Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You've got to worry for the real baby

Overheard in South Africa:

"Where were you last week, Charles?"
"I was sick, boss. Throwing up every morning."
"Oh yeah? Got a note from the doctor, I suppose?"
"Right here..."

Lies in Religion

Truth in Science (sic) supporter, Nick Cowan, as quoted on the BBC and Wongablog:

There's a sense that if you criticise Darwin you must be some kind of religious nut case.

Yup, that's right, Nick, if you peddle the lies of ID/Creationism, you're nothing but a big, bonkers, God-bothering fruitcake:

(This is over 2 hours long, but you should be in tears of laughter way before that. Link originally found in this Guardian discussion)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Diana's Death an Islamic Plot?

Stephen Tall speculates how Princess Diana's death would be reported or handled by the media today. He raises the point that the blogosphere would present a new forum for those who weren't all that bothered, or who thought that everyone in general had overreacted:

The 44 per cent of us who had no voice, and began to wonder if we were the only ones with any sense of perspective, would have soon realised how widely shared was our reaction. Blogs, Internet forums, newspaper websites - all would have reflected the spectrum of public opinion.

That, in turn, might have prompted the media to take a step back, to look with rather more cool analytical detachment at the varied response of the public, rather than assume an entire nation had lapsed into a self-absorbed stasis of group-think emotional incontinence.

I was in Japan when she died, and avoided most of the hubbub, although the media coverage there was probably as comprehensive as at home. People were shocked when I told them I wasn't particularly upset by the tragic events.

Iain Dale was one of those emotional types "howling" during the funeral. I howled too, but with laughter (the Japanese broadcast was unintentionally hilarious). His comments on ST's piece:

I am not sure that much would have been different. Stephen is right that those who felt the public reaction was out of all proportion would have had more of a voice nowadays, but I doubt whether that would have had much of an effect on the mainstream media coverage.

I think there would be a big difference now, certainly with regards to explanations for the cause of the crash. Many people then bought into conspiracy theories saying that the British government, or the Royal Family, or the security services, or some combination of all three was responsible for the crash. That they didn't want a Muslim to marry the mother of the heirs to the throne.

At the time, the theories weren't so outlandish. But now I'm sure the Muslim angle on the story would be the complete opposite. Either Dodi would be fingered as a suicide candidate, somehow engineering the crash from inside the car, or (more likely, perhaps) Islamic extremist groups would be linked to the accident - wanting to target a high profile figure to make some political point. Precisely what point would of course be hypothesised by the press and investigating police. Either way, the mainstream media in 2006 could not portray Muslims as victims so easily. If they didn't think it a pure accident, people would assume an Islamic hand was guiding events (well, unless they thought Vladimir Putin was behind it).

Here's a point to finish with. We remember Di and Dodi, but let's also not forget Jemima Goldsmith marrying Imran Khan a couple of years earlier. Their relationships were all over the papers a decade ago. Two proper, establishment ladies, with Muslim partners. Could we see such a thing now? I doubt it very much. In the 1997 media, Muslims were wealthy playboys whose yachts and summerhouses were exotically alluring to British society. Now, if we believe what we see, Muslims are introverted, would-be martyrs who live in semis in Luton or High Wycombe, plotting the best way to nobble a bus.

Think I'm wrong? Try this then:
Say "Muslim" to yourself.
Who do you picture? Omar Sharif or Abu Hamza.

Killjoy Kops

So, the police want powers to curb what protesters can write on their placards. This is clearly nonsense, and needs no further comment. But it did remind me of this unlikely slogan from a few years ago:

Say it ain't so, sisters!

(hat tip to Norm)

The Ashes - 4

Ok, so we lost.

Let's not get too discouraged - we showed quite a bit of fight in the second innings and no-one ever beats Australia at the Gabba anyway. Remember, England haven't lost two consecutive matches in the same series since the last Ashes tour in 2002-3 and I'm still confident we can hold onto the little urn.

Adelaide is the city of churches - what better place for England's resurrection?

"Wolfhound. The Russian Wolfhound"

At least there's one thing the English still do well: play James Bond on film.

I went to see Casino Royale yesterday (we're in the same time zone as the UK here, but films still take a week longer to open) and thought it was very good - a gritty cut above the gadget-heavy Pierce Brosnan outings. In fact Q doesn't even put in an appearance. Presumably John Cleese's fee was too high.

Daniel Craig is an excellent Bond, bringing hope to all us shorter, fairer-haired men who might bid for the role in the future. I'm not ashamed to say that on the tube back from the cinema I made my hand into a gun and pointed it at the passengers I thought most likely to be henchmen or goons. And in the stations I made sure to take cover behind the advertising boards and chocolate machines so they couldn't get a clear shot at me as I made my escape. I guess if DC goes for another 8 years or so, I'd be about the right age to take over. Remember, you heard it here first.

One more thing: if you're going to see the film, watch out for the bad guy, Le Chiffre. Just think of Jools Holland, but with Nasser Hussain's mouth. Anyone agree?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Ashes - 3

As usual, Simon Barnes sums things up perfectly.

'Twas ever thus though, and there must be a few England fans darkly muttering Wally Hammond's words from 60 years ago.

What's more, there's no live audio from the ABC, so I'm reduced to the text commentary online:

The Beeb: "England are lumbering on like a clown's car, with square wheels and bits falling off at every juncture."

The Guardian: "No sign of a declaration, or any declaration batting: Australia are just carrying on pretty sedately towards a lead of 12 million."

Cricinfo: "21.2 Harmison to Langer, 5 runs, good line from Harmison - he's been much better this afternoon - but, oh dear. That's hapless and careless from Pietersen who tried to throw down the stumps - completely unnecessarily as Langer was in his crease - and it races away for four. Harmison really needs that"

If only we had a certain wicket-taking left arm spinner who can't field too well:

Thursday, November 23, 2006

10 Things I would never do? Hmm.

I saw this on Iain Dale's blog yesterday. He says he wants to start a meme. Effectively he's listing the limits of his ambition and his moral boundaries. Strangely he rules out going to White Hart Lane, but not killing a shop assistant for giving him the wrong change. Clearly not a man to cross.

The idea comes from the Daily Torygraph, which has been running its own version of the popular alcoholic parlour game "I have never...". Fortunately I didn't have bottle of vodka to hand when I read the list, otherwise I would have been completely hammered. Never worn jeans - swig. Never been to Disneyland - glug. Never used a mobile phone - chug-a-lug.

Anyway, it got me thinking. I'm only young, but I've seen and done a few crazy (a bungee jump in NZ, still wear the T-shirt), morally dubious (eaten whale meat in Japan, actually it's rather yummy) and utterly indefensible (voted Republican - for Bush, Sr, in 1988) things in my time.

With a track record like that, it seems there's not much I'd never do, but here's my shot at a list anyway. Only a top 5, 'cos the other places are taken up with the big no-nos like incest and killing shop assistants:

  1. Buy a fat-looking Mercedes. The thinner old ones are OK.
  2. Rule out a blaxploitation version of my life story (should a biopic ever be on the cards).
  3. Get married in a church or other place of worship.
  4. Take a bus, if a train is a viable alternative.
  5. Order a plate of dobrada in a Portuguese restaurant again. (I discovered, the hard way, that dobrada means tripe.)
Apparently with these things, you're supposed to tag someone else and encourage them to join the fun (like chain letters, woo!), so I'll tag my friend, Tom.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Ashes - 2

So, tonight's the night it all kicks off. I don't know about you, but I'm almost trembling with expectation. I hope I'll be able to pick up the ABC broadcast online, but if not I'll still cope by watching Cricinfo (feverishly refreshing the scorecard every 10 seconds or so).

As far as the cricket itself is concerned, I feel quite confident about England's chances. If the batsmen don't get nerves when McGrath and Warne have the ball in their hands, we're capable of posting some decent scores. I have a feeling Strauss and Pietersen especially will like the Aussie conditions. And Geraint Jones, too, should justify his selection with a couple of decent scores. Let's just hope he doesn't drop too many behind the stumps. With the bowling, I hope Monty gets the call ahead of Giles (unlike Aggers), and that the others can stick the ball on the spot enough to put pressure on the Australian batsmen. Harmison should do well in Brisbane if he can put his balls in the right place (so to speak).

The most important thing is to remember this is a five match series, with plenty of time to ebb and flow. So although momentum will be gained by the team that wins in Brisbane, the loser will have time to come back (remember 2005). The schedule is punishing, with 5 games in six weeks. This should stand in England's favour, as Australia's aging warriors (six 35+ year olds) will find their fitness levels harder to maintain.

My prediction is a 3-1 win for England (how bold!), but if the whole thing is even half as tense as last time, it will be a great series.

"Come on you Pommie Bastards!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Villain of the Day

Michael Richards

Check this vid from his set on Friday night. There are some hecklers and he responds with a powerful, but ill-judged attack. Looks like his career could be over.

*strong effing language warning*

Not sure what's going on in the mind of Seinfeld's Kramer, but clearly all is not right. Not even the worst of my lessons have gone that badly. Perhaps he should start a double act with Big Ron?

Silver medal too, for this bookmaker. All in the best possible taste.

Hero of the Day

Brian Lara

With most eyes on Brisbane for the start of the Ashes tomorrow night, it's easy to forget that another test series is going on in Pakistan. And Brian Lara, the West Indies captain, is showing he's still got it at the age of 37. Having hit a hundred in a losing cause in the first test, he's smashed another one today in the second - becoming only the sixth man ever to hit a century before lunch.

What a player - he will be sadly missed when he finally retires.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Religious Symbol Latest

The British Airways check-in woman who was suspended for wearing a cross has lost her appeal. Perhaps she could consider working for Swiss? I imagine crosses there are seen as effective promotional tools.

Hiding a massive brain

Check out this article about the West Ham takeover. Is that the biggest bonce you've ever seen?

I guess Eggert must be Icelandic for Egghead.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Make Love Not War

Peace activists have been exhorting this slogan since the 1960s, but it's only now that anyone has actually tried to harness the idea productively.

The Global Orgasm project hopes that if the world's population can channel its energy through one giant shared moment of ecstasy, international peace might ensue.

I'm willing to test the theory, and if any single girls out there share a desire to end war and suffering, they can contact me through the usual channels.

(with a nod to Tim Worstall and England Expects)


Hi all,

I've finally managed to get my camera out and take a few pictures of Torres Vedras:

The somewhat phallic memorial to the Peninsular War and the lines of Torres Vedras in the Jardim de Graca.

The Praca Municipal, just down the street from where I work.

A view from the castle. My flat is in the white block right in the centre of the picture.

Another view from the castle - note the wind turbines on the hills in the background.

The castle itself - not much to look at these days.

The church of Santa Maria do Castelo, inside the castle precinct.

The church of San Pedro - I walk past this on my 200 metre stroll to work each day.

One of the car-free streets of the old town. Also pedestrian -free on Sunday mornings, as you can see.

Another of the narrow streets of the old town. You can see the castle in the background. Note the typical Portuguese tiled paving - every old town here is paved with a mosaic of tiny cream and black squares, often in intricate patterns.

The oh-so exciting view from my window. Note the beautifully tied washing lines. Knot fans will recognise the tautline hitch.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I feel the earth move under my feet

What's been the most seismologically active part of the world this week?

That's right, the Kuril Islands, with an impressive 45 earthquakes of magnitude 5 or above since Sunday.

The largest (8.3) even made the CNN news, with a major tsunami warning. The wave turned out to be only 40cm high, but I guess the evacuations were a necessary precaution.

How do I know all this? Because I get notification of all the world's earthquakes, direct from the US Geological Survey. And you can too, if you fit the same Firefox extension, available here. The browser window wobbles every time there's an earthquake somewhere in the world.

If that doesn't shake you out of using Internet Explorer, surely nothing will.

The Ashes - 1

I was intrigued by this comment from Duncan Fletcher re the big Monty or Gilo debate:

We wanted Monty if Trescothick was there, because Trescothick added [batting] depth. Now, we might have to re-think it,
Trescothick added batting depth? He's an opener. Monty is a number 11. How does that work? They weren't exactly competing for the same spot. I can see how Giles would add batting depth at eight, he's our best batting bowler, but I can't make much sense of Fletcher's statement. Not to mention what that says of Collingwood, who will be Trescothick's replacement in the batting line-up (Cook opening, obviously). Presumably he reduces the "batting depth" of the team.

Of course, the biggest problem is finding a place in Portugal where I can get live access to coverage of the series itself. The BBC isn't providing online radio coverage for non-UK residents, and I can't find any other outlet that is. What's the point of getting a job that doesn't start until 5pm when I can't stay up all night listening to the cricket?

I guess I still have a week to sort something out.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jesus and Marcus Trescothick

  • Both born on Christmas Day
  • Both fairly handy with a piece of wood in their hands
  • Both finished their careers at 30
  • Both will live in the memory beyond that point, though
  • One played at Lord's, one was the Lord
  • Er, one walked out while the crowds sang "Jerusalem", the other walked out with the crowds singing in Jerusalem.
OK, that's enough of my tenuous things in common for those two (although Cricinfo puts some more biblical references in Banger's profile). Still, I'd like to pay personal tribute to Trescothick, who has served English cricket very well over the past 6 years or so. He may not have had the footwork or technique of some great batsmen, but he could hit the ball a mile and frequently did. His best innings, of 219 and 180 against South Africa at the Oval and Jo'burg, were outstanding efforts - amongst the finest by England batsmen over recent years - and his slip catching was almost faultless. I hope he has a speedy recovery from this stress-related illness that appears to have ended his international career a few years early.

Although, of course, I'm not ruling out a miraculous comback...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fat man can't take joker

Has David Aaronovitch lost his sense of humour? He raves in the Times about Armando Iannucci's Tate Britain lecture, where Iannucci made the point that comedians are an increasingly important part of the political arena.

Long ago, complained Iannucci, politicians used to speak to us properly, the media used to subject their every action to forensic scrutiny and broadcast culture was so robust that people were happy to get their information from the news. Now politicians say stupid or mendacious things, the press (as over Iraq) doesn’t pull them up on it, and it has left a gap. And “I find myself stepping into that gap. Not just me, but many other humorists, satirists, comics, artists, people who . . . feel compelled to analyse that logic because no one else will.”

Actually I will. Alice Miles will. Matthew Parris will. But onwards. Armando — “. . . there’s a decreasing pool of ideas and arguments to analyse. There is an emptiness in public argument waiting to be filled. That’s where my lot come in again. If politicians fail to supply politics with content, is it any wonder people turn to other, more entertaining sources?” It’s hard to know where to begin with this. Should I first wonder at the scale of Iannucci’s delusion, or the very fact of its existence?
This question caught my eye.

Does Aaronovitch really find these ideas deluded? Or is he just upset that more people listen to Armando Ianucci than him or Alice Miles (who?) or Matthew Parris? Surely he can appreciate the increased presence of satirists in the political mainstream over the past few years. Michael Moore came to prominence as a great lampooner of America, with shows like TV Nation. Now he's a massively influential film-maker. Jon Stewart's Daily Show reaches more people in America than most traditional organs (including DA's columns, I guess). Former Presidents queue up to appear on it. Love these two or loathe them, they are part of the scenery now. Closer to home, what about Mark Thomas, and his work exposing the arms trade? A comedian stepping into the gaps left by others, no?

The big man gets a bit more bizarre:

Do his in-tray and e-mail inbox fill up every day, like mine do, with invitations to public debate or with copies of discussion documents, almost always involving politicians? There are scores of papers and meetings on public health, climate, social services, care of the elderly, prison policy, disability, health rationing, the role of PTCs, the funding of local government, rural regeneration, social exclusion, changes to the curriculum, aid policy and, Armando, so on. Some of it gets on the 24-hour news but most of it, being unpictorial, doesn’t. And none of it seems to involve comedians; there are no invitations to discuss road pricing with Ricky Gervais.

This stuff doesn’t entertain or amuse those looking for quick stimulation. The broadcasters would far rather fill the public arena with comedians. Got a factual programme? Stick a comedian on it and at least you’ll have some jokes.
Isn't he losing his focus here?

He started off having a go at the comedians, but now he's blaming the TV companies - (insert gag here about jokers running the BBC) they're not the same people. I don't think any of the issues listed would "entertain or amuse" anybody, really, and by the sound of things, Aaronovitch should probably change his spam filters. But there is surely a place for comedians to poke fun at the way politicians bugger up their attempts to make coherent policies. Politicians don't all lie all the time, but they do frequently talk a lot of nonsense. If satirists can't have a pop at them for that, what kind of world are we living in? I agree that politicians from other parties and "serious" journalists should make counter-arguments more strongly, but should we blame comedians for them not being able to do so?

The rant continues, this time bringing in (from where? I have no idea) Britain's playwrights:
Having fallen off the Iannucci Winterval card list I might as well now stick it to Alan Bennett, since there’s no way back.
A non-sequitur par excellence, followed up by a simple skewering of Alan Bennett's musings on tuition fees. Then a similar jab at David Hare (one barrel, two fish, easy-peasy). I quote:

Three years ago Sir David put on his play about deaths on the railways, The Permanent Way, and described it as a “painful parable about the badness of British government”. He went on: “The play is really asking: why do politicians not see what is completely obvious to everyone else? And the answer is that it suits them to privatise things, because then they’re able to blame other people when things go wrong.”

Yes, that would be it. But in 2005 there were exactly zero passenger fatalities on British trains. That’s none. So where’s the parable now? Is Sir David likely to do a follow-up in which he discovers the essential goodness of government through the numbers our trains (compared with France and Germany) don’t kill? I look forward to Marcus Brigstocke bringing us a skit on the lack of rail casualties.

Er, what?

Firstly, I don't think Hare's broad point about the cynical aspects of privatisation is necessarily wrong, despite no-one dying on the railways in 2005. Secondly, as DA should know, there are other ways of measuring the success of a privatised public transport network besides the number of fatalities (compared with France and Germany, I'm sure British trains suffer longer delays, more overcrowding, higher prices and lower levels of customer satisfaction for a start).

But again, shouldn't DA be chiding the Opposition, or his chums in the "serious" media, for creating the vacuum in the big political debate, rather than a pointless dig at his idol Hare and Marcus Brigstocke for unwittingly filling it? (And while he's at the playwrights, where's his shot at Harold Pinter, the most overtly political scribe of the lot? Not such an easy target, perhaps?)

The big man then goes on about some TV shows I haven't seen, and I have no idea what he's on by the end:

TV companies, comedians and playwrights seem to think that the best politicians are those who have “high-paced short conversations” because those appeal to popular taste. Comedians, eh? They’re only in it for themselves. As for playwrights, they’re just as bad each other.

No, Armando, satirise yourselves first, and your smug audiences, whose laughter and contempt is never, these days, uncomfortable enough. And that’s because, they think it’s never about them, while actually, in a consumer democracy, it should never really be about anybody else.

Okay, David, let's just call it a day there, shall we? Best leave the punchlines to the professionals.

None of that summary tackles what Iannucci was saying at all. He (Iannucci) wants to have a laugh at politicians because generally speaking they're feckless idiots who deserve derision. But he also wants a higher class of political debate, like there used to be when "serious" journos could (and would) stick it to the Government and everyone else with unerring accuracy. These days, he argues, comedians are better at hitting the targets than columnists. And by writing such a shoddy article and dismally failing to kebab anyone (apart from dear old Alan Bennett), Aaronovitch has kind of proved the wee man's point.

Late entry for heavenly hurdle

Sometimes you hear of a death and your first reaction is, "gosh, I'm surprised he was still alive."

Last week it was Jack Palance, and today we mourn the passing of legendary grey, Desert Orchid. Not many horses can command the front pages as well as the back, but Dessie in his heyday did just that. And besides being a top steeplechaser, he opened a mean supermarket in his retirement too.

Preserve his memory this Christmas. RIP Dessie.

A Whiter Shade of Overrated

Will it be possible for the judge in this trial to ban all further playings of this utter bilge in order to avoid both future royalty disputes and continued pain to listeners' ears?

Dr John - Crazy?

I enjoyed reading a piece on Fisking Central about the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and his rather humorous overreaction to the use of phrases such as "Seasons Greetings" on Christmas cards.

I've wondered whether Dr John didn't have a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock since his mad stunt of camping out in York Minster earlier this year. Surely a total waste of time - you can imagine God saying to him, "Listen, John, you're an Archbishop, you're pretty much at the top of the Church, you can't impress me with this display of piety and faith. Go and find a rabbi and an imam to pray with you and then you'll have something worth getting on TV."

Anyway, with Sentamu having been described as the Archbishop with street cred, is it mere coincidence that chart-topping hip-hoppers Gnarls Barkley have enjoyed a similar meteoric rise to media prominence this year? A look at the lead singer suggests perhaps not.

(improbably, the Bish is the one without the striking hat and the rapper is sans the gangstered-up cross)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thanks, Dad

After England's sorry performance last night, these neologisms and re-definitions cheered me up this morning. Thanks for the email, Dad.

"The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer, right?
12. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido: All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter, when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.


Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.): the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.): appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.): to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (v.): to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Negligent (adj.): describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
6. Lymph (v.): to walk with a lisp.
7. Gargoyle (n.): olive-flavored mouthwash.
8. Flatulence (n.): emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
9. Balderdash (n.): a rapidly receding hairline.
10. Testicle (n.): a humorous question on an exam.
11. Rectitude (n.): the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
12. Pokemon (n): a Rastafarian proctologist.
13. Oyster (n.): a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
14. Frisbeetarianism (n.) [back by popular demand]: The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
15. Circumvent (n.): an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men."

Feel free to comment and add your own ideas.

Where the sun doesn't shine

Following this incident, it looks like we may need to amend the Fireworks Code. I always thought it was basic common sense, but there we go:

  • Keep fireworks in a sealed box or tin
  • Use them one at a time, replacing the lid immediately
  • NEVER put fireworks in your pocket
  • Read the instructions carefully, using a torch or hand lamp NEVER use a naked flame
  • Light fireworks at arms length using a taper or a firework lighter
  • Stand well back and NEVER return to a firework after it has been lit, it could explode in your face
  • Ensure that all chidren with fireworks are well supervised
  • NEVER throw fireworks
  • Keep all pets and animals indoors
  • Take care of sparklers, wear gloves to hold them and dispose of sparklers in a bucket of water as soon as they are finished

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Not sadly missed

Well, it looks like the end of that curious old cove, Donald Rumsfeld. He won't be missed by anyone, will he?

Except perhaps the accumulators of humorous Rummy quotes.

"Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance." Amen to that, Don.

Enjoy 'em here or here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Of Donkeys and Elephants

Following the shock conviction of Saddam Hussein (if only Johnnie Cochran were still alive, he'd have got him off), the US mid-term elections are the major news event this week (assuming your news source is CNN). My prediction is similar to that of most of the better remunerated experts out there (no, I'm not quite sure why they get paid so much for stating the obvious either):
The Donkeys will win back control of the House of Representatives (the lower house of Congress), but they probably won't get the Senate out of Elephant, er, hands. It doesn't make much difference either way: as long as they control one of them, they can ensure Mr Bush is a proper lame duck for the next two years (Yes, I know, how could he get any lamer?).

The best thing about the mid-terms (and remember, I'm genuinely interested in American politics) is that when they're over, we can turn our attention to the far more interesting business of who will be the next President. I think the race for the White House in 2008 is completely wide open. A lot of people favour Hillary Clinton. I can't think of anyone worse. Apart from perhaps Jeb Bush (Dubya's Florida-governing little brother). The whole point of the US constitution is to prevent dynastic politics, isn't it? I like the dashing young senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, the latest hot Donkey (hopefully not the next Howard Dean), but I could also go for the Elephant candidacies of either John McCain (perhaps too old) or Rudy Giuliani (would he want the stress? I figure al-Qaeda will try to attack the US again in 2008 or 9, so maybe not).

Whoever ends up raising the cash to make a run for the Presidency (and the financial barrier is the hardest to break), I hope, at least, that the Donkeys can find a candidate with a bit of personality and wit. John Kerry reminded us all this week why he lost the last election, and Al Gore's recent promotional tour of his enviro-documentary almost answered the crucial question: which is more wooden, Al Gore or a rainforest? On the Elephant side, the likes of McCain or Giuliani would be a vast improvement on Mr Bush's God-bothering Neo-Conservatism. I read a good article about his so-called "faith-based" politics here. I don't think any of us (by us, I mean Earthlings) could take another four years of that. Personally I'd back an constitutional amendment to let Arnold Schwarzenegger have a go - he might actually tackle some of the key green issues - but I don't think that's going to happen (allegedly because his name is too long to fit on most of the voting machines).

A final mid-term prediction before tomorrow: turnout will be less than 50%. It's good to see that with America spreading democracy to the world, it's still alive and kicking back home! And I almost forgot - anyone with even half a soul will be cheering on Kinky Friedman in his attempt to become Governor of Texas. Vote Kinky!

Vonnegut's Epitaph for the Planet


Only he didn't say "doggone".

There's never a bad time to read Kurt Vonnegut, but I came across this particular gem this week and thought it quite apposite. In light of the publication of the Stern Report and politicians suddenly jumping on the big green bandwagon, it's interesting to find someone who was making the same points years ago. The quote is from his 1990 novel, Hocus Pocus, which is my current bedtime companion. To those who aren't familiar with his work: if you think American life (or indeed any other life) is a ceaseless parade of absurdities, then Vonnegut's the man for you. A kind of South Park for people who like books.

The Stern Report prompted several articles about what we should do to save the planet. I quite liked John Humphrys' piece in the Sunday Times, but I think the good intentions may all be in vain. To quote Hocus Pocus again:
"He told me, to cheer me up, that 1,000,000,000 Chinese were about to throw off the yoke of communism. After they did that, he said, they would want automobiles and tires and gasoline and so forth...Can you imagine what 1,000,000,000 Chinese in automobiles would do to each other and what's left of the atmosphere?"

Rather than waiting for the inevitable privations and international squabbles of the low energy future, why not go out with a bang? According to the Independent on Sunday, a tsunami will strike the UK in 2060. I'd rather not suffer the indignity of evacuation in my eighties (assuming I'm back home by then), so I propose a different solution. Every man for himself! Let's leave those lights on, and drive the big cars ("One Chelsea tractor please, with extra grunt"), and fly to Pernambuco for lunch. Let's carpe the old diem while we still can. If we're really wasteful, we can finish all the fossil fuels by 2020. It'll be like the decadent decline of the Roman Empire all over again. The person who uses the most energy wins. The prize: a trip on the world's largest rocket to a clean corner of space to start all over again. Better that than holding on for the war with China over who gets first dibs on the last coalfield, or the pathetic attempts to make a new pair of sunglasses out of a few dry twigs and a handful of sand.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

It's the dirt and dust of countless ages

In these edgy times of war and climate change, veiled teachers and unveiled North Korean nukes, I often wonder how our political leaders developed their personal beliefs. It's almost certain that, despite Messrs Blair and Bush's devout Christian convictions and their Oxford or Harvard/Yale educations, they've never considered a real message that truly sensitive thinkers follow. And it's a safe bet that the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il and Osama Bin Laden haven't mulled this real philosophy over their cornflakes either. I'm talking about the world as it exists in Peanuts cartoons (that's "Snoopy" to the uninitiated).

It's my firm belief that if everyone threw out the Bible and the Koran and started reading the complete columns of Charles Schultz instead, the world would be a much more convivial place. The feckless egomaniacs we see on the news could really learn something. Why? Because in a world full of people, Peanuts' simply-drawn characters offer a humble and self-deprecating reflection of humanity that we can all recognise.

Surely, at some time, you've empathised with Charlie Brown - he's the everyman we all identify with: the perennially awful baseball team, the dark cloud hovering above his head, the frustrated shouts of "GOOD GRIEF!", and, of course the hopeless, unrequited crush on the little red-haired girl.

But perhaps you identify with Snoopy as well - the beagle savant as the fearless flying ace, or wannabe author, hunched over his typewriter, pouring forth the immortal prose, "It was a dark and stormy night...". Or maybe you're Lucy, the girl with a predeliction for pianists, who's always right.

Despite my own youthful Linus-esque tendencies towards thumb-sucking and carrying a security blanket, I realised as I was attempting to clean my flat yesterday that my closest affinity is to Pig-Pen. He's less well-known than some of his friends, but has a remarkable ability to attract grime and dirt, which I certainly share. I feel ridiculous dusting my bidet - I'm never going to use it and it's only going to get dusty again, but it's a cycle I'm condemned to. Perhaps there's a bigger message there.

Which Peanuts character do you see in yourself? Why don't you fill in the poll below? And leave a comment to explain your choice!

Which Peanuts character are you?
Charlie Brown
Peppermint Patty
The Little Red Haired Girl
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