Friday, September 30

Paradise.

Not long ago, Mark asked me why on Earth I moved to Northern Ireland, what with it being such a deadly dangerous place.

Well, firstly, it isn't. You know all those riots you see on the news? On the news is where most of us see them as well. We get about the same exposure to all the crap that goes on over here as you do.

You know what was on the news last week? An old lady had her bag snatched in Newry. She refused to let go of the bag, and so fell over and was slightly hurt. Police, last I heard, were looking for the mugger. Now, Mark lives in one of England's few nice bits, and that sort of thing sometimes makes it to the news down there too. But if you're reading this from the Home Counties or Manchester or somewhere similarly barbaric, just think for a moment about what the chances are of that being reported on TV if it happened round your way. Newry's nowhere near here. This is the rough equivalent of it being reported in London that a woman had her bag snatched in Bedford. And, here, it is news.

Last Friday, I got home from work, got changed, got back in the car, and, five minutes later, parked next to this:


This picture doesn't come close to doing the view justice, but it'll just have to do.


Then I met Vic on the beach and we walked the dogs.

How could I not live here?

Monday, September 26

We are not the state.

In the comments, Tom asks:

I can see that the whole island of Ireland belongs to the Irish at its most basic level


Everyone makes this mistake. Tom is confusing "belongs to" with "is run by the government of the nation-state of". The whole of this island does not belong to "the Irish" or to anyone else. For instance, I live in one small bit of it that belongs jointly to me & Vic. That's not a frivolous point.

Framing the dispute in terms of property stolen from "the Irish" by "the British" makes it all look quite cut & dry. It was stolen, so give it back. Except that that's not the type of society any of us live in anymore. When this all started, all the land in Britain was owned by lords. This is a gross oversimplification, sure, but the British Crown stole land from Irish lords and gave it to English and Scots lords, and those lords controlled the lives of their tenants in a very fundamental way that, now, is illegal. Your landlord can no longer tell you where you may work, who you may marry, or force you to fight in his army. If he were to claim your daughter as his rightful property for the purpose of sex, he'd end up in jail.

Nowadays, most of Northern Ireland is indeed owned by Irish people: Northern Irish people. They don't need a change of government in order to be given back their land, as they already own it. Those who don't own land wouldn't own land in a United Irish Republic either. Reunification isn't about giving any land or property back to anyone. What reunification is really about is a change of government, with all that entails: changes in tax law, policing, the school system, the health service, etc. And, even if you think the current Irish Government are a better one than the current British Government (and, right now, I'd probably agree with you), they're subject to the possibility of change at the next election. Nationalists — not just of the Irish variety, Scots and Welsh nationalists too — firmly believe that Irish people are better served by Irish politicians meeting in a building in Ireland, and that Scottish people are better served by Scottish politicians meeting in a building in Scotland. If this were true, the people of Lambeth, many of whom have a good view of the Houses of Parliament from their bedroom windows, would be rather well off. And the Scottish NHS would have improved since devolution. My aching sides.

Northern Ireland is not owned by "the British"; it is administrated by the British Government. There are, of course, lots of perfectly good arguments for having the province administrated by the Irish Government instead, but none of those arguments have anything to do with giving back stolen property, and such talk of stolen property emotively clouds the issue. Which is why Gerry Adams talks in those terms all the time.

Ownership by people and administration by government are such utterly different things that it's surprising anyone ever confuses them, but people conflate them all the time. And that conflation really screws up one's thinking. In the case of Ireland, let's face it: it's not that big a deal. I'm pro-Union, but, if the island were unified, at least I'd still be in a democracy — and I'd be allowed to leave. But people regularly speak about land owned by, for instance, "the Chinese" or "the Syrians" — groups of people who don't really get to own much because the tyrannies under which they live don't respect their property rights and barely even respect their right to life. At its most ridiculous, this way of thinking regularly causes people to identify Saddam Hussein with the people of Iraq.

Watch any Robin Hood film. Who represents the people of England? King John?

Tom also makes this other classic mistake:

I mean, just look at the map for heaven's sake.


This popular argument only works on small islands. It justifies not only giving Northern Ireland to the Republic, but also the German annexation of Austria, Belgium, and France; the Chinese invasion of Tibet; Saddam's invasion of Kuwait; and, should they ever feel so inclined, the American take-over of Canada. Funny how the IRA's allies in ETA never invoke it.

Saturday, September 24

Fate & irony.

Here's an interesting factlet that I learnt last night: Bobby Sands's son is a chef. Rather a good one, by all accounts.

As if that weren't enough, it's a fair bet that he has a hygiene certificate.


Update:

This post has reminded one of my correspondents of the song all the kids sung at school a quarter of a century ago. To the tune of She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain:

Would you like a pasty supper, Bobby Sands?
Would you like a pasty supper, Bobby Sands? ...


This was at a mixed school, in case you're hypersensitively wondering — that's mixed as in religion, not sex.

And now, please, let's talk about something else.

Tuesday, September 20

Research, facts, that sort of thing.

The BBC, apparently, are one of the greatest news organisations in the world, and we're lucky to have them. Smaller companies often don't have the resources to fact-check rigorously, but the BBC are always able to present us with the facts.

So explain this:

The Institute of Directors and The Forum of Private Business have been among groups calling for a cut in fuel duty which they say now accounts for 65% of the cost of a litre of diesel.

One leading haulage company said fuel prices had risen 20% this year and fuel duties in the UK were out of line with the rest of Europe, leaving British firms at a disadvantage


Forget the subject matter. This has nothing to do with whether you're for or against current levels of fuel duty — and, anyway, it's a representative example of the BBC's reporting on most matters these days. This is a simple matter of facts, and the BBC's ability to report them.

The level of duty on diesel is a fact, not an opinion. It is published every year in the Budget, and the BBC report on it then. All they need do to get the facts of the matter is to check their own archives. But they don't. Instead, they report the claims, the opinions, of two lobby groups, without then telling us whether those opinions are right or wrong. This isn't a discussion about the nature of the soul or something. It's a real, easily discoverable fact, but the BBC seem unable to tell us what it is.

The amount by which fuel prices have changed this year is another real discoverable fact that the BBC do not report on, even though they're writing about it. They tell us the opinion of a leading haulage firm, but, again, don't report on the fact of the matter, so that we can't tell whether that opinion is correct or even remotely accurate. Are fuel prices in the UK out of line with the rest of Europe? Again, this can be reported on properly: a comparison of, say, average petrol prices in the UK, France, Germany, and across the whole of the EU would be easy for the BBC to do. But they haven't done it.

The BBC often claim (when explaining, for instance, why they shouldn't use the word "terrorist" to describe terrorists) that it is important for them not to take sides in political disputes — which is why they so scrupulously avoid misrepresenting Tory policies. But they have become confused between saying that something is good or bad and saying what it is. Whether fuel duty should be decreased, increased, or left as it is is a matter of preference, and the BBC are absolutely right to report such matters as a series of competing claims and opinions. But to represent fuel duty itself as a matter of opinion is either deeply lazy or deeply stupid. I'm honestly not sure which the BBC are, but, either way, it should be recognised that this is not top-class news reporting.

Friday, September 16

Price cut sale bonanza type event.

In case any of you lovely people are interested, I thought I'd best let you know that Squander Pilots have just slashed the price of our records. It's now a mere One British Pound to buy our acclaimed album, Things Happen To Us, on MP3 — and that one pound will be knocked off the price of the proper CD version of the album should you then go on to buy that. The price of the CD is down to a mere £7, including delivery (plus an extra quid to deliver outside the UK). Bargain, bargain, bargain.

Our debut single, Given/Lunan, is down to £2.50. It was mastered by Chris Potter, who did the mastering on the first Sugababes album. No, really.

As ever, there's a handful of free MP3s to download here.

All of this could come in dead handy if you're planning to come see us on our upcoming tour of Scotland, and want to become fully familiar with the music first so that you can shout out requests and sing along.

Wednesday, September 14

A misquote.

Yet another case of BBC bias on display here:

David Ervine of the Progessive Unionist Party, aligned to the Ulster Volunteer Force, said the warning signs had been there - Protestant discontent was a "cauldron that overflowed".


Now, I saw the bastard Ervine saying this on TV, and that is not what he said. What he actually said that this cauldron of his had done was "overflown". I remember, because I laughed at this profoundly ugly man trying to appear righteously angry and instead giving me a mental image of a winged cauldron soaring over Belfast — an image which, for some reason, fails to make me angry at Whitehall.

OK, so it's an instance of the BBC's bias against dodgy English. It's still bias.

Tuesday, September 13

Pavlov.

I have noticed something odd lately. When a phone rings that I know I shall not answer — usually because it isn't mine — my right eyebrow immediately shoots up in a Roger-Moore style.

What could possibly have caused my brain to have constructed this link?

Monday, September 12

Achievement versus niceness.

I'm not holding my breath, but perhaps now the idiot Lee Jones might begin to understand why I objected to this:

[Mo Mowlam] 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.


Go on, Lee, tell us again how she succeeded. Dead peaceful here.

No doubt Lee's idiot fanclub will claim that I'm only objecting to this Loyalist rioting because I'm such a bloody Loyalist.

Belfast.

The Sydenham Bypass — the main road out of Belfast into North Down — was gridlocked this evening with people getting the hell out. Airport Road West, where I work, is an alternative route that most people prefer not to use because of the speed-bumps. It was chocka; I've never seen it like that before. Central Station was shut by a bomb-scare. Saw one of the army bulldozers being taken out on duty. Until you've seen the army's riot bulldozers, you ain't seen bulldozers.

These weren't just riots. They were orchestrated attacks. The police were fired on with machine guns. If you've not seen the news footage yet, it's an education.

That bearded git has, annoyingly, got a good point:

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams accused Mr Paisley and Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey of giving "wrong and negative leadership". He said they could not wash their hands of what happened.

Mr Adams said if he had said "even a measure" of some of the comments made prior to the march, there would have been calls for his arrest.


Yes, there would, and he's broadly right. There are differences: everyone knows that Adams is the head of the IRA, and the IRA's followers therefore know that, when he says something, it's an instruction. But still. Mainstream Unionist leaders know from experience what the consequences of their words can so often be. They should adjust their words accordingly.

Many unionist leaders have "abdicated responsibility" for weekend violence, President George Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland has said.

Mitchell Reiss said leadership was needed but "in the last few days we haven't seen very much of it".


In previous years, this would have been just more of the usual American Oirish bullshit, but George Bush, lest we forget, refuses even to appear in the same room as Sinn Fein politicians, let alone meet them. When this administration says the Unionists are no good, they mean it.

So what started all this, then? Belligerent Orange bastards, as usual.

Two nights of violence began on Saturday when a controversial Protestant Orange Order march was re-routed away from the mainly Catholic Springfield Road area of west Belfast.

After a request by unionists on Friday, the Parades Commission reviewed its ruling on the route, but decided not to change it.


The main reason for the IRA's "ceasefire" is that Loyalist violence is getting worse, with no end in sight, and the IRA know that this stuff makes them look good. For decades, each side has looked as bad as the other. Suddenly, Sinn Fein are a shining beacon of reasonableness. The IRA won the propaganda war some years ago, and are now just laughing as the thugs of the UVF, LVF, and UDA do their work for them.

The Orange Order need to ask themselves how important parade routes really are. Sure, they're right: people in the rest of the UK can organise marches without having them vetoed by political pressure groups, so why shouldn't they? But they well know that their uncompromising insistence on certain routes leads to rioting, and that rioting, especially in the light of the IRA's "ceasefire", makes the rest of the UK think that Northern Irish Protestants are an insane bunch of violent foreigners that the country could do without. That way lies Unification.

So what's it to be? Do you want to live in the UK and have an irritating politically stacked sectarian quango tell you where you can or can't march? Or would you rather be free to march wherever you like in the United Irish Republic? This is not a trick question.

I drove to work today.

Nothing particularly remarkable about driving to work. But the reason I was able to do so was that no-one set fire to my car last night. Right now, that's beginning to look a bit lucky.

Belfast is being decimated by some of its worst riots in years.

Fifty police officers were injured in relentless weekend rioting across Belfast and beyond, it emerged today.

Loyalist gunmen opened fire on police and soldiers for two nights running as the city's streets were turned into a war zone.

Blast, petrol and paint bombs were hurled at security lines throughout Belfast and parts of Co Antrim and Co Down.

At least 18 more officers were injured overnight after 32 were wounded during the first night of violence linked to an Orange Order march re-routed away from Catholic homes.

They were pelted with petrol bombs and paint by a 700-strong mob on the Albertbridge Road in east Belfast, where a digger was hijacked and used to flatten street lights.

....

Cars and vans were hijacked and set on fire throughout Belfast, while in Bangor, Co Down, a bus was burnt out by men who robbed passengers and ordered them out.


That bus was hijacked in my street. I didn't notice a thing. But still. Bangor's not a trouble-spot. This is bad.

Right now, Belfast city centre is simply being shut down: people who work there are being sent home. Plant hire firms have been broken into and bulldozers stolen, to be used later on.

And you know what? This is a great place to live. Really.


Update:

Well, no wonder we didn't notice anything. The bus was nowhere near Bangor, but was technically, for news-reporting purposes, in the geographical area that map-makers call "Bangor". After being robbed, the passengers were dropped off at the Clandeboye Road, which is in Bangor, but that's not where the gunmen actually got on the bus.

It's a beautiful evening. No, really.

Universally high standards.

Is there really so little going on in the world that The Guardian needs to manufacture fake news? I mean, look at this:

An acceleration of plans to reform state education, including the speeding up of the creation of the independently funded city academy schools, will be announced today by Tony Blair.

But the increasingly controversial nature of the policy was highlighted when the former education secretary Estelle Morris accused the government of "serial meddling" in secondary eduction.

In an article in tomorrow's Education Guardian she writes ...


This isn't news; this is a trailer. Look, there's nothing wrong with hiring someone to write an opinion piece for your paper. Obviously. But then writing a "news" article about the opinion piece is very annoying. And the headline calls it a "backlash". Right. So, if I write a piece about how I think The Guardian is wrong over, say, Iraq, can I then write another piece saying that there's been a backlash against The Guardian, quoting my first piece as evidence? And can I, the day before I publish either of them, write another piece announcing the "news" that there is about to be a public backlash against The Guardian? Well, yes, I can, but I'm just not quite enough of a self-absorbed dishonest tosser to do so. Sure, I know all the media do it (don't get me started on ITV News making their top story the fact that ITV will be broadcasting a controversial documentary right after the news), but it still pisses me off.

And it's not just the media:

Today, the prime minister will say ...


If you're going to make a speech, make a speech. If you're going to release the text as a press release first so that everyone can read it before you make it, don't bother. Can you imagine? "Later today, Mr Churchill will announce that he believes we will fight the Germans 'on the beaches' and 'in the mountains,' as well as in several other locations."

Anyway, Estelle Morris writes:

"Another round of structural change won't by itself achieve universally high standards. Worse than that it could be a distraction. In five years' time, whose children will be going to these new academies? Will choice and market forces once again squeeze out the children of the disadvantaged?"


Two things. Firstly, who started this idea that structural change would by itself achieve universally high standards? Who, for instance, scrapped the Eleven-plus and destroyed the grammar school system? No, not Estelle Morris, but her party.

OK, so maybe she, like Tony Blair, is willing to admit that the Labour Party have made mistakes in the past; maybe she wishes the grammar schools had never been got rid of, so can hardly be blamed by association for their scrapping. So we should really consider, rather than the historical actions of her party, her own actions as Education Minister.

So, secondly, she did her bit to help destroy foreign language teaching in the UK. Of course, she claimed that this was part of a long-term strategy to improve language teaching — the idea, apparently, is to make languages optional for teenagers but to start teaching them to primary-school children so that kids have their aptitude for languages developed earlier (though quite why the former bad idea is necessary in order for the latter good one to work, she never explained). In other words, she made yet another round of structural change in order to achieve, eventually, she naively hoped, universally high standards. And, short term, she lowered standards.

Compare this with what she's attacking:

However, this will not deter Mr Blair who will point out that in the last academic year the proportion of pupils receiving five good GCSEs in city academies rose by 8 per cent, four times the national average.


These city academies are raising standards, at least comparatively. But Estelle Morris doesn't care whether they work in practice, because she doesn't think they work in theory.

Why would anyone listen to this woman?

Friday, September 9

The price of failure.

Heard this through the grapevine, so pinches of salt at the ready.

The England football squad stayed at the Culloden last night, one of only two five-star hotels in Northern Ireland. It's a beautiful luxurious castle of a place. Being quite swimmingly rich, they hired the whole place. I assume that this wasn't a special visiting-Northern-Ireland thing, that they do this all the time. Why? If they took, say, the entire fifth floor of a hotel, why on earth would it matter to them whether any of the rooms on the first floor were occupied? But anyway, so the England team's people ring the Culloden and ask to book the entire place, and the hotel start contacting people who've already booked rooms that night to offer them compensation and make alternative arrangements for them. Most people, I imagine, are quite happy to change hotels if they're being offered some decent freebies or bribes.

However, apparently, a couple had booked the place for their wedding. So the groom got a call from the Culloden a few months ago, asking him politely if they'd be willing to relocate their wedding to one of the company's other hotels, in return for all sorts of concessions and compensation. The groom thinks about all the wedding arrangements that'll need to be changed, all the huge hassle involved, the beautiful views that they won't get, and replies that, no, they won't give up their booking for anything less than fifty thousand pounds. The hotel call him back a few minutes later and ask him who to make the cheque out to.

And then they lost. Ah, it warms your heart, so it does.

Saturday, September 3

The nicest guy in the music business.

You're a musician; you're probably in a band. You work away for ages, writing songs, rehearsing, and very, very gradually getting good at what you do. When you get very good, you might be able to get to the stage where you can consistently get fifty people through the door at your gigs. Then you can start making a bit of money: maybe forty or even fifty quid a gig, split between you and the rest of the band. If you play in some other city, you might even make enough money to cover your petrol money. Then you might get a bit of press attention, and even some interest from a small record label or two. Eventually, after years of hard work and probably thousands of pounds of expenses, with a lot of luck and a lot of talent, you could be performing in front of talent scouts for major labels. Maybe. And a tiny, tiny fraction of the tiny, tiny fraction who get that far might get to play in front of someone near the top of a large record label, someone with the power to put millions of pounds into making you a pop star.

There is another way. Thanks to Simon Cowell, all you need to do is queue up for a while. Sure, it's a long queue; people wait overnight. But still. That's all you need do: no rehearsal, no gigging, no having to chuck drunks off the stage, no abandoning gigs mid-song as the venue gets flooded, no being fleeced by dodgy promoters, no spending a fortune on sending hundreds of demos to people who'll throw them straight in the bin. Just turn up, queue up, and you get to skip the years of hard slog most famous musicians went through, and just walk in and perform in front of a panel of judges who have the power and money to get your first single straight to Number One.

And people complain.

A short message.

To anyone reading this from Louisiana: Best of luck.

Tim Dorsey.

One of the last things I managed to buy before I ran out of money was the new Tim Dorsey novel, Torpedo Juice. As expected, it's class.

I keep recommending Tim Dorsey, but that's hardly much to go on, really, is it? So here are some quotes to give you waverers a flavour.

The opening:

Howdy. I'm your narrator.
    In literary classes, I'm what's referred to as the "omniscient narrator." Yeah, right. Truth is, I've been drinking.


At a meeting for people with OCD:

And more ridiculous stories. Have to keep dusting the house. Have to keep making sure the doors are locked. One person couldn't stop washing his hands, one dreaded contact with faucets, and another had both problems and just stood at sinks a long time.


In the next room:

The Lower Keys Chapter of People Susceptible to Joining Cults. The members attended religiously. The moderator was trying to get them to stop coming.


On relationships:

But I've just figured out the first thing. "Nothing" really means "something." If it actually is nothing, they'll tell you all about it, just yap and yap and yap about the most meaningless tripe while you're trying to watch a documentary on Czar Nicholas, and finally I say — real nice — "Baby, I've kind of been looking forward to this show all week...." So now all of sudden Czar Nicholas is more important than she is. Like a stupid idiot, I had to say he was — you know, Russia, dynasty, big turning point in global history.


If you've not read any of Dorsey's books yet, best start with Florida Roadkill.

Friday, September 2

Fixing it.

My two-and-a-half-year-old neice has improvised some new lyrics for the Bob The Builder theme tune.

Bob the Builder!


she yells, stomping around the room and clapping her hands,

Can! We! Fix! It!
Bob the Builder!
Yes! We! Can!
Like Uncle Jo!


I'm so proud.