Friday, 31 December 2010

Vole's new year resolutions

An anonymous commenter seeks enlightenment on this topic.

1. Continue with my fitness routine. The last 3 months have seen a slowdown.
2. Expose Paul Uppal to all the justified and righteous scorn and contempt he deserves. A more nakedly self-interested individual I have rarely encountered.
3. Ben wants me to blog less in general, and less about politics. I'll think about it.
4. Actually get some research done rather than take on more and more of the drudgery.
5. Get a permanent job. This may be rather easier said than done. Preferences at the moment are the University of the Faroe Islands and the University of Prince Edward Island (where there's a 10 month lectureship in English going right now).
6. Be nicer, kinder and fluffier.
6. Visit destruction on my enemies.
7. Foment revolution or at least get more involved in active politics.
8. Read more books than I buy. Last year I bought 345 books and read significantly fewer.
9. See more of my distant friends. I have been lax.
10. See less of others, and the inside of my office.
11. Carry an owl perched on my shoulder, trained to peck out the eyes of plagiarists and other assorted gits.
12. Find clothes that make me look less like an man who's robbed a tramp several sizes smaller.
13. Move somewhere with proper heating and double-glazing so that heat doesn't swap places with the drunken brawling of the locals. "Yasmine you slag, you should have had an abortion" is amusing for a while, but I'm trying to sleep, you bastards.
14. I will resolve anaphora. This is the toughest of the lot.

I think I'll stop there. I've got marking to do. Happy new year.

A tin star and a punch in the face

The New Year Honours list is out. It's the usual list of royal flunkies, Ruperts, civil servants who've served their time, party donors, arms manufacturers (very few other industries get singled out) and Ministry of Defence spooks who get them seemingly for turning up to work - conspicuously badly -  ('grade C1, Ministry of Defence') leavened with a little stardust and a few lollipop ladies to make it look slightly less feudal, but it's basically the same as always.

One award caught my eye:

Mrs Rosemary Clarke, director, Bookstart Gifting Programmes, for serv education.

That's a 'thanks, but no thanks' if ever I saw one: the government has just decided that giving children's books to those households lacking them - to encourage literacy - is not the kind of thing it should be doing.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Lib Dems: not just liars but (allegedly) murderers too

In continuing evidence that voting for the Liberal Democrats may cause misery and suffering, the man arrested (and currently on bail as a suspect) on suspicion of murdering poor Joanna Yeates is not just a religious activist but also a Liberal Democrat volunteer.*

*Innocent until proven guilty. But let's not forget the dog-murdering former leader of the Liberal Party (acquitted of incitement to murder a human too).

Let's face it: they're a bad lot.

By Grabthar's Hammer!

Last year, one of my excellent students did a very dissertation on representations of women and ethnic minorities in online gaming, and on what happened to people who chose such avatars in MMORPGs.

Sad to say, someone's just summarised her thesis one one sheet of paper (educational illustrations here). It's sad but true.

Meanwhile, if you have a female toddler, how about buying her a bikini-line shaving kit? You can't start them too young…

(Thanks to Sociological Images for these).

Om Bongo, Om Bongo, he steals it from the Congo

I'm so sorry, I couldn't resist that slightly dated and quite racist mass culture reference, but it's so apt.

You see, Wikileaks reveals that the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo, was astonishingly corrupt (not very surprising), that he stole money from the pooled funds of several countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo - a simple rule of thumb is that the more adjectives in a country's name, the less likely they are to be true: think UK, GDR, DPRK etc. - and gave some of it to Sarkozy's party in France (which stinks to high heaven already).

A senior official at the Bank of Central African States (Beac) told a US diplomat in Cameroon of Bongo's "brazen" defrauding of the bank which holds the pooled reserves of six central African countries, including Gabon, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Shortly after Bongo's death in 2009, the US embassy in Yaounde said the bank source told them: "Gabonese officials used the proceeds for their own enrichment and, at Bongo's direction, funnelled funds to French political parties, including in support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy."

Existential Fail of the year

I have no idea who these people are, but I liked this (from The Times):
 “He was unique. There will never be another Kenneth McKellar,” said the late singer’s son, Kenneth.
It's not a sub-editing fail, it's a psychological drama (though perhaps the journalist was being a bit snarky). Imagine lacking self-worth to such a degree that you erase your own existence.

An irreverent approach to Christian Zeal and Activity

One of my favourite pieces of modern classical music is John Adams' 1971 Christian Zeal and Activity, which transforms Onward Christian Soldiers into a limpid, suspended backing to samples of an evangelist preacher: sampling was invented in the classical world, by IRCAM in Paris (who have just twittered this piece) and by various American composers, including Reich and Adams.

Some wit has added a Lego animation to this sublime piece. I think Adams might be pleased with it.

A Fanboy moment

Paul Mason has the best job in the world: he's a roving correspondent for Newsnight, and he really gets the connections between economics, politics and culture. He knows a lot about them all, writes in a concise and witty style, and gets all the best jobs: his piece on Gary, Indiana was a model of documentary film-making. Here's his review of the year, and his conversation with the ghost of John Maynard Keynes.

Buy his book too!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Northern odyssey redux

Some from the Recorders show at Manchester Art Gallery

Jo gets an idea

These are taken below the glass floor at the art gallery

Click on them to enlarge. Rest of the photos are here.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Dreaming of Manchester

Some more pictures from my daytrip to Manchester (click to increase the size: more photos here):

Old barbers' sign

Printers' sign

Another printers' sign

Rain on cobbles - how much more Mancunian can it get?

Mancunians don't let style get in the way of pragmatism

The ghost of a former house

Art on the telephone lines across Thomas St.

Manchester, so much to answer for…

(Sorry, I can never resist quoting the Smiths). Very unoriginal, I know.

Anyway, it isn't completely gratuitous. I went to Manchester today, for a Map Twats reunion: Jo, Cynical Ben, Neal and Dan. I went an hour early so that I could roam the back streets of that city looking for crack architecture. One of the advantages of being a proud Victorian industrial centre in which nobody's had a job since Charles Dickens asked an urchin to hold his horse is that the place is full of beautiful, abandoned industrial architecture: warehouses, factories, pubs and dosshouses. Many of the streets I wandered around were - two months ago - standing in for 1940s New York for the upcoming release of Captain America. You can see some excellent photos of the filming here, courtesy of fly-sycamore, many of them exactly the same shots I took.

Here are a few pictures - the rest are here, along with some of the Map Twats and a few shots from the Manchester Art Gallery, where we saw the Recorders special exhibition: cameras, heart monitors, microphones etc all responding to your touch. I rather childishly made a bank of pager screens say rude things about Clegg and Cameron.

For the rest of the day, we ate huge amounts of top quality cheese and meats, washed down with fine beers, while Ben regaled us with his Top Ten opinions.

What nicer people do

Most of us, when not actively torturing children and small animals, tend to look after ourselves and our own comfort. My leisure time, for instance, is spent fencing, reading or making sure that my books and records are in the right order. Or ironing, which I find hugely rewarding and relaxing.

Other people - better people - quietly try to improve the lives of others. Take Christine and James, as we'll call them because those are their names. They spent weeks crocheting snowflakes, which they then hung on trees all round their town on Christmas morning before anyone else was up, so that the townsfolk could be delighted by a whimsical, lovely gift with no thought of cash or obligation.

See lovely pictures here.

Anyway, back to the spiders. Those legs don't come off on their own, you know.

Getting soft

You can tell I'm on holiday - all my hard-earned rage has (temporarily) disappeared and I'm entranced by soft fluffy kittens. In particular, Myrtle the Moggy, my sister's kitten. Tomorrow she departs rural Shropshire for London, where she'll be eaten by an urban fox. But today, she play-fights with KitKat, her half-sister. More pictures (and of snow/birds etc.) here. Click on these for bigger ones.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Mandatory Doctor Who post

I'm a blogger. One of the rules of blogging is that no blog may continue to exist without at least one discussion of Doctor Who. Having just watched the 2010 Christmas Special (if you aren't in the UK, search for tips on how to fool the iPlayer that you are), I'm happy to oblige.

OK. Here we go.
Jolly good this year, though slightly lacking in scariness. And very lacking in Amy Pond (I know, I'll get e-mail). I enjoyed it a lot, except for the Katherine Jenkins element. She's a popular singer in the field of light classical. Fine - a storyline requiring a singer who saves the spaceship is Christmassy enough, but choosing a famous one with a lot of product to move risks turning the show into a celebrity vehicle, and the BBC should have a little more self-respect.

As to the new series - the trailer makes it all look rather wonderful. Though the shot of some Nazis makes we wonder how far in time and space we have to go before the British will stop going on about the war. Can TV be subject to Godwin's Law?

This all sounds a little curmudgeonly considering that I enjoyed this episode and think the upcoming ones will be wonderful, but we have to keep an eye on it. To the BBC, it's just another product to be sold, merchandised, cross-marketed and exploited. To us, it's a perfect little world which should be untainted by the need to sell Dalek figurines and Katherine Jenkins CDs. Naive, I know.

Right. If I can't get to sleep, I've always got the cricket. England seem to be coping with Australia adequately.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The sun sets on 2010

A few more pictures - click to enlarge. Rest here.

Thanks to my mother, sisters and brother, I'm now the proud possessor of a Thai mat (stunningly comfortable), socks and bathroom stuff, some posh cheese knives, a Marmite toast rack and butter dish, and rather stunningly, a Benedictaphone Pope-shaped voice recorder and a block of Marmite chocolate. Yes, you heard me, Marmite chocolate.

I seem to have a reputation as a Marmite fan.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Snow patrol

I gave myself a new camera for Christmas - a Nikon D7000. I've not got to grips with it yet, but it's already wonderful to use. I took a few pictures today - mostly of kittens (my sister has an adorable grey one) and birds, with some good snow and sunset ones. See them here (once they've uploaded: non-university internet is so slow), or click on the samples below to enlarge them.

Myrtle the moggy

A nuthatch

This is how to phrase a put-down

The British Bankers' Association (not a popular club at the moment) didn't like a Cambridge student pointing out vulnerabilities in the Chip and Pin system, and tried to censor his thesis (according to their spokesmen every week, there aren't any problems with it).

His university responded absolutely magnificently.

Second, you seem to think that we might censor a student's thesis, which is lawful and already in the public domain, simply because a powerful interest finds it inconvenient. This shows a deep misconception of what universities are and how we work. Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values. 
I have authorised the thesis to be issued as a Computer Laboratory Technical Report. This will make it easier for people to find and to cite, and will ensure that its presence on our web site is permanent....
You complain that our work may undermine public confidence in the payments system. What will support public confidence in the payments system is evidence that the banks are frank and honest in admitting its weaknesses when they are exposed, and diligent in effecting the necessary remedies. Your letter shows that, instead, your member banks do their lamentable best to deprecate the work of those outside their cosy club, and indeed to censor it.

This year's celebrity death

It seems to be compulsory for some kind of beloved celebrity to pop his or indeed her clogs during the festive season. This year's victim is one who means rather a lot to me: Elisabeth Beresford, author of the Wombles books.

If you aren't familiar with the Wombles, I pity you. They're rodentlike scavengers who live under Wimbledon Common and other places, and name themselves from an old atlas, hence Great Uncle Bulgaria, Tobermory and Madame Cholet. They live by cunningly recycling humans' castoffs and have hilarious small adventures. It's all very heartwarming but also genuinely intelligent.

Here's a clip from the rather good TV adaptation (narrated by the semi-divine Bernard Cribbins), though I urge you to find the books.

And 'their' terrible Christmas song, for which Mike Batt deserves to burn in hell (as he does for so many other crimes against music, taste, and the proletariat - he also wrote 'Bright Eyes' and is the Conservative Party's official composer):

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Have an apocalyptic Christmas

I'll be online now and then, but mostly not. Instead, I'll be marking essays.
You may need to watch this for survival.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

It's a little bit creepy. I'm the only person left in my entire building, though the automated lights flash on occasionally, making me think nervously of poltergeists, not that I believe in such rubbish. I've been here on my own many times - I usually get locked in late at night - but rarely has it been so empty in the late afternoon. Stranger souls than I would be wandering around naked or breaking into colleagues' offices, but I'm content to put on some Steve Reich and enjoy the warmth.

I've actually had one of the best afternoons for ages: Zoot Horn picked up me and Gandalf and we went to his warm, comfortable, art-and-book lined home for pizza, Beefheart and erudite chat - leafing through his Library of Poststructuralism, learning the guitar (I still don't understand: violin = four strings, four fingers; guitar = six strings, four fingers). Returning to the office, and thence to my cold house, was a struggle. I felt like Mole leaving Badger's place in the depths of the wintry Wild Wood.


I missed this hypnotic piece of genius the first time round.

On Safari

Given the choice of holiday destinations in 1989, would you have accepted an all-expenses paid trip to apartheid South Africa? Mandela still in prison, the international community (except for the British Tory Party) united in their condemnation of a violent, racist regime? Thatcher repeatedly referred to Mandela as a 'terrorist' and Tory Party students wore t-shirts reading 'Hang Nelson Mandela'.

Probably not. But you aren't David Cameron, who at this point was a bright young Tory Party employee. He took a free trip (described by his boss as 'a jolly… just a little treat') by Strategy Network International, a front group for the South African government, which was keen to impress future leaders with the delightful success of racial segregation.

Wow. There's a man who doesn't let massive violence and oppression get in the way of having a good time. He'll go far.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Reeding not reqwired

As we're 'all in this together' (© Tory/Lib Dem scum), the minister for education has decided to take away all government subsidy for Booktrust, the charity which gives every child a pack of books shortly after they're born, start school, and go to secondary school.

Literacy rates in this country - especially amongst the poor - are too low, and Booktrust was a wonderful attempt to encourage it. Poor households tend to lack books and the poorest children don't develop a wide vocabulary, often because their parents are too busy working long-hours, low-paid jobs to afford the time and money for reading. Once a child starts school, the effects begin to show: children of equal intelligence take very different routes in life, and literacy is a major part of this process.

Virtually all of the government's ministers are privately educated, and two-thirds of the cabinet are millionaires. They neither understand nor want to understand the difficulties of those less fortunate then themselves. A packet of books might kickstart a healthy relationship and a life of pleasure.

Perhaps the problem is that books give us power. That's why English translations of the King James Bible were all massive: cheap, small editions like Tyndale's were banned because individuals could own, carry and read them - leading to independence of thought.

One more thing snatched away.

I'm sorry to be so negative, so often. I'd love to chat about lovely things all the time, but these vicious attacks are coming so thick and fast. Please protest to your councillor and MP on this one.

The positive side of the recession

Round the corner from me, was a shop which sold 'living angel consultations', amongst other disgusting lies. I sincerely hope that its' owner was a conscious charlatan, separating fools from their money. That's much better than really believing this stuff.

While I don't want proper workers to lose their jobs, recessions are useful in that they strip away decadent and frivolous nonsense: expect dog-grooming services to decline. First amongst the casualties has been the Living Angel shop - The Dark Place's average IQ rises slightly higher.

£45 is £10 higher than the average visiting lecturer - with a PhD - earns per hour.

On not being able to see the wood for the trees

Wow. The government wants to sell all the UK's woodlands that it owns. The lot. Every twig. It doesn't care who buys them. Charities. Holiday camp developers. Road builders. Energy companies (lots of coal under the Forest of Dean). Loggers. Whoever.

Goodbye biodiversity. Farewell responsible stewardship. Au revoir tranquillity. See you, Robin Hood. No more Wild Wood. These mean nothing now. Only cash. This isn't just cultural vandalism, it's environmental destruction and social wrecking.

What you won't see

What we have to look forward to.

Just measuring unconsciousness

If you recognise that line of poetry, you should head to Sea and Spar Between - two academics' automated spatial poetry generator, which uses as its source text poems by Emily Dickinson and Melville's god-as-whale novel Moby Dick.

It's reminiscent of concrete poetry and cut-up poetry: meaning isn't any longer dictated by the poet or even the computer: it's in the space between the words served up and your own cultural position.

It's addictive and hugely creative. The explanation is here. Unfortunately, I don't know if the effects work in Explorer: the page is much more than passive text.

Snow train to Georgia

OK, terrible pun, I know. Yesterday's weather forecast promised 10-20cms of snow overnight, and I kept waking up to look out of the window, so excited was I, only to be disappointed each time. Luckily, a few cms fell this morning and The Dark Place doesn't look as surly as usual.

In other news, the coalition's falling apart as the Daily Telegraph tries to pull it to pieces. This very rightwing newspaper has always hated the Lib Dems and distrusts Cameron, so it despatched pretty female journalists disguised as constituents to the offices of various susceptible Liberal Democrat ministers. Lo and behold, they revealed that Lib Dems don't like or trust what their Conservative colleagues are up to, and Vince Cable said some true but undiplomatic things about Rupert Murdoch.

Ho hum. It's not a great day for democracy: it means that any MP will no longer say what they think to their own constituents, because they might be undercover journalists. Replacing Vince Cable with a Tory bastard (Jeremy H-h-hunt) means that Murdoch's bid to dominate Britain's airwaves will probably be waved through, so that's bad too. But at least it'll be harder to maintain the coalition.

More mischievously, it means that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is left between a rock and a hard place. As an economic conservative he's trapped between the Tories - whom he strongly resembles - and his own party, which is largely to the left of him. Does he stay with his tribe or move closer to his spiritual home with the other privileged millionaire neoliberals?

Moore, the Berwickshire MP, describes the increase in tuition fees to a maximum £9,000 as "the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing in all of this … a car crash, a train wreck".
Speaking to reporters posing as constituents, Moore said: "I signed a pledge that promised not to do this. I've just done the worst crime a politician can commit, the reason most folk distrust us as a breed. I've had to break a pledge and very, very publicly."
Moore said the move was "deeply damaging" to Lib Dems, who had promised to abolish fees, but he added: "What we've all had to weigh up is the greater sense of what the coalition is about." He added that Conservative rightwingers "hate us with a passion".


Oh yes: some Uppal news. I wrote to him asking him to inquire about the moronic decision to remove scientists from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He hasn't advanced an opinion either way, but has written to the Home Secretary for clarification.

Monday, 20 December 2010

God, I feel sorry for the Germans and their terrible public transport.

Train travel throughout Germany was also thrown into chaos as operators ordered high-speed trains to slow down to 200 km/hour in order to avoid accidents due to ice clumps on the rails, leading to many delays and cancellations. 

Awful. Their inefficient state-run trains have to slow down to 200kph in extreme conditions.

In other news, 201 kph (125mph) is the top speed of all British InterCity trains - unchanged since the railways were privatised (cost to the state then: £2.5bn; cost to the state now: £4.9bn - and ticket prices have rocketed). The rest don't get anywhere near.

10,000 fingers up to the kids

The youth unemployment rate (16-24) is about 20-25%. There are about to be 10,000 more kids on the dole - the Universities Minister has reduced next year's total entrance by that sum. It won't be much fun on the dole either - benefits cut, under-35's will only be allowed to claim for a single room in a shared house, prices up… all this from the man who wrote The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Stole Their Children's Future.

Clearly it wasn't a jeremiad: it was a How-To.

Tory scum. Merry Christmas, no-longer potential students.

ITV: doing its best for literacy

Whenever the advert breaks began and ended during the weekend's big film, ITV managed to flash up the title as Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix. The arses. That said, Newsnight managed to tag a school head as the 'Principle' a couple of weeks ago.

My trigger finger's itching.

Just not funny

I buy Private Eye, but less and less for its 'humour', more for its excellent investigative journalism - it first broke the story of the Inland Revenue's decision to let big companies - like Vodafone - off massive chunks of their tax bills.

One major flaw with the magazine is its obsessive anti-environmentalist stance. There isn't a corporate shill or anti-wind activist who's ever been made unwelcome between its covers. Today's issue includes the evergreen 'Funny Old World', which collects hilarious stories of crime and corruption from foreign climes. Three stories grace the feature today: a Barbadian necrophile, a Kenyan panic about phone numbers which can kill you, and one about an advanced Japanese corporation which has reduced temperatures in its factories and offices by 15 degrees C (and reduced emissions) by growing plants all over the buildings' exteriors. They grow cucumbers, peas and gourds, which are then served up in the canteen.

How I laughed. Let's all point and laugh at the silly Japanese for, er, using less power and having good things to eat. Silly foreigners!

Back in the real world - here's Kyocera Corporation's guide to doing this on your own building and some rather beautiful pictures of their plants.

More Hanraha-hanrahan for Neal

Ich nichten lichten - one of Neal's favourite phrases:

And now Brian Hanraha-hanrahan's dead too!

Brian Hanrahan was a decent, reliable BBC journalist who made his name covering the Falklands war, and was on the scene for Tiananmen Square (oh dear, that's me blocked from China).

He was immortalised as the face of churnalism - perhaps slightly unfairly but irresistibly by Chris Morris in The Day Today:

Beefheart's offal now

Poor old Don Van Vliet, formerly known as Captain Beefheart, purveyor of avant-noise jazz rock metal, more lauded than listened to, sonic adventurer, painter and all-round hero. How did he get his name? Well, this is a family blog, but here's a link which explains all.

Here's his Christmas single, thanks to Zoot Horn, and a little something from Trout Mask Replica, his finest work. I somehow doubt it will be covered by an X-Factor finalist.

This is not to be borne!

Hello children. Have you been out enjoying the snow? I haven't. I huddled under blankets and watched the entire run of the Andrew Davies adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which reminded me of Austen's utter genius for bitchiness, bores, boors and put-downs ('you have a very small park'; 'you have delighted us long enough' and the magnificent 'I send no compliments to your mother'), some of which will be deployed in seminars if my failing brain remembers them.

And, of course, if my frozen corpse isn't found before winter draws to a close - I haven't any water supply at the moment, as my appalling and uninsulated Victorian building comes complete with frozen pipes. Bah humbug!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Feeling Christmassy?

Then this will sort you out:

The Wikipedia it's OK to like

The Republic of Cuba has launched it's own online editable encyclopaedia, called Ecured. It's small enough at the start, but will no doubt expand. What will be interesting is the degree of freedom allowed to its editors when dealing with sensitive topics such as Cuba itself. After all, Wikipedia has restricted edits on matters such as Palestine and Israel. Plus, no doubt, anti-Cuban and anti-Communist trolls will be all over it.

The signs look promising: the entry on Wikileaks has a section on Cuba's appearance - though whether this is full or partial is unclear, as is how long it will last. There's even a section on the Cuban Missile Crisis, though my Spanish isn't up to assessing its quality.

Hasta la victoria siempre, comrades.

MEanwhile, have a look at Lori Nix's tiny models of post-apocalyptic urban scenes. After the Singularity, my house will look like this (sorry, can't copy the images).

Bye bye Ecotricity

It's so easy to change supplier! I've just found another 100% renewable power company, changed over in less than two minutes and saved quite a lot of money! Wonderful.

Of course, in an ideal world, we'd be using cold fusion or space-generated microwave-transmitted power, all controlled by a caring and responsive state-owned supplier, but in the meantime, I'm happy with this.

Not much blogging today - marking, present-organising and our staff Drunkening. Hope you all watched Dirk Gently last night. A qualified success, I thought - worth a series.

Coalition Collapses!

Unfortunately, only in The Dark Place, where the Tory-Lib Dem coalition has been spreading misery and wasting resources for quite some time (32 months). Thankfully, some Liberal Demcocrats have acquired both conscience and spine, and have now sided with Labour, giving overall control to them after a no-confidence vote. Unfortunately, Labour now have to cut £70m of public services thanks to the combined spite and incompetence of the coalition at local and national level.

The Tory leader had the gall to attack Labour for “cheek and arrogance” for taking power without being voted in by the public' despite only ruling with the support of the Liberal Democrats, which suggests his grasp of democracy is rather limited - especially given that his national party, stuffed with gold and running against the most unpopular leader in recent history, couldn't win an outright majority. 

I'm not saying Labour are particularly good - but they're a damn sight better than what we have. Let's hope the insurgency virus spreads from the West Midlands to Westminster!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Smarter than the average bear?

I always hated Yogi Bear: dreary, repetitive plots, looked bad, utterly lifeless: a real nadir of cartooning (don't get me started on Garfield). The recent cinema revival of Yogi says it all about mainstream cinema: never make something new when there's a tired old bit of rubbish in the back of the cupboard which you can resurrect to trade on the cheap nostalgia of a generation you assume are lazy, narcissistic and stupid.

So I rather like this alternative Yogi: turning Hollywood's weapons on itself, so to speak. Poor Yogi's been put out of his misery. No sequels or prequels for him.


I feel like I have been robbed today - by 'green' capitalists.

I got this e-mail from Ecotricity, from whom I buy my energy. I pay extra to receive 100% renewable energy, which I think is important. Ecotricity generates a larger amount of renewable energy each year, and supports this with power from the non-renewable grid. Paying extra means that a proportion of the renewable energy is assigned to me.

As you may have seen in the press, npower are increasing their prices in January.
Our policy, and our promise, is to match the standard price of your regional supplier and so we need to raise our own prices.
But this is not just a matter of policy and we won’t be adding to our profits from this. Wholesale electricity prices have been rising for some time and this move by npower is in response to that. We also need to raise our prices to match these increased costs.  
We’ve set out our new price below, alongside the old one for easy reference.
Just to be clear, our price is exactly matched to npower in your region.
We price match them in order to offer a fair price to our customers, knowing that we will for sure make a smaller margin than them (they have economies of scale) and at the same time dedicating the money that we do make to a green outcome – in this case the building of new sources of green energy in the UK.
We think price matched electricity with a real green outcome is something worth having. We hope you feel the same way of course.

That doesn't mean, however, that they aren't thieving capitalist bastards. Their letter is disingenuous and misleading at best. I certainly wasn't aware that they'd 'promised' to match another company's price. As far as I can see, power costs are going up all the time, so this 'promise' is simply a promise to always increase prices - despite the claim that deregulated, privatised utilities lead to competition and reduced prices. In this case, Ecotricity is deliberately removing the competitive element.

Even more nonsensically, my electricity can't be costing more: it's generated from renewable sources, so unless the wind and waves have started billing Ecotricity, the cost hasn't changed. In fact, it should be going down as more - and more efficient - capacity goes online. So the claim that the profit margin isn't increasing must be a lie. My electricity isn't bought on the wholesale market: that's the whole point of the '100% renewable' claim.

That's why I'm looking for a new supplier.

How to write:

BBC4 is showing a (rather truncated) one-off adaptation of Douglas Adams's lesser-known but utterly wonderful novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

They had a profound effect on my philosophy and probably on my writing at the time. Here are some choice bits:
The door was the way to... to... The Door was The Way. Good. Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to.
"What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody?" This question seemed to provoke a murmur of sympathetic approval from up and down the table.
Richard continued, "What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that's really the essence of programming. By the time you've sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you've learned something about it yourself. 

Ice to see you, to see you… ice

(Apologies for non-UK readers who won't get the reference).

I want to be here:

Thursday conundrum

Quite simply, have I been robbed or have I done a good deed at Christmastide?

I was on the last train from Shrewsbury last night, about 12.15. As it pulled into the Dark Place, a girl in her teens (probably - everyone looks young to me), dragging a heavy suitcase nervously asked how much a taxi to Birmingham would cost - she'd just realised that there were no more trains in that direction. I told her it would be £40 and she looked stricken. She said another male passenger had offered her a place to stay 'and a hug' if she needed one, which sounded distinctly creepy to me.

So I offered to lend her the cash and we wandered into town to find a cashpoint. I gave her the cash, pointed her towards a taxi office and asked her name (Sophie), where she was from (Oswestry) and if she actually had somewhere to go at the other end - she said she did. She seemed reticent, perhaps nervous/scared, possibly having learning difficulties. I got the sense that she may be running away: suitcase, late journey, no planning done.

Hope she's OK.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

"There are suggestions you rolled your wheelchair towards the police"

Here's the video of one of the worst pieces of journalism I've seen in many years: BBC journalist Ben Brown questioning Jody Macintyre, the disabled students dragged out of his wheelchair twice by the police during the student demonstrations.

It's not bad simply because I side with Macintyre. It's bad because Brown - in his desperate belief that confrontational interviews constitute news - uncritically reproduces police talking points and finds himself uttering Chris Morris-style claims such as that in the title of this post.

Stumbling and Mumbling very elegantly explains the underlying dynamics of the exchange. It's not that Ben Brown himself is a particularly idiotic individual - instead, it's because he comes from and works within an institution and a culture which privileges an authoritarian perspective.

Rupert Murdoch and Julian Assange face off: in prison!

See it here in this ever-so-slightly satirical cartoon about the American plan to charge publishers of leaked material with espionage.

Meanwhile, have another of my favourite words: synfyfyriol. It sounds utterly beautiful, doesn't it? Especially if you know that in Welsh, 'f' is a v sound and the y is a slightly flattened vowel. It means 'absent-minded', 'pondering', 'musing' and so on. There's even a song about it, by the wonderful Fflaps (hello Alan) and available on the sublime Triskedekaphilia album (play it here).

Cope with this

I took some pictures at last night's gig. It's quite tricky - challenging light, crowds and so on, but some came out quite well. See the whole set here.

David Wrench's drummer

David Wrench

David Wrench. I'm quite pleased with this one.

Pouting Julian Cope. Or is it Zaphod Beeblebrox?

Julian Cope's guitar

I'm pleased with this one. I wandered around until the right person stood in front of me, and I deliberately left Cope's shoulder in.

Growing old disgracefully