Thursday 25 August 2005

Petty squabbling as spectator sport.

Jackie thought that this was a parody. I thought the guy was serious, until I started arguing with him in his comments, at which point he started to make such obvious and stupid mistakes that I thought he just had to be taking the piss. Then he started deleting my comments, and I realised that his clicheed world-view was genuinely offended by reality. What an eejit.

Anyway, just for the record, I'll point out Lee Jones's myriad mistakes here, where he can't delete my comments. I doubt any of my readers are particularly interested in this, but hey, it's my blog.

My initial disagreement with Lee was over this:

Terrible sadness today as Mo Mowlam, former Northern Ireland Secretary, died at 8.10am. Tears came to my eyes when I read the news. She was a one-of-a-kind politician, a woman who was sent to Northern Ireland as a blast of fresh air through the stultified corridors of power and really get the peace process moving - and she succeeded. Only she could have done it - fearless, disarmingly honest, laid-back, kicking off her shoes and chewing gum in meetings - and all this whilst undergoing radiotherapy for a brain tumour, which made all her hair fall out. She even removed her wig once during talks to ease the tension. She seemed possessed of an irreducibly robust humour, quick, rude wit, and an unflappable optimism. ... Perhaps one of the reasons I liked her so much is because, like me, she grew up in a family with an alcoholic, abusive father, and threw herself into academic work as an escape from hellish surroundings, which also took her abroad.

The thing about Mo Mowlam is that, like most politicians, she enacted policies. And there's been a lot of mindless rambling since her death about what wonderful work she did in Northern Ireland that has bizarrely ignored both the policies and their results. By all means discuss what a nice woman she was — as far as I can see, she was friendly, affable, and generally good fun — but what matters about her actions as Northern Ireland Secretary is what happened to Northern Ireland as a result of the policies for which she was responsible, not her vivacious debating style. Talk of the Great Wig-Removal Moment effectively ignores the fact that she was a politician, displacing her real achievements with an essentially trivial anecdote. Churchill had a lot of style and charm, but, had he lost the War, no-one would give a damn. And quite right too.

So what did Mo achieve? Devolved Parliament? One week every two years before it collapses. Democratic normalisation of Sinn Fein? No-one believes that. Bertie Ahern didn't exactly get a lot of flak for stating the obvious. An end to violence? Tell that to the McCartneys. An end to criminal activity, perhaps? Largest bank robbery in UK history. How about an end to terrorism? Aye, right. Strategic lull, more like. Perhaps, despite the IRA's intransigence, Mo made some progress at disarming the loyalist "paramilitaries"? Oh, except that they're currently conducting a blood-feud in broad daylight, prompting calls for the troops to be redeployed to Belfast's streets.

No, Northern-Ireland-wise, Mo's main achievement was getting Gerry and Martin into positions of power. She made a murderer Minister of Education. Thanks for that, Mo. She also succeeded in persuading the UUP and the SDLP to go along with the peace process long after it had become apparent to everyone, even Americans, that the IRA were taking the piss. In return for the concessions they made, neither the UUP nor the SDLP ever received any of the progress that Mo had assured them would be forthcoming from the IRA. The electorate tend not to vote for people who repeatedly fall for obvious cons, so the DUP and IRA are now the province's two most powerful parties. The centre parties were destroyed by Mowlam's policies. Whether that's what she set out to achieve isn't the point. It's still her achievement. It's her lasting legacy. Which is a shame; she certainly deserved better. But life doesn't give us what we deserve; it gives us what we get.

Anyway, in his writing, Lee Jones has demonstrated a number of reasons why he should never bother to open his mouth on these subjects. It's not that I disagree with him. It's that he simply knows fuck all.

First of all, he says this:

If [the IRA] were really a "hated minority" then they could never have had the community support that allowed them to operate.

I've asked Lee to clarify whether he's saying that the IRA weren't a minority or weren't hated, but he's deleted my question. However, he did later say

I'm not saying they had the majority support

so it looks like he's saying they weren't hated. That'll be news to everyone on this island. Even the IRA's keenest supporters aren't so deluded as to think the organisation's popular.

I noted that Lee didn't like Ian Paisley, so mentioned to him that one of Mowlam's indirect achievements was the rise to dominance of Paisley's party. Lee's response was just class:

I note you again attribute the rise of a political party, this time the UUP, to Mo Mowlam.

This man is, apparently, studying International Relations at Oxford, yet he doesn't know enough not to comment on Northern Irish politics without first finding out the difference between the UUP and the DUP. This is like writing about Westminster politics without distinguishing between Labour and the Lib Dems. Hey, Charles Kennedy is Prime Minister! Oh, is it Blair? Well, same difference! I'd happily put it down to a typo, except that he repeated the mistake a few times — even saying that the UUP "have made enormous gains out of the process in NI, easily as much as Sinn Fein" — and deleted my comment when I pointed out to him that the UUP are down to just one seat in Parliament, which constitutes an enormous loss.

Hilariously enough, having demonstrated that he doesn't even know who the Northern Irish electorate vote for these days, he says

you recognise that ordinary people putting ballots in boxes come into the equation somewhere -- but presumably only at the juncture that serves your particular world view.

If his blog were a parody, that would be a work of genius.

In my experience, this is what pisses off the Northern Irish: the total and utter comprehension failure of the English. The destiny of this province is, to a significant extent, at the mercy of people as ignorant as Lee. It's kind of exasperating, for all sides.

Anyone still interested in this little bunfight can head on over to Lee's place, read his pontifications, and note how kind I've been in not mentioning his photograph. And no, Lee, that's not an ad hominem argument; it's an insult.

Wednesday 24 August 2005

End of an era.

This came as a shock:

Portadown News to be decommissioned

It's been four and half years, 200 issues, a newspaper column, a TV sketch and a book - and that's as far as it goes. The Mirror has offered me a new column, I haven't time to do that and this, so I'm calling it a day.

A sad day for comedy.

Civilisation reaches its peak.

Science fiction writers fail to predict so much. Not a single one saw the personal computer coming — read books from the Fifties and Sixties and those few that did correctly predict how powerful computers would become thought that the world would contain only one or two such machines, in the exclusive hands of super-rich corporations, housed in huge buildings and attended by hundreds of engineering staff. Even ten years ago, no-one on the planet could have told you that people were going to pay good money for ringtones.

We now have at our fingertips, cheap enough for most people in the developed world and a lot of those outside of it to access, the most amazing communications network ever conceived, a repository of more information than our ancestors ever thought possible, all available to all of us in mere seconds. Who would ever have predicted that such an astounding entity would be used for this? Who could have predicted that the following sentence would ever be written, let alone published? is the premier online repository for pictures of dogs in bee costumes.


A bit of context.

Laban gives a quick round-up of South London shootings. Here's one of the stories:

A GUNMAN chased down and fired at two men and women before riding off on a motorbike. The man was spotted chasing the group in Choumert Grove, Peckham Rye, shortly after 7pm on Tuesday.

He shot at them but police are not aware of any injuries.

They appealed yesterday for the victims and witnesses to come forward.

The group was being chased towards Peckham Mosque - however, cops say there is no link with the mosque.

A police spokesman said: "Officers attended but everyone had already left the scene.

"We understand the suspect lost his intended victim and ran back down Choumert Road and made off on a red motorcycle towards Blenheim Grove."

This caught my eye because my dad & I used to live in Choumert Grove. I'm not going to look back through rose-tinted hindsight and say that the area was dead safe — of course it wasn't: it's Peckham. But it wasn't this dangerous. A shooting like this would have been big news; it was rare. Looks like it's commonplace these days: two shootings in Peckham and one just up the road in Catford on the one day — funnily enough, my dad's birthday.

Most British people, without realising it, have seen Choumert Road, which crosses Choumert Grove. Choumert Road market is one of the outdoor street markets at which Del Boy flogs things. Remember the time when Uncle Albert overacted to the electric back massager's treatment and started doing a jig? That was Choumert Road market. I used to walk through it every day on the way back from school. It was pretty much as portrayed in the show, except that the BBC avoided showing how beautiful the area is. Picture that scene. Now picture the scene described above. It's sad, is what it is.

Sunday 21 August 2005

Give us a job.

Today it turned out that I could do with some extra work. Well, more precisely, I could do with large bags full of cash, but, in my experience, it is rare for people to give me money unless I perform some sort of service in return. So here I am, doing what so many bloggers end up doing and asking you, my excellent readers, whether you're wealthy and in need of a bit of an employee. For I can be that bit.

What I'm mainly offering are my journalism skills. See the way I used "are" rather than "is" in that last sentence? That's proper grammar, that is, so you should hire me. This blog reflects merely several of my myriad writing facets: I also co-wrote The Greatest Rock & Pop Miscellany Ever, published by Sanctuary last year — real paid-by-the-word, churned-out-to-a-tight-deadline, well researched, commercial work. Hire me.

I do a spot of web design. Have a look at the Squander Pilots site. If you think that whoever built that has skills you could use, hire me. I will undercut probably every other web designer on the planet who doesn't believe in making sites more eye-catching by using as many font colours as possible.

In a less internetty way, I'm a good gardener. Unless you believe in paying your gardener's air-fares, you'll need to have a garden in the Bangor/Belfast/Newtownards sort of area. I plant, I dig, I build pergolas and lay patios, I prune and trim and nurture, and I have all my own tools except for a lawnmower. Hire me.

A longshot, this last one, but you never know. I am incredibly good with Microsoft Excel. If you need a super-advanced spreadsheet that does all sorts of amazing things, including macros that ask you how old you are and then draw pretty coloured pictures, hire me.

All rates thoroughly negotiable.

Of course, if any of you feel like paying me to do nothing at all, that's good too.

Thank you for reading my plea. Normal service — ranting about idiots, mostly — will resume shortly.

Wednesday 17 August 2005

De Menezes.

It turns out that everything we were told about the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes — that he was challenged by police and ran, that he ran at all, that he jumped the barrier, that he was wearing a suspiciously bulky coat — was a pack of lies told by the police to cover their arses. I unreservedly apologise for saying that he'd acted stupidly. He hadn't.

As an aside, it's an interesting example of how unreliable eyewitnesses are: many eyewitness accounts at the time supported the police's story, but it's now looking as if the stress of seeing a man shot dead caused some witnesses to imagine a lot of what they thought they saw.

Every police officer discovered to have lied about this should be sacked. There are excuses for mistakes — even mistakes as terrible as this one. The moment the police decided to lie about what they'd done, all such excuses vanished.

Ironically, it looks like one of the reasons for this mistake is that the British police aren't armed. The police surveillance team weren't armed; there was a separate armed response unit, who weren't taking part in the surveillance. The armed officers don't appear to have done anything wrong (until they started lying afterwards): they were told that a confirmed suicide bomber was getting onto a train and had to be stopped immediately. And they did a great job. Somewhere inbetween the surveillance unit — who don't appear to have thought de Menezes was about to self-detonate — and the armed unit, the Chinese-whispers effect occurred, turning "Apprehend the suspect" into "Kill the bomber." Had the surveillance team been armed themselves, would they have killed de Menezes? Impossible to say for sure, but it doesn't look like it. Had the armed officers been part of the investigation and watching him from the start, had they been fully informed rather than acting on brief instructions, would they have shot him? Again, I doubt it.

Traditionally, the British police aren't armed because it would lead to an escalation of violence between them and criminals, encouraging more and more criminals to carry guns themselves. This may once have been true, and the policy may well have delayed the tooling-up of Britain's criminals by a few years. But it's redundant now: our criminals are very much armed and it's silly to pretend otherwise.

If an officer's going to shoot someone, he should be allowed at least to be confident in his own mind that he's doing the right thing. After this fiasco, how are the members of armed response units going to feel about the information they receive via their earpieces? End this foolish division of labour.

BBC bias.

People argue back and forth about whether the BBC are politically biased, but there's another area in which their bias is infallible and undeniable. What was the main headline on Radio One's awful Newsbeat yesterday? Can you guess? Bear in mind that we're at war, that there have been two plane crashes in the last few days, and that a major strike has just crippled one of the world's busiest airports.

That's right, their top story was the disastrous news that copies of the latest episode of Ricky Gervais's new BBC comedy, Extras, were available to download from the Internet two days before they were broadcast. Some people, apparently, watched this flagship BBC show before the BBC wanted them to. And that's stealing. This sort of theft costs "the industry" gazillions of pounds, they told us. They even interviewed Ricky Gervais, who explained to them in a wide variety of ways just how much of a shit he didn't give, and also pointed out to them that it's not his copyright, it's the BBC's, so why the hell were they asking him about it?

Copies of TV shows get downloaded every day. It's never been the BBC's top news story before. When it's one of their shows that gets nicked, it's clearly far more important.

But hang on. While there's a debate to be had about the pros and cons of illegal downloading, and it's certainly true that it constitutes theft in most cases (though there's a strong argument that it is a type of non-harmful theft that no-one should get upset about), this is a BBC show. Newsbeat's reporter earnestly told us about how much damage illegal downloading does to the profits of broadcasting firms, but it seemed not to occur to her that the BBC is not actually a profit-making company. At least, it's not supposed to be. In fact, thanks to the unique way in which the BCC is funded, they are effectively immune to any damage that could be done to their profits in this way. If enough people get the show off the Web instead of watching it on BBC2, the BBC's ratings go down slightly when they broadcast it, which leads to... well, what? If they had adverts, the ratings dip would make the advertising slots cheaper, reducing the BBC's revenue. But they don't. The only way they can demonstrate that any theft has occurred here is by proving that the people who've downloaded the show have then viewed it in houses that don't have TV licenses. Anyone who does have a license has paid for the show and is therefore entitled to watch it. Anyone who lives outside the UK is exempt from the BBC's funding mechanism, and is therefore entitled to watch it for free.

If the BBC don't like this arrangement, there is an alternative.

Friday 12 August 2005

Petulance and human rights.

Frankly, I don't really give a damn about gay marriage. Sure, I can see why it's an important issue in all sorts of fascinating ways, but, really, any damage that's likely to be done to the institution of marriage has already been done by the bloody self-absorbed serial-divorcing heteros with which our world is littered. I have a big problem with the way modern people regard marriage as essentially disposable and promises as meaningless, and that problem has not been caused by gay people.

So I don't much care about the gay marriage issue. But I do care about the pernicious twisting of language.

Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson were married while living in Canada in 2003 and now want a legal declaration of the validity of their union in the UK.

The couple, from North Yorkshire, said a failure to recognise the legality of their vows breached their human rights.


The High Court is being asked to recognise their Canadian marriage in the same way it would recognise the overseas marriage of a heterosexual couple.

The women intend to argue that failure to do so would constitute a breach of their human rights to privacy and family life and their right to marry.

Well, there's going to be a fascinating yet dull legal argument about whether allowing a couple to marry but not recognising their marriage constitutes infringing their right to marry. It's interesting that people are now so conditioned to think in terms of state control that they genuinely think that their marriage is somehow less meaningful if the government don't officially recognise it. We saw this in the coverage of Mick Jagger's break-up with Jerry Hall: "It turns out they were never really married," people said. No it bloody didn't. They had a wedding ceremony and then lived together as a married couple, having and raising children together, for decades. Whether or not some bit of paper in some bureaucrat's filing cabinet somewhere had the right signatures on it is irrelevant: they were married. A marriage originates with the couple and all the state does is to record it. If you don't get a death certificate, you're still dead.

But hey, recording and recognising marriages uses up a tiny proportion of the state's expenditure, and if some people want it extended a bit, let them have their day in court. If they win, great. If they lose, great. Life goes on.

About time I got to the point, isn't it?


Do we really have a human right to privacy? When you have your tongue ripped out for criticising El Presidente, that's an infringement of your human rights, definitely. But what if some men from the government spy on you? It may be irritating, it may be illegal, it may be unconstitutional, but does it really breach your human rights? If a soldier peeks through a hole in a fence, is that a war crime? And, if it is, are these human rights on some sort of scale? Surely some infringements are worse than others. In which case, should we bother defending all of them, or just concentrate on the important right-not-to-have-your-arse-set-alight ones?

These women aren't even talking about the being-spied-on type of invasion of privacy, which is generally a bad thing. No, they're talking about... well, actually, what the bloody hell are they talking about? This is my problem with them. This is why they deserve to have their case chucked out of court and, come to that, be slapped round the chops with old cabbage leaves.

They are arguing that the state's failure to publicly record details of their private affairs infringes their privacy. Read that sentence a few times and see if it starts to make sense with repetition. If it does, you have a successful career in law ahead of you.

They must be intellectuals. No-one else would believe something so stupid.


This is the stupidest strike I can remember. BA employees have gone on strike because of actions not taken by BA and over which BA have no control. This is insane. Tens of thousands of people have had their hard-earned holidays screwed up by a bunch of self-absorbed socialist bastards who, when you get down to it, saw an excuse for a day off. It'd make as much sense for me to go on strike in sympathy for Gate Gourmet's staff. BA have made it clear that there is literally nothing they can do about this — even if they agreed that the catering staff should never have been sacked, BA can't reemploy them because it weren't BA who sacked them. And the TGWU have said they can't call off the strike because they never called it on in the first place. It's as bad as Glasgow's Royal Mail.

And a word about these idiots' grasp of cause and effect. Gate Gourmet staff took unofficial strike action, and were therefore sacked. BA staff saw this and thought that the best thing to do in the circumstances was to take unofficial strike action. None too bright, clearly. There's a lesson to be learnt there, and I hope they learn it.

Anyway, here's what I'd do if I were in charge of BA. First, I'd approach Servisair and ask them about what sort of capacity they could handle at very short notice, offering their staff all the overtime they could eat for the next few weeks. Then I'd sack every single baggage-handler, immediately. Then I'd give all the bus-drivers notice that any of them who don't come back to work immediately will be following the baggage-handlers. Then I'd go on a recruitment drive.

I have some sympathy for strikers who have demands, even when I disagree with the demands. Not usually very much sympathy, admittedly, but enough to think they should get to keep their jobs if they stop striking. Not this lot. They have no demands of their employers. Sack them all.

Monday 8 August 2005

A minor evil.

What is it with giving customers change? How can such a simple little thing be made to be such an irritating hindrance?

I reach out my hand — that's my one free hand, the other containing a shopping bag or a wallet at this point. And the "assistant" puts a banknote into my palm, my receipt on top of that, then coins on top of that. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? I don't want to scrunch the banknote and receipt up into a little ball around the coins, but what else, at this point, is possible? It's like some hellishly everyday philosopher's knot. I just want to put my money in my pocket, after folding the note, and put the receipt in a different pocket. Is that so bizarre? We're not talking about a high level of anal-retentive organisationalness here. What really pisses me off is that they have to make a special effort to hobble me this way: the till gives them the receipt seconds before it allows them to take change out of the draw, but they insistently hang on to the receipt during that time, no matter how hintingly I hold out my hand, just so they can give it to me sandwiched between two layers of money.

The simple solution, of course, is to pay by card, but lately they've started sodding around with that too. They fold the receipt around the card before handing it back to me. What in God's name are they thinking? Does anyone ever put their card back in their wallet with a receipt folded around it? If I get cashback, they gleefully include the note in this origamic nonsense.

Trainee assistants don't do this; brand new ones don't either. They start out giving me my money in a normal way, as if they're humans or something, but then they change. Someone is teaching them this. Who is it? And what is their bloody problem?

Cynicism and remembrance.

I'd ask how long it's likely to be before the first conspiracy theories surface around Robin Cook's tragic death, if it weren't for my certainty that there are already hundreds out there.

He was wrong about some things, right about others, put his beliefs ahead of his career prospects, and seemed like a nice guy.

Coincidence or dream?

My friend Andy has started blogging. Meanwhile, my friend Andy has started blogging.

Andy's about to circumnavigate the globe, probably rather sarcastically. Andy's the best bassist ever, blogging about being in a band and recording and so on.

That is all.

Friday 5 August 2005

Love and major sevenths.

The tricky thing about the impending tour is that I've got to try and remember our songs. We haven't played since February '04, so that's not easy. Not only that, but, since we've recruited John the bassist, he needs to know how our songs go, which means someone needs to tell him the chord progressions. Now, I'm a programmer: on stage, I press buttons and twiddle knobs, making all sorts of cool noises. This means that, after the initial song-writing phase, I never play our songs on an actual instrument again. Which in turn means that, even when it were me what wrote them, I have no idea what most of the chords are. I'm not even sure what key half our songs are in.

So I've been playing a fair bit of piano of late, trying to remember things, or, failing that, figure them out. And I've made an alarming discovery. I have married a woman who doesn't like major sevenths.

Unless you start buggering around with nausea-inducing nonsense like quarter-tones, major sevenths are the second most dissonant intervals after minor seconds, and major seventh chords contain that dissonance. I'm rather fond of them myself, and so are Alun and Donna, which is why Squander Pilots' music is full of them. Yea, full to its very brim. Vic has always liked most of our music, until this last week. Every time I play one of our songs on the piano, the moment I reach the inevitable major seventh, she complains. She hates the chord so much that she has now asked me not even to mention major sevenths, as thinking about them reminds her of the noise, and the mere memory of the noise is enough to make her feel quite ill.

To be fair here, Vic does also say that she still likes the songs when all the instruments are playing together and the chords are spread across a number of different noises and there's a melody to hold it all together. It's just chords played on the piano by me that she hates. But especially major sevenths.


The important thing is that we love each other.

Thursday 4 August 2005

It just creeps up on you.

A whole week since I last blogged, with no reasonable excuses like holidays. My. It's odd, I know, but I just haven't felt there's been anything worthwhile to talk about. Odd because there's been so much going on. I think I have news fatigue. Ach, if all else fails, there's always stupidity to deride.

For instance, The Guardian expect us to believe that some racists discriminate against Bangladeshis but not against Pakistanis, two groups between whom there is no ethnic difference. Them's some sophisticated racists.

Then here we have some people with absolutely no concept of humour. Some people have no sense of humour, which is fair enough. Others have a poor sense of humour, which is fair enough. But these people who don't even understand that humour exists, who insist that any joke they fail to understand or appreciate isn't really a joke and should therefore be condemned, are really tiresome.

I will alight but briefly on the world's important goings-on. Rob links to this geniusish analysis:

Prime Minister Tony Blair was hit by a missile thrown from a gallery in the House of Commons [on the 19th of May 2004].

Protestors hurled purple powder at the Premier striking him between the shoulder blades and clattering to the floor. Dads’ rights pressure group Fathers 4 Justice later claimed responsibility for the attack.

So what was that all about?

It was about laying the groundwork for a coup. Here's how.

Honestly, I don't know how Rob manages to read so much shite. Does he need a special protective helmet?

That's it for the stupidity round-up.

I discovered Achewood yesterday, and am already hooked. It is the best comic strip I've seen since Bloom County. And Bloom County was the best comic strip in all of forever.

And this might just be the world's oddest blog. It's very, very funny, I think. I'm sure lots of people, especially Vic, will disagree with that assessment. And I don't care.

That is all.