Monday 31 January 2005

Claim it back on expenses.

Tongue Tied links to this utterly preposterous story from the Netherlands.

A man committed armed robbery. He was caught and convicted. He was sentenced to four years in jail, and was also ordered to pay back the €6600 he stole from the bank. So far, so humdrum.


The pistol he used to commit the robbery cost him €2000. So, once you take into account his expenses, the bank robbery only made him a net profit of €4600. The court therefore decided that he should only have to pay €4600 back to the bank. This decision is fully backed up by Dutch law, apparently.

In other words, in the Netherlands, if you are successfully convicted of bank robbery, then the bank you robbed are legally obliged to pay you for the guns you used.

I expect to see Dutch bank robbers start to use gold-plated weapons. I also expect that Dutch firearms dealers will start to accept bribes in return for issuing grossly exaggerated receipts.

Mary McAleese is wrong.

Though "wrong" doesn't even begin to do justice to the astounding idiocy of her remarks. For those who haven't already heard, this is what the Irish President used the Auschwitz commemorations as an excuse to say:

They gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their children an irrational hatred, for example, of Catholics, in the same way that people give to their children an outrageous and irrational hatred of those who are of different colour and all of those things.

And, suddenly, all the stupid attitudes that make Ireland a problem have been brought out into the open again.

McAleese is wrong in four ways. Firstly, she's wrong about the Nazis. If she knew a damn thing about the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, she'd know that one of the interesting things about it is the way it created Jew-hatred out of nowhere. Sure, of course there were some antisemitic Germans before Hitler came along, but they were the exception, not the rule. Holocaust survivors tell of being rounded up by men who used to be their best friends, of being spat and screamed at by children who used to play with their children. German Jews regarded Germany as a land in which they were totally accepted as part of the nation — and, until the 1930s, they were right. Hitler didn't exploit a hatred of Jews that most Germans had been nursing for generations; he took people who liked Jews and made them hate them, apparently using little more than the power of rhetoric. Even sixty years on, it doesn't make a damn bit of sense.

Secondly, McAleese is deeply wrong about Northern Irish Protestants. She seems to have bought in to the IRA's propaganda on this one — or she's doing her bit to help spread it. The IRA like to present Northern Ireland as containing two communities who are kept totally segregated because one of them hates the other with a vengeance, and their PR has certainly succeeded: that's what most people outside Northern Ireland think it's like here. People who feel a bit more politically sophisticated think that it's not so one sided: that both sides hate each other with a vengeance. McAleese seems to be one of those people, judging by her pathetic attempts at an apology:

I said that people in Northern Ireland who taught their children for example, to hate for example Catholics, and I should have gone on to say, and Protestants, because the truth of the matter is that, of course, sectarianism is a shared problem.

Great. She's trying to make up for insulting Protestants by insulting Catholics as well. The truth of the matter is that Protestants in Northern Ireland do not bring up their children to hate Catholics and neither do Catholics bring up their children to hate Protestants. People here just aren't like that. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland do not give a shit what religion you are. That's why the IRA have had to use so much violence over the years to try and keep the communities segregated: if the Protestants and the Catholics hated each other anyway, the IRA wouldn't need to beat Catholics to a pulp for fraternising with Protestants. The "community" that most people here hate is the terrorists — and you don't need to teach your kids to hate them, as they're so inherently hatable that your kids will work it out for themselves.

Thirdly, she's wrong about the purpose of commemorating the Holocaust. Even if she were right about Northern Ireland, so what? Why can't she simply remember and honour the dead without nattering on about her problems? It shows a lack of empathy; it's insensitive; it's crass. You know those people who just can't listen to your woes without going on about theirs, without relating it all back to themselves? This is the same, except she's doing it to six million people, and they're all dead. How dare she? Guess what, Mary. This is not all about you.

And she's wrong if she thinks this excuse cuts the ice:

I was trying to make a point and I made it very clumsily indeed. I am the first to put my hands up and say I made it very clumsily indeed.

What's she trying to say here? That she clumsily said something that she doesn't really think? That seems very unlikely. If she doesn't believe that Protestants teach their children to hate Catholics, why would she accidentally say that they do? No, what she means here is that she clumsily let her beliefs out in public. Apologising for that isn't good enough. She needs to apologise for the beliefs themselves. And I note she hasn't done that.

Here's some bollocks from one of her spokesmen:

The President's record of equal and sincere support of both communities in Northern Ireland is well documented

Yes, and? There's no contradiction here. All that means is that she supports Protestants despite thinking that they teach their children hatred and bigotry. This just helps her to pat herself on the back about how incredibly brave and forgiving she is for talking to those nasty Catholic-burning Prods. What she should be doing is talking to Protestants in order to demonstrate that they're just perfectly normal people, as deserving of her attention as anyone else. Now we know that that's not how she feels. Ian Paisley Jr is right (though typically histrionic) when he says:

Her mask as being a healer of divided peoples has slipped. She is spewing out hatred of the Protestant community, whilst accusing those same people of hating Catholics.

So, in summary, she's managed to insult Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and anyone with half a brain. And she gets paid for her diplomacy.

The media's reaction has been slightly annoying, in a way that is difficult to explain. Imagine that the President of France had said that all Englishmen hated West Indians. How would the media report the reaction? Well, they might well get statements from Tony Blair and Michael Howard, and maybe Ken Livingstone and another politician or two, but they wouldn't stop there. They'd get public reaction, too: they'd send a reporter into the street to ask random passers-by what they thought; they might set up a phoneline for people to ring in and vent their spleen. The Sun would probably run an opinion poll on whether French men dress like poofs. None of that happens when it comes to Northern Ireland, because the media always assume that everything that happens here is a matter of clashes between political groups, and that therefore they only ever need to talk to the usual handful of politicians. I haven't seen one report that mentions how offended ordinary people are by McAleese's comments — only reports which say that a politician has said that the comments are offensive to ordinary people. Look, not everything here has to be mediated through spokesmen for the four parties and two churches. Talk to the public for once. And if you did talk to the public, you might start to realise that this has nothing to do with Unionism or Republicanism.

The BBC:

Mary McAleese has been criticised by unionists


It provoked outrage among unionists


seen by the Orange Order as a slur on the Protestant community of Northern Ireland.

This is nothing to do with Unionism. I know Protestant Republicans. Her comments are offensive to Protestants (and her later comments are just as offensive to Catholics) no matter which government happens to be in charge of this province. Her comments would still be offensive if the Orange Order — who do not exclusively represent Northern Irish Protestantism — did not exist. Presenting this as some sort of feud between political factions is grossly misleading.

Finally, it's good to see that, amongst all the furore, someone has remembered what she should have said:

The Jewish community was upset she did not take the opportunity to apologise for then Taoiseach Eamon de Valera's condolences to Germany on the death of Hitler.

Damn straight. Irish "neutrality" [spit]. Put your own house in order and leave us alone.

Friday 28 January 2005


This needs to be publicised as widely as possible. A little girl who was injured in the Tsunami appears to have amnesia. Since she can't remember anything, including who she is, no-one can contact her family. Please go and look at the photo on Tony's site, in case you recognise her.


Gary points out that the girl has now been identified. Which is good news, of course, but does have the disadvantage that it makes my blogging look amateurish and poorly researched. Which, of course, it is.

Doing the right thing without looking a fool can be tricky.

Please put my life in a database.

RavenBlack puts the case for greater intrusion into our lives. Not state intrusion, mind; just intrusion.

At the very least we should have automated shops so that stuff can be purchased at any time. We've had vending machines for 20 years, can't we have bigger vending machines, in long rows, thus offering more products? Or shops with RFID tags in the items, and lots of cameras, and, I don't know, barcodes on our necks, so there don't have to be any checkout people, we can just go into the shop, take what we want, scan ourselves at the checkout to pay, and go home. I wanted block-pad paper on Saturday night, damn it. I have it now, but I don't want to use it now, I wanted to use it then. What good are you, technology? Advance!

I'd shop there.

In the comments, on the subject of being more than a mere number, he adds:

Is being identified by number worse than not being identified at all? That's how it is in most shops now.

He has a point.

Wednesday 26 January 2005

A change of tune.

Rob has already pointed out most of the deep flaws in Zoe Williams's "thinking". Zoe reckons that there's a housing shortage because too many people rent out property, so we should raise capital gains tax to 100%. Jesus wept. One hardly need point out how ignorant this is, but Rob does it anyway, and does so rather well.

I just have a couple of things to add.

Saith Zoe:

As the Campaign to Protect Rural England points out repeatedly (and will do at greater length when they release their report at the end of the week), this is no simple supply and demand situation, where prices go up because there isn't the space to accommodate the people. Overcrowding in houses has gone down and, commensurately, the space per person has gone up, nationwide. The only important problem is that property has become an investment, and as a result prices have shot up way beyond what simple market forces would dictate.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England are a single-issue lobby, and their single issue is "Don't build any new houses outside of towns, ever." They oppose new houses being built in the middle of fields, they oppose new houses being built in small villages, and they oppose new houses being built on the outskirts of towns, as that would make the towns bigger. What I'm saying here is that their report might be a tad biased. I'm not saying it should be discounted entirely, but it might not be a great idea to base one's entire argument on it without considering some other sources of information.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England and their ilk have been very successful. If you own a bit of land in the countryside, you're allowed to put cows on it or have a picnic on it, but our councils' planning departments aren't about to let you build on it, no matter how ugly it may be. The powers that be are simply refusing to let our towns get any bigger.

Supply and demand are far simpler than Zoe Williams seems to realise. There's loads of spare land in Britain, but the supply of land that you can actually build on — i.e. land in towns and cities — is driven artificially low by planning regulations and driven even lower by the fact that most of it has already been built on. Meanwhile, more and more people are choosing to live alone ("Overcrowding in houses has gone down"), driving up demand for residences. So, since there's nowhere to build new houses, those new residences are created by developers who buy up houses in towns and turn them into blocks of flats.

Scrap the planning regulations, and houses will become affordable again.

All of which is fascinating, but my real question is this. Since when do Guardian writers complain about how some people can't afford to buy their own houses? I thought Socialists were all for renting — especially renting from the state. After all, owning a house is Capitalism, isn't it? When Thatcher gave council house tenants the right to buy their properties, Socialists were up in arms about it: it would hurt the poor, they said; the poor needed to be able to rent affordable housing, they said; the poor don't need to buy their own houses, they said; you must build more council houses, they said. Now here they are, complaining that some poor people are having to rent their property because they can't afford to buy, and criticising the government's plans to deal with this by building more council houses. Is Zoe Williams going to publish a piece called "Thatcher was right", I wonder?

Tuesday 25 January 2005

Economics for bastards.

Brian and Richard are both commenting on this piece in The Scotsman:

TSUNAMI-struck Thailand has been told by the European Commission that it must buy six A380 Airbus aircraft if it wants to escape the tariffs against its fishing industry.

While millions of Europeans are sending aid to Thailand to help its recovery, trade authorities in Brussels are demanding that Thai Airlines, its national carrier, pays £1.3 billion to buy its double-decker aircraft.

Richard points out:

The aircraft will cost Thailand some £1.3 billion – nearly the amount that all 25 EU members states have pledged in tsunami aid to the whole affected region.

Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

One thing for sure, you won't hear anything about it from the BBC.

Sadly, he's right. And that's a shame, because this has nothing to do with being for or against the EU. It is perfectly possible to support the EU in principle while objecting to this particular action, just as one can object to Britain's Labour Government without believing that Britain should be a republic or a collection of city-states.

The EU claims to be a democracy. Well, let's test that. None of its citizens who have given to help the Tsunami victims will want this tariff, if they get to hear about it. So tell everyone; give this some publicity. Get the European Parliament's constituents pissed off, and maybe public opinion will have some effect.

Brian says:

I realise that it is carrying the search for a silver lining to absurd lengths to say such a thing, but one good thing about this whole Tsunami horror is that it has brought this EU vileness rather more out into the open than would have happened otherwise. As it is, the combination of nastiness and lack of political sensitivity being shown by the EU is extraordinary even by their low standards. Do they not see that the Tsunami has somewhat changed things?

No, they don't. But perhaps they can be shown.

Tuscan pudding.

For my birthday last year, my wonderful wife offered to cook me any recipes I chose for dinner. I picked Tuscan pudding out of one of our recipe books, she cooked it as promised, and we've been eating it regularly ever since. It is absolutely delicious, fairly impressive, and very easy.

You will need:

  • 250g of Ricotta

  • 50g of caster sugar or 2 tablespoons of Splenda

  • 75g of raisins and/or sultanas

  • 3 egg yolks

  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

  • some grated lemon and/or orange peel

The original recipe says to soak the raisins in warm water for 10 minutes. Feh. Personally, I soak them in a mixture of triple sec and orange juice overnight, which is far better. Then drain the raisins with a sieve and keep the now raisin-flavoured orange liquor.

Beat the egg yolks, ricotta, sugar, and cinnamon together. Mix in the raisins and citrus peel. Pour into three or four greased ramekins and put them in the oven. Repeated experiments on my part have shown that you have a lot of leaway with the baking: somewhere between 150 and 200 degrees for between 15 and 30 minutes. Bake them until they turn a golden colour. (The other day, I tried cooking one big pudding in the amazing George Foreman baking device: it took about twenty-five minutes and tasted as good as ever, so that's another score for George.)

The puddings are equally good hot or cold. Turn them out on to plates when you're ready to serve them. The original recipe claims that this quantity "serves four". Not if one of the four is me, it doesn't. I recommend doubling all the amounts, because these things taste seriously good and you will want more than your fair share once you try them.

The liquid that the raisins were soaked in can be easily turned into a nice sauce in any number of ways. I just mix it with a small amount of custard powder and heat it up. Tuscan pudding is also very good with yoghurt.


(From The Daily Bread.)

Monday 24 January 2005

An unusual guestlist.

Rob, among others, points out that this anti-SpongeBob moral crusade is odd. It's also misguided. And silly. And a total waste of everyone's time.

But all this anti-hysteria hysteria misses, I think, the real story.

James Dobson, founder of right-wing Christian group Focus on the Family, singled out SpongeBob at a black-tie dinner in Washington in the run-up to President Bush's inauguration, the New York Times said.

What the hell was SpongeBob SquarePants doing at a black-tie dinner in Washington?


Jill, Cindy, and Wendy have been trying to sell me something or other via email, spamming bastards that they are. I have no idea, and neither do I care, what the product is, but the subject line of their emails demonstrates an intriguing new approach to marketing:

Lose While You Sleep! As seen on Opra.h and d CNB.C

Yes, that's right: not content with being a total loser merely by day, now you can lose in your very sleep. In fact, you can even be as big a loser as the people you see on Oprah ("My brother cooked and ate my children, so I got a make-over") — that's serious losing.

What's the target market for this?

Friday 21 January 2005

Tom Utley is wrong.

Mark seems to think that this piece by Tom Utley is rather brilliant. Well, it isn't.

Mr Utley's trying to make the point that we don't need a special state-sponsored citizenship rite of passage, and, on that count, he is right: of course we bloody don't. He makes the point that these

proposals really do represent an attempt by the state to march into territory traditionally occupied in Britain by religion

and I reckon he's right about that too. He then gives a pretty good summary of the difference between citizens and subjects:

The difference between a citizen and a subject, as I understand it, boils down to a question of the legitimacy of a sovereign authority. A citizen is a party to a contract with the state. The state derives its authority to rule from that contract, which is at all times negotiable between the citizenry and the government.

In a monarchy, however - even a watered-down monarchy such as ours - the authority of the sovereign is completely non-negotiable. The Queen derives her right to rule, not from any contract with her subjects, but from a thousand years of very complicated history. From the moment of birth, like it or lump it, a British subject owes allegiance to the reigning monarch, just as his or her forefathers owed it to the ancestors of the Queen.

And then his common sense flies out of his ears.

It is more than 300 years since Britain suffered a civil war, a revolution or a dictatorship.

No, it isn't. The American Revolutionary War didn't end till 1783, and the thing about the American Revolutionary War is that it was the British Revolution. Britain's unique in that regard: we had such a large empire that we were able to have our revolution overseas, with the interesting result that both sides ended up in power. Since then, we've had an ongoing revolution in Northern Ireland that I would have thought Mr Utley had noticed. Apparently not.

For the purposes of this argument, I'd also include every single one of the wars of independence that broke up the Empire. While I have time for the argument that Indians, Zimbabweans, Kenyans, etc were not exactly British (and have equal time for the argument that they were), the point that Utley is trying to make is that being a subject of the all-powerful Crown, rather than a mere citizen, is some sort of check against revolution. Well, many tens of millions of subjects of the Crown revolted, with much bloodshed.

Who would want to be a citizen, surrounded by millions of other citizens, all with the right to overturn the state and throw everybody's life into turmoil? How much happier it is to be born the subject of a benign constitutional monarch, who keeps the politicians, with all their sulky ambition, their prattle and spin, in their place.

I'd agree, if our monarch did keep our politicians in their place. But their informal and never-broken constitutional arrangement — we'll acknowledge your absolute power over all of us as long as you never even think about wielding even the tiniest bit of it — has resulted in quite an appalling system. People sometimes criticise Tony Blair for being too "presidential" in the way he wields power, but they miss the point: the only reason why the US President is more powerful than the UK's Prime Minister is that the US is so much more powerful than the UK. If the nations were equally powerful, the Prime Minister would be by far the most powerful of the two men, because he wields more power over Britain than any president could ever dream of wielding over America. If Tony Blair wanted to act presidentially, he'd have to give more power to Parliament and stop wielding so much of it himself. The problem with Tony Blair is not that he's presidential: it's that he's prime-ministerial. The absolute power of the Crown over every British subject is vested in him, the Crown has agreed never to take any of it back, and the most we the people are allowed to do is to give all that power to a different Prime Minister — we're certainly not allowed any of it for ourselves.

One of the very reasons why we can get rid of governments that we dislike, with so much ease, is that ministers are subject to the same non-negotiable authority as the rest of us.

There are so many examples of just how little authority our ministers are subject to that it's difficult to know which one to pick. Because it happens to be close to hand, I'll go with this example from Tom Utley, writing in the same article, a couple of paragraphs further down:

Why, when our own constitution has proved superior to any other in Europe, is Tony Blair so besotted by the Continental model? Why does he want to hand over so many of Parliament's powers to an unanswerable, virtually unsackable judiciary? Why is he so determined to surrender control of our laws and our currency to European institutions that have no place in our hearts?

Why, in other words, is Tony Blair doing things that, according to Tom Utley, are impossible, thanks to the Queen, for any British politician to do? The trouble with an unwritten constitution is that it's far too bloody easy to rewrite it.


I've updated the old Blogger comments system, which was fairly crappy, really, with the marvel that is Haloscan. As if you care.


Thursday 20 January 2005


I must apologise for my libelling of Northern Ireland's fine, upstanding local councils. Turns out that I was wrong when I said that they hadn't gritted the roads in response to Tuesday's snow. It turns out that the council did grit the roads overnight. Oh, yes. It snowed, so they gritted the roads, just like they should. What happened next — and this was surely such freakish weather that no mortal could have foreseen it — is that it snowed again, over the top of the grit. To deal with such circumstances, the council would have needed to grit the roads again, and, er, didn't.

What pisses me off is that everyone seems to be accepting this "explanation".

I watched the local BBC news on Tuesday night, just to see their report on the weather. They pointed out all the difficulties everyone had had — looks like it took at least two hours to get into Belfast from any direction — then said something like, "And we're all left wondering yet again how so little snow can cause so much disruption." Aha! I thought. This is the good bit. This is where they start asking people in charge of roads how and why they fucked up. This is, in fact, why I'm watching. Nope. It was actually the final line of the report. A report that lasted at least ten minutes, yet which contained not even one single quote from anyone in the council whose job it is to stop so little snow causing so much disruption, and whose negligence led directly to people being injured in car crashes.

Meanwhile, Vic overheard a Northern Ireland Railways employee talking to one of his friends at Bangor West Station. He had known it was snowing, so had got up extra early and come out to grit the platforms. Surely a model employee who deserves some sort of raise, but probably didn't even get paid overtime for his efforts. Anyway, dealing with just one layer of snow used up his entire grit supply, so, when the second snowfall covered the grit, he couldn't put any more down, so he cleared the platforms with a makeshift shovel. Notice the word "makeshift" there. NIR provide their stations with enough grit to deal with no more than one snowfall, and no bloody shovel.

The council aren't always as ineffective as they are in the face of a light dusting of snow. We were wandering around the shops the other day when Vic got a call on her mobile. It was the Rate Collection Agency calling to find out who we are, since we've recently purchased a new house, and to ask how to contact the previous owner. At no point have we contacted the Rate Collection Agency or given them our phone numbers, and, if we had, we'd have given them the landline number. Yet here they were, ringing Vic on her mobile. Of course, the Data Protection Act prevents any company passing on her mobile phone number to another company or mere individual, but that doesn't seem to apply to the government. Funny, that.

Wednesday 19 January 2005

The George Foreman Contact Roaster.

(This is a Daily Bread post. Again.)

My dad and step-mum got me one of these for Christmas. I used it for the first time on Sunday, and I am very pleased to report that it is utter class.

I roast a small boneless joint of pork in it. The device doesn't have a temperature setting, worryingly. You just turn it on, wait a mere five minutes for it to preheat, put a joint of meat in it, set the timer (it seems to take the same roasting times as a normal oven), and leave it. Being me, I poured a bit of liquid over the meat a couple of times, but I can't help but feel that my actions were entirely superfluous. When it had finished, it beeped. I took the pork out, and it was absolutely perfect. Simple and amazing.

The joint I roast was about a kilo, and I reckon George's machine could take about double that. It was a rindless joint, so I have no idea how the thing would perform on crackling. Possibly not that well, since it doesn't have the option of varying the temperature.

Apparently, it can also be used for rice puddings and such things, using a non-stick baking dish which slots into it. The instruction book came with a recipe for baked chocolate custard, which I certainly intend to try.

OK, so I've only used the thing once, but the first impression is that this is one amazing machine. I shall report back on further experiments with it.


I got this email a few minutes ago:

I got this information this morning, may be rubbish but thought I would let you all know just in case.

All mobile users pay attention if you receive a phone call and your mobile phone displays (ACE) on the screen don't answer the call, END THE CALL IMMEDIATELY,

if you answer the call your phone will be infected by a virus.

This virus will erase all IMEI and IMSI information from both your phone and your sim card, which will make you phone unable to connect with the telephone network. You will have to buy a new phone. This information has been confirmed by both Motorola and Nokia.

There are over 3 Million mobile phones being infected by this virus all around the world now. You can also check this news in the CNN web site.


Now, those of us who are wise in the ways of the Web will recognise this as an obvious hoax — and we'd be right. There are the usual giveaway clues: histrionic use of block caps, casual acquaintance with grammar, no link given with the mention of the CNN site, and it's a bloody chain letter, which genuine virus warnings never are. Now, not everyone is as clever as me or at least three of this blog's readers, and I am more sympathetic than many webheads towards the naivety of the uninitiated. But I can't forgive total stupidity.

If the virus disables infected phones, who's making these calls? How does it spread, eh? Eh?

Now go to the back of the class.

Tuesday 18 January 2005

Ninety from the Nineties.

The results are out. Only the top two of my nominations made it into the list. Tsk.

Good to see that Hideaway by D'Lacey did so well. And not so good to see Insomnia by Faithless in there. Please. And a great shame to see no Propellerheads at all.

Doesn't look like this list is resolving any arguments, then.


It's been years since this last happened: it's snowing so badly that I can't get into work.

Well, that's not quite true, really. What's actually happened is that it's snowed a bit — it's up to half an inch deep in some parts of our "garden" (it will be a garden one day, when I've finished breaking my back over it, but for now it's a "garden") — and the sodding council haven't sent the grit trucks out, so a quantity of snow that, in this technological age, we ought to be able to say "Ha!" at has resulted in road conditions so bad that attempting to drive the car in a straight line at 15mph leads to skidding. Admittedly, it only started snowing yesterday evening, so the poor overpaid squabbling dears only had ten hours or so to respond, which probably isn't even enough time to finish negotiating the overtime. Meanwhile, I may lose a day of my precious annual leave for this.

I bet there's a moral in this somewhere.

Looks like it's turning to sleet. Oh joy. I'll go and try and drive through that, then, shall I? Grr.

Monday 17 January 2005

An incredibly quick, easy, and cheap chocolate sauce.

(This post is from The Daily Bread.)

You will need:

  • some chocolate and hazelnut spread

  • some cream

Put them in a saucepan. Heat. Stir. Enjoy.

And that's it. You really can get very good results this way, and it's great not having to bother with any of that glass-bowl-over-a-pan-of-boiling-water nonsense usually demanded for melting chocolate. Also, as it takes so little time (two or three minutes), there's no need to prepare it in advance, which is handy.

Perfect with profiteroles, I find.

Friday 7 January 2005


There are many ways in which a car can die while you're driving it. It can start to sputter in a run-out-of-petrol sort of way. The steering can go wonky, or stiff, or both. It can simply turn itself off and glide to a gentle halt. The oil light can come on, in which case you must stop immediately or destroy the engine. The engine can start revving itself, just for kicks.

Any of those would be preferable to what happened to my car yesterday.

I drove from work to the station to pick up Vic. The car was fine. Vic arrived, I turned on the engine, and.... You know the way that ten-year-old boys tape bits of cardboard to the rear forks of their bikes, sticking into the rear wheel's spokes, causing their bikes to sound "exactly like" Harley Davidsons? Well, the car made that noise. Worrying, but not too alarming: I've driven cars that make bad noises for many hundreds of miles. It was probably going to be OK to at least get us home to be looked at by my ubermechanical brother-in-law-to-be.

The noise got much worse very quickly. About a hundred yards later, there was a loud clunk and the car lurched slightly as it drove over quite a large part of its engine, which I then watched in the rear-view mirror as it spun towards the curb.

At least the noise stopped. Along with all the other noises the engine used to make.

Happily enough, there's a moral to all this. The car belonged, until recently, to my brother-in-law-to-be's cousin. A few months back, the cousin needed the head replaced. Brother-in-law-to-be, despite being amazingly cheap when it comes to mechanical work, was too expensive for his cousin at the time, so the cousin went to someone even cheaper. Who, we now discover, didn't tighten the screws when he'd finished the job. I know nothing about cars, and I would have tightened the screws. That's what screws are for, in my experience: you tighten them. Honestly, some people.

So the moral is: if you have a friend who will do work for you very cheaply indeed, and who is damn good at said work, don't go looking for even cheaper offers. Yeah, you all knew that. I didn't say it was a surprising moral.

I shall spend the next week destroying my garden. Expect little blogging.


Jerry Orbach has died. A great shame. He was one of those actors whom you didn't just enjoy watching, but would have really liked to meet. Law & Order won't be as good without him.

Wednesday 5 January 2005

God does not exist.

I've not said anything about the tsunami, because... well, what's to say? It's appalling, obviously. Quarter of a million killed in a few minutes, for no particular reason, selected by luck. Nothing anyone can say can do justice to that — as is evident from the sickeningly awful prose ITN's reporters have been using. I feel sympathy, pity, and horror. No point in dressing them up.

However, over at Harry's Place, Brownie discusses religious faith in the light of the tsunami. This is something I will comment on.

A year or so ago, a friend of my wife had a daughter born with anopthalmia. That’s no eyes, to you and me. I recall asking how a just and merciful God could allow such a thing?

Six months ago, my wife gave birth to our second child. Two eyes, two ears, 10 fingers and toes and, it has transpired, no known affliction, defect or disease. I look at my new daughter and cannot be anything other than convinced of the existence of a greater power.

Kind of surprising to see that on a supposedly Socialist, egalitarian website, I have to say. The fact that your child was given an advantage over your friend's confirms to you that a higher power must be at work? Have you explained this to your friend? "When I look at my perfectly formed child, and I look at your child, with no eyes, I realise that there must be a kind and benevolent God at work." If a mere politician dishes out arbitrary and random punishments to the innocent, the bloggers at Harry's Place are — rightly — first in line with condemnations. But God did it, so it's OK.

Faced with such a human calamity, my preference would be for a colossal hand to have reached from the Christmas night sky to cup each wave and assuage the fury of the sea. But is this truly the role of an Almighty? To intervene wherever and whenever disaster beckons?

No, the role of the almighty would be not to cause the disaster in the first place. It's a bit of a get-out for Christians, that, isn't it? According to their religion, God controls the universe. Humans may have free will — and I certainly see their point when they explain why God should not prevent human evil — but planets don't; tectonic plates don't. Christianity has, for many centuries, been at the forefront of the battle against purely scientific explanations of natural phenomena. Then something like this comes along, and suddenly it's just a natural catastrophe, not caused by God, but merely potentially preventable by God. At the very least, this is a climbdown for the Christians. Does your God control the universe or not? The Bible says he does. The Bible says that he is perfectly willing to intervene when it comes to smiting enemies with vengeful wrath, no matter how many innocents may get caught in the crossfire. But, when it comes to intervening to save innocents, you want to make excuses for why he shouldn't have to bother.

Or must the world be rid of all sorrow before religious faith can be rationalized?

We're not talking about all sorrow here. We're talking about sorrow caused by God. According to your religion, that is.

There are many decent arguments against the existence of God, but the disaster that befell SE Asia in early hours of Boxing Day is not one of them

No, it isn't, but it is a logically unassailable argument agaisnt the existence of a merciful, benevolent, kind, omnipotent God. Kind or omnipotent? Pick one.

For every victim who blames God, there is a lucky survivor thanking Him and a desperately searching family member praying to Him.

Again with the selfishness. "Hey, God wiped out your whole family, but saved me. Isn't he wonderful?"

In the comments to Brownie's post, Polyanna reels out the usual stuff about ineffable plans:

If there is a God, why assume that he's benevolent from our limited standpoint? Might he not have plans for his creation which transcend our preferences, especially if (as the likes of Dawkins maintain) homo sapiens is only one current vehicle for the transmission of genetic information? Our species of large mammal is too egocentric sometimes.

This is a perfectly good argument for why the tsunami doesn't disprove God's existence, but it raises another issue, which Christians always seem reluctant to address: if God is acting in the interests of some greater plan that might just involve our extinction, why on Earth would we worship him? When a human behaves like that, he's a tyrant: Saddam had greater plans for Iraq that didn't involve the survival of individual Iraqis. Those silly Iraqi rebels, complaining about being tortured to death: couldn't they see that Saddam's plans transcended their preferences? They were just so egocentric.

If God can't do anything for us, I see no point in bothering with him. If God can help us, yet chooses to use that power to wipe out millions of people, then he is a despot, and we have a moral duty to rebel against him. According to the Bible, he wants us to believe in him and to worship him. That sounds to me like a bloody good reason not to.

God does not exist. But, if he does, he can fuck off.

Unintentional comedy gold.

(I was just doing a bit of webserver-type housekeeping, and came across something that I tried to post on the 25th of November but which got screwed up and turned into a file called, excitingly, "null" by some sort of bug. So here it is. It's totally out of date, yet still kind of timeless.)

Harry has started a new feature: the Socialist Worker Letter of the Week. And what a great debut winner:

Smacking is a result of a failure of society, in particular capitalist society, rather than of parents.

Parents are forced to use coercive methods against their own children under New Labour, which threatens them with fines or even prison if their child does not conform.

Children are expected to sit exams at the age of seven, and they become targets for advertising much earlier.

There is huge pressure on parents of active children to either physically force or medicate them into socially acceptable silence.

In providing free childcare, free facilities such as leisure centres, libraries and playgrounds, shorter but equally paid working hours and decent housing for all, the use of smacking would be eliminated without legislation.
Gaynor Barrett, Exeter

How can you possibly satirise these people?

Tuesday 4 January 2005


I did something I've never done before the other day: I cut down a tree with an axe. Within minutes, NASA were on the phone asking me to be the first man on Mars, but I had to turn them down because I was on a mission for MI5. Then I killed a wild boar.

Seriously, though, my shoulder's still aching.

Put your children in harm's way.

Jackie links to Mark, who links to Not On My Watch, which links to the worst invention ever:

The 'Thudguard' protective safety hat will cushion a child's head against bumps, bruising and laceration, whilst developing and exploring newfound mobility. Between the ages 7 to 20 months the fontanelle, temples and back of head are particularly vulnerable when an infant is learning to walk. It also protects adventurous toddlers up to the age of 3 years old who are already walking but who may benefit from extra safety in play parks and other environments. Falling over is part of growing up but the 'Thudguard' can reduce the severity of these injuries. Toddlers will confidently learn to walk, run and play in safety.

No they won't. They'll learn that falling over is safe and painless and therefore they won't learn not to do it, hence putting them in greater danger for, quite possibly, the rest of their lives. We experience pain for a reason. Why don't you find some way of disabling the little dears' taste buds while you're at it, so that they don't notice how bad bleach tastes?

I really pity these poor kids. Until now, children actually had a chance of concealing their parents' zealous overprotectiveness. Now, they will be forced to wear headgear that proclaims it for all to see.

Depressingly, this silly hat earned its "inventor", Kelly Forsyth-Gibson, a place as a finalist in the British Female Inventor of the Year Awards. How crap is that? Even if the hat were a good idea, it'd still not be much of an invention: all she's done is take a couple of bike helmets and tell some kids to wear them while not riding bikes. Hey, look! I've invented a revolutionary new driving shoe. It's basically a running shoe, but you wear it while driving. Can I have a patent, please? Apparently, Ms Forsyth-Gibson

is working with designers and technical experts at the moment to finalise specifications and to provide a quantity of hats for testing.

Bollocks. They're bike helmets with fluffy ears stuck on them. What's a technical expert going to tell her? "Well, these are only designed to protect the skull in the event of a 20mph collision with a car windscreen, so we'll need further testing to see how they'll hold up in the event of the user tripping over while running around in circles and singing." "The fluffy ears, while attractive to toddlers, could be snagged on passing lorries." "Your kids look like twats."

Was it a really bad year for female inventors that this crap made the shortlist?