Thursday 31 March 2005

Comedic development.

I am informed that, as of today, my niece can pronounce the letter L. Damn.

On the up side, if you ask her what her mummy is, she now replies "Silly moo."

Wednesday 30 March 2005


The Portadown News is on fine form this week:

SPECIAL needs pupil Timmy Token will DIE if Portadown Education and Library Board is forced to accept a massive 2% funding cut, a top civil servant warned yesterday by phone from the back of his chauffeur-driven Bentley.


Letters to the editor.

Some people, apparently, really are stupid enough to fall for these things. Incredible. The rest of us can safely enjoy the glories of their English usage.


How could I fail to be intrigued by a subject line like that?

ATT: Sir/Madam,

My name is MADAM BEVERLY MURRAY . I am a deaf and dump ...

I've been trying to think of something pithy and clever to say about that for ten minutes. I give up.

... and i am a complete citizen of the united state of america ...

Does the US have any partial citizens?

... widow tothe late former minister of finance in phillippine ...

Late and former? That's bloody unlucky.

... who was a victim of theterrorist attack against the united state of america on the 11th september 2001 that crashed the world trade centre in new york.

I inherited a total sum of $25.5 million dollars from my late husband,this moneymoney ...

Subtle emphasis there.

... which is concealed in a metallic trunk boxes is deposited with a security and finance company in europe under a secret arrangement as family treasure.This mean's that the security company does not know the content of the boxes that was sent from united state of america under a diplomatic coverage.

People really fall for this. What century must they think we're living in? They think money comes in the form of big trunks of gold ferreted away in top secret locations. Why not send us a map with a big X on it? Arrrrr, me hearties!

The fact that these trunks are metallic is an important detail, I think. Only a lunatic would want untold wealth out of a wooden box.

My main purpose of sending you this mail is because of the way i found you and perhap trustworthy ...

Yes, I can tell she trusts me by the way she addresses me as "Sir/Madam". Clearly not sending this request to just anyone. That would be reckless.

... to give this priorty of shipping this boxes of money to your address that you think is very secure and save in place with your percentage of which we can discuss if you are interested.
However, kindly respond through this Email:, for secruty reasons on the receipt of your mail.

I wait patiently to hear from you soon.

Best regards,
Madam Beverly Murray.

So someone — possibly a washing machine salesperson from Ipswich — gets this email and thinks, firstly, "Oh, I'm so flattered that Madam Murray picked me. She must really trust me. I wonder who recommended me. Was it Simon?" and secondly, "Come to think of it, yes, I do have a secret underground vault where I could hide vast chests of treasure, and, now I remember, yes, I know how to smuggle illegal gold into the country." What are the chances?

Hot on Madam Murray's heels comes this slightly different approach:

From: shadakshari []
Subject: Dear Friend.

Dear Friend.

A better start.

As you read this, I don't want you to feel sorry for me, because, I believe everyone will die someday.

OK, perhaps not such a great start, after all.

My name is Shadak Shari, a merchant in Dubai, in the U.A.E.I have been diagnosed with Esophageal cancer .It has defiled all forms of medical treatment ...

This is alarming. We can still use medicine, right? He's not defiled it for everyone?

... and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts.

Bloody medical experts. Even when they give you only a few months to live, they still refuse to be precise. Put the poor man out of his misery, for God's sake: tell him he's got exactly a few months to live.

I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone(not even myself)but my business. Though I am very rich, I was never generous, I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world.

By now, like me, you're probably thinking "How? How can I give this man redemption before his spirit departs this Earth? Tell me! Tell me!"

I believe when God gives me a second chance to come to this world I would live my life a different way from how I have lived it. Now that God has called me, I have willed and given most of my property and assets to my immediate and extended family members as well as a few close friends.

I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul so, I have decided to give alms to charity organizations, as I want this to be one of the last good deeds I do on earth. So far, I have distributed money to some charity organizations in the U.A.E, Algeria and Malaysia. Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I cannot do this myself anymore.

Eh? Why not? Is giving money to charity that difficult? He can type out this email but can't sign a cheque? I don't get it. Unless he's of the same school of thought as Madam Murray, and keeps all his money in the form of bulging great sacks of dubloons. Giving them to charity could be tricky, admittedly. They're heavy. I'm sure most charities would operate a collection service, though, if you offered them squillions of guineas in Argentine silver.

I once asked members of my family to close one of my accounts and distribute the money which I have there to charity organization in Bulgaria and Pakistan, they refused and kept the money to themselves. Hence, I do not trust them anymore, as they seem not to be contended with what I have left for them.

So use your lawyer. If you're a multimillionaire businessman, you must have a lawyer. No? Oh, OK, then.

The last of my money which no one knows of ...

No-one, no-one at all. Except me!

... is the huge cash deposit ...

Huge! Huge, I tell you!

... of seven million dollars $7,000,000,that I have with a finance/Security Company abroad.

It strikes me that there is a way of making a killing out of these people, and that is to found a security and finance company. Abroad.

I will want you to help me collect this deposit and dispatched it to charity organizations.

I have set aside 10% for you for your time and patience.please send a reply through this email address( with your full contact information for more private and confidential communication.

God be with you.

Shadak Shari

If this blog isn't updated for a while, you may conclude that I've retired to the Maldives to live on caviar and Pimm's.


I've just realised that Bulgaria is the only non-Islamic country that Mr Shari wants to give money to. Coincidence?

Tuesday 29 March 2005

The importance of enunciation.

My niece is two years old. Whenever she sees a clock, she gleefully shouts "Clock! Clock! Clock!" We have a huge clock in our living room; when she sees that, she shouts "Big clock! Big clock!"

She cannot yet pronounce the letter L.

Mr Schwartz is intrigued.

I am the chosen one. Well, one of the chosen three. Well, one of the many sets of three that have so far been chosen. It's practically fame. All this is my stupid way of saying that Richard would like me to answer these questions what are doing the rounds, about books. Well, OK, then.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith. Unfortunately, memorising it would ruin the jokes for me, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. A book about human nature, friendship, and fear, told in the style of Philip Marlowe, set in an insane world full of cool gadgets; genuinely horrifying, preposterously funny, and very visual. I've found something new in there every time I've read it.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Yes, but I'm a pushover that way. I really immerse myself in what I'm reading, so, if the main character has a crush on someone, chances are I'll empathise with that — unless she's really objectionable. Oh, and there was Geriatrix's wife in the Asterix books. Did any small boys not fancy her?

The last book you bought is
The Stingray Shuffle, I think, by Tim Dorsey. Tim Dorsey used to be the nightdesk editor on The Tampa Tribune, which involved sifting through the disgusting things Florida's criminal classes did to each other every night. He took the bizarrest and most disgusting murders and turned them into extremely funny novels about Serge A Storms, the clinically insane expert on Florida history and lovable homicidal maniac. You know the way books say "This book will make you laugh out loud" on their covers and then they don't? Well, these ones do. They also prevent you from ever wanting to set foot in Florida.

The last book you read:
The Company by Arabella Edge. It was OK, but I wouldn't recommend it; interesting, but quite tiresome by the end. The narrator is the murderer, and it's just not as interesting to hear his point of view as the author seems to think it is; he's quite one-dimensional. I think I got it for about 70p in a sale, though, so that's all right.

What are you currently reading?
HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian. It's the third of the Aubrey-Maturin novels I've read; I plan to read all of them. There are lots of things about these books that ought to make me hate them, but O'Brian carries it all off somehow.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
I assume that someone has written How To Survive On A Desert Island or something along those lines, but I'll stick to fiction.
The City Watch Trilogy by Terry Pratchett. Not really a trilogy at all; an omnibus, rather. Perhaps someone will publish the complete Discworld collection in one volume before I go to this island, in which case I'll take that instead. Apart from anything else, I could use it as a raft.
Torpedo Juice by Tim Dorsey. His latest. I've not read it yet, but every one of his books has been even better than the last, and there's no reason to suspect that that trend will change.
Against A Dark Background by Iain M Banks. If I were stuck on a desert island, I'd want to see some other landscapes, and few books contain more scenery than this. Not to mention grandeur, humour, action, and adventure. Come to think of it, back to question two: Sharrow, the main character in this book, is rather attractive.
Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson. This book changed the way I see the world and myself, and, like all my favourite books, is also excruciatingly funny. It's not a trilogy, despite its title.
And either The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll or The Annotated Alice — a copy of which I am told my grandfather died clutching. A tough choice, that: Martin Gardner's brilliant explanation of the Alice books or The Hunting Of The Snark and Phantasmagoria. Could no-one put all this in one volume? Please?

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Gary, because he's my friend and we lend each other books and he hasn't blogged for over a week.
Natalie, because she is the High Queen of Blogging and I can't believe no-one's passed this to her yet.
And Esther, because her answers are likely to be amusingly strange. If she answers it. Which she probably won't.


Happily, I was wrong: Esther has replied, and her answers are not at all strange.

Friday 25 March 2005

Best laid plans.

Education Watch points us in the direction of this story. I'm sure there are all sorts of serious socio-political lessons to be learned here, but let's just concentrate on the comedy.

A Bronx teacher who repeatedly flunked his state certification exam paid a formerly homeless man with a developmental disorder $2 to take the test for him, authorities said yesterday.

The ironically-named Mr Brightly was apparently sick of failing the teacher's certification exam. It didn't seem to occur to him that he might have been able to pass it by studying, which I seem to remember was the teacher-approved method of improving exam performance when I was at school. Maybe things are different in New York. No, he opted for the getting-someone-else-to-do-it-for-you method. And, being a teacher and therefore terribly clever, he knew exactly the right person for the job: Rubin Leitner, a man who, being twice his size, twenty years older, and a completely different colour, would be able to assume his identity effortlessly; and who, having Asperger's syndrome, would be able to pass the test.

The illegal stand-in - who looks nothing like teacher Wayne Brightly - not only passed the high-stakes test, he scored so much better than the teacher had previously that the state knew something was wrong, officials said.

The stupidity is outwitted at every turn by yet greater stupidity. Not only is Brightly so stupid that he picks a man with a learning disability to take the test for him, but he is so stupid that this man then outperforms him by a huge margin. Brightly's employers are so sure of his uselessness that they actually started an investigation when he did well in a competence test. Yet, despite knowing that he's totally incapable, it never occurred to them not to hire him as a teacher.

And for this scam Brightly paid Leitner two dollars?

"I gave him my all," said Leitner ... "He gave me what he thought I was worth."


Silly customer service.

Booked a couple of flights to Glasgow with FlyBE last night — or tried to. Hit the 'Confirm' button and not much happened: no confirmation page, no confirmation email, but any attempt to press the button again gave me a pop-up box saying that the flights were being booked. No worries; these things happen; the Internet isn't perfect. So I emailed them.

Got a response this morning, saying that "for security reasons" they couldn't confirm any details of anything at all without a unique booking reference number. If I'd had such a number, I wouldn't have been contacting them, so that's a bit stupid. What's also stupid is that this is the advice they give you in their website's FAQ:

In the rare event that no clear error message or on-screen confirmation of the booking is received, please contact the Internet Support Team. Please ensure that you check your email inbox before calling as the booking may already have been confirmed.

The Internet Support Team are the people I emailed. So, in the event of a customer's receiving no confirmation of their booking, FlyBE's advice to that customer is to email a group of their staff whom they do not allow to tell anything to customers who have received no confirmation of their booking.

The Internet Support Team told me to call FlyBE's call centre. I did so, and it was fine and easy: no long phone queue; helpful staff; quick answer to my question: the booking hadn't gone through, so I should try again. It took no more than a couple of minutes. Thing is, I didn't have to do anything to confirm my ID over the phone, so what happened to the security reasons cited in the email? Admittedly, a phone call is more secure than an email, unless it's made using a mobile, but that's immaterial, as they would have given the same information to absolutely anyone who called.

It wasn't a major inconvenience for me, but FlyBE are using two members of staff to do the job of one here. What on Earth is in it for them?

Good Friday, Bad Friday.

I'm not religious, but I love Good Friday, for the simple reason that hot cross buns are the best foodstuff ever invented ever. These days, Good Friday is better than ever, because the shops start selling hot cross buns about ten months in advance and continue to sell them for another couple of months after the big day. Sainsbury's hot cross buns are particularly good, and they've been selling twelve for a pound for weeks now — twelve for a pound! Joy! Were I a billionaire, I wouldn't be eating your caviar and foie gras on olive focaccia toast and sauteed lamb's liver in an apricot jus; no, I'd eat a thousand hot cross buns every day.

If it weren't for one small problem.

Hot cross buns, I have recently discovered, don't half give me wind. Such bad wind, in fact, that I've had to make the ultimate sacrifice and stop eating a dozen of them every day, in order to save my marriage. Not just the marriage, actually: even the dog was complaining. So now, despite the daily temptation waved at me by the bakeries, I only eat one or two of them now and then. Except on Good Friday. Today, I can eat as many hot cross buns as I like — in fact, it's practically an obligation.

So it's Good Friday for my taste buds and Bad Friday for anyone who comes anywhere near me. Well, religion is supposed to be about enduring hardship.

Wednesday 23 March 2005

Will wonders never cease?

Up till a few weeks ago, I'd've asked whether wonders would ever start, but I have been promoted. This has never happened to me before. I was once given a substantial pay rise without any change to my duties, because I bravely harrangued my boss for it and I Was Right. I was once, more typically, given a job with more responsibility and more importantness, over my protestations, with no extra money. Grr. And I once got made permanent when I was temping (who hasn't?), but I had to go through an interview process for that. This time, I have simply been bumped up the ladder because My Talents Have Been Recognised. Better job, more money, no interview.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

It's just as well, really, as the new house is pauperising us.

Another great leap forward for civilisation.

Mark has found this. It's an alarm clock that runs away and hides every time you press the snooze button, hiding in a different place each time, forcing you to get the fuck out of bed you lazy sod. I might just have to get one.

The real genius of this invention, from a marketing point of view, is that customers will regularly have to buy replacements after angrily killing the little bastards on bad mornings.


Here's Clocky the clock's homepage. He's made of carpet. Cool.

Apparently, it was invented by the same person who brought us this bizarre computerised speaking bag-curtains-belt-phone thing. A great mind is at work.

Compare and contrast.

The Shabina Begum case:

A girl was unlawfully excluded from school for wearing a traditional Muslim gown instead of school uniform, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The Olivia Acton case:

A 13-year-old girl has been suspended from school because the head teacher disapproves of her hairstyle.

Olivia Acton returned from a holiday with braids, which Middleton Technology School in Rochdale deemed "extreme".

She has been excluded until the braids are removed, but is resisting the school's demands which she regards as being discriminatory.

I hope that, if this goes to court, the courts will reach the same conclusion as they did in the former case.

I also think it's a preposterous waste of time and money that these cases are going to court at all. Can these disagreements really not be sorted out at a lower level than the High Court? Can people not manage what are really quite minor disagreements in their lives without hiring barristers?

Tuesday 22 March 2005

Typo of the week.

Just got an email from a customer. It starts:

On one of our P.C.s we are getting a pop-up that shows a Dialog Bog.


Monday 21 March 2005

Moving home.

For reasons set out previously, I'm about to move this blog over to a new webhosting firm, who, I hope, won't be wankers. That means that the blog may go down for one or two of the next couple of days. Nothing to be done about that, I'm afraid. But never fear; I shall return.

Those of you who subscribe to this blog by email, sorry, but that's not going to work for a little while. I'll get it running again as soon as I can. Speaking of which, anyone who can give me any advice about installing Majordomo or Mailman on a webserver, all hints and tips will be very gratefully received.


A new reader joins us.

In the comments, Danyel takes issue with this old post of mine about what I'd do if I were Prime Minister. (It's probably a good idea to read the original post before reading this one, or it'll seem all disjointed and senseless.) I don't have time to address all his arguments, but here are some responses.

Firstly, I'll just say that I firmly believe that any policy, left or right or whatever, should be scaled in gradually, sometimes over twenty or thirty years or more. Making changes overnight is never a good idea, even if the change itself is a good idea. I'm aware that some of the policies I set out contradict each other, and that's mainly because some of them would be short-term temporary things as part of a gradual move towards the other policies. (Yes, I'm aware that having an election every five years fucks that up, but then I needn't worry about practicalities as I'm not actually Prime Minister, am I?) For instance, a lot of my suggestions are national policies, hence are rendered meaningless by what I see as the most important one: federalising the country and localising legislation. Federalisation would be the ultimate goal, but it could take a long time to do properly; in the meantime, I have suggestions for the national government.

Danyel doesn't like my plan to scrap all taxes except VAT:

VAT currently only brings in 16% of current UK Government revenue. Even if it was increased to 20%, scrapping all other taxes would give you less than 20% of what the current government has to play with.

Good. The government's far too damn big. Cutting the size and scope of the government by 80% sounds like a great idea to me.

Apart from that, what Danyel missed, I suspect, were the implications of federalising the country down to the parish council level. Central government wouldn't need most of the money, because most services would be provided locally. If local government want to raise taxes, they should be free to do so, and, if you don't like the tax regime in one area, you can always move elsewhere.

On the subject of higher bands of income tax not working because the people who are supposed to pay them can afford to hire accountants to dodge them, Danyel says:

This applies to a small number of self-certifiers

Yes, otherwise known as "the rich", exactly the people who are supposed to pay more income tax.

the Inland Revenue successfully prosecutes income tax dodgers all the time

A drop in the ocean, and, of course, they only prosecute the ones who actually break the law, who aren't the main problem. The main problem is that the tax code is so complicated that, the better your accountant, the more money you can legally avoid paying.

Look, even if you don't want to see income tax replaced with VAT, I think people on both sides of the income-redistribution debate can agree that the tax code should be simplified. Administering a system that complex costs a fortune.

VAT fraud biases the system even more in favour of the rich, as those with enough money coming in can register for VAT and claim expenses back, but the likes of me cannot.

Yes, which is why I also said I'd get rid of all tax allowances. That includes claiming back VAT.

Basing all taxation on consumption also penalises tourists and foreign students - people come here to visit our country, put money into our economy, and we sting them for tax, to fractionally reduce the burden on residents. Whatever happened to "no taxation without representation"?

That's a fair point. We already sting tourists for tax, of course — they pay VAT and airport tax; they pay our massive duty on fuel, either directly when they hire a car or indirectly through taxi and bus fares — but it's still a fair point. One answer is to allow tourists to claim back all their tax by keeping their receipts and filling out a form when they leave the country. (I think some countries already do this.) Personally, I think that that's just another loophole asking to be exploited. My ideal is to have lower taxes than most of the countries those tourists are likely to have come from, so I shouldn't think they'll resent paying them too much.

On the death penalty:

Why should there be a referendum on that particular issue? Don't we elect politicians to make these decisions for us?

Again, a perfectly fair point. The point of my original post, though, was how to get elected. Promising a referendum on the death penalty may not be logically consistent, but is a vote-winner.

On the legalising of drugs:

will dangerous drugs still be required to carry health warnings?

Since we're talking about electability, yes, health warnings are a good idea. They're a reasonable and fairly cheap alternative to a ban, and the public wouldn't settle for neither.

And is it a good idea to legalise, say, crack without taking away the social problems that lure people to it in the first place?

Bollocks. There are plenty of people who are poor, who have crap, shitty lives, and who don't do hard drugs. Similarly, lots of wealthy, happy people do do drugs. Social problems cause unhappiness, not drug use. What causes drug use is personal choice — and, no, I wouldn't take that away.

You're suggesting we increase the defence budget by 50%? Why?

Because, as things stand, we rely on the US for our own defense. It's something we ought to pay for ourselves. NATO won't last forever.

Interestingly, 4.5% of combined US and UK GDP could feed, clothe and shelter the entire third world.

Interestingly, the US Navy prevents and punishes piracy across the world's oceans. Cut that portion of US defense spending, and the Third World's fucked.

On rejecting the EU Constitution:

I agree here. Ironically, I'd reject it because it's too right-wing, while you're rejecting it because it's not right-wing enough.

Danyel's reading something between the lines here that isn't there. I'd reject the EU Constitution for two reasons. Firstly, it's insanely complex, full of jargon, and very very long, which makes it clear that it has not been written for the public. Any constitution should be short and simple enough that any citizen affected by it can learn it and understand it. Secondly, it is subject to change after it's been signed. Would anyone in their right mind sign a contract that could be changed after they'd signed it, without their consent? Well, apparently Tony Blair would.

No constitution, incidentally, should ever be left or right-wing. That's what legislation is for. A constitution should provide a framework in which legislation happens.

On legalising guns:

Not only do you want to increase military spending to US levels, you also want to increase violent crime to US levels.

After the post-Dunblane handgun ban, violent crime involving guns in the UK increased rapidly. I'd like to reverse that increase.

Isn't the idea of a parish council an anachronism in our multicultural age?

I have no idea what Danyel's on about here. Is there something about multiculturalism that precludes geographical areas below a certain size? New one on me.

On police forces being run by local government:

you don't think that private police forces are a bad idea, and go against the liberal ethos you supposedly have?

Danyel thinks that services provided by local government are private services. Or that's what he seems to be saying, anyway.

On the privatisation of schools:

You don't think that would create a two-tier system, based entirely on wealth?

We already have a two-tier system based on wealth. Look at house prices in the cachement areas of good state schools. Poor people can't get to the good schools, I'm afraid: they can't afford to live near enough to them.

On MP's salaries:

Why not just cut MPs salaries, then tie them to inflation? It'd be a lot cheaper.

Because the aim isn't just to cut their salaries; it is to give MP's employers — the public — the option of giving MP's either a pay cut or a decent above-inflation pay rise, depending on their performance.

At one point, inevitably, Danyel asks that question:

are you just trying to construct a plausible-sounding argument to justify your own personal view that income tax is rubbish cos rich people have to pay more?

Ah, that old chestnut. Danyel thinks I'm rich. I wish.

Just for the record, then. At the moment, I earn £14000 a year. So I'm not piss poor, but I'm hardly wealthy. Reducing the top rate of income tax would not affect my income in the slightest. I'm 30 years old, which puts my income squarely into the "What the fuck have you been doing with your life?" bracket. I don't particularly mind paying the level of tax I currently pay, but I do mind getting fuck all in return.

Danyel finishes with a classic bit of writing that tells you all you'll ever need to know about what left-wingers think of policial ideas other than their own:

What a scary world you paint, a kind of cross between "Daily Mail Island" and the "Mad Max" films. A Britain where wealth and power would stay forever in the hands of a tiny few, with laws designed to keep it that way. Where poor people get poor people's healthcare and poor people's education, and the ones who don't kill each other with guns can sign on - their ultra-simple benefit forms giving them more time to press their noses against the windows of shops, looking at bling items they can't afford, and will steal later, before disappearing into prison forever (unless they get the death penalty). The rich meanwhile, would hide away in their self-regulating gated communities, fiddling their VAT returns, and bribing their local private police to keep them happy. A country where a Reaganomic government refuses to tax the population fairly, and then wastes the massively insufficient revenue they do bring in on dick-waving defence spending and public referenda on knee-jerk subjects like the death penalty (hang Paedos on the Lottery programme!). Where paramedics make accident victims sign a Direct Debit mandate with their one remaining arm before treating them. I can't think of anyone that would benefit from this system, except the aristocracy, gangsters and possibly survivalists.

I'd never even attempt to compete with that.

Friday 18 March 2005

Language fundamentals.

With her usual insight, Esther has identified the key phrases vital to everyday English:

"Look at all the dog shit on that lawn. Have those people no shame?"
"What do you mean, no off-sale liquor on Sunday? Have you people no shame?"
"Stop prancing around like a girl and fight me with this stick."
"What?!? Pfff. Acupuncture isn't real."
"I'm going to have a nap now. When I wake up, all of these cowboy hats had better be OUT of the kitchen."
"When I saw you at the pier, I wanted to tell you that I loved you. But instead, I just went home with your sister."
"Who is this fellow 'Hercules?' I say, is he god... or man?"
"It's maple syrup. It's for pancakes. Just shut up and eat what I put in front of you."
"There are several types of clouds. Cirrus, stratus, etc. - all of them failures."
"When you take a hot shower and fog up the mirror, wipe off the entire mirror. Don't just wipe off enough to see your face. Nobody wants to see your face."
"Can you keep the back long and sorta feather the sides a little? I'd like to look like Steve Perry."

Only a reckless fool would add to that.

Thursday 17 March 2005

Lies, damn lies, and... ach, you know.

John B is discussing the infamous Lancet report:

If you don't accept that the 100,000 number from the Lancet study on Iraq war causalties represents a probable lower bound (given its exclusion of Falluja, where we appear to have killed everyone) on the number of Iraqis who died in the 18 months following the war and otherwise wouldn't have died in the 18 months following the war, and you do not have a PhD in a statistical discipline, then you are an ignorant bigot

I don't like to boast about my qualifications (mainly because I don't think that qualified equals intelligent), but I'll mention them this once, since it's in context. I have a B.Sc. in Mathematics and Logic & Philosophy of Science. No, it's not a Ph.D., but I still feel qualified to say what I'm about to say.

Statistics, when applied to situations containing significant elements dependent on consciousness, is a load of guesswork and outright bollocks dressed up in fancy and misleading terminology. If you're talking about the movement of molecules in a vacuum, statistics is accurate. If you're studying the spread of disease, it's useful. If you're studying the flow of calls through telephone exchanges, it's extremely useful, but, as any call centre manager will tell you, quite fallible. If you're studying elections, it tells you that Labour will win the 1992 election. If you're studying crime, it tells you that the Washington sniper is white and working alone — something the stats experts that the FBI call "profilers" insisted was true right up till he got caught. In my considered opinion, the number of deaths caused in a war is a subject inherently unsuited to this type of study. I'm aware that professional statisticians believe that everything in the world is a fit subject for their discipline, but they're wrong, and I'm far from being the only scientist who thinks so.

The way you find out how many people have died in a war is by counting the bodies and accounting for the ones you can't find, by talking to every family affected, not just some of them. It takes ages, so won't satisfy the impatience of the anti-war crowd, but it is at least accurate. Pretending that death by gunfire is sufficiently similar in nature to death by bubonic plague that its prevalence can be studied in the same way is not accurate.

No, I haven't read the Lancet study, and have no intention of doing so. I don't need to read it to accept its finding that there is a 95% probability that the number of deaths falls between 8000 and 198000, which seems reasonable, although I'd want to add the caveat that, in this context, "probability" is dependent on all sorts of parameters distinct to this study and is not the same thing as "probability" when applied to dice-rolling. I'm aware of the statistical laws which say that the real figure is more likely to be around the mid-point of the range than its extremes, and believe those laws to be misapplied in any case which involves, as war does, such a large degree of intention and direction.

If the Iraqi Army and the terrorists and the civilian population had all been moving randomly while the Coalition forces fired randomly, then it'd be time to call the statisticians. Back in reality, get counting.


Yes, I know, of course a confidence interval isn't a probability, strictly speaking, and I hereby slap my own wrist for using the terms interchangeably. However, for the purposes of my argument, it is the same type of thing as a probability, in that its meaning and predictive power get all shot to hell when you bring human volition into the equation.

Gordon Brown.

Note to all broadcast journalists: "giving" does not mean "ceasing to take".

Tuesday 15 March 2005

The difference.

John B explains perfectly what is now the key difference between Labour and the Tories:

I despise almost everything about the Conservative party's policies, leadership and supporters. However, they are actually a political party, rather than a concerted campaign to destroy the British political system and replace it with something weird and Imperial.

That's it, right there: the Tories might do absolutely awful things to the country, but anything they do will ultimately be undoable, because they'll leave our political processes intact.

On the other hand, says Mark Steyn:

If I lived in Britain, I’d vote for Tony Blair’s Labour Party. Yes, yes, I know he’s a nanny-state control-freak and you can hardly pull your pants on in the morning without filling in the form for the Public Trouser Usage Permit and undergoing inspection from the Gusset Regulatory Authority. But on the One Big Thing — the great issue of the age — he’s right, and he’s reliable. And, sad to say, the British Conservative Party aren’t. Their leader, Michael Howard, has been a cheesy opportunist on the war, supporting it at the time, backtracking later, his constantly evolving position twisting itself into a knot of contortions even John Kerry might find over-nuanced. Most other Tory heavyweights — ex-Thatcher cabinet ministers like Lord Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind — are more straightforward: They’re agin the war. They’d have no time for his frightful American clothes or his ghastly hamburger diet, but, social distaste aside, they’re Michael Moore Conservatives.

And that's true, too. Blair might destroy our constitution and turn the UK into a police state, but domestic politics is unimportant in comparison to the current big picture. Free the world first, then free ourselves. And we absolutely do not want anyone in charge right now who might even consider using the phrase "acceptable level of violence".

However, there's one key reason that I wouldn't risk voting Labour: the Labour Party have deluded themselves into believing that they can win elections without Blair. They really think that the electorate are voting for the party, not its leader. If they win, we'll see a leadership challenge — probably not a successful one, but it won't be the last. Yes, Blair is right and reliable on the one great issue of the age, but a vote for Labour is no longer a vote for Blair — not long term.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, will remain just as useless a shower of amoral authoritarian bastards no matter who's in charge. That's kind of reassuring.

Monday 14 March 2005

Zero tolerance.

Rob links to... well, to me, twice, which is very nice of him. More importantly, he also links to this:

A George Rogers Clark High School junior arrested Tuesday for making terrorist threats told LEX 18 News Thursday that the "writings" that got him arrested are being taken out of context.

Winchester police say William Poole, 18, was taken into custody Tuesday morning. Investigators say they discovered materials at Poole's home that outline possible acts of violence aimed at students, teachers, and police.

So far, so balanced. What did they find, then, and what context did they take it out of?

Poole told LEX 18 that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police was a short story he wrote for English class.

Well, over-the-top though that may sound, a short story about, say, gunning down half the school could indicate some feelings that the police might need to know about before you act on them. Maybe. So what was the story about?

"... It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

Ah, but maybe Poole has access to witchcraft or alien technology, and is planning to commit suicide, resurrect himself, lurch to school, and then start strangling people.

The police are just being silly here. Surely this nonsense will be chucked out of court.

On Thursday, a judge raised Poole's bond from one to five thousand dollars after prosecutors requested it, citing the seriousness of the charge.


This guy was turned in to the police by his grandparents. Please tell me there's more to this story than it appears.

Dubya's right. Again.

Since the start of the War on Terror, many people have asked why the US Administration's new attitude towards terrorists isn't extended to the IRA. Like so many other things, it turns out that it wasn't so much a case of hypocrisy as it was simply a matter of waiting for Bush to get around to it. And now he's getting around to it. Good. And he's hitting nerves in all the right places.

Heard some idiot IRA supporter call in to the radio a few minutes ago to complain about the hypocrisy of the McCartney sisters complaining about their brother's murder and then going to shake hands with George Bush, who has killed "thousands of millions" of people. (Thousands of millions now, is it? Blimey. He has been busy over the weekend.) Not a complaint we ever heard from IRA supporters when Sinn Fein were welcome at the White House, was it? "How can our brave leaders associate with this warmongering murderer?"

Ted Kennedy's done the decent thing for possibly the first time in his life. Good for him.

And, as usual, the White House's professional diplomats are refusing to believe that the President could really mean what he says and are backpedalling frantically:

The White House has told the House of Representatives that President Bush will probably not attend celebrations in the House if he is to be seen in the same room as Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders.

However, one source close to the event said that White House frustration extended to all the Northern Ireland parties for failing to reach a viable political agreement.

That source has a comfy desk waiting for him at the State Department.

Interesting times.

What is wrong with people in Londonderry?

First, some bastard from Derry throws a dog off the city walls. Then some bastards from Derry tie up a dog and throw it on a bonfire. Now some bastard from Derry has either killed a dog and hung it on a washing line or hung the dog on the washing line and then killed it.

Nuke the whole city.

Saturday 12 March 2005


Eighteen months and eight months are derisory sentences for this crime:

Two teenage bullies who pushed a boy who could not swim off a Dorset bridge to his death in the river below were detained for eight months and 18 months today.

Reading the various accounts, this is the sequence of events that emerges:

The two unnamed boys decide to chuck David in the river, for a laugh. As soon as David realises what they're up to, he tells them he can't swim. He clings on to the railings of the bridge as they continue to try and throw him in. Another boy tells them to stop it. They ignore him and continue. Pretty soon, everyone is shouting at them to stop. The boys ignore them and continue.

One of the boys grabbed his legs, pulled him up and pushed him over, which twisted his body in such a way that if he had maintained a hold on the rail it would have broken his arm.

What about this qualifies it as manslaughter and not murder? They weren't really trying to hurt him? He told them he couldn't swim. They didn't believe him, they say. The one who has pled guilty said:

If I had known he couldn't swim I wouldn't have done this and ruined someone's life.

And, after all, how could they possibly have known that David couldn't swim? After all, when David told them he couldn't swim, he was, apparently, insufficiently believable. That's hardly their fault, is it?

Trial judge Mr Justice McKinnon said: "It was the height of thoughtlessness and irresponsibility to throw him in ..."

Yeah, that's what they're guilty of: thoughtlessness and irresponsibility. It's almost as bad as forgetting to feed the goldfish.

"... having made no inquiry as to whether he could swim and for all you knew he may have been at risk of real harm and drowning if it turned out, as it did, he couldn’t swim."

Why does it matter whether they asked him if he could swim, since he told them anyway? What is the judge on about?

What about this crime is not murder?

Friday 11 March 2005

It used to be funny.

Comic Relief, that is. What's happened there? British comedians seem to view it as the one special day every year when they can be totally unfunny. It used to be quite an entertaining night. These days, they're so busy telling us what they're going to spend the money on that they forget to do anything to raise it. Oo, Dawn French shouted out that Cat Deeley doesn't wear pants. Gosh, that's so risque. Careful you don't get taken off the air, Dawn. Celebrity Fame Academy? Don't make me laugh. Oh, you didn't.

Ricky Gervaise seems to be very aware that he is a comedian for a living and that that means the only reason people want to see him is that he makes them laugh. At the British Comedy Awards, he realised that no-one wants to hear yet another comedian thank their agent and their producer, so instead he mercilessly took the piss out of them, reducing the whole room, and me, to hysterics. Tonight, with that same astuteness, he realised that no-one wants to see yet another comedian going to Africa and getting all maudlin about Africans with AIDS, so went to New York instead and took the piss out of Africans. Good for him. He's provided the only humour so far tonight. The effect was rather spoilt by Graham Norton telling the audience that Gervaise was lying: that he hadn't really gone on a luxury holiday to New York at Comic Relief's expense. Is that how far we've descended now? Showing a brilliant bit of comedy and then explaining the joke afterwards? I dread to think how many complaints the BBC would receive from morons if it weren't for Norton's disclaimer.

Somewhere near the beginning of this evening of shite, that bloody pair of impersonators that are doing so well these days despite being crap ("The Beckhams are stupid! The Beckhams are stupid! Ha ha ha!") did a whole sequence taking the piss out of Americans, the point of their sketch being that Americans are no good at comedy. The main butts of the "joke" were David Schwimmer (though it took me a long time to work out that that was who he was supposed to be) and Courtney Cox-Arquette, two comic actors who have consistently, over some two-hundred-and-forty-odd episodes, provided more laughs per ten minutes than Comic Relief have managed in the last week.

Chris Moyles, the man I usually regard as Britain's funniest DJ (which, admittedly, is a bit like being France's best-looking man), has been driving a lorry from John O'Groats to Land's End for the last few days for Comic Relief. Various famous vehicles — the A-Team van, the General Lee — have joined his convoy. OK, great. Not a bad way of raising money for charity. But where's the comedy? For Comic Relief, Moyles has drastically reduced the amount of comedy in his show for a whole week.

Peter Kay is a very gifted and funny comedian. Especially for Comic Relief, he mimed to a Tony Christie song, while marching. Various other people marched with him. Apparently, they'll release it as a single on Monday, so the hilarity will continue for weeks.

Say what you like about McFly's music, but they did write one of the best lyrics of last year:

She's got a boyfriend.
He drives her round the bend.
But he's twenty-three;
He's in the marines;
He'd kill me.

I laughed long and hard the first time I heard that one. They clearly have some talent for comedy. So, for Comic Relief, why were they asked to write something maudlin and drippy and dull and in no way amusing?

The whole point of Comic Relief used to be that it wasn't just another bloody telethon; that there was more to watch than people asking you to give them money; that they provided you with some first-class entertainment in return. No more.

Rename it to "Relief".

Thursday 10 March 2005

God, I hate London.

I went to London last weekend for the first time in years. It's odd to think that I used to love the place. These days, it takes very little time for London to remind me just how bloody awful it is — three or four stops on the Tube do the trick. Funny thing is, I didn't even leave London because I hated the place; I still loved it when I left. I could never go back now, though.

And I caught the bloody flu while I was there. Great.

Tuesday 8 March 2005

The scum of the Earth, and some nutters.

Point of Law links to this appalling story:

THE DUST has hardly settled in tsunami-ravaged South Asia, but already trial lawyers are circling like vultures, searching intensely for ways to profit from the tragedy.

Recently, attorney Edward Fagan announced he would file a class-action lawsuit in New York against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Incredibly, Mr. Fagan alleges the Hawaii-based research facility should be held liable for failing to warn the world about an earthquake that happened nearly 7,000 miles away in an ocean the institute does not study.

Words fail me. Here's a nice quote from Gerhard Podovsovnik, one of the lawyers behind the scheme:

"We don't earn any money on the lawsuit. We want to help people," he said. "We are suing to get information."

So selfless. So believable.

Overlawyered asks:

I'm curious: does Fagan sue his local news weather department if he gets wet because of an unanticipated rainstorm?

A reasonable outcome, I think, would be for every one of the plaintiffs to be drowned. Instead of being grateful that they survived what so many others didn't, they see it as a way of enriching themselves. Take out the lawyers and the other ill-fitting trappings of civilisation, and they're just plundering the bodies.

As a general rule, where there are lunatics, bastards are sure to be nearby — and vice versa. While discussing the lawsuit, Overlawyered links to this:

We all know by now, that a Tsunami can cause un-imaginable destruction among innocent people, property and the infrastructure - like in South-East Asia; and it is excusable, if a Tsunami is caused by planet Earth, BUT it is in-excusable, if such a monstrous destruction is planned and caused by most satanic men. Well, also a 'Tsunami Lawsuit' will cause an even greater and un-imaginable destruction financially . . . among the people, who planned and caused this and other 'Tsunamis'. A real heavy and successful Tsunami Lawsuit will do much more than just simply STOP this type of 'TSUNAMIS', such lawsuits will change the present satanic course of mankind.

Which is good to know.

That site, in turn, links to this even nuttier one:

On the day after CHRIST MASS, the Death's Head Jesuit General in the Vatican ordered the Pentagon to temporarily suspend the ecumenical movement and send a Christ MASS present to the Moslems in Indonesia. Traditionally Satan; I mean Santa, is supposed to arrive via AIR....This time he arrived by sea bringing DEATH and Destruction to hundreds of thousands of unbelievers.

The nuke or nukes were planted by the Pentagon Navy in the Sumatran Trench off the coast of Indonesia.

The TIMING of this event is the clue to Rome's involvement.

All the great Inquisitions of history began around CHRIST MASS time. Charlemagne, the unholy Roman Emperor was crowned on CHRIST MASS Day in the year 800. Soon after, terror came from the sea to the British Isles in the form of Viking longships.

All of the Vatican "holy" years or Jubilees began on Christ Mass Day.

The Soviet Union was officially dissolved by Jesuit Gorbechev on Christ Mass Day 1991.

These people exist.

Time for a drink.

No one will gel hert.

It may not be fair to laugh at people with learning difficulties, but this guy brought it on himself:

First, Randolph Joseph Claude Lacombe "picked up a pamphlet which said, 'Are you getting the right financial advice?' and started writing a hold-up note on the back page," prosecutor Gordon Baines told the provincial court Thursday.

After getting as far as, 'Dist is a holldop,' the pen ran dry.

Lacombe scrawled a second, equally illiterate note: "Thes is a holde up, no terx, just geve me the money, no trix, thank you, and no one will gel hert."

Not surprising that he was caught, but astounding that he got some money and made it out of the bank.

Baines said Lacombe told [the teller] he had a gun or other weapon and would not hesitate to use it.

Judging by the rest of Lacombe's actions, I have a feeling that that's exactly what he told her: "I have a gun or other weapon." That's not frightening. "I have a weapon" is frightening: he's being secretive, to preserve the element of surprise. "I have a gun" is frightening: he's got a bloody gun! But "I have a gun or maybe some other weapon" is indicative of a man who can't even remember what he brought with him to rob a bank. That's not frightening; it's laughable.

(Before you ask, yes, of course I'd have handed over the money. Coming face to face with total stupidity can be pretty scary. But, after I'd given him the money and he'd left the building, I'd have laughed at him, bravely.)

After leaving with $460 in $20 bills ...

$460? I was right, then: the teller wasn't scared at all. "Here's a prize moron," she probably thought, "who will accept some piffling amount to go away." And she was right. I've worked for companies whose managers spend more than that on lunch.

After leaving with $460 in $20 bills, Lacombe headed for a nearby hotel, where he retrieved a bag he had left with the bartender.

"He told her he had just robbed a bank, and he asked her to call a cab," Baines said.

He probably told her to make sure she understood how urgent the cab was. That's smart thinking.

While Lacombe went outside to wait for his cab, the bartender telephoned police, who were already swarming the neighborhood.

Ah, such a small mistake, but such a vital one. Remember, kids: if you're going to be a successful bank robber, don't confess to complete strangers and then leave them to make phone calls while you stand around aimlessly.

"He was apprehended in an alcove behind the Beaufort Hotel drinking a bottle of whiskey," Baines said.

So, not a total idiot after all. No, Randolph Lacombe had a plan. Knowing that, after a stressful bank robbery, he'd be wanting a stiff drink, he had made sure in advance that he'd have quick and easy access to whiskey. Reading between the lines, I think it's pretty clear that that's what was in the bag he'd left with the bartender. And the whole plan went off without a hitch: straight out of the bank to the bar, pick up the bag, start drinking. And he'd even worked out that he had to use a taxi — a getaway car was out of the question, because he couldn't drink and drive, could he? Yes, Randolph Lacombe had worked out all the angles. The police were damn lucky to catch up with him.

Monday 7 March 2005

Don't host your site with, for they are twats.

You may be wondering what caused both of my domains to suddenly and inexplicably be taken down by my hosts, I certainly was. Had I been instalanched? Had my stats suddenly gone through the roof for some other reason? Had I broken one of their rules? Was one of my CGI scripts a security risk? All of these possibilities occurred to me, but one thing that I certainly didn't consider was what in fact turned out to be the real problem: the whole thing was simply's renewal process.

Yes, when see that one of their customers' accounts is up for renewal, they don't send any advance notice, they don't send an invoice; all they do is disable the entire domain and then send the customer this email:

You have items with us that have been suspended and require renewal! Please visit http://, log-in to the client section and view your renewable items and take appropriate action with each of your renewable items.

And then they printed my username and password in the email, which is a tad unprofessional.

8-95 sent this email, by the way, to my address at — the same domain they had just taken down. Quite how they expected me to read it, I'm not sure. I didn't see it until this morning. And they do have my Hotmail address, so could have used that, but chose not to.

Anyway, at the time, I didn't know any of this. I thought there was a genuine problem. So I logged a case on their support desk:

Hi there.

Both my sites, and, have been suspended today. Could you tell me why, and how I could reinstate them, please?

Thank you.


I logged that as "Urgent", gave them a few hours to respond, then escalated the case to "Emergency". Why not? For all I knew, it could be an emergency. Since they hadn't contacted me, I couldn't even be sure that it was them and not some hackers who had taken my sites down. Escalating the case got a response: they changed it from "Emergency" down to "Normal" and didn't reply to my question.

Now, I think it was pretty clear from my initial message to them that I didn't know what was going on. Not clear enough, though. Here's the eventual reply from Joe, who, I'm sure, only has the same name as me in order to be difficult:

It appears to be suspended for billing issues.

Please paste your payment receipt into this ticket for verification.


Verbose, eh?

"Billing issues". That's very vague. You haven't sent me an invoice, or a renewal reminder, or any sort of bill. You haven't provided me with a link to a payment page where I could submit my credit card details. And now you want to see a receipt? You think the best way to contact a customer when their renewal is due is just to shut down their site and wait for them to complain? Are you insane?

By the way, when you took over Futurehosts, you didn't bother transferring across my payment details, so I had to pay you before my renewal was due. You owe me money, in other words. I didn't bother mentioning it at the time, because it was a paltry amount and I figured it was more Futurehosts' fault than yours, but, since you're taking such an appalling attitude to me, I bring it up now.

Put my site back up, please, and send me an invoice like a civilised company would do.

(Futurehosts are the company I originally went to for my hosting. They were really good, but bought them out. Shame.)

Sure, I was being rude, but I was furious: he could have said "You owe us $20. Follow this link to make a payment." That would have been terse and annoying, but would at least have offered me the chance of putting my sites back up. Instead, he just cited billing issues, which might mean anything, and didn't even give me the option of paying. How incredibly stupid is that?

I had to wait another twelve hours for a response.

I can't reactivate your site until the hosting invoice is paid.


And that was it. No apology, not even any acknowledgment of anything I'd said. Their response to a complaint is simply to ignore it. I was hoping that they'd disagree with at least some of what I'd said — that they might, for instance, say that this wasn't their usual renewal procedure and that something had gone wrong this time — but no: I had to conclude that this really was their normal renewal procedure. And that they were therefore insane.

So I renewed for one month and I'm shopping for new hosts. Had sent me a normal renewal notice a few days in advance, I'd have renewed for at least six months, I would still be completely happy with their service, and you wouldn't be reading this. There's a moral to this story.

All this fuss prompted me to go and read 8-95's support forums. If you're thinking that maybe I've been unlucky and that 8-95 probably have a perfectly good attitude to most of their customers most of the time, I particularly recommend reading this thread. If you can be bothered.

If anyone from 8-95 is reading this, please be assured that you have every right of reply. You are hosting this, after all. Just send me an email and I'll publish it, you shower of twonks.

In case of emergency, please break glass, pull red handle, and grip ankles firmly.

This blog is now back where it should be: However, it will certainly go down again — I hope just briefly — at some point in the next couple of weeks, as I'm going to move it onto different servers, where it will be much happier, thank you very much. So please keep a note of the temporary emergency address: If the proper site goes down, that one will be up.


Wednesday 2 March 2005

Sod's law.

He was a wise man, that Mr Sod.

Disastrous web collapses like this one under which I am currently pissed off don't happen often. This is only the third time such a thing has ever happened to me. On every one of those three occasions, I have been just about to go on holiday. On the first occasion, come to think of it, I was just about to get married and go on honeymoon. This time, I'm off to London for a few days.

How does the server know when to go down in order to cause me maximum hassle? It's not as if I keep my appointments online or anything. Someone's out to get me. Could it be the cleaners? Or Ikea, perhaps? Or an unholy alliance of Ikea, the cleaners, the government, the Communists, the Tories, packaging designers, my web hosts, and God? (Actually, if God's involved, it's probably not an unholy alliance. A bloody annoying alliance, nonetheless.)

Anyway, I'm sure London will be fun. And probably cold. And full of restaurants. (Ah, restaurants... mmmmm.) Expect little to no blogging until next week, as I can't blog from my phone with my proper email address down. God, it's like living in the bloody Stone Age.


Well, hello. You found me.

This morning, my hosts took down both my domains with absolutely no warning or any indication why. Depending on how they respond in the next little while, I will decide whether or not to say who they are.

In the meantime, here I am on Blogger's own hosting. This seems to have caused a weird formatting problem or two. Please ignore that. It also means there are no archives — they're all on, which doesn't exist — so don't bother clicking the archive links. Oh, and please don't email me at, either. I'll stick another email address in the sidebar in a few minutes.

Thanks to everyone who's published this temporary address for me.

Any recommendations of good web hosts will be gratefully received.



The archives are back, if you want to read them. They're also back if you couldn't care less. They're just plain back.

Still no response from my hosts.

Having lost all the background graphics that this site was using, I have to say, I rather like the look of it. Might just have to stick with this design.

Oh, and kudos to Blogger, I have to say. They are often criticised for being crap for various reasons, but I can't fault this software today. My domain has been totally scuppered, and all I have to do is change the hosting setting on Blogger and republish the blog, and that's the whole lot back. Not bad at all.

I shall now stop blogging about blogging. To be fair, I did have a good excuse this time. Nonetheless, stop I shall.

Tuesday 1 March 2005

Subtle sabotage.

A standard computer keyboard has a couple of little fold-away legs along its rear edge that are used to tilt the keyboard slightly towards its user. Every night, the cleaner at my office folds down one of those legs, so that my keyboard will wobble the following morning. What's in it for her?

Even more puzzlingly, this used to happen when I worked for an entirely different company in a different country. I know it's not the same cleaner, following me. So it can only be part of an international conspiracy of cleaners. Must be.

The question is, do cleaners do this to everyone, or are they targetting me?

So soon?

This is all happening so much more quickly that I expected. And I thought I was one of the optimists.

Great news:

The Lebanese government abruptly resigned Monday during a stormy parliamentary debate, prompting a tremendous roar from tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in central Beirut.

The demonstrators, awash in a sea of red, white and green Lebanese flags, had demanded the pro-Syrian government's resignation -- and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon -- since this month's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Demonstrators in Beirut's Martyrs Square chanted, "Syria out! Syria out!" after Prime Minister Omar Karami announced his resignation in a speech aired by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation.


J. Adam Ereli, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said the United States shared "the Lebanese people's desire for the extension of Lebanese sovereignty over all of Lebanon's territory and the disarming of militias and the conduct of elections, parliamentary and otherwise that are free fair and transparent and are not marred by intimidation and violence."

He added: "There's a constitutional process in Lebanon, we have every expectation that that constitutional process will be followed and that a new government will be able to fulfill the desires and the wishes of the people of Lebanon as they have been expressing them so eloquently for the past several weeks."

Students of diplomatese will see that that's some bloody strong language there. It's about as close to saying to the Syrians "Get out of Lebanon or else" as anyone in the State Department is ever likely to get. And it's great to hear.

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter isn't a professional diplomat, so he puts it a little more bluntly:

"I think Syria is in deep trouble, unless they make big changes, and right away."

Great news.