused by poor air quality in the city every year, costing around £2bn a year.

But on the plus side, I'll be able to stop sending birthday cards and presents to my sister, cousins and friends a couple of years earlier.

Relive the glory

By watching England v USA in glorious technicolour Lego!
From these guys (I'm guessing), who are gradually recreating every match meticulously.

The return of the music

Where are we up to?

Ah, a couple of the more unfeted bands today: Blaggers ITA and The Blue Aeroplanes. They're quite different, which is why alphabetical order throws up these delicious juxtapositions.

Blaggers ITA were, frankly, a bunch of chancers: sort-of rap rock with a rebel pose: the Abandon Ship EP I have is quite enough, and the theme is joyriding. It's childish and utterly thrilling.

Though I've just looked them up on t'Net, and it seems that they're a dedicated leftwing antifascist Oi band, none of which is apparent from this CD.

And now for something completely different…
The Blue Aeroplanes are a Bristol band who were for a moment hailed as the British REM - sensitive, thoughtful, interesting alternative rock. I was introduced to them by my Bristolian friend Aimee. They're one of those bands I like a lot but don't listen to very often - you have to be in the right mood for them. They've been going since the early 80s - adored by critics, ignored by the great British public.

The two albums I have on CD (several more on vinyl) are Beatsongs from 1991 and Fruit, a 1996 live album. Beatsongs is classic pre-Britpop art rock, all interesting lyrics and gentle tunes, though a few tracks are more muscular, like 'Huh!', and 'Yr Own World' is proper jangly guitar pop. In fact, playing it back now, I'm stunned by how many catchy pop tracks populate this album. Fruit is more mixed - live albums always are, and I wouldn't start from here. The sound's rubbish. 'Surf Classic' and 'Pony Boy' are pretty good though.

Rupert's Bare

… Or, The Emperor Has No Clothes.

Rupert Murdoch has started putting his newspaper sites behind pay walls. As predicted, this has had a wonderful effect: traffic to the sites has halved. People confronted by the registration page head either to the Telegraph (boo) or the Guardian (qualified yay).

It's early days, but this isn't going to be good for News International. They already make a whacking loss on The Times, and without readers, their advertising rates will drop, with no compensation by subscriptions. Result: a better informed public.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Sometimes he did this…

This poem wandered through my pea-sized brain this morning. It's by Simon Armitage, who doesn't use flashy language - the power's in his mastery of tone.

He has a website, with lots of his excellent poetry.

And if it snowed and snow covered the drive
he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night
And slippered her the one time that she lied.
And every week he tipped up half his wage.
And what he didn't spend each week he saved.
And praised his wife for every meal she made.
And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.

And for his mum he hired a private nurse.
And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went from bad to worse.
And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse.

Here's how they rated him when they looked back:
sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that. 

O Frabjous Day! etc

It's been a day of celebrations. Last night, I attended a farewell dinner for a fine colleague and close friend who's leaving The Hegemon. Apparently a rather senior manager remarked in a meeting, in tones of total shock that 'she's going to another job!'. This isn't a comment on my friend's abilities, but on The Hegemon's predilection for sacking large numbers of people.

Today, I went for a cup of tea with one of my wonderful graduands - a mature student who grabbed every opportunity going and has proved the value of education. She's worked hard, had a year abroad in a French university, then returned to submit a mighty fine thesis on Elizabeth Gaskell and, armed with a First Class degree, is off for postgraduate work at the prestigious Shakespeare Institute - and she's not the only one of this year's graduates to follow this route. It's been a brilliant year - lots of excellent students doing very well.

Finally, the real celebration will be later this afternoon. After a mere 5 months of asking, begging, pleading, appealing and praying to higher management and enlisting the support of various bosses and colleagues, our office has been awarded a new printer cartridge of our very own. I've sought this prize with more dedication and hard work than CERN seeks the Higgs Boson.

I'd like to thank God, my family, my friends, my line manager, my colleagues, the bureaucrats and of course all my fans. It's been an emotional and spiritual journey which I'm proud to have shared with all you wonderful people. At last, we can all move forward. Thank you so, so much.

If anyone would like to witness the unveiling and installation of this magnificent bauble, the ceremony commences at 2.00 after I collect it from the administrators.

Why else should we celebrate? It's iPhone 4 day: my friend Christine queued for 3 hours and couldn't buy one, and Australia has a new, Welsh, Labor Party Prime Minister. I liked Kevin Rudd, but he arsed things up fairly spectacularly, and the Aussies don't mess around in politics. I bet Brown wishes he'd been able to defenestrate Blair this easily.

Meanwhile, here's a 1911 Labour poster which sums up the new regime's budget to perfection.

Dara spells it out

I've gone on long enough about pseudo-science and the media's obsession with 'balance' and distorting stories for sensationalist effect.

Ignore me. Listen to Dara. He used to be a physicist. Now he's a comedian who knows how science works. This occurs to me because I listened to a Conservative member of parliament (David Tredinnick) telling the Radio 4 audience that 'homeopathy works' on the basis of 3 very dubious papers - without addressing the many hundreds of scientifically rigorous papers which prove that it doesn't.

Media Corporations are just plain evil

I give you Viacom (via Boing Boing), who tried to sue Google (which owns Youtube) for $1bn+ for copyright infringement. Basically, they wanted Youtube to have lawyers check every single video uploaded before it went live, in case there was anything on there belonging to Viacom.
Viacom's unique interpretation of this statute held that online service providers should review all material before it went live. If they're right, you can kiss every message-board, Twitter-feed, photo-hosting service, and blogging platform goodbye -- even if it was worth someone's time to pay a lawyer $500/hour to look at Twitter and approve tweets before they went live, there just aren't enough lawyers in the universe to scratch the surface of these surfaces. 
YouTube alone gets over 29 hours' worth of video per minute.
Now, it's a bit naughty to put other people's work on Youtube, but they've already been paid, and nobody's making money from uploading their favourite Blackadder joke or pictures of their cats watching snooker.

Viacom itself was behaving rather oddly: while one set of Viacom employees was hunting down Viacom material posted on Youtube, another set of Viacom employees was being paid to upload Viacom material. Then a third set of Viacom employees would send threatening letters to Google about Viacom material posted by the other Viacom employees.
 Filings in the case reveal that Viacom paid dozens of marketing companies to clandestinely upload its videos to YouTube (sometimes "roughing them up" to make them look like pirate-chic leaks). Viacom uploaded so much of its content to YouTube that it actually lost track of which videos were "really" pirated, and which ones it had put there, and sent legal threats to Google over videos it had placed itself.
Youtube seemed to be very keen to act lawfully - sent a list of 100,000 infringing videos, they removed the material within a day. That's good going.

Meanwhile, Viacom's management team were getting rather arrogantly ahead of themselves:
Other filings reveal profanity-laced email exchanges between different Viacom execs debating who will get to run YouTube when Viacom destroys it with lawsuits, and execs who express their desire to sue YouTube because they can't afford to buy the company and can't replicate its success on their own.
The judge has told Viacom to piss off. Their new media reaction:
Viacom has vowed to appeal. 

Geeks are going to love this

I fully expect some of my friends to die of sheer crossover pleasure when they watch this: a mashup of Dr Who and classic 1980s comedy science fiction drama, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

It's done with astonishing fidelity, and love.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

What's Uppal with this bloke?

It's now 6 weeks since I mailed a polite letter to my new MP, Paul Singh Uppal.
I thought he might have replied - as required by law - to a constituent, but decided that he's a bit busy as a new MP keen to make his mark in Parliament. He's certainly not working hard in his constituency - his last blog entry was April 21st 2009!

Er, no. He's voted 9 times in Parliament, four times on the Queen's Speech, three times on the important business of the parliamentary timetable and twice on industry.

Still, he must have made some riproaring speeches in his first 6 weeks?
Er, no. Not a squeak.

Most recent appearances
No data to display.

Perhaps he's beavering away on Select Committees, holding the Executive to account.
Sorry, no. He's voting fodder, collecting his £65,000 and doing sod all.
This MP is not currently on any select or public bill committee and has had no written questions answered for which we know the department or subject. 
Has spoken in 0 debates in the last year — well below average amongst MPs. 
Has received answers to 0 written questions in the last year — below average amongst MPs. 
Is a member of 0 select committees (0 as chair). 


I'm not in the pub watching the football, though I'd quite like a Slovenia win because I like small unpretentious countries.

I'm in the office with my departing colleague. She, with breathtaking demonstration of her highbrow cultural status, has just announced that 'Daniel Defoe' has scored.

Update: so England beat 2 million population Slovenia 1-0. Well done. The US go through too. And I've watched the latest Dr Who open-mouthed in admiration. Top quality drama.


This is a fascinating one:

A Swedish couple have decided to avoid gender stereotyping by hiding their baby's sex from everybody: an asexual name, male and female clothing, no sexually-identifying pronouns. It's not clear how much the child will be told about its sex and gender.

Here in the world of gender studies, we've long ago accepted that sex and gender aren't the same thing: sex is biology and gender is culture, so it doesn't seem that big an issue in philosophical terms.

However, a lot of people are quite upset because sex is one of the major ways in which we divide the world, for good or ill. We treat people differently according to how we perceive their genders, from clothing to conversational gambits to sexual advances.

Would you do this to/for your child? I'm quite impressed. The gender lines we draw are so arbitrary. Perhaps effacing the cultural signs of gender will make for a balanced, open child and adult. On the other hand, if the rest of the world continues to divide along gender lines, it's going to suffer: choosing which toilet to use, for example. Things will get really interesting (or awful) when the child develops sexually, and has to confront the difference between sex and gender.

Is this experiment child abuse? I'm really torn. On the one hand, I am postmodern enough to admire the attempt, but I can only see unhappiness for this individual because of the fact that the rest of humanity, even in enlightened Sweden, won't be in the same position.

…a certain manchester megastore

Frank Sidebottom, who died a couple of days ago, also ran The Freshies. This was their biggest success:

The band's biggest-selling 45 was I'm in Love With the Girl On the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk – retitled I'm in Love With the Girl On a Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk, after complaints from the Virgin boss Richard Branson – which reached No 54 in February 1981. It was a typically playful offering, entirely in keeping with Sievey's wilful sense of the absurd. Other songs included I Can't Get Bouncing Babies By the Teardrop Explodes and If You Really Love Me, Buy Me a Shirt.

Cybele's Reverie

I was lying in bed last night listening to Stereolab's Emperor Tomato Ketchup album (mmm… French Marxists playing a mix of 60s pop and German motorik) and it triggered a real madeleine moment.

I was transported back to my favourite student room in Bangor. It was accessed by some precipitous stairs, through a trapdoor and into the roofspace. I'm quite short, but even I could only stand in the middle of the room thanks to the steeply sloping roof. A skylight afforded a great view of the yachts' masts in the harbour, and the mountains. On windy nights, the yachts' bells and ringing created a beautifully, unearthly sound.

All I had in there was a bed and a chest of drawers containing two pairs of black jeans, two black shirts and a black leather bikers' jacket. Books and records were piled up against the limited wall space. By the bed was my 1970s record player and unutterably crap speakers, reachable without having to crawl out from under the duvet. Black and red Doctor Martens boots were tucked into the corner. Black clothes, DMs, very long hair and extreme slimness - what a stereotypical student.


The records which were on constant rotation were classics of the 90s: The Boo Radleys' Giant Steps, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's wonderful 10" Patio (pop-psychedelic Welsh-language teenage genius) and Elastica by Elastica. I have two copies of that - I fell out of bed and the crash scratched the first track. I'm still sad about that, but it meant that I could legitimately order the US release which has an extra track on it. Elastica did good specials: 'Stutter' is on a 10" transparent gold platter with glitter scattered inside. My tastes widened, but I still think these albums have stood the test of time.

On a quiet morning, I could lift the needle on something cool, grab a book - often some critical theory or a fat 18th-century novel like Pamela, feed biscuits to the mice which played at the foot of the bed and settle in for a day's indulgence.

That was my second year at university. Later on, when I came back for an MA, I moved back into the same dark, musty, cosy house. My room had been declared unsafe for accommodation (trapdoors and drunkenness don't mix) so I paid an extra £5 a week rent (making the total £38 per week) to use it as a library, books ranged in endless rows. Unfortunately, one of my dubious Irish housemates left the skylight open in a rainstorm and damaged huge numbers of them - totally unapologetically.

I loved living in that house. Surrounded by freaks, hamsters, guinea pigs, a tarantula, hugely stoned juggling goths, a Swedish psychopath and assorted weirdos all finding each other highly amusing. The next year was another story entirely…

Well done 'England'!

Away from the soccer World Cup, 'England' played Australia at one-day cricket yesterday, and won.

I say 'England' because it's technically England and Wales, and because a large number of the players aren't actually English, Welsh or British. Taking a leaf out of the Irish soccer playbook of the 1980s-1990s, 'England's' team consists largely of Zimbabweans, South Africans and various others (Strauss, Pietersen, Kieswetter…). Amongst them is an Irishman, Eoin Morgan, who qualifies simply because he's played county cricket in England and wanted to join the élite (never mind that the Ireland team he abandoned is a rising star).

Morgan won the game for 'England' last night. There will not, I suspect, be street parties in Ireland in his honour.

Watching England v Slovenia this afternoon? 0-0 draw, I feel.

Keep saying it and maybe we'll all believe it

'We're all in this together' is the Chancellor's mantra. He, like most of his Cabinet colleagues, is a multimillionaire.

He delivered his first budget yesterday. Do his decisions reflect our collective sharing of the burden?

Er, no.

Losers - us
Pay freezes in the public sector, regardless of inflation = pay cuts.
VAT up to 20% - this will hit the poor hardest.
Housing benefit capped at £400 per week for 4 bedroom houses, £280 per week for 1-bed. This sounds like a lot, but if you live in London or one of the more expensive cities, this is way less than the going rate. Currently in London, a 1-bedroom flat will cost you a minimum of £650. So if you're made unemployed, or you're a low earner, you are going to be made homeless.

The government's promise to cap housing payments at £280 a week for a one-bedroom property and £400 a week for a four-bedroom family home could make many properties unaffordable, especially for people in areas such as inner London.
Shelter's chief executive, Campbell Robb, said nearly half of tenants already found their housing benefit payments did not cover the rent. Most benefit claimants were pensioners and low paid workers, and many would end up in debt in an attempt to remain in their property.
Robb said: "If this support is ripped out suddenly from under their feet it will push many households over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness."

Government department funding cut by 25% - e.g. services massively cut. Except for nuclear weapons.
Child benefit frozen = effective cut
Pensions linked to CPI not RPI = effective cut
National Insurance contributions - increased. Just another tax, as it's not ringfenced for pensions.
Sure Start maternity grant for poor mothers - abolished
Pregnancy health grant - abolished

The Winners
Capital Gains Tax up from 18% to 28% - speculation is still taxed at far less than income, so if you become a rackrent landlord rather than working at a normal job, you'll be highly rewarded for your attack on the community. Oh, and the first £5m is exempt for 'entrepreneurs', which is totally disgraceful. Still, the hedge fund traders will be happy.
Corporation Tax reduced 1% for each of the next four years. This stunned me. This really is evil. While the poor (see above) pay more and more, big business gets tax cuts to 'encourage investment'. This is, obviously, utter bullshit. They operate offshore, they avoid tax anyway, and they won't invest in this country, they'll pocket the extra cash. I'm toweringly angry about this one.

So in the end, it was a classic 1980s Thatcherite budget: more cash to business and the rich, paid for by cutting the services we all want and need. Fuck the poor, Up the Toffs.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

It's all just hot air

I'm off now, but I thought I'd settle an argument before I go.

I'm really bored with endless aggressive arguments between talking heads on TV about climate change. Proper scientists make the case for anthropogenic climate change (i.e. we did it). Then the presenter turns to some unqualified loon (e.g. Nigel Lawson, disastrous Tory Chancellor, degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, who has set up a skeptic thinktank) or a retired professor in a non-climate change subject) and treats them as though they know what they're talking about.

Usually, it's 'global warming is a huge leftwing conspiracy', though the purpose and practicalities are never spelled out. How do you get tens of thousands of socially-awkward nerds to agree to a massive plot?

Anyway, those days should now be over, thanks to the sterling work of Anderegg, Prall, Harold and Schneider of Stanford University, who have published a paper analysing the climate science debate.

Their findings:
1. There isn't a balanced debate to be had, which will be news to, well, news organisations. 97-98% of climate science researchers who actively publish peer-reviewed papers believe on scientific grounds that we've altered the climate through human activity.
2. These researchers have massively more academic credibility and experience than the tiny group who oppose the theory. They publish more, they publish more in peer-reviewed journals and they've been working in the field more.

So there we have it. There's no conspiracy, just a hugely overwhelming amount of data collected by serious scientists on one side, and some ideologically-motivated morons on the other: morons who don't have the courage to submit their ideas to scrutiny by their peers, but prefer to rush to the airwaves.

Let's just get on with mitigation and reduction. Perhaps while we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, the media can wean itself of pointless confrontational arguments and learn a little bit about science.