Sunday, 29 May 2011

Guilt by association

Today, the goverment released a list of "ridiculous" excuses made by benefit fraudsters who'd been caught trying to fiddle the system. Oddly enough, this came ot on the same day as a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, suggesting that number of people out of work for more than a year has reached its highest level for over a decade.

Coincidence? I don't think so...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Happy Cat Feedz Lotz of Peepul

Behold, the feeding of the five thousand, according to the LOLCat New Testament:

Teh Aposslz caem bak, an dey telld Happy Cat all teh stuff dey did an teechd. An den, bcuz dere wuz too many peepul an dey wuzn't getting lunch, he wuz liek "Hay, letz go rest nao, k?"

An so dey went away in a boat an went were nowun wuz. But lotz of peepul seez dem, an chaesd dem an got dere furst. An Happy Cat seez dem, an touhght dey wuz liek sheep wifout a shephurd. An he teeched dem stuff.

It wuz getting laet, so teh disiples wuz liek "Hay, itz rly laet, an we iz, liek, in teh middul of nowerez. U sendz dem hoem so dey can bai dinnur, k?"

But Happy Cat wuz liek "No wai! U giv dem fudz!" An dey wuz liek "But dats lotz of munniez! U wantz us to uze dat much munniez on teh fudz?"
An Happy Cat wuz liek "Hao much fudz duz we haz? U go check, k?" An dey checkd, an wuz liek "Dere iz fiev bredz an two tunaz."

An den Happy Cat wuz liek "Everwun sitz down nao, k?" An so everwun satz down on teh grass. An he grabbd teh fudz, an he lukd to teh Ceiling, an wuz liek "Hay, thx Ceiling Cat" an broek teh bredz. Den he wuz liek "Heer, u pass dis out, k?" An everwun ate an everwun wuz fullz, an teh disiplz pickd up teh leftovurz, an dere wuz twelv bukkitz ful. An dey put it in teh fridge to saev for latur. Fiev thousand peepulz atez. Srsly.

Here endeth today's lesson. See teh rest ov teh gud buk here.

Three songs about sheep...

...spanning more than two and a half centuries, illustrate a sad decline in the (admittedly niche) genre of sheep-related devotional music. Example #1:

Next up:

  • Handel's All we, like sheep from the Messiah (1740's). Unintentionally hilarious, due to the difficulty of singing that comma, but still pretty damn good.

And finally:

  • The contemporary I just want to be a sheep by somebody who ought to be deeply ashamed (Not, in my opinion, Suitable For Work, or anywhere else, for that matter). I'm sure this abomination contravenes The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Thursday, 26 May 2011

He was not turned into a fireball. We apologise for the distress...

IN an article published on The Sun website on January 27 under the headline 'Gollum joker killed in live rail horror’ we incorrectly stated that XXXXX [victim's name omitted], 23, of Brighton, was blown 15ft into the air after accidentally touching a live railway line.

His parents have asked us to make clear he was not turned into a fireball, was not obsessed with the number 23 and didn’t go drinking on that date every month.

XXXXX’s mother did not say, during or after the inquest, her son often got on all fours creeping around their house pretending to be Gollum.

Also, quotes from a witness should have been attributed to Gemma Costin not Eva Natasha. We apologise for the distress this has caused XXXXX’s family and friends.

A taste of the top-notch journalism available in Britain's best-selling newspaper, as spotted by Ben Goldacre. Makes you proud to be British...

Monday, 23 May 2011

2011 - A Design Oddity

Until now, the most disappointing thing about the 21st Century has been that nothing looks the way it was supposed to in 2001 A Space Odyssey. Massimo Iosa Ghini has rectified this deficiency (at least for IBM Software Executives) in his design for IBM's Software Executive Briefing Center in Rome.

A pint of plain is your only man

Well, President Obama finally downed the proffered pint of Guinness with good grace and seemed to enjoy it. How unlike our own dear Queen who greeted the offer of a glass of stout with a 'what the hell am I supposed to do with this?' look, like a cat bemused by a Rubik's Cube, before stalking off. Given that her job consists entirely of waving, looking regal and being pleasant, she really ought to have done better than a guy with his mind on the fraught job running a not-insignificant country. So much for the effortless grace of the Royals outshining the lumpen efforts of all those grubby little elected presidents. Republic 1, Monarchy 0.

At least she didn't ruin the pint by mixing it with sparkling wine. Which reminds me of my favourite joke from Samuel Beckett:

Why did the barmaid sham pain?

Because the Because the stout porter bit her.

There's no one as Irish as Otto von Bismark

President Obama's visit to Ireland brought to mind a piece of General Ignorance that's been knocking around my head ever since I didn't pay proper attention in a school history lesson. I've spent the past thirty-odd years under the quaint misapprehension that the Black Velvet cocktail, traditionally made from a mixture of Guinness and champagne, was invented by Otto von Bismark. Fortunately, the Internet is on hand to correct my youthful inattention:

The drink was first created by the bartender of the Brooks's Club of London in 1861, to mourn the passing of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Prince Consort.

So, nothing to do with the Iron Chancellor, then? Well, there is a slight connection:

In Germany, a version of this mixed beer drink made with schwarzbier (a dark lager) and served in a beer stein or beer mug is called a "Bismarck". According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the "Iron Chancellor" supposedly drank it by the gallon.


The other thing I remember about Bismark from school is that he suffered from terrible indigestion, and no wonder, if that was his tipple of choice. I've never tried a Black Velvet myself, although it sounds to me like a waste of both the black stuff and champagne, fit only for posh student parties. Anyway, you're welcome to join me in raising a glass of the black stuff (without added sparkling wine) to Barack and Otto. Sláinte!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Labour to inspire with national scapegoat hunt

He [Labour leader Ed Miliband] also said that the party had to admit past mistakes such as its policy on immigration.

"Eastern European immigration did place downward pressure on wages. People can argue about the extent. We were too relaxed about that," he said.


I don't know about that, but I do know that the aftermath of a little thing we called the global financial crisis placed a lot of downward pressure on wages (as well as public services and the number of people in work). Ed could have 'fessed up to New Labour being way too relaxed about rich, powerful people like Sir Fred Goodwin getting filthy rich in the financial bubble. But I guess it's easier to blame everything on some poor Romanian scraping the minimum wage down at the car wash.

First find your powerless scapegoats, then lead the charge against them - it's way easier than tackling the big issues... Let the harassment continue.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Time to cut the puppets' strings?

As a not very strident republican, I tried to show a polite interest in the royal wedding - the procession, the dress, the guest list, Beatrice’s Flying Spaghetti Monster hat, the paternity of William's younger brother and all the other stuff that seems to fascinate monarchy fans. It probably wasn't a very convincing show of interest, although I did stop daydreaming for long enough to notice that Prince William's sash, with embroidered RAF wings, looked rather like the sashes the Thunderbirds puppets wore. Maybe they should have run with the theme and had a pink Rolls Royce for the wedding car.

Anyway, the pageant failed to melt my crusty republican heart where argument had failed before. It's not that it's a big issue for me - after all, in a lot of ways, the Royals are just puppets. If a genie came along and allowed me to wish for three things that would change the world for the better, abolishing our constitutional monarchy wouldn't be anything like important enough to consider. In fact, it wouldn't make my top 50 issues and it's quite possible that I could get to 100 and still find more important things to worry about. It's just that nobody has ever come up with a more compelling case for our monarchy than inertia - it's what we've got and there are plenty of other issues more pressing than coming up with an alternative.

Still, I resent being a subject, rather than a citizen, the pomp and circumstance leaves me cold, (or, at best, tepid), I'm tired of hearing Prince Charles' nonsensical opinions being given the oxygen of publicity, just because of who his parents are, and it's hard to square any notion of either meritocracy or some degree of fairness and equality with the bizarre fact that his mum is the legal owner of about 6,600 million acres of land, (one sixth of the planet’s land surface).

A lot of the arguments in favour of the monarchy are pretty feeble. 'The country needs a symbolic figurehead who's above politics' insist monarchists. I'm not convinced that we need national symbols half as much as some people believe. If this country is a good place to live, the feeling of belonging and the symbols will take care of themselves; if it's not, the important thing is to tackle the causes of misery, rather than fretting about flag-waving distractions.

The other favourite one is 'if you abolished the monarchy you'd be left with President [insert name of unpopular ex -prime minister].' If you really wanted to have a figurehead president, (preferably elected for a fixed term) there are any number of constitutional ways you could separate the presidential career path from the prime ministerial one - if we had an elected upper chamber, for example, presidents might be elected from there, rather than from the Commons, with former PMs and party leaders barred from standing for President for, say, ten years.

The Presidential powers could be so limited that they'd have no attraction for ambitious politicians. Or, if you wanted to exclude party politicians altogether and there was still a national honours system, maybe the pool of potential presidents would be people who'd been awarded non-political OBEs, CBEs or equivalents for services to something worthwhile.

I did come across a more convincing argument for a constitutional monarchy recently. It didn't convince me completely, but it's a lot more appealing than the usual ones. It goes like this:

Look at the top ten countries in the UN’s Human Development Index (which takes into account life expectancy, education levels and standards of living). Seven out of the ten are monarchies.

The OECD has a Subjective Well Being index (an attempt to measure life satisfaction the presence of positive experiences and feelings). Eight of the top ten countires on this index are monarchies.

According to Euromoney, out of the top ten safest countries in terms of financial risk, seven are monarchies.

Given that monarchy and equality would seem to go together like steak and kidney pudding and custard, it's surprising to see that half of the top ten most equal societies according the OECD's Gini Coeffieicents are monarchies.

These are some of the the reasons why Rick at Flip Chart Fairy Tales isn't a Republican and he's got more figures on global competitiveness, labour productivity and social mobility to back up his position.

I'm not wholly convinced; the UK's monarchy doesn't put it in the top ten on any of the lists and, although he tackles the 'correlation isn't the same as causation' objection, I don't think that the good showing by countries that happen to be constitutional monarchies is much more than a historical accident. After all, rule by monarchs has been the norm for most societies for most of history. The fact that many of the world's best places to live retain remnants of this history is interesting, but no more significant than the fact that I've still got an appendix that's a vestige of the organ my remote evolutionary ancestors used to digest cellulose.

Still, it's better than most pro-monarchy arguments and chimes with my instinct that monarchy, although in principle indefensible, doesn't need urgent abolition. I'd like to see the back of the Windsors, but I'd settle for a slimmed-down bicycling monarchy on Scandinavian or Dutch lines. After all, despite the decline of the British manufacturing industry, this country still boasts a major cycle manufacturer (even if they've outsourced their manufacturing). I'd be a bit more enthusiastic about a less extravagant, non-land-hogging, quirky, human-scale monarchy, with the monarch and consort pedalling about on Sir Walter, the Raleigh State Tandem.

Image courtesy of Gerard Stolk's and williamcromar's Flikr streams

No mercy, my precious...

The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.

Mark Britnell, senior adviser to David Cameron, who's advising that the National Health Service should be charging patients and changing  from a healthcare deliverer into a state insurance provider.

In unguarded comments at a conference in New York organised by the private equity company Apax, Britnell claimed that the next two years in the UK would provide a "big opportunity" for the for-profit sector, and that the NHS would ultimately end up as a financier of care similar to an insurance company rather than a provider of hospitals and staff.

The Guardian

The NHS reforms will lead to “short-term pain” but huge long-term opportunities for independent healthcare providers, according to a survey of 20 leading chief executives in the sector... Alistair Stranack, partner at The Parthenon Group’s healthcare practice, said he expects around 50% of the NHS’s £120bn funding will be up for grabs via AQP when the reforms are finally passed.

Tony Blair explained his priorities in three words: education, education, education. I can do it in three letters: NHS... When your family relies on the NHS all of the time - day after day, night after night - you know how precious it is. So, for me, it is not just a question of saying the NHS is safe in my hands - of course it will be. My family is so often in the hands of the NHS, so I want them to be safe there.

David Cameron, Conservative Party Conference, 2006

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Standing up for the apathetic majority?

Nobody knows exactly how many people went on the 2011 anti-cuts rally in London, but the estimates range from from 250,000 to 500,000. The TUC, who organised the march, had an initial estimate of 250,000, which they later revised upwards. The Metropolitan Police didn't put out any alternative estimate. A police spokeswoman said the force only put out its own estimate of the numbers of people on a demonstration when it disagreed with the figures being given by the organisers.

The Taxpayers' Alliance made no comment about the numbers attendeding the anti-cuts protest. Today, the Taxpayers Alliance and chums have organised their own rally, on behalf of 'the silent majority who believe the cuts are needed.' The Metropolitan Police are expecting the turnout to be about 350. Those attending include bloggatarian ranter Paul Staines, AKA Guido Fawkes, the terribly misunderstood Toby Young (if he's not too busy attending a children's pirate party), Ed West, fearless crusader against 'hysterical anti-government propaganda', former Lib Dem spokesman Mark Littlewood (now director of a free-market think tank) and Nigel Farage.

350 isn't exactly a lot of popular support, especially if you subtract the gaggle of high-profile right-wing hacks, think tankers and obsessive bloggatarians and leave only the representatives of Joe and Joanne Public who turn out. No wonder the Taxpayers' alliance were keeping so quiet about the size of the anti-cuts rally.

If these people really represent the majority, as they claim, then most people must be apathetic as well as silent. If they do stay at home, they could always tune in to the news and get the latest on how Osborne’s cuts are helping the UK economy to power ahead of its European rivals - not.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Finland woefully unprepared to conquer Europe

With the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 looming, I predict that the Finns will soon be kicking themselves. The official Finnish entry seems to be something disappointingly safe called Da Da Dam, by some bloke called Paradise Oskar (not, I suspect, his real name). Lordi, he isn't. 95% pf people who listen to Da Da Dam will have forgotten it before Graham Norton and his pan-European colleagues have wrapped up this year's show.

As any fule with an Internet connection kno, the Finns should have entered Munamies. They are, after all, a nation with proud tradition of being completely mental to uphold. Munamies' song, Pomppufiilis, has been all over t'internet like a rash recently and, once seen, is impossible to forget (at least without an intensive course of electroconvulsive therapy). Click here if you've not already experienced the bouncing, squeaky-voiced mini-moomintroll who could so easily have conquered Europe, had more far-sighted counsels prevailed.

Via The Daily What, Miss Cellania and others to numerous to mention.

Full circle

Many original members of the future Social Democratic Party had been members of the Manifesto Group within the Labour Party. This group opposed what they saw as a leftward shift in Labour policy... The final straw for many in the Manifesto Group was the behaviour of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey at a meeting with them during the Labour leadership campaign to replace James Callaghan. He bluntly told those assembled to vote for him and answered their questions uninformatively. At the end, one asked him why they should vote for him, and Healey answered "You have nowhere else to go"* (to stop the left-winger Michael Foot from winning). Healey's arrogance convinced many that their days as members of the Labour Party were now over. Ivor Crewe and Anthony King found five defectors who claimed to have voted for Foot in order to saddle Labour with an unelectable leader and make life easier in their new party. One defector, Mike Thomas, said he was tempted to send a telegraph to Healey reading "Have found somewhere else to go".

The birth of the SDP, according to Wikipedia. Thirty years on, with electoral reform as far off as ever, how's the realignment of British politics going?

Do the Lib Dems want to abandon the Coalition? If so, they have a death wish: any election in the near future would result in a near-total obliteration of their representation in the Commons.

The Telegraph, 11th May 2011

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

*my italics

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye?

Today, Kelvin MacKenzie told an interviewer on Radio 4's PM programme that he was pleased that the courts have thrown out 'that disgusting case by that disgusting man Mosley.'

Max Mosley isn't exactly my cup of tea, but being called 'disgusting' by Kelvin MacKenzie is bang out of order. It's like being ticked off by Gordon Ramsay for swearing.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Conspiracy theory of the day

After Commander-in Chief Obama OK'd the successful mission to get rid of America's Public Enemy no. 1, Donald Trump and the right-wing wingnuts who'd been obsessing about his birth certificate were left looking a bit foolish. On the whole, these don't seem like the sort of folk who change their opinions just because the facts change, so I was prepared for the standard conspiracy theories ("they didn't show us the pictures of Bin Laden with half his head blown off, so how do we know he's really dead?"). But I've just come across a new conspiracy theory that's so elaborately, ingeniously, bonkers that it almost counts as a work of art. It goes like this:

Obama was never really interested in killing or apprehending the world's most infamous mass murderer, (obviously, because there's noting a pinko liberal like Obama loves better than a authoritarian, reactionary fundamentalist). What Obama was interested in was disguising the shocking fact that he wasn't born in the USA. To do so, he hatched a cunning plan that just happened to involve killing Bin Laden.

First, after coming up with ridiculous excuses, (like being too busy doing more important stuff like running the USA), Obama eventually got round to showing Trump, and the world's media, a copy of his full birth certificate. The birth certificate was (of course) a fake. A lesser man would have tried to produce a convincing fake, but according to at least one eagle-eyed "birther", that tricky Obama may have deliberately littered the document with obvious anomalies, such as 'multiple layers, mis-matched fonts, hi-res scan of numbers clearly overlayed in juxtaposition to low-res scan numbers, etc'. These deliberate mistakes would have formed part of a fiendishly clever "sting" operation, primarily intended to make the birthers look like fools.  But for this diabolical plan to work, Obama needed to have Bin Laden killed.

Apparently 'Barack Obama was getting nearly weekly briefings on how George Bush's intelligence apparatus was closing in on Osama since the middle of March, 2011' (I love that detail - Obama's been siting in the White House as C in C since January 2009, but somehow, in 2011,  it's still 'George Bush's intelligence apparatus'). Obama could have signed the order to go get him any time since March, but deliberately chose not to send in the Navy SEALS until immediately after releasing his (deliberately) crudely faked birth certificate. He sent them in with cameras which, according to this theory, is highly suspicious, since, 'SEALs don't carry unnecessary equipment, they don't take photos like tourists at the National Mall.' The SEALS went in, killed Bin Laden, and, most crucially, took snaps of his dead body, which was then disposed of at sea.

The official cover story is that no photos of Bin Laden's body have been released because they would have only inflamed the situation and because the folks in White House thought the whole idea a bit gross. In fact, the reason they haven't been released lies at the heart of Obama's devilish plan to smear those brave truth-seekers who have called his birth certificate into question. Bin Laden, according to this theory, is unquestionably dead. By having photos taken of his dead body, then withholding them, Obama has cleverly managed to make anybody who questions his birth certificate look like a deluded idiot. Here's the reasoning in its full, glorious, pottyness:

Once the SEALS accomplished their mission and got the photos - and the photos were the real point of the whole mission - Obama then pulled the same trick with the photos that he had just spent several years playing with his birth certificate: "Yes, we had the body, but you can't see that. The fish are eating it. Yes, I have the photos, but you can't see them either. Everyone will say they are doctored. I have all the evidence, you don't get anything, you just have to take my word."

He intends to conflate people who still have legitimate questions about his birth certificate and his status as "natural born citizen" with the Elvis, Hitler and soon-to-be Osama sighters. Anyone who questions his version of the story on either subject is stonewalled. And his version of the story isn't exactly consistent. It's as if they are deliberately trying to confuse the truth.

To summarise, these folks might look like swivel-eyed conspiracy nuts to you and me, but that's only because the liberal establishment have engineered a a huge and elaborate disinformation operation to make them look like a bunch of gibbering fruitloops. I'm indebted to Steve Kellmeyer author of the reliably off-the-scale-bonkers Fifth Columm blog for blowing the whistle on this dastardly plan, braving the clear and present danger of being abducted by mysterious black helicopters.

Fantastic stuff, in every sense. Watch the skies, Steve...

Friday, 6 May 2011

Satisfyingly crunchy

Random observation for today. There's something deeply satisfying about the crunch of car tyres on gravel. There's a modest and fairly unattractive strip of gravel on our drive, alternating with equally unattractive slabs of poured concrete, but I love the sound it makes when I roll the car onto it. It's a cut-price version of shingle being clawed back to sea by a retreating wave, in much the same way that that the not-so-distant rumble of traffic on the M1 sounds a bit like the roar of distant surf in my Newport-Pagnell-on-Sea fantasy. Pop open a cold beer in the sun-drenched garden (now boasting a garden shed re-painted to look like a beach hut, in blue, with jaunty strawberry ice-cream pink stripes) and disbelief is is temporarily suspended.

Thank crunchie it's Friday.