Saturday, January 28, 2006

Observer status

If you regard yourself as left-wing, and an opponent of the continuing UK / US involvement in Iraq, then the Iraqi Communist Party have a message for you:

"We have to note, with regret, that the Iraqi democratic forces have not received, in their difficult struggle, effective solidarity and support from international forces of the left. As a result, most of the latter have unfortunately been rendered observers of events, rather than exerting positive influence on the ongoing struggle over the future course of developments in Iraq, especially in supporting the struggle for a democratic prospect, at a time when the Iraqi patriotic and democratic forces are in urgent need for such concrete and multifarious support and solidarity."

Read the rest on the Labour Friends of Iraq site (via Norm).

Silly test update

Personally, I think these tests are daft, but seeing as Tom did one, I thought I'd do it as well so that he doesn't feel foolish.

You are a

Social Liberal
(65% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(18% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Friday, January 27, 2006

How David Aaronovich could lose even more weight

Aaronovich is losing lbs by the day on the treadmill.

Like him, I can't motivate myself to run unless I have music to listen to. Most of Aaro's commenters seen to go for various types of electronica or pop.

Me? I go for fast noisy loud music. My typical treadmill playlist is....

  • Stiff Little Finters - Suspect device
  • Blink 182 - Online songs / Rock show / First date
  • The Clash - Safe European home / English Civil War
  • Arctic Monkeys - Bet you look good on the dancefloor
  • Gang of Four - Natural's not in it
  • AC/DC - If you want blood / Highway to Hell / Walk all over you
  • The Ruts - Babylon's Burning / H-Eyes / Staring at the rude boys / Society (live version)
  • Deep Purple - Highway Star
  • Futureheads - Hounds of Love
  • Patti Smith - Rock n Roll Nigger
  • The Who - The Seeker
  • Spizzenergi - Where's Captain Kirk?
  • Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bob / Beat on the brat (or pretty-well anything else of theirs)
  • White Stripes - Seven nation army
  • The Jam - In the city
  • Barracudas - Summer fun
  • The Doors - LA Woman (it's faster than you think)

But I often need something more than music to keep my pace up.

A violent fantasy can make fifteen minutes on the treadmill at full-tilt pass in what seems like seconds. All you need to do is re-live (and rewrite) one of the beatings that you received in your teens - outside a pub or a football ground perhaps?

Mine is based outside a pub called the Dog and Bear in Nottingham. I don't know what it's like now, but it used to be a bit tasty in the early '80s. I don't think that the hammering in question was due to the fact that I was wearing eye-liner but I never took the risk of wearing it again apart from in nightclubs.

Here's what happened in real life:

I walked in. About ten yoofs with little moustaches turn and look at me. The person I was hoping to meet wasn't there. The soulboys were beginning to walk towards me.

I leave, sharpish. More of the pricks were coming towards the door as I got outside. Three of them take an interest. They are...

a) an aggressive little fucker who is looking for trouble
b) a bigger one who is obviously very useful and doesn't look like he feels pain
c) a weedy-looking hanger-on who thinks that he can join in at no risk to himself under the circs. He's standing behind the aggressive one with that canine-baring smile you get before someone starts kicking you.

Psycho comes up with a pretext. He pretends to mistake me for someone who spilt his pint / shagged his bird / looked at his knob in the bogs.

I back off, look for an escape route and find none. It probably all happens from start to finish in about twenty seconds, but like a car-crash, it feels like hours. Psycho throws a punch that half-lands and I half-parry. It's hard enough to knock me onto my behind though. This positions my nose perfectly for a follow-up drop kick. Again, I see it coming, turn aside and take a glancing blow. Roll over, and into a ball on the floor. Psycho starts kicking my ribs a few times.

The bigger one calls psycho off. I take a hint and take a powder. As I get up to run off, weedy follows it up with a fey boot and he tries to grab me and land a punch. I sideswipe him and catch him better than I'd hoped to. I run off.

The End.

Bruised ego, a few grazes and a nosebleed. It could be worse.

Now here's what happens in my head, on the treadmill.

Leaving the pub, the same three walk up. Psycho invents a pretext as before. But this time, I have a bottle in my hand. Magic!

Smash the bottle. Sidestep Psycho. Shove the broken glass neck under big-and hard's chin. He's not really interested in the first place, and he calls Psycho off. I give psycho a way of saving face by explaining that I'm not who he thought I was. He apologises, I lower the bottle. We're nearly all settled now without a scratch on any of us.

But this is where I can now start winding Weedy up. Start off with a bit of verbal abuse, and follow it up with a half-hearted kicking while his mates laugh at him.

As a piece of narrative, this is all reasonably possible. Well. Actually, it's probably not. The miraculous appearance of the bottle and the easy compliance of big-and-hard involve a significant suspension of disbelief, obviously. But my experience of psychos is that they can be talked down and given an excuse not to kick the shit out of you - as long as you can recruit someone they respect to do it.

I'd also acknowledge that, even if I'd got hold of a bottle, it would probably have been taken off me and recycled horribly in reality. But I've gone over this little scenario hundreds of times. Pointlessly, in every case. And usually on a treadmill in a gym.

You never forget a kicking. Well, I don't anyway. And I can release in instant rush of adrenaline every time I try and imagine ways that it could have been less humiliating or painful.

If you've ever been beaten up, try rewriting it next time you're trying to exercise. Aaronovich can probably come up with his own version. Perhaps if someone could arrange for George Galloway to better him in a verbal exchange.....?

Someone who loves him should make this happen. It could do more to reduce his waistline than anything that he could load onto his i-Pod....

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Does all of this stuff improve the way we deliberate?

Mmm. The Moral Highground. Come on up - the air is clear and fresh.

But, while it's easy to get all hoity-toity about the blogosphere behaving no better than the tabloid press, there is a bigger question lurking: Does the way things are discussed online make the world a better place?

I'd be interested to know if anyone ever published a study of the dynamics of on-line discussion? One that examines devices such as 'meanwhiling', Fisking, or Godwin's Law. One that weighs up the relative qualities of online scrutiny, debate and resolution (compared to pre-internet forms of debate).

Are people generally motivated to be more civil, or to stick to the point more? Are online discussions more efficient, or does the line-by-line rebuttal often serve to obscure the point?

Does the sheer diversity of perspectives on offer serve to create a relativist's paradise? Or does the internet make it easier for people who used to regard themselves as 'lone voices' to locate like-minded people who will ride the same hobby-horses that they do?

Does on-line discussion elevate people with different personal characteristics? Are they more deserving of our attention than the various castes that have dominated public life in the past?

If such a study exists, I'd like to see it.

A quick perusal of Harry's comment boxes, for instance, demonstrates online discussion to be a dialogue of the deaf in a lot of cases. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of good blogs that attract sensible commentators who collectively address issues not covered in the mainstream media.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What goes around comes around.

The blogosphere really is a shitty little place sometimes. Out-tabloiding the tabloids and proud of it.

I'd like my readers (both of them) to dig around. Guido Fawkes / Recess Monkey: Identities please? Who are they? What do they Do? (No jokes about bombing Westminster or sitting on fires please)

Who pays them to do it? Are they married? Children? Where do they live? Do they have any sexual leanings that we need to know about? Have they said anything in the past that they may have contradicted recently?


Friday, January 20, 2006

Skinned / Birthday Boy

Lots of people have the same recurring nightmare. They're back at school, about to sit an exam. They turn over the paper and realise they know none of the answers.

And there are two hours and 59 minutes to go.

Footballers probably have their own version of this. Some right-backs that played in the old First Division certainly will. Put yourself in one of their shoes for a minute. Picture the scene.


A sunny September afternoon in the mid-70s. You run out for what should be one of your easier away games. This lot only scraped promotion last season. They’ve had a flukey couple of games and the manager’s a bit of a smartarse, but even he probably won’t keep them up.

You look around. A few old journeymen. A couple of kids - that young striker looks a handful, but he’s not your problem. You only have to watch this dumpy little Scottish bloke.

The crowd are a bit weird as well. The only stand with seats in it is packed with old blokes who are all looking at you.

They seem to be crouching. One of them even licked his lips. Weird.

If the first five minutes are anything to go by, this is going to be a picnic. Their only ploy is to work the ball out to Mr Useless, the one you have to mark if you can remember to do it. He looks a bit frightened of you - every time the ball goes near him, he gets rid of it.

But then something happens. Something that will still haunt you in your dotage.

The living dead in the seats all stand up at once. Has something happened? You look around - is there a fight off-the-ball or something?

No. That little bloke has got the ball again. And he’s ambling towards you. The zombies are all saying the same thing.

“Skin 'im Robbo!”

You look back at him. Or at least to where he should be - to your right. He’s not there. You look to your left. Where is he?

You look behind you - goal side of you now. There he is! Cheeky little bastard!

Thankfully, he’s slow enough to catch. A few seconds later, you’re back goal side of him again. Turn to face him now. He may need a quick boot in the shins to teach him some manners.

But he’s not there again. You turn left, and you see a red blur over your right shoulder. So you turn right, and he’s behind you to your left.

Next thing you know, you’re sitting on your arse and the ground has erupted. One Nil. And your dugout are giving you daggers. And there are eighty five more minutes of this to look forward to.

Congratulations. You just met
the unsung hero of 20th century football. The rest is history.

Today is his birthday. Neither I, nor you dear reader, are even fit to wipe his arse.

The rent-a-gobs that commentate on the modern game may have forgotten him. Those who played against him never will. They’re still sleeping with one eye open.

Happy Birthday John. I hope you have plenty more of them. And may the giving hand never falter.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mixed messages

If you live in the UK, you've probably seen the recent ad campaign about the dangers of unlicenced mini-cab drivers.

The Mayor of London's research claims that "unlicensed cabs provide a cover for some of the most serious crime in London: in the year leading up to October 2002, 212 women were sexually assaulted by illegal cab drivers - 54 of these women were raped."

Nope. I can't think of a caption for this either. From here.

Bloggers v Journalists continued...

Guido is getting stuck into the MSM* in general and Jackie Ashley in particular.

*I often get confused by anagrams I'm supposed to recognise. MSM = main stream media.

Memories of Banksy

Tom Watson has (and links to) some Banksy gags (the recently deceased ex-minister, not the graffiti artist). I was at an informal meeting with him once when he was the Sports minister. He arrived in a bad mood.

No time for introductions. His opening gambit was something like this (from memory):

"Do you know what I'm going to do? Tomorrow morning? I'm going to turn up at my office with a facking machine gun. One of those nice little facking UZIs. And I'm going to line all of the staff up, the lot of them. And then I'm going to facking finish them off in a split second.

Then I'm going to turn the facking thing on myself because I just can't facking stand it anymore. Forest of facking Deane! Do you know where the Forest of facking Deane is? I don't. But I've been there all facking day opening a facking sport centre, and I still don't know where the fack it is. I facking ask you!

A sports centre in the Forest of facking Deane. And while I'm away, wasting what little facking life I've got left, facking Mellor - without telling me anything about it - is organising a facking Football Task Force shindig snug in the knowledge that the arseholes who organise my facking diary have sent me off to the Forest of Facking Deane ...."

This went on for a while longer. As I say, it's not verbatim, and written only to provide a flavour.

Meetings with Chris Smith were never as much fun.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Gordon Brown: A health warning

It would be cheeky to nick the picture and caption from Shuggy. So go and look for yourself.

Dave's switched sides

Remember Dave Spart? He's probably still an occasional star of Private Eye's pages.

Dave's M.O. was to qualify every noun ("the er... totally reactionary ....") in furtherance of some position that the pre-Cameron Tories would call 'political correctness gone mad.'

There is often an 'i.e.' in there as well. So, the RUC, for example, would have been "the er... totally reactionary so-called Royal Ulster Constabulary (i.e. Thatchers imperialist bully-boys)..."

Also, every noun was followed by an allegation ("the er... totally reactionary ABCDE, that has yet again show a complete and utter total contempt for er... the black unemployed anti-vivisectionist disabled lesbian vegan anarchists of Hornsey..").

This trait appears to have been transposed onto the libertarian right. Over at Samizdata, one recent post provides an good example. The European Union is renamed "the statist European Union." Dubya becomes "President George Walker Bush (on his watch there has been the biggest increase of government spending since President Johnson and the biggest increase in domestic government spending since President Nixon)"

Further to an allegation about er ..... total censhorship clearly demonstrated by the er ... so called 'technical difficulties' that were used to ... er ... totally censor the Editor of the statist Financial Times because er ... "Bush is a symbol of a symbol of all the BBC hates about the United States (i.e. all the good things in the United States)."

And so on. Read it. It's bonkers.

But, while the idioms are Spartish, the voice isn't quite the same. For example, have a look at another part of the libertarian spectrum, Spiked On-Line.

Read the headlines and try to imagine them being spoken in the voice of a snotty cynical student. Any initiative is a waste of time or a symbol of contempt for humanity. Any fear is irrational. Any social concern is 'hand-wringing'. It's a world dominated by conspiracies.

All governments. All professionals. All institutions.

(And before you say "pots...? kettles? ...." if they had any sense, they'd stick to blaming the Civil Service, pressure groups and Journalists for everything instead. ;-)

Thankfully, they are the backbone of the political right these days - not the left.

Bloggers: The Next Generation

Have a quick look (Quicktime) at Steve Jobs' keynote address for the San Francisco Macworld Conference and Expo if you get a moment.

The new i-Life suite looks very interesting - particularly for bloggers. In short, it means that anyone with a half-decent Mac, the latest copy of i-Life, and a broadband connection will be able to produce a fully-featured Podcast in not much more than the time it takes to compose a blog-post.

One interpretation of this, in plain English, is that the barriers to entry in running your own talk-radio station are collapsing as we speak.

Surveys tell us that most bloggers don't post daily with a view to promoting themselves for a career in journalism. I'd suggest, however, that political bloggers are slightly different. Maybe they don't want to earn an op-ed slot in the Telegraph as a result of their endeavours, but the idea of having their own brand of shock-jockery would be an attractive proposition.

I'd suggest that this step could prove particularly attractive to the more successful communal blogs like Slugger, Samizdata, The Sharpener or Harry's Place / Popinjays*

*Try as I might, I can't see why these two don't merge.


Apropos of this, as software goes, i-Life is very swish and lovely in so many ways. Cheaper PCs are a false economy unless you just want to just word-process or play with spreadsheets.

Go on. Go out and get a Mac. And fork out for more RAM than you think you need. You'll use it all. And don't believe them when they say 'ships in two days'. That means 'leaves our factory in Antarctica in two days and arrives at your house about two weeks later'

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Friday, January 13, 2006

The box is getting better

Last week, we saw the last of the first series of BBC's Rome.

It was a textbook case of how to market a TV programme. Work out what the hypocrisies of particular newspaper readers are, and play to them. So...
  • Guardian readers pretend to above soaps, but they are secretly addicted to them
  • Daily Mail readers have a prurient fascination with sex on TV. They don't want it banned, but they like the sound of their own voices calling for a ban.
The marketing brief for the show was, therefore:

"Tell the Mail that it contains full-frontal nudity, and tell the Guardian that it's a soap."

Moving on, the luscious forthcoming Poliakoff season on BBC Four is a good enough time as any to complete a post I've been composing, mentally, for some time.

I'd be interested to know if anywhere else in the world benefits from such a fantastic array of quality popular TV as we do in this country?

As far as I know, we invest more in original drama, and the level of public satisfaction with the broadcast choice on offer is second to none. It's always been OK in this country, but, from where I'm sitting, there is a real purple patch at the moment.

Take Verity Lambert's Love Soup a few weeks ago. Or C4's Peep Show. Or the fantastic Sweeney Todd that was shown last week. Or C4's Shameless - soapesque characterisation and great dialogue. Or even Dr Who - a show I look forward to as much as my seven-year-old twins do.

Even Rebus was a pleasant surprise - better than I expected.

I used to study the way that the changing technical environment effects the way we watch TV, but I've not done so for years. But one thing occurs to me:

Now I've got a digital box, I spend a good deal more time watching the better repeats available on the new BBC and ITV channels. I get to watch the Eastenders late showing if I want to, and shows that I like (Shameless or QI for example) allow you to switch over and watch next weeks show at the end of this weeks.

I am watching a lot more of the TV I like without increasing my time in front of the box. Does this mean that a lot of the mid-evening rubbish that the old main channels used to screen are suffering plummeting audiences? Are the main channels under a lot more pressure to produce better drama? Is this why TV is improving?

Sleeping on things

Norman Geras doesn't have a comments box on his site. If he did, I'd put this post in one.

Reading this post, Norm asks, if our cognitive abilities are supposed to be impaired for a while after we awake, why does he wake up and find it easy to solve problems that perplexed him the previous evening.

I'd suggest that what he really does is go to sleep pondering his problems, processes them as he sleeps, and awakes with the answers ready. It's what I do, anyway....

So, while he thinks that he's brighter first thing in the morning, the research is probably still wise to advise him against operating heavy machinery before eating his Sugar Puffs.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gagging the dead

Over a glawsheen the other day, myself and one other chewed over a story I read at Normblog about a man whose family were stopped from describing him as a 'Socialist' on his headstone.

Now, there may be statements that could prove problematic - even on a personal monument - but telling people what they can and can't say on their own headstone, appears to me to be quite the ... er ... gravest ... sort of censorship.

Another example of the great conspiracy in this country to suppress argument perhaps?

But this gave us a business idea that I'd like to share with you:

The Soapbox Cemetery. I know. Perhaps the name needs a bit of thought. But the basic idea is that you can buy a plot in our super-cemetery and choose your own epitaph without any busybodies getting involved.

Perhaps in can even have those startling features that they apparently allow in some American graveyards - the ones where there is a TV screen built into the headstone showing a videotaped message on a loop? And you can use it to rail against your erstwhile enemies?

So far, we don't have a plot of land, or planning permission, but the business is already, conceptually, flying. The propsectuses are, conceptually, printed ("we wouldn't be seen dead in most graveyards"), and so forth.

I don't know if Spike Milligan was allowed to put his "I told you I was ill" epitaph on his memorial. But if not, he could be relocated to Britain's swankiest graveyard as our first customer?


Changing the subject, (not worth a post of it's own), during the same visit to Norm's, I noticed this: Happiness. I should log it here as I try and collect examples of the way that different countries are compared on this blog - do a quick search on 'best societies in the world' if you don't beleive me...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Paul Anderson returns

Paul Anderson is back, it seems. I'd stopped checking his blog because he parked it for a bit to work on his Orwell in Tribune project.

Have a look: The Duchess of Atholl looks like she kept people on her toes.

If you can ignore the weird markup, Paul's review of Oliver Kamm's book is well worth a look.

"There’s more than one way to be anti-totalitarian ... and it’s not essential for anti-totalitarians always to adopt the most hawkish foreign policy stance available. The utility of confrontation or military intervention or negotiation and diplomacy has to be judged case by case. Kamm is right to emphasise the principle of anti-totalitarianism – but there’s no need for anti-totalitarianism to make you a neo-con."

(update: 12/1/06 - Oliver has replied and Panderson is standing his ground)

And his bit of pessimistic psephology is worth a look as well:

"Some on the left would no doubt welcome a Lib Dem implosion, but I’m not one of them. The main beneficiaries of a collapse in the Lib Dem vote would be the Tories. Not only are they the main challengers to sitting Lib Dem MPs in the overwhelming majority of Lib Dem seats, they would also gobble up the anti-Labour vote elsewhere.

Until now, I’ve been sceptical about claims that the Tories could win in 2009, even after Cameron’s victory. But now I’m not so confident. Indeed, if Cameron manages to complete his centrist repositioning of the Tories, the Lib Dems collapse and Labour botches the succession from Tony Blair, they could even be a shoo-in."

Leave George to the voters

George Galloway's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother has resulted in a campaign that is being directed at him through the Parliamentary Standards body. More than 100 people have pledged to complain about him.

I don't know if this body responds in a different way to a concerted letter writing campaign than it does to a single well-written letter, but it shouldn't. As far as I can see, this body should be notified when MPs do something in private that would somehow bring their status into disrepute.

I like George less than almost anyone I know, but I don't think there is anything private about what he is doing.

I hope that all 100+ letters end up in the bin.

Indeed, as Zoe Williams points out in the Guardian, he should be afforded less privacy, not more. Channel Four have actually decided to censor most contentious remarks that he makes. If they want Big Brother contestants to avoid any comment like this, they shouldn't have invited him on.

Or they could have invited someone who he wouldn't get on with if they are interested in lively TV. For instance, they could have invited the comedian Robert Webb who would have a few choice remarks ready. They seem, instead, to have settled for the worst of both worlds.

I've posted before asking if anyone else thinks that representative democracy is worth defending with any vigour and I've been disappointed in the results. That's why I'm not going to bother using Pledgebank to get 100 people to write to the Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards to say that Galloway's antics on TV are none of their business, and the only standards body that he should answer to is the voters of Bethnal Green and Bow.

Unfortunately, I suspect that there is a majority of people in this country who think that elected representatives need to be inordinately responsive to journalists, civil servants, pressure groups and the various busybodies who have been appointed to uphold 'standards'.

We seem to have turned the censorship of elected representatives into something of an industry in this country. It's time that we recognised that democracy is best served by the amplification of politicians. This is not always going to be the personal favour that some people imagine it to be. They are often quite good at generating the rope that we need to hang them with.

Unfortunately, we have a civil service who think that it is their job to hide that rope.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Have you got a copy of that music they used to use for the Old Spice adverts / The Omen?

And have you got a copy of the Hallelujah Chorus?

Put them on then. You'll need something to listen to when you're looking at this lot.

18.1.2006 - 8pm, BBC1.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Big Brother - latest!

A number of contributors to DSTPFW and Harry's Place have been rushed to hospital, having chewed their own arms off watching Big Brother.

Anti-Semitism: Please explain?

If pushed, I think that everyone would admit to some form of unconscious racism at some time of their lives. If an identifiable group of people seek a change in their social class, some resentment from other classes is to be expected.

Similarly, if there is a perception that one such group is more likely to commit crimes, take coveted employment opportunities or change the character of a neighbourhood, then you would reasonably budget for a spot of social tension. You don't need a degree in Sociology to know that race-related issues will come to the fore at such times.

On a more basic level, there are a thousand day-to-day experiences that must tempt everybody to make an assumption about someone based upon their appearance? Nothing in this observation is, of course, intended to condone it, but I'd suggest that an immunity from casual racism of any kind could be a working secular definition of 'saintliness'.

In international relations, I suppose there is a more dangerous equivalent. Take President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent version of Holocaust denial.

Hard to condone, I think you'll agree? But I suppose that, if you are president of a country that has major differences of regional policy and principle with Israel, it is not a huge surprise that you should resent the existence of one of the historical facts that helped bring about the founding of that state.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not making a comparison between the relative saintliness of someone who occasionally doesn't trust someone because their eyes are too close together, and the pretty-fucking-far-from-saintly argument that the holocaust was invented as part of a conspiracy to procure a portion of the fertile crescent.

But here is the question - and it's not a rhetorical one:

President Ahmadinejad's historical revisionism has resonances in Europe and the US. Why is this?

In a previous post, I've speculated that there is a narcisistic quality to some extremism. I used to work for a political magazine that featured Nazi Skinheads on the cover one week. Our circulation took a perceptible leap. I watched 'Downfall' last night on TV, and alongside the absurdity and tragi-comedy of the script, the visual aspect of National Socialism is still compelling.

There is something quite fetishistic about all of that leather, the swastika armbands, the goose-stepping and heel-clicking. But leaving the narcissism / fetishism aside, how does anyone in Europe or the US get fixated on Jews in this way?

I could quite happily get into an informed discussion of religious sectarianism in Northern Ireland, discrimination against black and Asian people in the UK, and so on. But anti-Semitism always stumps me.

As I say, this isn't a rhetorical question.

Calm down

Reflecting on the perilous position Charles Kennedy finds himself in, the following occurs to me:

Kennedy undoubtedly plays well with the public if not with his colleagues. The 'chat show Charlie' accusations are almost exclusively from the Westminster village. To the general public, I suspect he comes across as a reasonably clever, humane man with a 'life'.

Not one of these straight-from-Oxford automatons that dominate so many of the frontbenches (even though he did go into the House at a very young age).

There appears to be an insatiable demand on politicians (from their peers) to be constantly seen to be doing something. Kennedy's colleagues may have been frustrated at the lack of high-profile energy from his office. They may believe that there are opportunities to score points that are being missed.

Again, I think this may be Westminster preoccupation. I don't believe that the public believe that they need to be constantly hearing from politicians.

Alcoholism is no joke really, and I'm not sure that Charles Kennedy's problems are any of our business. If he has become incapacitated in his day-to-day dealings, I suppose that the issue has to be confronted in the brutal way that some of his colleagues want.

Either way, I hope he can deal with it. But if the Lib-Dems think that they need to ditch him purely because a lack of dynamic leadership, maybe they should think again.

(btw, I expect he will have resigned by the time most people read this)

Mundane discoveries

Every now and then, someone tells me something that I really should have known. Something simple and useful. A little peice of knowledge that makes life easier. Something I wished I'd known before.

In a forthcoming post, I'll tell you the correct way to make pancakes (I always screw up making pancakes - until now, that is).

But for now, try this: (it only works if you have a scroll-wheel on your mouse):

1. Hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard.
2. Fiddle with the scroll-wheel on your mouse.

If you haven't got a scroll wheel, tap the + or - keys instead.

Cool huh? This only works if the website you are on is well-coded of course. But blogger sites are.

Done that? Now instead of holding down the Ctrl key, hold down the 'shift' key (the one above Ctrl key normally) and do the same thing. As long as you have arrived here from other sites, this should be like using the 'back' button on your browser.

That's all. Carry on with what you were doing.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Wakey wakey! Aren't you dressed for school yet?

Aren't ten year-olds imaginative?

I should know - speaking as a ten year old boy. I'm certainly having a very imaginative dream anyway.

In it, I've already gone through 31 years. I've dreamed myself right into the year 2006. It is quite a good story though. Well, it starts quite well anyway.

It has probably only actually lasted about five seconds in real life. Apparently you can get though years in just a few seconds in a dream.

Anyway, here I am, typing on something called a Computer - my own Computer! It's got a sort of typewriter on the front and a funny screen that looks like a tea-tray. And the whole world can see everything I write!

I went to bed last night and as soon as I dozed off, it started. The first thing that happened was that Brian Clough - that loudmouth who I watched on Parkinson when I was let stay up late - arrives at the City Ground - TOMORROW MORNING!

Its a fabulous dream, but a bit far-fetched to be honest. Probably the best bit is the way that all of those Derby fans at school get so pissed off all the way through it. I wish someone had pinched me awake when it got to 1993 though....

Ah yes. The 5th of January 1975. I hope that there will be something better on the radio soon. All of that crap by Led Zeppelin and Genesis that the big boys are listening to is a bit hard to take if you ask me....

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Seven Sevens

During the festival of intoxication, I was tagged by Tom, who asked me to list forty-nine things, thus:
  1. Seven things to do before I die
  2. Seven things I cannot do
  3. Seven things that attract me to (...)
  4. Seven things I often say
  5. Seven books (or series) that I love
  6. Seven movies I watch over and over again
  7. Seven people I want to join in, too.

So here goes

Seven things to do before I die:
  1. Write a song that can hold a candle to Shane MacGowan's 'Dark Streets of London'
  2. Impove my guitar playing to a standard that would allow comparison with Aaron Jones (of Craobh Rua - to my mind, the best accompanist of Irish dance tunes) and my tin whistle playing to a standard that would allow comparison with a Belfast whistle-player called Brian Lynch.
  3. Play in a decent band again. Or even better, play in a good rock band and have a regular Irish traditional sesson of which I'm a respected regular
  4. Sit in the away end at White Hart Lane with my son and watch Forest wipe the floor with Spurs in the Premiership
  5. Improve my house to a standard where I can enjoy it in comfort, and listen to whatever music I want to in every room
  6. Do at least one more major political / techncial project that succeeds and changes things
  7. Be able to change the way I work so that I can live out of London - ideally dividing my time between Nottingham and Co Mayo.

Seven things I cannot do
  1. Restrict myself to short sentances when I've got the chance to make wishes
  2. Stay out of arguments
  3. Drink only two pints of Guiness or Bitter in a pub
  4. Stand the sound of a vacuum cleaner
  5. Play as many instruments as I'd like to
  6. Eat mushrooms, courgettes or aubergines (or anything you have to pronounce in an effeminate foreign-sounding way)
  7. Finish reading Ulysees or the Tin Drum

Seven things that attract me to blogging

  1. I don't know what I think till I see what I write
  2. I find out whether anyone else thinks what I do
  3. I learned that there is a much wider diversity of perfectly defensible opinions than I ever imagined - and that's a good thing by the way
  4. Blogging is a good thing because it provides a new counter-measure to the appalling standard of mainstream journalism
  5. I know that musicians that I've reviewed have read and commented on my blog
  6. My friends who visit the blog arrive in the pub geared up with about a dozen things they want to argue with me about
  7. I make new contacts, most of whom are nicer than you'd think

Seven things I often say
  1. Mustn't grumble
  2. Keep your nose clean
  3. Keep your powder dry
  4. Keep your hand on your ha'penny
  5. Keep your pecker up
  6. Oh look, my flat-iron has landed on your Old Kent Road
  7. Never trust a fucking hippy. I mean it. I'm not joking. Never trust one of the bastards. It's like William Burroughs says: “If you’re ever doing business with a religious son of a bitch, get it in writing! His word ain’t worth shit, not with the good lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal." Except with hippies, its even worse. Never trust the pricks...

Seven books (or series) that I love:
  1. Sword of Honour Trilogy
  2. The LA Quartet (Ellroy)
  3. Atomized
  4. Brendan Behan (biog) by Ulick O'Connor
  5. Cold Heaven (Brian Moore)
  6. Walking on Water (Brian Clough's auto-biography)
  7. Orwell - collected essays

Seven Movies I watch over and over again
  1. Millers Crossing (this one tops this list by a country mile)
  2. The Wrong Arm of the Law
  3. Oh Brother Where Art Thou
  4. Monsieur Hire (not strictly true - I don't own a copy, but I'd watch it regularly if I did)
  5. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
  6. Oliver (the '60s Ron Moody version)
  7. The Man in the White Suit

Seven people I want to join in too
  1. Shuggy
  2. Rock Mother
  3. Deaglan
  4. Rullsenberg
  5. Mat Bowles
  6. Councillor Davies
  7. Councillor Brown

So there you go. You can now pick up what is left of your lives and move on. If you can.

What we know and what we don't know

Tom at Lets Be Sensible says that it's not important that everyone should have a firm view on every topic. He links to a nice little piece from Monday's Thunderer making the same point:

"Lest any in the seats of operational power think it prudent to "bow to public opinion", they might also care to remember that, these days. that may mean little more than which salaried lobbyist did the cutest turn on You and Yours*..."

I couldn't agree more. In fact, I'd go further. I'd argue that we have a moral obligation to express uncertainty where we don't have demonstrable insight. I could even take the opportunity to come up with a crude argument on how representative democracy is dependent upon elected representatives acting as jurors, and the rest of us as expert witnesses.

Given the awful standard of commentary and reportage in the mainstream media, Blogging provides a process of natural selection that should improve the quality of those witnesses. That's the theory, anyway.

But I won't labour this point now because you're probably not completely recovered from *mas yet.

Continuing with the agreeing with Tom theme though, he's absolutely right (in the same post) about BBC Radio 4's 'Who Runs Britain' series. It was a thoroughly irritating project, and it seemed to provide a test-tube example of just how crap the level of public debate is in this country.

We were offered a set of choices from the canon of lazy journalistic obsessions, and then the public were invited to vote on them. I doubt if the majority of voters who chose the 'winner' would have voted any differently, no matter what arguments were on offer. Another illustration of how perverse Direct Democracy is.

The sooner the media tire of these polls, the better.

There are plenty of people who are keen to lay this at the feet of the BBC - that Auntie is somehow biased, or that she has a particular agenda. I'd suggest that the blame should be spread much more widely: The standard of British journalism has caught a terrible cold that has made it lazy and dysfunctional. It needs some particularly nasty-tasting medicine to get it back on its feet again.

And the BBC has largely caught that cold from the print media.

(*for non-UK readers, You and Yours is a BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs programme)

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Monday, January 02, 2006

Odd numbers

Deaglan links to an example of Norn Irn sectariana:

"...a Catholic workmate told me that you could tell who the Protestants were because their registration plates all added up to odd numbers."

He's asking for other examples of this kind of thing. Help him out, whydontcha?

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I’ll read that again

My new year TV schedule (UK) tells me to expect another attempt at dramatising Ian Rankin’s Rebus for the small screen. This time, the lead role is to be taken by Ken Stott.

I’ve just finished my latest Rebus - lazy holiday reading - and it will be interesting to see if Ken is up to it. He’s quite typecast - and some of it fits. For one, he’s Scottish. He’s no spring chicken, and most of his roles are of a relatively senior cop (nearly all TV cops seem to be DIs) who doesn’t play by the rules, exasperates is superiors, yet has the moral compulsion and intelligence needed to do his job better than anyone else.

But Rebus is a bit more complex than Ken’s usual fare. He has a physical presence (ex SAS) - admittedly deteriorated by booze ‘n fags - and a pragmatism that Ken hasn’t been scripted with before. He also seems to have a complex sex-appeal which Ken will struggle to match. Rebus has a professional’s eye for creating situations in which people tell him what he needs to know. Ken’s script is usually for moral force rather than calculation. Where Stott usually plays a monomaniac on the verge of a breakdown, Rebus has a hinterland - a pub full of his usual non-suspects, a record collection, a secret liberalism, and so on.

But as I said, Ken has the core attributes - moral compulsion / intelligence / contempt for procedure etc. We’ll see.

Two points coming out of this: The first is an observation that there is a receptive market in which the failure of management can be pedalled. In TV drama, enterprise and creativity never come from those who succeed on the promotional ladder - the people who make and enforce the rules.

The second is the implication that, deep down, we like to hear the same story over and over again. There is a template for the mid-market cop drama. Think back to The Sweeney in the 1970s - typical dialogue;

“By the book this time Regan”
“But Guv! I get results my way...”

The same dialogue could come from Rebus, any of Stott’s characters, the ‘Prime Suspect’ series, Inspectors Frost and Morse, and so on.

This explains why so much news journalism these days appears to be an eager rehearsal of a prewritten script. It doesn’t explain why this market for stories about bureaucratic failure remain untapped.

There’s a ready market for them, you know...

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