Friday, 30 July 2010

Attention, university authorities

The Hegemon has just fiddled with the website. XKCD could have been viewing it as he drew this. Larger version here.

David Blunkett, Eat Your Heart Out

Santa's been. The new Arcade Fire LP The Suburbs, Jonathan Lethem's physics'n'literary theory novel As She Climbed Across The Table (currently being filmed by Cronenburg), and a t-shirt, designed by Ben as a birthday present from him and Jo and delivered beautifully packaged.

What does it say?
It invites the Conservative Party to vigorously procreate. In Braille.

What do women want?

Apparently, skills, according to Rocky and Balls.
This is pure unrelenting filth, with ukulele. It's so damn catchy.

It's just not cricket

The 'England'-Pakistan Test match is a thriller, swinging all over the place.

Yesterday Welshman Alastair Cook made 8, South African former England captain Kevin Pietersen made a magnificent 9, while South African Andrew Strauss made 45 for Blighty. They were followed by South African Jonathan Trott, who managed 38. Englishman Paul Collingwood scored an excellent 82, while Irish turncoat Eoin Morgan made the majority of 'England's' runs with a brilliant 130. The tail (South African Matt Prior, drink-driving Englishman Graeme Swann, Englishmen Stuart Broad, Anderson and Finn) made an astonishing 11 runs between them.

So game on for the Pakistanis then - all of whom are from Pakistan - you'd think. Except that Jimmy Anderson's bowled the first two very cheaply (Butt 1 - 1 more run than Anderson managed, Farhat 19) and the other 'England' bowlers are playing magnificently. Anything could happen now.

Over-by-over coverage here.

Correction/update: Pakistan's leading batsmen are playing like 'England's' tail: they're on 41-4 and in terrible trouble (though the last wicket was a terrible mistake by the umpire)

You spin me right round

Politicians think they're very clever.
They also think we're not very clever and can't do joined-up thinking.

A case in point. The new government doesn't like taxes or public services, so they've come up with a cunning plan: if your local government wants to put local taxes up, they'll have to hold a referendum (not if they want to cut taxes, you'll notice).

They wheeled out Sontaran Eric Pickles to talk about this stunningly boring but important subject on the Today programme on Radio 4.

Eric Pickles


Unfortunately, little Eric decided to wax lyrical about democracy and referenda, as you can hear on this MP3 recording. He even evoked Winston Churchill on the joys of democracy.

Here are the key quotes:
'it's up to you, you decide'.
'we think it's important as part of the Big Society that decisions are made locally'
'I'm quite in favour of local people making local decisions…I don't see a problem in referendums… we can have a decision on all kind of things… It's part of a package of measures of passing things locally'.

But. But, but but but but but but.
It's only a couple of days since I wrote about the Academies Bill, Clause 3, Amendment 8. It asked the government to hold a referendum of parents whenever a school applies to become an Academy. My Scarlet Pimpernel MP Paul Uppal, and all his Tory colleagues, voted against this simple and relevant democratic proposal. He also voted against a simpler clause to compel schools to consult parents.

(On a wonderful related note, the Tory Scum announced a couple of weeks ago that 1000+ schools had applied to become Academies. Today's news reveals that in reality, only, er 153 actually did so: either they're Lying Tory Scum or the Secretary of State for Education is in fact hugely innumerate).

I feel another letter coming on.

Dear Mr Pickles and Mr. Gove,
I listened with fascination to Mr. Pickles on Radio 4's Today programme (30th July 2010), extolling the joys of local democracy and referenda, with specific reference to 'The Big Society' and Council Tax.
Mr Pickles also stated on a video ( that
"This is a radical extension of direct democracy, as part of a wider programme of decentralising power to local communities. Power should not just be given to councils, but be devolved further down to neighbourhoods and citizens."Given the new government's enthusiasm for local democracy, could you please explain to me why your government and its parliamentary supporters (including my MP, Mr Paul Uppal) voted against the amendments in the Academies Bill calling for (respectively) referenda or 'consultation' with parents and other interested parties prior to an application?
Mr Pickles was very persuasive on the reasons why ministers in London should surrender authority: why is it therefore the government's policy that a headteacher can decide alone whether to apply for Academy status, and the Secretary of State for Education's decision alone on whether to accept the application?
Is this a case of democracy when it's convenient and autocracy when it isn't? I notice, too, that there's no provision for Council Tax referenda when reductions are proposed. 
[Plashing Vole]

Revenge of the Son of the Friday Conundrum

It's a commonplace of structuralism that naming something gives it meaning. Cat = not dog, not rat, not mat and not sat, amongst other things. Names exist in networks which give them meaning.

Later theory says that words, and names, don't 'mean' anything: look up 'cat' and it gives you a whole load of other words which you have to look up, ad infinitum.

Psychoanalytic theory says that without a name, you don't exist. More exactly, without language, you can't say 'I'. Therefore you aren't an autonomous individual with expressible desires. Where do you get your name from? From your parents. They impose identity upon you and you become part of the social system as an individual. Before that, you're just a lump of flesh undifferentiated from the rest of the world.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that names are important. How can you talk about something if you can't name it? It becomes unspeakable, and therefore incomprehensible.

Or does it? I have a little task for you, my children. Last night, in the pub (of course), Emma made this.

We all recognised it. None of us could name it. We couldn't remember it having a name - yet we all played with them in school, in Britain and in Ireland - we think it's global.

So - tell me what it's called. Ask your friends, or point them here. Tell us what messages you wrote on the inside, what songs you chanted as you played, but most of all - name it.

My theory is that the lack of a name is intimately linked to the game. It's a rudimentary introduction to both chance and fate. Before the final flap is listed, the players and the audience exist in a state of epistemological liminality: you don't know what's going to happen. It's like quantum physics: all the messages are possible until you choose one. In a state of knowing nothing, the lack of a name is entirely appropriate.

So fly, my pretties. Close down the radical instability by bringing me a name.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Another triumph for the Soaraway Sun and the Daily Hate Mail

Pretty much the worst thing you can do to a committed political protestor is accuse them of hypocrisy or fraud. Their credibility's out of the window. They lose supporters and all hope of convincing people of the justice of their cause.

Parameswaran Subramanyam is a young Tamil who went on hunger strike in London, accusing the British authorities of ignoring the Sri Lankan government's heavily-documented human rights abuses. 

Obviously, the Mail and the Sun hate brown people, refugees and troublemakers, and Subramanyam is all three of these. So they concocted articles claiming that he was actually filmed by the police scoffing burgers when people weren't looking. He lost all credibility and was treated as a traitor by the Tamil people (though why they trusted these papers is beyond me). He even received death threats

Where did the story come from? It's hard to imagine that a journalist - even on these newspapers - would just make it up, so I assume they simply took dictation from a Sri Lankan government spin doctor. 

Both newspapers have just had to admit that the stories were entirely untrue and pay up in court. He wasn't guzzling burgers and the police didn't film him doing anything - there wasn't any surveillance. 

I'm just stunned that they would commit such nakedly ideological breaches of journalistic integrity, even now. Sure, lazy mistakes and biased articles are their specialities, but to make up something this serious, something pandering to the racist fantasies of their readers is a disgrace.

I'm Louis Theroux. I'm Louis Theroux and his wry smile at the orgy.

I should just erase myself from the scene. Bloody Mitchell looks like me, sounds like me, dresses like me and expresses my frustrations far, far better than me. This is really worth watching.

Whose city?

No sooner do I buy a book about the privatisation of our urban space than this story pops up: Londoners will lose access to 60 miles of road during the Olympics, to provide exclusive lanes for Olympic athletes, officials… and 'marketing partners'.

I'm all for getting athletes and officials to their competitions on time - I'm hoping to be involved with the fencing in some way - but allowing salesmen and advertising shills to lord it over the citizens makes me think of 'democratic' Russia's special lanes for the Soviet ruling classes, a habit that hasn't yet died. I'm also horrified that organisations such as McDonald's are permitted to become 'partners'.

I hope London's drivers, pedestrians and cyclists ignore this disgraceful insult to citizens and taxpayers. Rebel!

The 'marketers' can travel in blimps. They already look down on us.

Damn you, Cynical Ben

I've fallen off the book diet in a big way, thanks to Cynical Ben's recommendations. I've just received several parcels. They're second-hand, but that's not the point.

Oh well - I'll not buy any next week. Ahem.

Anna Minton's Ground Control - about the fight for public space between citizens, local authorities and corporation;
Maggie Gee's The Burning Bush (ex-Hegemon, kids);
Paul Murray's Skippy Dies - a comic-dark tale of Irish adolescence;
A. S. Byatt's A Whistling Woman;
Henry Sutton's scabrous take on Blair's Britain, Thong Nation.

Plus Gruff Rhys's latest CD, The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness; Treeless Plain, In The Pines, Calenture and Born Sandy Devotional by The Triffids, and Kristin Hersh's Hips and Makers. Mmmmmelancholic. Last night I listened to Emma Pollock's latest, which grows stronger and stronger (and is clearly a break-up album), the new Paradise Motel, which turns out to be a meditation about Australia through the lens of the Dingo Baby story, and The Other Two's The Other Two and You, which is brilliant: a bit like St. Etienne in that they use shiny happy pop-dance to express the sadness and emptiness of our lives.


Firstly, a massive happy birthday to Cynical Ben. He's a git, but he's my git. It's also Zoot Horn's birthday - the coolest man in the Black Country.

Secondly, huge thanks to Ewar and Dan. They ran a sweepstake on the World Cup, and I won - despite not supporting Spain. They just called in with my prize, and I must say that they've done themselves proud. Everything a gentleman-about-town might want is in the box - a shoe box decorated with Panini World Cup stickers -  (or, everything Ewar and Dan didn't want). Plus an England flag.

(They apparently have a great new 'project' in the pipeline, so look out for it).

The Loon, by Tapes n Tapes
The Dead 60s by The Dead 60s
The Killers' Sam's Town
About What You Know by Little Man Tate
The Best of the Secret Policeman's Ball Part 2 (from The Guardian)
A Stereophonics sampler from The Sun, packaged in a West Midlands Police recruitment box.
A Daily Mail cover-mounted DVD of Relative Values, a notoriously bad film.
DVDs of John Motson's Greatest Ever Matches of Football and Mark and Lard's Football Nightmares
Graham Betts' Greatest Moments of Football book ('22 of the Classic Moments of FOOTBALL')
A. M. Homes's This Book Will Save Your Life
Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth
H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds
Naked Camera 3 DVD
Paddy McGuinness Live DVD ('Free Ringtone worth £3 - SEE INSIDE FOR DETAILS')
Gary Lineker's Favourite Football Stories (perhaps my favourite)
and a packet of table tennis balls. Of course.

Ben is going to be sooooo jealous. I'm a fortunate man.

Academic millionaires

This is what some American shock-jock thinks:
You go to UC Berkeley, you go to Stanford, you go to these various campuses and these students are out there protesting, "We need more money for our schools!" And standing next to them are the professors. "We need more money for our schools!" Hey, have you ever asked that professor how much money they're making every year? These professors are all millionaires. They're millionaires with big, big salaries and big, big retirement packages. And yet they dress like little schmoes, you know, with their crummy jackets [Officer Vic: Patches on the elbow.] that are twenty years old, yeah, and patches on the elbow. And their ties are askew and their hair's kinda crappy and they drive crummy little cars and they're millionaires. They're all millionaires! And they actually have the gall to stand next to the kids who are protesting because their fees are too high. "We need more money for our schools!" So you can pay these millionaires!
I've never met one. I have a good, middle-class wage - not enough to raise a mortgage yet, a temporary contract, and years of no savings thanks to the extra degrees we have to do.

Nuts to you!

Budgens, a small supermarket chain, is selling squirrel meat as delicious, nutritious, sustainable and a good way to deal with vermin.

He's absolutely right. The Map Twats dined on free range squirrel a couple of years ago, acquired from Neal's garden. It was fat-free and tasty, though it could have hung for longer. We roasted it with a little salt and pepper. If we did it again, I'd serve one squirrel per person - there's less meat than on a rabbit.

Of course, I'd really love to try red squirrel, but there are only 5 of them left, so that would be a little unkind. Oh well. Koala next. Juicy, tender, easy to catch.


Distracting me from work today will be England v. Pakistan cricket, live here. There's an extra edge to it, thanks to Tory Scum David Cameron's decision to stand up in hated neighbouring India and shout 'Pakistanis are all terrorists ner ner ner' (I paraphrase, but that's roughly the gist of it).

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Joined-up government, no 985.

David Cameron: we're going to make this the 'greenest government ever'.
Caroline Spelman: we're going to be the 'greenest government ever'.

They've already axed the Sustainable Development Commission.
What's next?

Energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, said: "Electric and low-carbon cars are fun to drive and essential to meet our climate targets. That's why we'll need a massive increase in the number of electric and clean green cars on our roads. Because this is new technology the government needs to step in to kick-start the market, which is why today's initiative is vital."

Oh yes: cut the grants for electric vehicles from £230m to £43m. That's an 80% cut. That'll really encourage people to buy electric.

Greenest. Government. Ever.

And another MP seeks enlightenment

Either that, David Cameron looking for ideas, or Paul Uppal's getting twitchy. Paul: stop reading and get writing!

94.60.38.# (Houses of Parliament)
ISP Houses of Parliament

In non-Uppal news…

I seem to be listening exclusively to Australian bands at the moment. I just received Australian Ghost Story, the seductively creepy new album by The Paradise Motel, one of the Antipodean dark chamber-pop groups I love so much. It's gorgeous - especially 'My Sister in '94', though not as instant as their previous albums. I'm just glad they're back. I imported the CD from Oz, but you can get it on itunes. If only they'd tour the UK.

This is 'Brown Snake', from the new album:

Here's 'Heavy Weather' (some kind of 'mix', but you can't have everything) and 'Watch Illuminum' from their previous work:

That led me to The Triffids, the progenitors of melancholy Cobber-Pop. Then on to the Australian supergroup, Blackeyed Susans, populated by Triffids, Go-Betweens and all sorts. then off to Hydroplane (a huge favourite of mine) and related bands The Cat's Miaow and Huon - and not a soap star between them.

Now Uppal's taking the mickey

His latest question in Parliament:
What measures is the Deputy Prime Minister taking to tackle postal voting fraud, which particularly affected me during the last general election?
Er… no evidence that he's reported anything to the police or that there was any fraud. Certainly nothing in the local paper.

Only two people have been arrested for voting fraud in the area recently: both Conservatives.

I feel another letter coming on.

Dear Paul Uppal,
I notice that you asked the Deputy Prime Minister to take action on voting fraud, claiming that your vote in the general election suffered as a result of fraud. You also raised this matter in your maiden speech.
Can you make your evidence public?  What makes you think you have suffered from voting fraud? Have you reported this to the police? If not, why not?
A search of local newspapers and the web reveals no indication of concerns from other sources, no statement from you on this matter, and no report that the police are investigating fraud in Wolverhampton South West.
The nearest instance of voting fraud I can find is the conviction of 2 Conservatives in Walsall.
I'm sure you'll understand that making unsupported statements while not taking concrete steps undermines your credibility.
Yours sincerely, [Plashing Vole]

Come on Simon, where were you?

Simon Armitage was on Newsnight yesterday evening, talking about his Pennine Way walk (here, about 42 minutes in). No indication that he got lost on his way to us, but it's good to know that he didn't fall down a mine shaft or get lost.

I bet Roger McGough keeps his word.

Let Me Die a Youngman's Death

Let me die a youngman's death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I'm 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I'm 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber's chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I'm 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman's death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
'what a nice way to go' death

Wrapping it all Uppal

Without wishing to sound melodramatic, I lay awake in bed last night, unable to stop thinking about the Local Referendums Bill, Clause 3, Amendment 8.

Obviously, as you know, this is the one in which a Labour MP suggested that parents be allowed to vote on whether their child's school becomes an Academy or not. It seems to me a classic way of instituting the Big Society (i.e. fewer top-down Big Government decisions) on which David Cameron's so keen.

But: all the Tory MP's voted against! They actually decided that when it comes to massive decisions about children's education, they didn't want parents to be consulted in any way. This enrages me. It exposes their talk about citizen empowerment as utter lies.

So I wrote to my AWOL MP again, this time via I also took the opportunity to pose again the questions he's ignored since May 5th. Let's see if he's any more receptive this time…

Dear Paul Uppal,
I wrote to you via your contact details on your website (not updated since early 2009) to congratulate you on your election and to ask for a few biographical details - no response since early May. I list my questions below this letter.

I note too that details of your surgeries are listed nowhere on the web, yet you claim in one speech to have 'consulted' constituents - how? When and where are your surgeries, and how many have you held?

Firstly, however, I'd like to ask for your comments on your vote in the Local Referendums Bill, Clause 3 - Application for Academy Order - Amendment 8.

I was under the impression that you, like all Conservatives, were elected on a ticket of greater democracy, more citizen involvement in government, and less state intervention (the 'Big Society').

Why, then, did you vote against allowing parents to have a say on whether their schools should become Academies or not? As far as I can see, the application is made by the principal of a school with no requirement to consult anybody, and the decision rests solely with the Secretary of State for Education. This is hardly democratic: it silences the voices of those most affected by your party's plans.

Yours sincerely,

[Plashing Vole]

Questions from previous e-mail:
Dear Paul,
congratulations on your election - I'm one of your constituents.
Could you give me further details on your profile please? The candidate pages are rather vague. I'd particularly like to know:
your educational history
what businesses you run and have run
how long you have held a Wolverhampton Wanderers season ticket
whether you live in the constituency
what political posts you have held previously
what political parties and pressure groups you have been/are a member of.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Uppal Yours, parents!

Uppal's been acting as voting fodder again, specifically helping to ram through the anti-democratic Academy Schools bill.

He voted yes:
to the proposal that the most radical and wide-ranging education legislation in 60 years be rushed through both Houses in 3 days - to cut down on embarrassing debate.

He voted against amendments to:
make schools consult parents, pupils, teachers and local authorities to work out what the effect on social cohesion might be in taking schools out of community hands;
make schools stick to the Code of Admissions (i.e. not become discriminatory/selective);
make schools institute compulsory 'personal, health and social education' classes
make schools hold a referendum of pupils' parents before becoming academies: apparently it doesn't matter what parents think.

He also voted against a rule that an extra school be opened only if there's a shortage of places, so that existing schools don't suffer financially if some loony wants to open their own place.

He also voted to abolish Child Trust Funds, one of Labour's great anti-poverty measures.

What an arse.

So much for the Big Society! Farewell local democracy! There's money in the air, and it's not for you, peasants.

I despair.

So ronery…

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that some naughty people had nicknamed our aloof, grand (and not-very-good) Vice-Chancellor Kim Jong-*****. I meant to post the lyrics to Team America's 'So Ronery', which really do evoke the loneliness of command far removed from reality in an institution wounded by incompetence:

I'm So Ronery
So ronery
So ronery and sadry arone 

There's no one
Just me onry
Sitting on my rittle throne 
I work rearry hard and make up great prans
But nobody ristens, no one understands
Seems like no one takes me serirousry 

And so I'm ronery
A rittle ronery
Poor rittle me 

There's nobody
I can rerate to
Feel rike a bird in a cage 
It's kinda sihry
But not rearry
Because it's fihring my body with rage 

I'm the smartest most crever most physicarry fit
But nobody else seems to rearize it
When I change the world maybe they'll notice me 
But until then I'rr just be ronery
Rittle ronery, poor rittle me

I'm so ronery 

Tony Hayward's Silver Tongue

Tony Hayward, you may remember, was the CEO of BP until today. Following the sterling work of Lord Browne (abandoning renewables, tightening the financial ship by cutting back on safety and investing in disgusting shale recovery, before being forced out for committing perjury in a bid to hide his sex life - now hired by the Tory Scum to sack thousands of civil servants), Hayward oversaw BPs forays into outsourcing, negligence, safety violations and explosions, before triumphing with his conversion of the Gulf of Mexico into a greasy, dead pit.

Early on in the unfolding drama, he muttered 'I want my life back', which coincidentally may have been the last thoughts of several million fish, birds and other lifeforms. Then he was photographed out yachting while local fishermen were confined to port.

Finally, he resigned.
Not, one should add, with good grace, but with a quite incredible degree of chutzpah - or brazen cheek, supported by his successor (qualification: American):
I think BP's response to this tragedy has been a model of good social corporate responsibility.
His exit was in the best interests of BP because he had been demonised by the Gulf accident, he explained, adding that he might be "too busy" to attend future US hearings into the disastrous Gulf oil spill.
Too busy, we gather, spending the £11 million he's walking away with. 

Diamonds and Rust

Finally, I took a few pictures of hydrangeas and rusting metal in the rain yesterday, just to see what I could get out of them. I like images of decay - must go back to Manchester and roam the back streets near the centre, they're packed with decaying Victorian architecture.

More here.

Click on these for larger images. And play 'Sheets of Rain' by the Blackeyed Susans while you look at them.

Rain on hydrangea

Rain on washing line

Rain on spider's web

Kingdom of Rust

Change and decay

Raindrops on hydrangea, redux.

Waiting for Simon

On Saturday, we struggled up a huge hill to wait for Simon Armitage, who'd arranged to picnic with us on his route along the Pennine Way (by struggle, I mean that Ben and Dan walked; Jo and I drove there after a (separate) lie-in).

We met in a pub car-park with a panoramic view, at the top of a long, steep climb up from Littleborough, the White House at Blackstone Edge. As we chatted in the sun, vintage motorcycles on a run zoomed passed us at intervals, as did heroic cyclists, including one woman grinding her way up on a hand-cranked recliner bike - astonishing. Amongst the bikers, cyclists and insane boy racers were sheep.

The Map Twats plus Jack and Rod, the very sociable other poetry fans, drank excellent beer, ate chips, made progressively nastier comments about the errant poet, and I took a few pictures, mostly of a very greedy bee. Rest here.

Did Simon Armitage ever turn up, as pre-arranged with 'his people'. No, he bloody didn't. When it's published, I'll go to a book shop, look up his excuse for that day, then put it back on the shelf, unbought.

Overlooking Littleborough and Rochdale

It's poetic Oop North

As I may have mentioned, the Map Twats went to pretty Mytholmroyd on Friday, to hear Simon Armitage read his fine poetry. I took some pictures of those innocent days, before he stood us up. Rest of the shots are here.

Crag overlooking the village

The poet declaims

Poet reflected in ceiling tile

I played with the colour for this one.

Everything was illuminated.

Larking about

OK, they're not larks. They're house martins, nesting above my bedroom window at the old parental homestead (which is why everything's upside down). They're just so fast, it's hard to get a decent picture. These three are the best, and the other three are here. Click on them for a larger image.

Day Tripper

I went to Biddulph Grange garden with Imaginary Friend a couple of weeks ago. It's a stunning 'global' garden built by a scumbag mine-owner creationist in the 19th century. He landscaped the grounds of his house (now luxury flats "inexplicably and tastefully re-modelled by the current owners"!) so that it was ingeniously divided into separate areas populated by flora from different continents, to stunning effect - the Chinese garden is amazing, even featuring a 'Great Wall of China'. There's also a (damaged) pavilion of fossils and geology, designed to persuade you of the literal truth of Creationism. Did you know that God created ferns so that they could become coal for us, while Orchids came later, to soothe and please man after his exertions (i.e. mining?).

Click on these pictures for larger versions, and the rest are here. The gardens are really well worth visiting. You won't believe you're in Stoke-on-Trent! Pictures taken on IF's lovely new Canon - I didn't have mine with me.

Feel the irony

There's a strike on down south. A very small group of people have withdrawn their labour in a dispute over pay. Only one person, Christine McGee, is scabbing, selling out her erstwhile comrades.

So what, you may ask?

In a delicious irony, these workers are tour guides at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum. Tol-what? Only the venue, 175 years ago, in which six heroic farm workers were deported to Australia for forming a trades union, kicking off nationwide protest.

How revolting that management of such an institution should behave in the same way as the authorities back in the day.
 McGee, however, said she was happy to continue to show people around the court. She said: "I find this extremely boring. It is up to the other guides to decide what they want to do. We are all individuals."
How ironic, too, that McGee has signally failed to understand the Martyrs' point, despite explaining it to visitors day in, day out. Shame on her.

Solidarity with the New Tolpuddle Martyrs!

Even stopped clocks tell the time correctly twice a day

You may have noticed that I think David Cameron is Tory Scum No. 1. I yield to no-one in my distaste for this overfed, arrogant, pompous child of privilege.

Yet he said two things today which I applaud.
"Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."
When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a Nato ally ... I believe it's just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent."

Turkey's continued exclusion from the EU is a disgrace. There are huge challenges before that state should be allowed into the union - in particular, its army's repeated habit of deposing governments it doesn't like and the Kurds' repression - but Germany, France and other nations use these issues as a fig-leaf for simple anti-Islamism. This predates the recent troubles, and stems from the assumption that now-secular Europe is founded on broadly Christian principles. I don't know if this was once true, but it certainly shouldn't be now.

Turkey's hugely important strategically - bordering most of the countries the West has invaded over the past century or so, friendly with Iran and (increasingly less so) Israel - and ever more significant economically. Time to widen the borders.

Uppal and about again!

Someone may have tipped off Paul Uppal that I'm looking for him in the ether: somebody from the Houses of Commons spent 21 minutes looking at my entries about the great man.

194.60.38.# (Houses of Parliament)
ISP Houses of Parliament
Visit Entry Page
Visit Exit Page http://plashingvole....rch/label/paul uppal
Out Click Someone else

Let's hope he learns some manners now.

Cricket conundrum: update

I asked about cricketers still playing after 20 years: we came up with Andy Flower, Shaun Udall, Mark Ramprakash, Cork and Croft. How about Darren Bicknell (who retired in 2006 but came back)? Any more?

Story time

Well, it is for me: I came back from seeing Jo and Ben loaded with books Ben either thought I'd like, or wanted to get rid of (he's ruthless, that man).

Here goes:
Light Years and The Flood, by Maggie Gee.
Tibbott's Welsh Fare.
Wolfgang Flür's memoir of his years in Kraftwerk, I Was A Robot.
A selection of forgotten weirdo Llewelyn Powys's writings (his brothers T F and John Cowper were similarly odd - mystical, philosophical, experimental writers - highly recommended, and it's time for a revival).
Sir Ifor Evans's 1940 A Short History of English Literature in a beautiful 1958 Pelican-Penguin edition.
William Taubman's biography of that cunning peasant Kruschchev.
A 1930s recipe book: 100 Ways of Using Marmite.
A 1985 hardcover edition of Douglas Adams's So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish.
Finally, a better edition than mine of T. F. Powys's gently subversive death allegory, Mr. Weston's Good Wine.

Talking of Douglas Adams, here's part one of his prophetic BBC documentary, Hyperland. Go here for 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Resit to save your sanity

No doubt this study is far more complex (and flawed) than the popular media are claiming, but this time I'll take the headlines: the longer you spend in education, the more likely it is that you'll avoid or delay the onset of dementia.
These findings published in the Advanced Access online edition of the journal Brain on July 26 confirm a decade of past studies that have also concluded more schooling equals a decreased risk of suffering from dementia, defined as the "loss of intellectual functions" including memory, orientation, calculation, language, attention and thinking.

According to a July 24 University of Cambridge announcement, "each additional year of education" decreases your risk of developing dementia by 11 percent.

Brilliant. I did four degrees, and took my time doing them - BA in three years, MA over two, PhD over a rather longer period (I was teaching, OK?) and a PGCE. And, of course, I work in education.

The alternative answer is that we all have heart attacks from stress, smoking and alcohol abuse before dementia gets its chance…

For the rest of you - either fail and repeat a few years at university, or get back to school!

Uppal where the air is clear

Well, it's three months since I wrote to Paul Uppal, my new MP, with a few polite and relevant questions. No reply yet.

In that time, the government has managed to attack the poor, the sick, the young and the old. It's begun the privatisation of the NHS and education, withdrawn environmental and food protection, reduced benefits and cut taxes for its business friends. Whatever you think of their actions, you can't accuse the Tory Scum and their Lib Dem little helpers of laziness.

What's Uppal done? 30 short lines of self-serving speeches in the Commons. No surgeries, no updates about his activity, no Bills proposed, no committees joined, no questions asked.

He must be exhausted.

Meanwhile, another Tory Scum MP is in trouble for speaking his mind. Rory Stewart, previously trumpeted as the role model for aristocracy (Eton, Sandhurst, Kosovo, Foreign Office, deputy governor of an Iraqi province, tutor to the idiot princes, Harvard professor), has this to say about his own constituents:

"Some areas around here are pretty primitive, people holding up their trousers with bits of twine and that sort of thing.
"I was in one village where a local kid was run over by a tractor. They took him to Carlisle but they couldn't be bothered to wait at the hospital. So they put him in a darkened room for two weeks then said he was fine. But I'm not so sure he was."

Handing over the baton?

Today's one of those occasions on which the new media/old media divide is up for examination. I'm watching BBC News 24, which is leading on two stories which originated on the web, one of them weeks ago. The first is the Wikileaks release of 90,000 US military documents relating to the war in Afghanistan; the other is a story about a bear which got trapped in a car.

The Wikileaks story has been floating around for a long time. It's the kind of event an anonymous, locationless organisation can do: the BBC or another established, regulated media organisation would have avoided the legal ramifications, would have spent too long considering the national or security implications, and would probably have been penetrated by the security services in any case (there's a long history of news media aiding the secret services).

On the other hand, it's interesting that Julian Assange is now giving a press conference for the offline media, and three chosen newspapers have been given full and early access to the material- clearly the 'old' sources are still important, for informing the wider public, and because they have greater journalistic resources when it comes to investigating stories. Strikingly, however, Assange's conference displays his awareness of the limitations and responsibilities of classic journalism: research, fact-checking, skepticism. He's also engaged in some weeding of material which would, he says, cost lives or damage security, which is a major assumption of authority. His nomadic, independent approach gives him the freedom to subvert the cultural and legal boundaries which hamper established media, but it makes him immune to the checks and balances too (though Fox News behaves in exactly the same way, as its disgusting behaviour over the Shirley Sherrod story shows (rightwing blogger edits a black Department of Agriculture official's speech to make her look racist - she gets the sack by a cowardly employer but is reinstated when the true story emerges, Fox refuses to apologise or alter its position - as does the blogger: original, unqualified and uncorrected story here).

 Either way, we're into a new era when the power of major news organisations fail to uncover major scoops - they're sclerotic, timid and too dependent on their relationships with authority.

The bear-trapped-in-a-car story is the other side of the new/old media coin. Ten years ago, it's the kind of thing which would take up page 3 of a local newspaper. Now it's a light-hearted bit of fluff which fits in with 90% of what's on the internet. What's shameful is that it's now a story for the global news media: rolling news has very obviously led to dumbing down, simply to fill space. IT'S NOT NEWS, PEOPLE!

What's still unclear is the implication for Wikileaks and similar sites. No doubt the security services are chasing it through legal and illegal means - cyberwar resources will engage in DOS attacks and more, but it'll be like nailing down a jelly. I'm hugely positive about this. Wikileaks claim they're politically neutral, but a commitment to the free exchange of information is clearly a libertarian/anarchist position which will hopefully challenge authorities which act with impunity by keeping us in the dark.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

It is a truth universally acknowledged…

that a young lady in possession of a fortune should never mention Fight Club.

(Accents apart, this is capital).

Elegy Written In A Pub Carpark

Inspired by these particular lines, I've written a poem for Simon Armitage.

One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

(With apologies to poor old Gray and his 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'). I've kept some of the original lines (with a tiny change) and the iambic pentameter.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
Alone we drank the bitter dregs of pain,
From this bleak place we all must go away
Abandoned by him for whom we came.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
Si, for thy sweet words we all caught colds!
Honeyed words mean naught when oaths haply take flight
A promise from a poet us despoils.

Let not Ambition mock our useful toil!
The poetaster, ARMITAGE take heed
Legs ache; thy feet, one trusts, are one vast boil!
Think of thy faithful lest no more they read.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
With hearts aflame and hampers full of nosh
Came three Map Twats, one more with JO, Ben's wife.
In dark and age shoulds't thou now fear my cosh!

Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Shall some wag say in mirthless northern jest
He'll truly rue the day he e'er was born
Lines to 'scape our fury need be his best.

There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
Lies POETASTER, heeding not our thirst
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
Afore ye wake let buzzards eat you first.

Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
ARMITAGE scoffs at fame, and sales, and trust,
While drunk on fumes thy congregation yawn,
And vow 'No more our lucre, 'twould be just'.

As you've probably worked out, Armitage disappointed us. We went to his reading in Mytholmroyd, which was sheer delight: excellent poems, good banter, warm white wine. I took some pictures, which I'll post on Tuesday when I'm back with my own computer.

On Saturday, Cynical Ben had arranged a picnic for Armitage along his Pennine Route way, as he suggested. Two more poetry fans were there, and mighty good company they were as we waited for three hours, cheering on the labouring cyclists as they staged private Tours de Lancashire, drinking beer and fantasising every more baroque accidents which might have befallen our lyrical hero.

Alas, three hours is enough even for the hardiest poetry fan and we trudged wearily home, perhaps musing on Catullus's words, slightly changed: 'the words of a poet should be written in wind and running water'. From now on, I'm sticking with Andy McNab.

I've just thought - perhaps he's been swallowed up by the same black hole that's claimed by errant and elusive MP, Paul Uppal?

Then we went to Manchester to drink Hawaiian cocktails in honour of Jo's birthday. Which was nice. On the way, we saw some of the fighting Mancunian spirit I admire so much. Passing three police vans dealing with a pub brawl, I noticed a woman bleeding profusely from the huge cuts on her arm (probably from a pint glass). Pained and wounded as she was, she clung on to her cigarette for dear life. I salute her.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Those who are about to rock…

There's a part of me that will forever be a 14 year-old. And that 14 year-old is a metal kid. Never mind that I own precisely one metal album (by Slayer), my heart thrilled to the news that the Big Four are touring together for the first time ever: Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth one on bill. The egos, the anger, the leather, the angst and - for the crowd - neck injuries to excel an osteopath's wildest dreams. 

They remind me of Disaster Area, the loudest band in the universe: 'Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath a silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason'.

Ah, to be young, furious and unfocussed again. 

What rhymes with Mytholmroyd?

Because I'm going there tomorrow (it's Ted Hughes's birthplace and the name's beautifully Scandinavian) for a reading by the wonderful Simon Armitage, who's giving performances as he walks along the Pennine Way.