Tuesday, June 28
The British Government's current stance on Zimbabwean asylum seekers shames us all. They've let in psychos, terrorists, and killers from all over the world. Many Algerian immigrants are rather pissed off that the UK have insisted on letting in the very killers that drove them out of Algeria in the first place. Now, here is one case where we know the claims are genuine, we know the people need our help, and we're sending them back to be slaughtered.
I believe that Tony Blair has done a considerable amount in the cause of freedom, and could be rightly proud of all he's done to combat tyranny until this week. This one issue cancels all of that out. This is an evil act. I hope he dies.
Monday, June 27
Friday, June 24
I was with my friends Ben & Eoin, and had just got home, or thought I had. I was a student at St Andrews at the time, so lived in a hall of residence: St Salvator's, or Sallie's, as it was known; a beautiful big building by the sea. You could see the sea from my window, usually.
Anyway, we get as far as the door of my room, but my key doesn't fit. Odd. We resort to knocking. The door is opened by some guy I vaguely know, and behind him I can see that the room isn't mine. It's my door, all right, although for some reason it's gained a little wire grill at eye level, giving it the air of a prison cell; but my room is not behind it. The vaguely-known guy explains: they've rearranged the building while I've been out, and swapped a few of the rooms around. No, he doesn't know where mine is. Typical.
So we go looking. First place to check is, of course, the door behind which vaguely-known guy used to live, but it's never going to be that easy: my room's not there. So we start a thorough check of Sallie's. We're not alarmed or anything yet. I'd like to find my room my stuff's in there, after all but we're not busy and we're in no hurry, so we're enjoying the novelty of it all.
Our search eventually takes us out on to The Scores, the road behind the building, the road that my room used to overlook. I don't know why we were looking out there, but we hadn't found my room in the building, so.... Well, it made sense at the time. Anyhow, this is where I first start to get suspicious. The white lines down the middle of the road have been replaced. With jungle. This long, narrow dotted line of thick tropical undergrowth extends down the middle of the road, as if the white paint that you'd usually expect to see there has been colonised by the most fertile plants on the planet. Weird. Beautiful.
At first, I just think it's brilliant, and so does Ben; Eoin's not that interested. Ben & I commend the local council or town planners or whoever it is that has taken this brave decision in ultra-modern and somewhat surreal road design. But then, suddenly, it strikes me that this is a little odd. Moving rooms within a building? Why had I accepted something like that? It simply doesn't happen. And this road/jungle thing: bloody weird, to say the least. In fact....
"Hey, guys," I say, "I think things are getting a little bit too weird around here. I think this might be a dream."
"No, man," says Ben. "Things are weird, yeah, but it's happening, man, and we're a part of it." Ben really did speak like that.
"Look, I appreciate what you're trying to say here, Ben and I wish you were right, 'cause this is just amazing but this is too strange. It's got to be a dream."
"Will you two stop arguing and come on?" says Eoin tetchily. "It doesn't matter, does it? We've got a room to find."
"No, man, this is important," says Ben. "Reality is changing around us as never before...."
And then I woke up.
My eyes opened slightly; I took in the room. I was in bed with Vic, and it was the middle of the night. Oddly enough, this bit the bit where I was actually conscious I don't remember, but Vic tells me I woke her up, urgently told her that I had to go and tell Ben, and dropped straight back out like a light, leaving her thoroughly awake and a tad annoyed.
I had been awake for less than a minute. The guys don't seem to have missed me.
"Ben, man, listen to me," I say urgently. "I just checked. I'm asleep, in bed, at Vic's! This is a dream."
But he still doesn't believe me, and Eoin still isn't interested. Tsk.
Later, we find an infinite water-slide in the basement.
Lately, on some machines, I've been having real difficulty posting comments to this blog, which is annoying, 'cause it's mine. I notice that the general volume of comments has died down lately, which could just be because I've been so remarkably right about everything that no-one can find it in themselves to disagree, but a niggling smidgin of self-doubt tells me that other people might be having the same commenting difficulties as me. So, if you're finding that you can't leave comments on this blog, let me know by leaving a... er.... Oh, bugger.
With all the talk about Guantanamo being a so-called "gulag," why isn't anyone talking about the real gulag right down the road? In eastern Cuba, a stone's throw from Guantanamo, is a remnant of Castro's massive concentration-camp system, Boniato Prison. Boniato even today houses political prisoners in horrendous conditions. In pointing out how ridiculous it is for Amnesty International to label Gitmo a "gulag," commentators use Stalin by comparison. The more immediate comparison, Castro, is still operating his extensive jail and labor-camp nightmare. On the same island . That favorite revolutionary of Michael Moore and Oliver Stone held, at the minimum, 30,000 political prisoners at any given time in the '60s and '70s. It's hard to pin down the exact figure because estimates are all over the place: the number of Fidel's political prisoners in those years could have been much higher. Suffice it to say, he ran a gulag in the fullest sense, with unimaginable physical and psychological brutality. Robert Redford's favorite motorcyclist, Che Guevara, was Fidel's chief executioner at the inception of Castro's gulag. T-shirt icon Che directed the execution of hundreds of political prisoners by firing squad at La Cabana fortress prison in Havana. I'm sure everyone caught that in the movie version, right? If not, go on down to Hot Topic - they'll tell you all about it. As for the details of Castro's gulag brutality, the best source is Armando Valladares' book, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life In Castro's Gulag. What was that word, CNN and Harry Reid? Valladares spent 22 years as a poilitical prisoner in Castro's dungeons and his account should be read by everyone who wants to get a clear view of what a true gulag is all about. And it ain't about female interrogators standing too close to an interrogatee. Valladares describes the "drawer cells," for instance: at, of all places, Boniato next door to Gitmo. "Drawer cells" were holes scooped out of a slope that prisoners were sometimes crammed into. Raw dirt. There wasn't enough room in a drawer cell for the prisoner to stand up. After a few days in a drawer cell, it was not uncommon for a person to emerge stark crazy. That kind of sadism ran rampant in Fidel's gulag. Somehow, I missed the mention of that kind of torture in discussions of unacceptable vegetable choices at Guantanamo. Let's keep in mind Fidel's actual gulag next door when gross exaggerations of Guantanamo get the NY Times editorial board into a frenzy.
And here's Natan Sharansky, who, lest we forget, spent time in the real Gulag and therefore knows what he's talking about, nailing exactly what's wrong with Amnesty's claims:
"I have very serious criticisms of Amnesty. There is no moral clarity. It doesn't differentiate between what I call fear societies and free societies," Mr. Sharansky said.
"In the democratic world, there are violations of human rights, but they are revealed and dealt with. In a fear society, there are no violations of human rights because human rights just don't exist," said Mr. Sharansky, who now lives in Israel and has served in its parliament and Cabinet. "Amnesty International says it doesn't support or oppose any political system, so it ends up with reports that show a moral equivalence" among regimes.
Thursday, June 23
I admit that, when I first saw him, I was as fooled as everyone else: I thought he was an obnoxious, puerile, self-absorbed, emotionally prepubescent moron. But, as I watched more and more in appalled fascination, the horrific realisation dawned on me that he's actually an obnoxious, puerile, self-absorbed, emotionally prepubescent bloody genius. His entire peronality is a meticulously calculated act designed to get him laid and, preposterously, it works. For those of you who didn't watch any of Celebrity Love Island, here's a summary of Paul's chat-up technique:
You've got great tits, love. I mean, really, really perfect tits. Nice arse, too. Nice and round and pert. Can I touch it?
He waits a day or an hour or a few minutes, then switches to:
Fuck off, you bitch! I fucking hate you! Don't look at me. I don't want nothing to do with you. Shut up! Fuck off! Didn't you fucking hear me? I said, fuck off!
He then takes a break while he goes and sleeps with some other woman, with whom he openly claims to be madly in love. Any woman will do. Having got his end away, he comes back and says:
I'm really falling for you, babe. I think... I think you could be the one. I... I love you. I want to stay with you... forever.
You watch this and think the guy must be a total moron. I mean, there's no way this could ever work, right? He's just going to get slapped and screamed at, right? And, if the women he targets had any self-respect, that is probably what would happen. But they don't, so his technique works every time.
Why did no-one tell me about this when I was single?
I've had weirder dreams.
Tuesday, June 21
So I rang Masie just now to find out how it was going. She wasn't in. Her phone was answered by a very bored-sounding woman who clearly had better things to do with her time. I explained that I was just ringing to check the progress of the application and that Masie had said she'd fast-track it for me, and she responded:
How was Masie going to fast-track this application?
Hmm. Maybe she was going to put it in Mrs Flaxby's in-tray; maybe she was going to phone Mr Wetherby; maybe she was going to write "Fast-track this!!!!" on it with her special green marker, possibly underlining it, twice. I don't bloody know. Why on Earth would any sane employee be asking me this question?
Anyway, I grudgingly didn't insult her, and she grudgingly went and found out that I have been approved for a ten-year license, and they're planning to actually print the thing and send it to me any time now. Wow. I get to swap my lifetime GB license for a ten-year NI license, it takes less than six months, and it's free of charge. Can't say you don't get value for money from the British Government.
Last night on the BBC, far away but in the same bizarre universe of inanity, Sue Barker asked Maria Sharapova the following question about her Wimbledon performance last year, when, lest we forget, she thrashed everyone:
Was that some of the best tennis you've ever played?
No, Sue. It is mere coincidence that she didn't win Wimbledon when she was eleven.
I'd love to infer some sort of link here between publicly-fundedness and stupid-question-askingness, but sports commentators probably don't make for the most illustrative example.
Monday, June 20
Other people have already said all that needs to be said about the implications for our freedom (we're losing it) and the quality of a night out (it will improve). You know what really pisses me off, though? All the people who oppose the ban, but also insist that passive smoking is totally harmless. It isn't.
Look. It is correct to say that any specific claims about how dangerous passive smoking is, whether it can kill, how many it kills, are made-up unscientific bollocks based on sod all research, but, unless you either (a) can prove that cigarette smoke is harmless or (b) can demonstrate a mechanism whereby tobacco smoke's dangerousness is switched on or off depending on whether the lung it finds itself inside belongs to the person who smoked the cigarette, your claims are every bit as unscientific. Now sit down and shut up.
Please link me to Mr Fred Brain Eno,
I loss contact with him for a long time now.
I'm Mr Sunday Bisong from Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State Nigeria.
[address and phone number]
N/B Both pals of Lawrance Banjo EX..Enugu Prison
Either this is a new kind of unbelievably subtle scam (I mean, they're telling you up front that they used to be in prison. Is that a double bluff, or what?), or Mr Bisong really is looking for his old friend Mr Eno, found this on my blog, and decided to contact me to see if I knew him, raising the alarming possibility that Mr Bisong used to share a Nigerian prison with a man named Fred Eno who had produced albums for Zvuki Mu, Edikanfo, Sikter, and U2. I can't work out which scenario is more far-fetched.
Friday, June 17
Discover the new Nokia 8800 phone. Created for your ultimate pleasure, its graceful looks and seamless functions will leave a lasting impression. Every aspect has been meticulously considered and precisely engineered; from the laser-cut curves of its steel-clad body to the state-of-the-art slide mechanism and fine-pitched screen with reinforced glass - this phone is a masterpiece. Let the exquisitely composed ringing tones evoke your innermost emotions.
Is it just me that feels a bit uneasy after reading that?
One of my colleagues reminds me that anger is an emotion, so the bit about the ringtones could well be true.
Thursday, June 16
In the comments to this Samizdata post from Natalie (which is well worth reading, too, by the way), one Billy Beck, on the subject of charitable giving, says:
I can't afford to 'care'.
Government has priced me completely out of that market.
A perfect summing-up.
Wednesday, June 15
The one big problem with this garden is that it's much more pleasant to sit in it than to do any of the urgent work that needs done inside the house.
Monday, June 13
The deliciously sweet juice of eight sun ripened oranges, bottled within just one hour of squeezing to capture their full fresh flavour
I hate moon-ripened oranges.
IT was hardly the most sophisticated hiding place for a prisoner on the run.
When drug-dealer Lee Barnes grew tired of prison life he escaped by walking out of the front door, and then went straight home and got a job.
But although he had given his address to the authorities when he was sentenced, it was 18 months before the police finally arrested him.
The Humberside force is now facing severe criticism after it emerged that he spent his entire year-and-a-half "on the run", living at the same address in Hull he had given the court during his sentencing and openly working as a garage mechanic.
Severe criticism, eh? How severe, exactly? Anyone been sacked? No, of course not. Humberside law enforcement probably don't believe in a blame culture.
Really, how bad does a police force have to be to be outwitted by someone who isn't even trying to outwit them?
Barnes, 28, walked out of a low-security prison after his girlfriend and son failed to visit him. He hitched a lift to Hull where he told his family he had been given early release. He expected police to quickly trace him, but months passed and he settled in to a life of raising his young son and working as a mechanic.
Barnes has now pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing firearms and one of escape at Hull Crown Court and has been sent back to Hull Prison.
In mitigation, barrister Steven Garth told the court Barnes had escaped because he was in despair at not seeing his son for months.
He said: "For 18 months he lived quite openly at his old address and got himself a job. There were no attempts to hide. He expected to be arrested at any time and taken back to prison. ..."
The word "escape" seems a bit strong. Barnes was in a low security prison, which means he can do what he likes as long as he turns up for a roll-call in the evening and spends the night there. He escaped from prison in much the same way that I escaped from my house this morning. I've not studied the issue in enough depth to say whether open prisons are, on balance, a good or a bad thing, but surely this is a good example of their downside.
However, that's just the escape itself: very easy, and impossible to stop without scrapping open prisons. That's hardly the issue here. Barnes was clearly the right candidate for an open prison: having escaped, he went home, stayed at home, got a job, harmed no-one, and waited for the police to pick him up. Why on Earth did that take so long? Keith Toon, a city councillor, said:
"If he escaped and was living at his old address the police should have known his whereabouts and picked him up in days not months."
Days? What low standards these politicians have. Barnes was at home, waiting for the police, intending neither to avoid nor resist them: it should have taken hours to pick him up and that's including the time the prison took to notice he was missing. Once the police heard from the prison, it should have taken minutes.
The police still haven't heard from the prison, incidentally. They arrested Barnes following a tip-off from the public. To be fair to them, maybe they did arrest him mere minutes after that tip-off. The fault lies with the prison service, who either didn't notice or didn't report that one of their prisoners had gone.
Remember: these people are responsible for keeping you safe from harm.
Most companies in the UK record their employees' race and gender these days, but the information's voluntary: you may choose not to tick any of the boxes. Not in Northern Ireland. Here, you have the "right" not to tick either box, but the government will then use the other method of finding out, which involves checking what school you went to, what they know about your parents, your membership of political organisations, etc. In Great Britain, when your job application asks you whether you're black or white, you have a choice about whether the government records the information. In Northern Ireland, when your application form asks you whether you're Protestant or Catholic, you have a choice about whether to have a say in the information the government will record, but not in whether they record it. I realise there used to be some companies here that were completely closed shops, but there had to be a better way of fixing that problem than gross trampling of civil rights, didn't there?
This being Northern Ireland, there are only two boxes to tick, and they perniciously ask for your "perceived" religion. What this means is that they don't want you getting clever and claiming to be an atheist, even if you really are an atheist. As far as the government are concerned, everyone here slots into one of the boxes, and everyone knows which box they're in. They want you to tell them which religion you're a part of, and that has nothing to do with your religion.
My Muslim colleague reckons she must be a Protestant because she lives in Lisburn.
I emailed my boss:
I'm a half-Jewish half-Anglican English atheist. I believe this makes me part of the "Protestant community" for some reason.
This enforced group identity is increasing resentment just as Sinn Fein want it to but don't expect Whitehall to notice.
Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, it is illegal for a company to discriminate against a prospective employee if their conviction is considered spent, and ex-cons have the right to keep their conviction secret. So, if you're a convicted multiple rapist, you have the right not to tell your employers, but, if you're married to a Protestant, you don't.
All in the cause of freedom, apparently.
Rob points out that I'm wrong about multiple rapists. For burglars, thieves, pickpockets, muggers, loiterers, and guttersnipes, however, the point still stands.
Thursday, June 9
The Russians train a spy to plant in Wales. They teach him all the Welsh dialects and Tom Jones lyrics and everything. He's to be dropped in a remote village on the West coast. All he knows about his contact is that the man's name is Jones.
So the Russian sub comes in late one night; the spy rows ashore in a black dinghy and buries it, and starts walking the few miles to the village, where he knows he will find his contact. Shortly after dawn, he's approaching the village and he sees a man approaching, coming the other way.
"Good morning," says the Welshman, cheerily.
"Good morning," says the Russian. "Excuse me, but is your name Jones?"
"Jones, yes, that's me, I'm Jones. Can I help you at all?"
The Russian hesitates, then says, quietly, "The sky is red at sunset."
"Ah, yes, I see," says the Welshman. "No, it's Jones the Spy you're looking for. I'll take you to him."
So, suggestions, please. What exciting things can I do with five very ordinary bricks?
I used four of the bricks today, for some mundane reason. I am now left with just one for interesting projects and escapades. Sorry, Rob, I don't think one brick is art. Not good art, anyway. Tim's suggestion, however, is rather good. Might try it on American Express sometime.
Tuesday, June 7
So, in summary: decades-old technology; very cheap; look at it and you know instantly what it means.
So why does a brand-new printer that costs a hundred quid just have four flashing lights with utterly meaningless hieroglyphics next to each one?
Ever notice the way we listen to printers? Press Control and P, hit Return, and then go quiet, listening for the printer. Will it react at all? If it does, will it be the good whirring sound or the bad clunking sound? If we're lucky enough to get the whirring sound followed by the faint grinding noise (which shouldn't be good, but is), will we then get the dreaded slow-motion crumpling noise? If the printer's out of earshot, the suspense can drive sane men to eat their own hair. Do you ever listen to other bits of computer equipment? Do you listen to your USB hub? Or your optical mouse? No, of course not if you do, you are odd. We only listen to printers so intently because we know that we can discern nothing, nothing at all, by looking at them.
And don't get me started on print "monitors". Someone worked extra hard to reproduce the feel and usability of straining to hear a printer that has only four lights, while combining that with the delights of what looks like, but isn't, a proper user interface, with words and pictures and interactivity and everything.
"Would you like to cancel this print job?"
"Well, it looks like you already cancelled it for me, so yes."
"No, no, I did not cancel it. I would never do such a thing. It is still waiting to print. If you do still want to print it, it's not too late."
"I have printed four hundred things since I tried to print that one. It's clearly never going to print."
"No, it'll print, honestly. Any second now. Just waiting for the printer to warm up."
"It's been three weeks."
"Ah, look: printing."
"No it's not."
"Printing, I think you'll find."
"I switched the printer off ten minutes ago."
"Oh, you big kidder, you. I should think I'd've noticed something like that, what with my being a print monitor and all. Oh, there it goes now, printing away."
"Oh, fuck it. Cancel the print job, then, you maniac."
"Oh, I couldn't cancel it now: it's in the middle of printing. By the way, since I can see how important this document is to you, I've decided not to let the printer do anything else at all, ever, even if it's rebooted, until it's finished this job. Don't mention it."
Saturday, June 4
At some point in my early teens, I went from liking music to being totally obsessed by it. Every spare penny I had was spent on albums; the price of an album was, in fact, my mental unit of currency: everything, as far as I was concerned, cost a given number of albums. I was very late switching from tape to CD, simply because I could get more tapes for the same cost as fewer CDs. When I was of that impressionable starting-to-take-drugs age, it never even occurred to me to touch them: drugs are expensive; taking them would involve buying a lot less music. I bought loads of remaindered stuff dirt cheap that I'd never heard of, just on the off-chance that it'd be good (it sometimes was). I had a congenital inability to walk past a record shop.
I hardly buy any records now. But I started gardening this year, and I just can't stop buying plants. I work near a B&Q, and it's a battle not to go in there at lunchtime. Well, I assume it'd be a battle, if I ever tried not to go in. And all the supermarkets have started selling plants, so I can't even buy food without being tempted. I went into Tesco for a sandwich yesterday and bought three trays of bedding plants and forty bulbs.
To be fair to myself, it's all been necessary: the garden started as a weed-covered rubbish dump, so I gutted it and started again from scratch. It is now fast approaching paradise. So far, all these plants have been planted. But there are only a couple more bare patches left now. Early next week, there'll be no more room, and I'll have to stop. I'm not looking forward to it.
Maybe I could get an allotment.