Wednesday 30 August 2006

Turning a feature into a bug.

Yep, still going on about my lovely new phone. Hey, it's my blog.

As I mentioned, it's got VoIP abilities (that's Voice over IP — Internet phone calls), and, as I also mentioned, getting them to work is a pain in the arse. A bit of Googling reveals, in fact, that a whole subculture has sprung up in recent months composed entirely of people trying to figure out how to get VoIP to work on a Nokia E-series phone and sharing their discoveries.

The technical explanation for all this trouble is that Nokia haven't built NAT traversal capabilities into these phones — yet — they're planning to release an upgrade to the firmware this year, to which I look forward. In slightly less technical terms, this means the phone can handle VoIP if you have your own VoIP server in your house but can't if you use one of the many located on the Interweb. Needless to say, most people don't have their own servers.

Nokia's reason for this is that the E-series phones were designed primarily as business phones, and businesses often do have their own VoIP servers. This is a reasonable excuse, especially since they're planning to release this upgrade to the phone's firmware this year. They have, in fact, created phones with a really cool function which no mobile phone has had before and which they will shortly upgrade for free to make it even better. This is good, surely?

Well, there's no technical brilliance that an idiot in a marketing department can't turn into a complaint.

Look at this discussion on Nokia's forums. Lots of people have been spending days or even weeks jumping through hoops and using various cunning workarounds to get their phones to use VoIP without NAT traversal, with mixed results. One guy has to reboot his phone every time it loses the connection. One can call people but gets disconnected as soon as they answer. And then a guy called Iphone says, almost in passing:

Nokia stated to E series phones has NAT problems and they working on it.

English isn't his first language. I hope. Anyway, that seems like a reasonable summing-up and a rather uncontroversial statement: the E-series phones, like I said, and as Nokia have said, can't handle NAT. If you have NAT, you might reasonably describe that as "a problem". And yes, Nokia are working on it.

Nokia's fans and forum moderators disagree, and were so outraged by this comment that they threw a bit of a hissy fit. First, Rufao:

just to clarify, the above is not accurate.

nokia has not said there is a problem with the eseries and SIP. if yuo read their FAQ on the phones, you see them state the current limitations, not that there is a problem

Got that? Limitations aren't a problem.


Nokia E series phones works OK on SIP when VoIP SIP and Access Point are same side, but if you want to use VoIP service from any providers then there's big problem.

This is true, of course: trying to connect through NAT using a device that cannot connect through NAT does present a problem.

The Nokia crowd, however, insist that "problem" can only mean "bug" or "fault", and this insistence, unsurprisingly, leads them to royally piss off a guy who, at the end of the day, has an entirely reasonable complaint:

My reason to wanted that phone was integrated SIP protocol. ... I was so upset when receievd Nokia E60 and SIP failed!

Enter Karim, Official Nokia Moderator:

ipphone, you are confusing a limitation with a fault as other members have said.

No, he's not. He said "problem", not "fault". It's you who are confusing a problem with a fault.

There is no fault with the Eseries phones and SIP at the moment. Instead we have listed the current limitations of the phone as an Internet Phone on our FAQ's.

Now, unless you have an issue you would like some help with here do not post any more of these comments - you will simply confuse people about the issue.

To summarise, the Eseries phones can be used as Internet Phones and for more information on this please visit the FAQ here:

Look at that. If you claim that the phone's failure to do this is a problem, then you're a liar, as the phone was never meant to do it. Oh, and, by the way, of course the phone can do it.

It's this attitude that's generated so many complaints in the first place: faced with a customer, Nokia staff just can't bring themselves to say outright "The phone only works as an Internet phone if you have your own server." All they can say is "The phone absolutely can be used as an Internet phone and go and look at the small print over there which I won't spell out for you."

Then look at this from Seraphim:

iphone, you must be a little remedial... the FAQ categorically states nokia plans to release firmware in the future that will give it NAT traversal support. if you didnt look at that before you bought the phone, its your own fault.

Here's what it says under "Technical Specifications" on Nokia's E70 page:

Call Management
Internet call over WLAN

And that's it. Is it really so unreasonable to conclude from reading that that the E70 can make Internet calls over a WLAN? Is it really your own bloody stupid fault if you buy a product without first trawling its multinational manufacturer's huge sprawling website for small print? Shouldn't the official product description tell you all you need to know?

Derekm makes exactly this point:

It is simply not on to refer to the small print of a post-sales FAQ page, the pre-sales documentation should have had this. I am just disappointed that what seems to be a very nice piece of hardware has been let down by seemingly pre-beta software.

And is promptly shot down for his trouble by Rufao:

the tech spec also mentions the phone can use PTT, but in the faq/userguide it mentions this can only be done once you have the right settings.

does this mean that the PTT feature is beta software? no, it doesnt.

Got that? There is no difference between having to input the correct settings and having to wait for Nokia to release a firmware upgrade. Same thing.

nokia has made it clear for all the eseries phones about the limitations of the voip call features ...

Yes, that's right: in Rufao's world, completely failing to mention any limitations whatsoever in the official product description and press release is "making it clear".

so no, its not nokias fault but instead its the fault of whoever sold you the phone on this basis in the first place...

Now, phone retailers don't, as a rule, test all the features of every phone they sell themselves. Usually, they just rely on what's in the manufacturer's press release. Go to ten different mobile phone retailers and you'll see roughly the same product blurb at every one.

there aer enough posts here from people saying they can work this with asterisk to prove that the firmware is fine. if you have a service that doesnt support the phone, then who is at fault?

Let's see. Windows claims that it can connect to the Internet. After buying my PC, it turns out that it can, but only through AOL. If I'm not on AOL, well, whose stupid fault is that?

Now, no, not all these commenters work for Nokia, I'm sure. But the one who does backs up everything they say. And this approach to customer service is, frankly, bizarre. Like I said, this phone is superb; I still believe it to be the best on the market; I love it to bits. And the VoIP capability is groundbreakingly excellent, and is soon going to be made even better. But I'm still very pissed off with Nokia about this. Because their resolute refusal to tell me about the VoIP limitations led me to think that I couldn't connect the phone because I was doing something wrong — and that led me to try and correct my mistake, and that led me to waste hours and hours and long, long hours trying to figure out what that mistake was. Had they simply printed in the phone's manual what they've buried deep in their Web's FAQ, I'd have read it and wasted no time at all. Admittedly, I don't mind all that much, 'cause I love pottering with gadgets, but I imagine some people have become royally exasperated by all this.

And then, when one of their customers has the temerity to complain, they demand that he retract the statement, then insult him and shout at him when he doesn't.

There may not be a fault in the phone, but there's one hell of a bug in Nokia's customer relations.

Tuesday 29 August 2006

The battery life issue is always happened.

As I mentioned the other day, I have got me a Grandvue Digitek Muses 801 Bluetooth Stereo Headset. And I'm sending it straight back, because the sound quality is reminiscent of listening to a heavy metal band playing live through an airport tannoy underwater. With added parrots.

That is all.

Monday 28 August 2006

A word, Mr Gates.

Time taken to install Windows XP from scratch: about fiteen minutes.

Time taken to upgrade from Windows XP Service Pack 1 to Windows XP Service Pack 2: three hours. There went my weekend.

And another thing. When upgrading my Microsoft operating system with a Microsoft service pack using Microsoft's software from Microsoft's website, I don't think it's an unreasonable expectation on my part that I not receive any little messages along the lines of "XP may not work now." Why the hell not? Some sort of software incompatibility problem?

And it was actually worse than that. I forget the precise wording, but what the upgrader actually told me was "After completing this procedure, XP may not work. Click here to continue." No other button. No "Click here not to continue." No "Click here to go back and undo the work of this fiendish 'upgrade' made by bastards and maybe, just maybe, not destroy your computer." Not even any "Sorry."

And another other thing. I upgraded by going to Windows Update and downloading and installing, it claimed, "all" updates for my PC. So why is it that, having installed all these updates, the first thing the newly upgraded XP tells me is that I need to download and install urgent updates?

And what do I get for my trouble? The wireless connection has a new icon. Woo.

I quite like XP most of the time. But I could really go off it. Starting yesterday.

God, I need a new Mac.

Monday 21 August 2006

The best phone ever.

As I mentioned, I've just got a new phone. And it's class.

A few years ago, I got a Nokia 7650, and was seriously impressed. It was my first (possibly even the first) Series 60 phone, and not only did I love it to bits, but I found that, after using it, I couldn't stand the old Series 40 phones. Honestly, I have no idea why Nokia even still make phones with the Series 40 interface when Series 60 is available. I suppose some people must like it. God knows why.

So my next phone had to be another Series 60, and so I got the 6600. It was like the 7650, only even better. I loved it to bits, too.

Then, a year ago, because a very good price came along at the right time, I jumped up a notch: I got a Nokia 9500 Communicator — almost more of a miniature laptop than a phone, with a wide screen, full keyboard, support for Word and Excel documents, a decent Web-browser, and wi-fi. By now, I used my phone for email a lot, so the wi-fi was a great feature: I could access email quickly and free of charge while at home. What with the large screen and full keyboard — with surprisingly good keys, by the way: you can't exactly touch-type on it (not that I can anyway), but I make no more typos on it than I do on a full-size PC keyboard — the 9500 has actually become my email device of choice over the last year. Whole weeks go by without my switching on any of my other computers. It's a fantastic little piece of kit.

Not perfect, though. The trouble with giving the user so many cool features is that we then come to expect even more. And the 9500 has a few obvious failings (and I don't mean its size — yes, it's big, but it's about as small as it can be with a full keyboard. It's a fair trade-off).

Firstly, it's a Series 80 phone. This is good. However, it's only a Series 80 phone when you open it up. When it's shut, it's a Series 40. Flip it open, and you have the most advanced user interface Symbian have developed — it really is more like using a PC than a phone. Snap it shut, and you have a crap old phone that I would probably rank as the worst Nokia make: not just a Series 40, but a pared-down Series 40 with half the functions removed. Even searching through your contacts is pretty crap — particularly bizarre when you realise that, when open, the phone has the best contact-searching ever. Nokia's thinking seems to have been that the phone's so damn good when it's open that no-one's going to use it shut anyway, so why bother? But you need both hands to use it when it's open. As a result, it's not a phone you can ever use with one hand for anything more advanced than speed-dialling or reading an SMS.

That's reading an SMS, not writing one, because the other thing Nokia didn't put on the 9500 is predictive text. Again, it's got a full keyboard, so why bother? Well, since it's got a huge memory and Nokia own the predictive text software so don't have to pay anyone else to use it, why the hell not? This was a major shortcoming.

The phone's a bit slow. Huge memory, powerful operating system, and yet opening an email takes a few seconds. There's really no excuse for that.

The final thing Nokia screwed up was that they closed the phone's front screen to developers. You know all those cool applications you can download for your phone? Well, there's plenty of stuff you can get for the inside of the 9500 — the Series 80 bit — but the Series 40 bit is untouchable. So not only is the phone crappy when shut, but no enterprising programmers can do anything to improve it.

Those criticisms aside, the 9500 does have some really nice little touches, quite apart from the big screen, full keyboard, Word support, Adobe Reader, etc. Its clock can hold multiple alarms at once, and they can be set to repeat at whatever interval you like. When changing profile, you can set it to change back at a certain time. It has remote locking, so, if someone nicks the phone, you can send it a coded text message that will completely lock the phone. You can specify any criteria by which to search through your contacts: email address, phone number, job title, street name, whatever. That is seriously useful. And it has standard PC shortcuts like Ctrl+A for Select All and Ctrl+X for Cut, as well as some handy shortcuts of its own, such as one key to turn Bluetooth on and off.

I just got a new phone, the Nokia E70, and it's safe to say that Nokia learn from their mistakes. It's a Series 60, it has a full keyboard, and every mistake Nokia made with the 9500 has been rectified.

Even when it's flipped open to show the full keyboard, predictive text still does what it can — putting capitals at the start of sentences automatically, for instance. And the phone is seriously fast.

The wi-fi's been cranked up to a nice high speed, the browser is much better than the 9500's (which was pretty bloody good), the email app is fast and flexible and can even handle push mail, it can still handle Word and Excel documents, as well as being able to control Powerpoint-type presentations wirelessly — there's something I'll never use — it has remote locking, and it's small! The 9500's size was never a problem in Winter — if I'm wearing a big warm coat anyway, I'll have big pockets — but it's nice to have something that slips into my jeans when it's hot. I just couldn't resist wording it that way. My apologies.

The screen's a decent size for a standard phone, though, of course, woefully small if you've got used to the 9500's big screen. It also has unbelievably high definition: I have not yet been able to make out any pixelation at all. And the font rendering is of Apple standard. The screen may be much smaller than the 9500's, but I can read much smaller text on it.

The PC shortcut keys are absent, but that's fair enough for a device that has no pretence of being a laptop. It does have its own copying-and-pasting system, so that's cool. The alarm clock, unfortunately, only handles one alarm at a time. Never mind. And the profile timer isn't here — again, a shame, but hardly a big deal. Turning Bluetooth on and off is a bit of a hassle. Tsk.

On the other hand, the E70 is VOIP compatible, so, in theory, I should be able to use it to make completely free phone calls to anywhere in the world from home. I've yet to try this out, but it looks promising. As an aside, it says something about how powerful Nokia are that they've persuaded the networks to sell something with a feature guaranteed to eat into their profits.

One thing Nokia are still insistently getting very, very wrong: although the phone has a perfectly good MP3 player built in and can take nice big memory cards, it has no jack plug. You're supposed to use this proprietory "Pop-port" thing to plug in special Nokia earphones, of which there were, last I checked, two different models. Have Nokia really not figured out that letting people use their own choice of headphones will encourage sales. Nokia are surely one of a handful of companies capable of blowing the iPod out of the water, but not until they ditch this nonsense.

To solve this problem, I'm going to buy me one of these things. Not only does it look like the bees knees, but its manufacturers compose a seriously entertaining press release:

The muses 801 is supplied with an extra clip battery cover. If you donot like to hang it over your neck, just simply change a clip battery cover with it then clip it on your cloth.

I'll make sure to do that. But first, I'll need a cloth.

The battery life issue is always happened with li-polymer rechargeable battery built-in headsets.

Yes, it certainly is always did.

Thank you, Grandvue.

And thank you, Nokia, for an utterly, utterly wonderful little phone.


Another good thing about the E70: Nokia have finally ditched their insistence that you use their PC Suite software to attach the phone to your computer; it's still an option, if you like installing things on your computer that will break it, but you can instead simply plug the phone into your computer and have it act as a standard USB card-reader. I haven't tried it yet, but I imagine that will work on Macs, too.

Further update:

I have managed to find a very slight fault with this otherwise perfect phone. It claims that the memory cards are hot-swappable — that is, that you can swap them without turning the phone off. Well, you can, but the new card you put in will be all screwy and unusable until you reboot the phone. I expect this fault to affect me approximately never.

On the other hand, I've got the VOIP working. The phone's not built to handle NAT, but various SIP providers, including Free World Dialup, have provided workarounds for that. (Until two days ago, I had no idea what NAT or SIP were. The learning curve is steep, and Nokia provide sod-all instructions for this bit.) Anyway, if you want to set up VOIP on your Nokia E70 — or any other E-series phone — you can find the necessary settings here. Perhaps I have just saved you having to repeat the many hours of research it took me to find that.

Excellent customer service.

I got a new phone the other day. So I rang O2 to cancel my old contract. And instead of cancelling it, they offered me a year's free line rental.

This might sound too good to be true, but, as their guy explained the details, it turned out to be even better: they credit my account with £100 and give me a contract that costs £6 a month, so, at the end of the year, I still have £28 of credit left over. Excellent. I get to keep my old number (and I've diverted all its calls to my new number, of course), have two live phones, and they pay me for it.

O2 used to be famously swimming in complaints. Looks like that's changing.

Friday 18 August 2006

Things can always get worse.

DumbJon has found something so appalling that it's cut his usual rant length in half. Namely, this:

The court was told the 12-year-old victim had been out playing with friends when she visited the Late Shop on Parrin Lane at around 5.30pm on January 18.

She was standing outside the shop with a 9-year-old boy when the teenager, now aged 15, approached them and told the little boy to go into the shop.

He and the girl then went to a nearby alleyway, while he was still carrying the knife, and he told her to undress.

She performed oral sex on him before he allowed her to get dressed and walked her back to a bus-stop outside the shop.

The boy was arrested the following day and later charged with rape.

So, we have a boy who, at the age of fourteen, has raped a twelve-year-old girl and threatened her with a knife. Some of us might suggest that a boy like this is a serious problem for society at large and therefore needs to be put somewhere safe. According to Judge Jeffrey Lewis, we would be dead wrong.

You see, although the boy threatened his victim with a knife and then raped her and then threatened her with the knife again afterwards to dissuade her from telling anyone, he didn't use the knife and rape her at exactly the same time. And, apparently, that means that he's so non-dangerous that we can just let him straight back out on the streets. Seriously.

But Judge Jeffrey Lewis found that although the teenager had intimidated the girl with the knife, he had not used it during the rape.


Judge Lewis ruled this was not an incident where the girl had been raped at knifepoint, adding there was "no nexus between the knife and the commission of the crime".

He said the boy had intimidated the girl with the weapon but this was in order to attempt to prevent her from telling others about the attack.

Which, apparently, is OK. Mafiosi, take note: threatening people with lethal weapons in order to stop them talking is not a serious offense.

This is just a fantastic precedent for rapists, isn't it? "M'Lord, though my client admits to threatening his six victims with a machete and admits to raping them, I would like to make it absolutely clear that, while he was raping them, he put the weapon down as he needed both hands free to cover their mouths. Surely, then, the prosecution's claim that these crimes were somehow violent in nature is sheer nonsense. The machete was in no way involved in the rapes." The phrase "reality trumps satire" is getting a little tired these days, but, really. This is too unrealistic even to work as comedy, and now, unless there's a successful appeal, it's the law of the land.

So what has this rapscallion been sentenced to, exactly? Well, not much. He's under a two-year supervision order — oo, supervision; nasty — he has to sign the sex offender's register for two years (which will require a very large signature), and he's going to be under a curfew between 8pm and 7am for three months. Regardless of your views on sentencing, that curfew is simply stupid on its face. He committed the crime shortly after 5:30pm. Had he been under this curfew at the time, and even had it been enforced perfectly, he'd still have raped the girl. It's like banning a joyrider from abseiling.

Just in case you're thinking that it's only us Nazi bastards on the throw-away-the-key Right who have reason to hate this idiot of a judge, here's something for you lefties to get up in arms about:

[Judge Lewis] added the girl had joined the boy in the alleyway voluntarily.

Yeah, the little tart was asking for it, wasn't she?

Think back to when you were twelve. Think of how many times you hung out with other kids, sometimes a bit older than you. Think of how easy it would have been to find yourself in this situation, had any of those other kids been sadistic amoral bullies. Now think of the message our legal system has just sent to every sadistic amoral little bully in the country.

I can think of no way to encourage vigilantism in this country any more than our sentencing already does. If this rapist had any sense, he'd be asking to be locked up for his own safety.

Thursday 17 August 2006

X is Y.

There's a brilliant post here from Raven about what kinds of lies are allowed in advertising:

Those anti-piracy ads in cinemas and sometimes on DVDs — the ones that say "piracy is theft" — are outright lying. Theft has a legal definition, piracy is not it, piracy is copyright violation. This brings to mind a question — if they're allowed to lie about legal terms, would it be okay for them to say, eg. "piracy is premeditated murder" or "piracy is genocidal war-crimes against civilians"? ...

More interestingly, would it be okay for someone to produce and publish advertisements of "copyright-protection is pedophilia", "anti-piracy measures are slavery" and "the RIAA is illegal immigration"?


Tuesday 15 August 2006

Words unlikely to appear in spam filters.

Or anywhere else, for that matter.

I just got an email titled:

Your future, opsonocytophagic test

I feel I must read it, in case it's a vital and interesting personal message from a close friend and nothing to do with my penis at all.

Monday 14 August 2006

Can anyone even still see the thin end?

It seems that elements within the BBC have decided that the organisation's particular brand of leftwingery hasn't descended nearly far enough into the realms of lunacy, and they aim to redress this deficiency:

The BBC was yesterday plunged into a row over its foreign reporting after its new "diversity czar" said there were too many white journalists reporting from non-white nations, particularly in Africa.

Mary Fitzpatrick said that she was tired of repeatedly seeing programmes where the situation was "here we are in Africa, and here's a white person saying, well, look at these people".

She said it was vital that BBC news reflected the audience that it was serving, with "valid and culturally accurate voices speaking."

Tim has quite rightly pointed out what's wrong with this nonsense:

So we're reporting from India: the reporter should be of which caste? A Sikh? Moslem? Hindu? Reporting from Sri Lanka, Sinhalese or Tamil? Nigeria: Yoruba, Hausa or Ibo?

As the UK is majority a vague pinkish colour is she going to fire all reporters currently employed in the UK who are not vaguely pinkish?

I haven't found any complaints from Ms Fitzpatrick about Catholic reporters telling us about Protestant areas of Belfast.

But I'd like to highlight something else. Look again at what this nasty idiot of a woman said: "culturally accurate voices". There's a phrase with legs: "cultural accuracy". Jesus wept.

Look, you ignorant bint, "accuracy" has a meaning. There is only only measure of how accurate something is, and that is how closely it matches reality. And no, reality isn't a cultural construct; it is that which exists. If a report is accurate in London, it is equally as accurate in Ulan Bator, in Denver, and in Nairobi. If a report is accurate when it comes out of the mouth of a black Bantu man, it is equally as accurate when spoken by a white Frenchman, a Chinese woman, or a six-year-old disabled Innuit. The news does not become any more or less true depending on whether Trevor McDonald or Andrea Catherwood reads it.

Expect to hear a lot more about "cultural accuracy" in the coming years. It'll probably be mentioned a lot in discussions of science, and combined with the word "hegemony". How bloody depressing.

Friday 11 August 2006

A conundrum.

You can always rely on Radio One Newsbeat to uncover the real issues behind the day's top story:

Police are continuing to search the suspects' homes to try and find out what, if anything, connects them.


Gerry Adams is right.

Not generally, of course. But he's dead right that Peter Hain is patronising — though he's wrong if he thinks that Hain is only patronising to Republicans. He's patronising to Republicans, Unionists, Tories, the Labour Party, police officers, small children, passing cars, corpses, mythical creatures, and, I have little doubt, himself. He is simply unable to talk in any manner other than that of a second-rate primary-school teacher addressing the most stupid pupil he has ever dealt with. Only he's more patronising than that.

I am immensely proud (by association — it's not like I've done anything) that an acquaintance of mine who shall remain nameless had a blazing stand-up row with Mr Hain, lambasting him face-to-face for his very public and damaging stupidity. If only everyone did that.

And now, apparently, the smug git is the front-runner to be our next Deputy Prime Minister. Labour MPs, it would seem, like being patronised.

It is important, of course, not to let Peter Hain's smug condescension misdirect your attention from his essential nastiness. It never ceases to amaze me that anyone has ever voted for him. But, of course, those who voted for him did so safe in the knowledge that they are not those over whom he wields power. Hmm... on second thoughts, maybe he should be made Deputy PM.

Friday 4 August 2006

Being right.

What could be nicer that having someone turn up and say "I'm an expert, and you were right"?

You might remember that, because this post mentioned Randy Cassingham, a Mr David K started ranting at me in the comments about his own problems with Mr Cassingham. It was clear from David K's second comment that he wasn't to be indulged: out-of-place inverted commas, strange capitalisation, quoting a dictionary, and the underlying assumption that people who run websites must listen to me!!! — if you've been on the Web a while, these are alarm bells akin to a man walking down the street wearing inflatable armbands and playing the Emperor's theme from Star Wars on the kazoo.

It was very easy and a lot of fun to bait Mr K, his reactions being grade-A comedy gold, and I suggested at the time that that might be why Randy Cassingham had insulted him too. And lo and behold: the famous Mr Cassingham has turned up and confirmed that that was indeed the case. Yay! He also provides a bit of background, so that we can better understand the root causes of Mr K's Cassingham-hating obsession. But mainly he says that I was right.

Yes, that's right: the only purpose of this post is to crow about my being right and being told that I'm right. If you don't like egotism, why the hell are you reading blogs?

The passion and the hatred.

A lot of people are saying that Mel Gibson's alarming outburst just goes to show that they were right all along about The Passion Of The Christ being a piece of antisemitic propaganda. I don't think so. In fact, I can't see any way in which the meaning of a film could be influenced by something its director does a couple of years later. If you saw the film at the time, you know what was in it — and that's still what's in it. It didn't change when Gibson got pulled over.

I saw it at the time. It had been out for a while by the time I got around to it, so I'd seen most of the criticism by then. I wasn't at all sure what to expect, the reviewers being so widely divided over whether the film promoted Jew-hatred, but I was certainly aware enough of the possibility that I was looking out for it. And I'm quite sensitive to criticism of Jews, because I'm one of those people who think that resurgent antisemitism is a serious and pressing problem in today's world, and... well, frankly, I can be a bit boring about it. Some might call me hypersensitive. Vic would: as she said yesterday, if I didn't notice any Jew-hatred in the film, it's not there to be noticed. But it would appear that plenty of people are even more sensitive than I am.

I've never been impressed by the fact that Jesus's having been killed by Jews has been used to justify anti-Jewish feeling in the Church. It's certainly true, yes, but it's stupid. Of course he was killed by Jews: he was a Jew living in Judea. If that's going to be held against the Jews for all eternity, then why not damn the English for Harold Shipman's work, too? After all, every single one of his victims was killed by an Englishman. I've always viewed this dodgy reasoning as evidence of the stupidity of the Church. It's a shame that it seems to have spread to so many of Christianity's critics. Take Christopher Hitchens, for instance:

Apparently seeking to curry favor, Gibson announced a few weeks ago that he had cut the scene where a Jewish mob yells for the blood of Jesus to descend on the heads of its children (a scene that occurs in only one of the four contradictory Gospels).

Hitchens is an atheist. He doesn't even like Christianity, let alone believe any of it. So why on Earth would he mention how many of the Gospels this scene appears in? He objects to the scene's content, which would be the same if it were in all four Gospels as it would if Gibson had simply made it up. Arguments about how much weight to give each of the contradictory accounts in the New Testament are for Christians, who do actually believe some of it. All the Gospels assert that Christ was resurrected, and Hitchens certainly doesn't believe that.

Yes, this scene in the Bible has been used by the Church to justify killing Jews over the years, but what that proves is that people, the Church included, are bloody stupid. Many people have also used the doctrine of determinism to excuse the actions of murderers. That doesn't mean that Einstein was guilty of incitement.

The film's detractors claimed, of course, that there was a lot more to it than merely controversially showing that Christ was killed by Jews. No, they said, the thing is that the bad Jews in the film are obvious evil Jewish stereotypes straight out of Nazi cartoons, while the good Jews are all pale-skinned, delicate-featured people. This was mainly a reference to the scene in which Judas puts on his glasses before ordering a bagel and going to work at the bank.

Well, bollocks. There were a wide range of different noses, lips, and curlinesses of hair in the film — just as there would have been in Judea — and I certainly didn't spot any correlation between facial features and evil. By far the palest, most North-European-looking character in the film is Satan, and I hardly think Gibson was trying to portray him as the ultimate good guy (though I have to admit that the moral message intended by putting him on a skateboard went right over my head. Must be because I'm an atheist).

Meanwhile, it's been over two years now. The film was massively successful, being watched by millions upon millions of devout Christians, most of whom seem to have loved it. If it was teaching them all to hate Jews, well, where are the bodies? The briefest of glances through Christianity's history shows us that it doesn't take a huge amount of work from a persuasive preacher to set off a bit of Jew-killing. But, as far as anyone can see, not one Jew has had so much as a slap in the face as a result of the film's message. There is, however, a lot of gleeful violence directed at Jews from a group of people who certainly weren't interested in the film.

Whether Gibson decided not to push his obnoxious opinions in his film for moral or financial reasons, or whether he is simply a terrible director who tried to make a piece of Jew-hating propaganda but screwed up, we don't know. But the film is not antisemitic. And, in fact, is rather good.


Apparently, there's a lot of gleeful violence directed at Jews from a group of people who, it turns out, went to watch the film in droves. You live and learn. Well, I do. However, they were directing gleeful violence at Jews before the film was released, and I for one am not convinced that the film caused them to ramp it up a notch.

Thursday 3 August 2006


The birth of Noah, my new nephew, was registered yesterday.

Now, British readers will be aware of the recent kerfuffle over baby passports. It used to be that babies and small children could travel on their parents' passports. A few years ago, the powers that be decided that everyone, small babies included, should have their own passports. Now this is ridiculous, because the passport lasts five years, and babies all look more like each other than they look like their five-year-old future selves. Want to kidnap a toddler and get them out of the country? Well, all you'll need is a baby's passport. Any one will do. As long as the baby's the same colour as the toddler, it should be good enough to get you past any border control. If we must have passports for babies, the photos should be renewed every year until they're four, I reckon.

And the Government insisted that, since they want to scan all these photos into their failure-prone facial recognition software, the babies would have to obey the same rules as the rest of us when having their photos taken: no smiling, no frowning, eyes open, mouth closed, face pointed dead straight at the camera, etc. Ever tried that with a baby? The Passport Office were zealously rejecting any photos that didn't meet the criteria, but this generated such massive annoyance that they have actually backed down under public pressure.

Now, a birth certificate tends to be all you need to get hold of a passport. So, with all this increased security around passports for kids, you can imagine the hassle involved in getting a birth certificate. Well, you'd be imagining wrong, because all you need to register a birth, it turns out, is a valid and verifiable baby. My sister-in-law needed no ID, no evidence that she had recently been pregnant, nothing. She could have got any of her friends to take Noah up to the town hall and register him for her.

The new baby passports may be a pain in the arse, but they are actually there for a good reason: to make it more difficult to take stolen children out of the country. If you steal a baby, you can't get it across the border without its passport. But you can take it to your nearest town hall, register it as yours, then use the new birth certificate to get a new passport, without at any point having to offer a scintilla of evidence that it's yours.

Apparently, the new ID cards and their attendant database are going to make us all much safer.

Tuesday 1 August 2006

A canine thesaurus.

Monty the dog has been living with us for a while now, and he's settling in nicely. He no longer tries to climb on top of people all that often, doesn't jump up quite as much as he used to, and doesn't usually have sex with visitors, though he does still like to burp in people's faces and is very bad at not getting in the way. Pretty much a model of good behavior, then, by his standards. He's thick as a plank of mince, and we love him for it.

Phoebe the first dog is highly intelligent, and was very easy to train. She worked out what various phrases meant simply by listening in on our conversations. Imagine our amazement when she started getting out of the way when she heard us say "Excuse me" — she was learning commands that we weren't even teaching her! Fantastic.

Monty, on the other hand, may be very very stupid, but he wants to make everyone happy and be a good dog, and he's got a Staff's stubborn streak, so he gets there in the end. While Phoebe can pick up a new command in a few minutes, Monty can do it inside three months, with luck. And I am pleased to say that he does now understand a wide range of common English phrases.

The interesting thing is that an unlikely consequence of his being so bloody stupid is that he's ended up with quite a large vocabulary. We talk to dogs much like they're people in this house, but we also go with what works: when Phoebe started obeying "Excuse me", of course we started using that phrase deliberately to get her out of the way. And because we started using "Excuse me" almost exclusively, there were no other phrases being bandied about with the same meaning for Phoebe to overhear and figure out. That process never happened with Monty. His extreme stubbornness and stupidity could be rather exasperating, so, when one command didn't work after twenty attempts, we'd add hand gestures and try another.

As a result, he now knows and obeys all the following commands:

  • Excuse me.

  • Out of the way.

  • Get out of there.

  • Piss off.

  • Sod off.

  • Fuck off.

  • Fuck away off.

  • Get the fuck out of the way.

  • Fuck off out of the way, you stupid fat bastard.

Interestingly, he even understands the way "the fuck" increases a command's importance, so if he feels like ignoring "Get down from there", "Get the fuck down from there" will get results.

Of course, Phoebe now understands all of them as well. Just from reading this blog.

I'll give you six beans for that cow.

Rob has spotted .... Actually, is there any point in my ever linking to Rob? Does anyone read my blog who doesn't already read his anyway? Well, it's something to do, I suppose. So, anyway, yes... he's spotted this rather wonderful story:

Woman sought in Magic Cheese scam

Oh yes.

A French woman, Madame Gilberte van Erpe, has pulled off one of the biggest cons in Chilean history. The Chileans are now trying to extradite her from Paris.

People were persuaded to buy a powder which they could allegedly turn into "Magic Cheese", said to make skin look younger and to be highly valuable.


According to the police in Santiago [Madame Gilberte van Erpe] told people that "Magic Cheese" was the latest fashion in France, where women used it as a skin cosmetic to fight the effects of ageing.

As Rob says, "it all sounded so convincingly plausible".

The fraud consisted of selling people packs of Yo Flex powder that was said to be the raw ingredient of the magic cream.

According to reports, victims of the scam believed they only had to mix the powder with milk, to ferment the "Magic Cheese".

They were told they could then sell the cheese to a company, which would export it to France, where it would be sold on to French women at a premium.

For people to fall for this nonsense, they first had to believe three things: firstly, that women will put any old crap on their faces if the cosmetics industry tells them to; secondly, that the cosmetics industry is subject to really stupid fads; thirdly, that fashion-conscious French people are willing to pay through the nose to do stupid things. Hmm.

At the height of the scam, a pack of Yo Flex sold for $500, but chemical analysis determined that the powder was a food supplement used in Africa, with a street value of just $4.

Do food supplements have street value? I thought the whole point of street value was that it applies to things that can only be bought on the street, because they're illegal. Surely this stuff simply had a value. Unless, of course, this is an aspect of African culture I was unaware of: the thriving food supplement black market. I can just imagine being approached by a shady character in the streets of Niamey: "Psst! Buddy! Want to buy some riboflavin?"

But I digress.

More than 20,000 Peruvians and 6,000 Chileans were reportedly duped.

Bloody hell. That's a lot of people who believe that French women are stupid.