Saturday, 31 July 2010

Spooky stairs

Here's a photograph taken at a wedding reception recently. It's just the result of somebody accidentally pressing the shutter at the wrong moment, but it has a certain ghostly atmosphere. The real reason for including it here is to see whether Blogger in Draft's geotagging feature works...

Tea time classic

Sweet - but not too sweet - rich, moist, full-bodied, awesome

Banana bread

4oz (100g) butter or margarine
6oz (175g) caster sugar
3 ripe - repeat, RIPE - bananas
2 medium eggs
4oz (100g) plain flour
4oz (100g) wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
half teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons very hot water
2 oz (50g) walnuts (chopped)

Preheat oven to 165 degrees C (gas mark 3)

Cream butter and sugar together, mash bananas and stir in. Whisk eggs and add slowly to the mixture. Sift the dry ingredients together and add alternately with tablespoons of hot water.

Stir in the walnuts. Butter* a bread tin or oblong casserole about 9 x 5 in (23 x 13 cm), pour in the batter and bake for about one hour 10 minutes.

*it's safest to line the tin with greaseproof paper as well as buttering it.

Golf in unfortunate trousers

For many people the prospect of a comfortable retirement is becoming a mirage, moving further off into the distance as they approach it. At least, as Simon Schama said this week, "It beats death, decay or golf in unfortunate trousers".

Quite right, too - old age and poverty may be frightening, but at least they're not as bad as golf. As Linda Smith once said:

...proper sport being football and cricket and nothing else. Everything else is a game
or a pastime. Except golf. Which is an abomination, encouraging bloated publicans
and estate agents to waddle about a twee and artificial landscape in lurid tight-fitting
pastel jumpers like pregnant Teletubbies.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Like a big robot fascist

This morning, I heard a couple of Radio 2 DJs discussing whether the latest episode of "Top Gear" was The Best. Episode. Ever. Whatever that might mean. Of course, "The Daily Mash" is several orders of magnitude more awesome than any eposode of "Top Gear" could ever aspire to be:

GOVERNMENT plans to scrap speed cameras were last night welcomed by middle-aged men who believe themselves to be excellent drivers...

The move has also been hailed as a rare victory for common sense, in a country where anti-establishment voices like Clarkson's are often restricted to prime-time television, national newspaper columns and six-figure book deals.

Top sarcasm!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Quote of the day

There's altogether too much harping on respect and banning these days. If you can't respect something, you should ban it. If it's not banned, you should respect it.

David Mitchell is spot on. Read the rest here. Via.

Reality bites

It's a mad world. Some people can virtually buy stuff in the future, without anything real actually changing hands, and make millions, while millions of others are toiling to provide goods and services in the real world, here and now, for pennies. Just for a change, it's entertaining to read about the baffled incredulity of a senior commodity trader who found that he'd accidentally bought a real commodity. 28,000 tons of coal, to be exact, sitting on a flotilla of enormous barges outside his riverside office. Brilliant. Via.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

How the other 10% live

Here's a concise summary of what's wrongest with this county that I found in one of the sources linked to in my last post - it's a point well worth repeating:

Over the last 30 years the Anglo-Saxon world has adopted the most disingenuous of economic systems. Under the guise of capitalism for all, we have produced monopoly beneļ¬ts for the few and wage serfdom for the many. Via an undue focus on nominal speculation rather than real investment, an extraordinary amount of wealth has been generated by capital and exchange rate arbitrage, but rather than trickling downwards to nourish the real economy this wealth has leveraged upwards further enriching the already wealthy and pricing out of the investment market all those who cannot amass such advantage.

As such we have produced a rentier economy of capital which licences out debt and borrowing to supplement those whose base wages can no longer sustain a decent standard of living. Hence the growing indebtedness and increasing insecurity, not just of the poor but the middle and professional classes. As such increasing numbers of people are denied the ability to truly own, trade and prosper. In 1976, excluding property, the bottom half of the UK population owned 12% of the marketable wealth; by 2003 that had fallen to just 1%. In the same period, the share enjoyed by the top 10% rose from 57% to 71%. Even when property is included, the bottom half of the population still only owns just 7% of the country’s wealth. A really free market requires that people have something to own and trade. In the rentier economy of monopoly capitalism, the price of debt and the price of access to capital keeps rising and the barrier to real market entry for those without wealth and capital climb ever higher.

As a statement of the big problem, there's nothing here I disagree with. I do, however, take issue with the writer's assertion that "David Cameron recognised all of this", because he told some big wigs at Davos that he wanted to recapitalise the poor. Reforming our dysfunctional kleptocracy is a huge undertaking and endlessly repeating that "big society" catch phrase doesn't begin to cut it.

The Notorious B.I.G..

Some people seem to find this "big society" idea confusing. I can't think why - it's quite simple:

Problem - the public finances are in a mess, because the last government had to:

a) bail out a lot of financial institutions that failed due to the collapse of the speculative bubble that they created


b) pump a lot of money into the economy to stop the resulting recession tipping over into depression.

Solution - balance the books by quickly cutting public services and making lots of people in the public sector unemployed (the crisis wasn't caused by these people, but they need to suffer because we're all in this together). This might be unpopular with some people, but with a bit of clever PR, you can make everybody else resent and hate public sector workers by pointing out that, although generally on modest pay, these people might occasionally have half way decent terms and conditions or even a pension that isn't just a worthless piece of junk flogged by some weasel-faced commission monkey, (the Tories and their little helpers, of course, don't do the politics of envy).

Inconveniently, a lot of public sector workers actually do useful things and people might miss some of the services they provide. No problem - after all, in these hard times there are plenty of under-employed people with way too much time on their hands (soon to be joined by many more unemployed ex-public sector workers). Why wouldn't these people want to step in and provide useful public services, in their own time for no payment? After all it's about time some radical free-market think tankers fearlessly questioned people's selfish notion that they should actually get paid for doing something useful. What's wrong with these dreadful oiks - don't they know that it's terribly common to go on about money?

Fortunately, the state can grab a nice little pot of other people's money to get this spiffy free market idea off the ground. What could possibly go wrong?

Given that "the big society" is such an rigorous, consistent and foolproof idea, it's astonishing how some people still don't get it:

Here’s a tip Dave…pay people to do the jobs that need doing and take the money to pay them with from your banksta pals! Surely they would be pleased to “volunteer” their surplus cash!

writes Harpymarx - like, DUR!

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Why are jellyfish different colours? I'm assuming that it's not some sort of display put on for the benefit of other jellyfish. Jellyfish don't have eyes, although some have a few light-sensitive cells that can distinguish light from dark. Come to think of it, they haven't got anything you could call a brain.

I don't think the different colours are camouflage, either. Jellyfish can be transparent, which is about as good a disguise as you can get, so I can't imagine that any additional colouration helps in this respect.

Maybe the colours are signals to warn off predators, like the yellow and black stripes of a wasp, but I really don't have a clue.

Answer to follow when I find it...

Picture courtesy of Malene Thyssen.

Eye candy

After a short camping holiday we're back in the garden, checking out the soft fruit harvest. The raspberries are ripening nicely and the dessert gooseberries (variety "Careless") are almost ripe, but the most striking crop must be the redcurrants which have been cropping since before we went away. They may be tiny and a little on the tart side, but they look as fresh and perfect as dew drops, with a deep, translucent ruby glow. It's a joy to see them appearing - they must be one of the most beautiful fruits in creation.

It just goes to show that you don't have to go far to see something extraordinary, although a couple of things from our holiday were just as striking. I've got a picture of one of those things here:

It's the sun, surrounded by a rainbow-tinted halo (the rainbow colours were there, although they don't come out very well in the photo). These are produced by the sun shining through ice crystals in high cirrus clouds. I photographed this one about a week ago, whilst sitting on a Cornish beach.

That same beach was dotted with scores beached jellyfish which would have been an impressive sight, if they had still been floating, rather than laying around as sand-covered blobs. I didn't take any pictures, as they weren't at their most photogenic. If they had still been at sea, they'd have made for some interesting pictures. Most of them were harmless Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), quite transparent apart from four violet crescents. These, I later found out, are the animal's gonads. The remaining jellyfish were also transparent, but thickly streaked with a radial pattern of deep indigo, like dark blue ink. I'm not 100% sure what these were, but they looked like this photograph of a Blue Jellyfish, (Cyanea lamarckii). Whatever they were, that indigo colour was as almost lovely as a redcurrant or a rainbow circle round the sun.

Marie Antoinette slams bread shortage

In today's press release from the Petit Trianon, Queen Marie Antoinette once more claimed that 'we're all in this together' and insisted that she faces the same tough choices as any ordinary peasant:

Queen Marie Antoinette has said she is "terrified" by the prospect of poor people struggling to find bread to feed their children.

The Queen has acknowledged that her radical new cake-based alternative is not "easy" or "popular"