Monday, December 18

Maybe I should be flattered.

Sometime on Friday, I started getting really pointless comments on this blog: just random strings of numbers and letters, popping up on loads of different posts, not just recent ones. They were flooding in. So I logged into Haloscan (the third party who provide this blog's commenting facility), and turned on comment moderation and IP-banned the commenters, which took me all of two minutes. Problem solved.

"Hmm," I thought, "a denial-of-service attack? Against Haloscan? Why?" Sure enough, Haloscan went down a little while later, for a few minutes. It seemed like a lot of effort to bring down a site that merely provides a free commenting service to anyone who wants it, and for such a short time. It's not as if they're poltiical. It did rather look like the attackers had put themselves to far more inconvenience than they'd managed to cause their attackee.

Then over the weekend I got an email from WatchingAmerica.com to say that their site had been taken down by a major DoS attack, had been down for two-and-a-half days, that other sites were affected, and that lots of engineers were working on stopping the attack. Gosh. Their site's up again now, so I suppose the excitement's over.

So it looks like Haloscan weren't the target; I was, along with a bunch of other (presumably) dangerous right-wing neocon warmongering etceteras. I had no idea my little old blog was such a threat. Cool.

Of course, my host's servers were affected hardly at all, as the attack concentrated on posting comments, and my comments, like so many other people's, are hosted externally. Great for me, a bugger for Haloscan, and really bloody stupid of the attackers.

Friday, December 15

The absurd side of royalism.

Just as a really very plain and dull girl becomes The World's Most Beautiful Woman Ever!!! just because she marries a prince, similarly, she can't be allowed to die without some absurd fairy-tale explanation. If only MI5 had thought of putting her to sleep for a hundred years as a punishment for pricking her finger on a spinning-wheel, no-one would have suspected a thing.

This has to be one of the most insane wastes of public money ever. The only reason for the inquiry was pressure from conspiracy theorists. Some eejit in our Government thought that you could calm conspiracy theorists down by holding an official state-run enquiry. Someone up there actually thought that a significant number of people would, in the light of this report, say "You know, I had thought it was an assassination by Mossad to prevent an alliance between the Church of England and Islam, but I see now that I was wrong: it was just a car crash after all. You live and learn."

Now, how about a full public inquiry into every other car crash in Paris? Or perhaps into the Moon landings?

Monday, December 11

Skin and red paint.

It's possible to make leather out of the skin of any animal, you know. (Fact fans might be interested to know that the best quality leather comes, perhaps surprisingly, from ostriches.)

So, if we were to send the pelts of fifty lovely little freshly-skinned chinchillas to a tanner rather than a furrier prior to selling the result to Madonna, she would end up with a hideously expensive jacket that would not only arouse zero outrage but would also look considerably less shite than the one she did, in fact, buy.

I have heard the argument that the reason fur is more reprehensible than leather is that leather comes from animals that are killed for meat, whereas fur is from animals that are killed for their fur, their meat being discarded as a waste product. Firstly, this strikes me as somewhat selectively and stupidly squeamish. Either you come to terms with the idea of killing animals or you don't. What's so noble about killing them for food rather than clothing? It's not like we humans live in the tooth and claw of the wild and would die if we didn't eat meat; vegetarian diets are perfectly nutritious, even if you don't like the flavour. Eating meat is every bit as much a selfish choice made to satisfy your own personal taste as is wearing fur. You, personally, may be at ease with killing for food but not for clothing, and that's fine, but I hardly think that that position is so morally unassailable that you can justify screams of outrage from the mob at anyone who feels differently.

Secondly, where's all the outrage directed at vegetarians who wear leather? For them, it's not a waste product. It puzzles me, actually, that so many vegetarians who won't touch gelatine or rennet — waste products both — are content to wear leather shoes.

People forget what the original reason for the anti-fur campaigns of the Twentieth Century was. Fur often came from endangered species. Some tribesman would trek into the Amazon, kill one of four rare jungle cats left in existence, sell the pelt for, oh, 50p, and it would eventually be sold to some ugly woman with a cigarette holder for a million squillion gajillion pounds. This, for a whole raft of reasons that I shouldn't need to explain, was a problem. A problem completely and utterly solved by fur-farming. Chinchillas, in fact, are a pretty good example: they were hunted into endangerment back in the days when fur came from the wild; now, they're farmed, and not so endangered. Great.

Of course, there are plenty of good arguments to be made against fur-farming on anti-cruelty grounds. Not a single one of those arguments applies to fur without also applying to meat, leather, and milk.

Let's be honest here. Madonna has been singled out for attack for two reasons. One: chinchillas are cute. Two: meat tastes good.

Friday, December 8

Another stupid thing.

The car park at the Ulster Hospital is notoriously annoying in many ways, the most obvious of which is that a private company gets to charge patients good money to park in a facility built using those patients' taxes on land bought with those patients' taxes. Then there's the way that the entry and exit barriers keep going out of sync, so that the machine lets you in when there aren't actually any spaces free and then, having eventually discovered this, you have to pay to get back out, but there aren't any ticket machines in the car park itself, so you have to park your car in order to do so. Having recently spent far too much time there, I've noticed another.

A lot of the spaces are for disabled people only, which is fair enough, and it must be one of the few car parks in the universe where this is actually enforced: park in one of those spaces without a blue badge and you'll get clamped. The problem with this, which seems to have occurred to no-one, is that this is a hospital. The car park is used every day by hundreds of people who are genuinely disabled but don't yet have their official blue disabled badges because they weren't disabled a couple of days ago. Obviously.

Wednesday, December 6

Another great spam subject line.

Their approach is getting more sophisticated every day, I must say.

Two panels focussed on the problematic definition of harmful.


Brilliant.

Tuesday, November 28

Put-down of the week.

That bastard Peter Hain is even more unpopular than usual in Northern Ireland at the minute — quite an achievement for a man who so brilliantly augments his innate fundamentally dislikable personality by being an utter bastard. If I were a cynic, I might even suppose that his appointment was a brilliant move by Blair: unite the squabbling factions of Northern Ireland by giving them a common enemy — or a common git, at any rate. Actually, I am a cynic, but I don't credit Blair with quite the necessary degree of low cunning.

So, anyway, Norn Arsh television is currently rather well stocked with people slagging off Hain. Channel-hopping last night, I came across one young political commentator just as he ended his monologue with this:

The sunbed's on, but nobody's home.


Someone should write that in weedkiller on the lawns of Stormont.

Thursday, November 23

Futility.

Mark has noticed this article warning us that opium smoking could be making a comeback. Can't say that's particularly interesting, myself. Some people do drugs. Like everyone else in the world, most of them like a bit of variety. This news is right up there with "Hot-dog sales overtake hamburgers." Big deal.

However, buried in the article, with no attention being drawn to it by its author, is the reason why drugs should be legalised. Forget the health arguments. This is it.

In Britain, the latest figures for the seizure of all opiate drugs, including other drugs as well as opium, was 30 kilos in 2003.


("The latest figures was"? Tsk. In The Times, as well. But anyway.)

Then, ten paragraphs further down:

The price of heroin has been falling and the only problem for the traffickers is transportation. [Andy Sellers, one of the senior officers in the Serious Organised Crime Agency] said 25 to 35 tonnes of heroin are reaching the United Kingdom each year


I put it to you, then, that transportation is almost no problem at all for the traffickers.

25 to 35 tonnes of heroin alone coming into the country. Of that, 30 mere kilos of heroin and all other opiates confiscated by the state. Our tax money at "work". In the case of The War On Drugs, that's lots and lots and lots of our tax money.

Wednesday, November 22

Choice.

Joel Spolsky explains what's wrong with Microsoft's interface design — and, come to that, what's wrong with most interface design, and not just in the IT world:

I'm sure there's a whole team of UI designers, programmers, and testers who worked very hard on the OFF button in Windows Vista, but seriously, is this the best you could come up with?

Every time you want to leave your computer, you have to choose between nine, count them, nine options: two icons and seven menu items. ...

On many laptops, there are also four FN+Key combinations to power off, hibernate, sleep, etc. That brings us up to 13 choices, and, oh, yeah, there's an on-off button, 14, and you can close the lid, 15. A total of fifteen different ways to shut down a laptop that you're expected to choose from.

The more choices you give people, the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they'll feel.


Joel goes on to explain his own solution to the problem. It is extremely good, and Microsoft, and every other company in the world, should use it.

Dancing about architecture.

You know the drill.

Extremely angry and foul-mouthed pensioner gives up on writing to the Telegraph and instead possesses body of hip young Cockney and starts rapping.

Tuesday, November 21

Priorities.

When state officials do something utterly, utterly stupid

A SPICY sausage known as the Welsh Dragon will have to be renamed after trading standards' officers warned the manufacturers that they could face prosecution because it does not contain dragon.


— they often defend themselves by claiming that they are merely protecting a purely hypothetical group of people even more stupid than themselves.

A Powys County Council spokesman said: "The product was not sufficiently precise to inform a purchaser of the true nature of the food."


Insert joke here about EU legislation forcing relocation of all British prostitutes to the town of Bakewell.

Anyway, there are two possibilities here. Either trading standards regulations are now being rigorously and jobsworthily enforced on every single product in Powys, or this case was considered a higher priority than some other case. The latter is clearly absurd.

It must be nice, living in Powys, knowing that there's not a single dishonest mechanic or builder left in the land.

Monday, November 20

Dissatisfaction.

This is just class:

Marie Steichen died two months ago but she won a battle to become a county commissioner for a small South Dakota town in the US elections, an official said.

Jerauld county auditor Cindy Peterson said that the election list closed on August 1, and while Steichen died from cancer in September her name was kept on the list for Tuesday's election.

Steichen beat a Republican rival by 100 votes to 64 and Peterson said she believed that voters knew the woman was dead but wanted to make their political point.


I think they may have succeeded. Will her opponent ever be able to live this down?

Thursday, November 16

Irony.

That last post was just a distraction from what I'm really thinking about, which is my answer to Raven's challenge:

A fun challenge — not so much fun for the doing as funny that it is unintuitively quite challenging: come up with three good examples of irony as quickly as you can. Examples from real life or made up are fine, but famous examples, eg. from Shakespeare, are not. Sarcasm is not.


Usually, I think I'd agree that that is surprisingly difficult. Right now, though, for me, it's a piece of piss. My answer is just one word: thrombophilia.

Thrombophilia's great. It's a genetic condition that causes your blood to clot unusually quickly, which causes you to heal freakishly quickly. In extreme cases, that extra-fast healing could actually save your life. Cool.

Except, if you're female, thrombophilia makes you far more prone to miscarriage. Excessive blood clotting tends to kill foetuses, depressingly. So the very condition that, if you pass it on, will help your child get healthy more quickly after an injury also makes it far less likely that that child will ever exist in the first place.

So, once diagnosed, you take Clexane during pregnancy. Clexane thins the blood, dissolves clots, and doesn't cross the placenta. The injections are painful, but the treatment is highly likely to succeed.

However, all pregnancies bring with them a danger of injury or emergency surgery or both, so the last thing you want to be on during the delivery is any type of blood-thinner. So you stop taking the Clexane two or three days before the birth. In order to do that, of course, you need to know exactly when the birth is, so you get booked in for an induced delivery. Trouble is, inductions are long drawn-out processes that involve lots of lying around in bed not moving; they also tend to involve epidurals, leading to even less moving. Inductions also tend not to work, so attempted inductions often end with caesarians, which lead to even less moving. And thrombophilia makes you especially prone to deep-vein thrombosis, which is triggered by long periods of not moving. In other words, the fact that you're being treated for thrombophilia makes you far more likely to be put into a situation where the thrombophilia is particularly dangerous to you, and the treatment has to be suspended at exactly the time the thrombophilia is most dangerous.

And then the same condition that puts you in such extreme danger will cause your caesarian scar to heal incredibly fast.

Vic is still in hospital, with multiple blood clots in both lungs. Thrombophilia has caused her injuries to heal super-fast her entire life, and now it's nearly killed her. She should be out of hospital (for the third time) in a few days, but a full recovery is expected to take months.

Daisy is very likely to have inherited the condition, which, if she's anything like as accident-prone as I was when I was a kid, will be a blessing.

I think that was more than three examples.

Is it ironic?

Exhibit A in the great Americans Don't Get Irony debate has, for over ten years now, been the hit song Ironic by Alanis Morissette, who is Canadian and therefore about as American as anyone need be for the purposes of your average whinging Pom with a Yankee stereotype to prove true. It is generally understood that not a single one of the things listed in the song is actually ironic — rather, they are examples of Sod's Law.

It has always struck me, however, that the events in the song are potentially ironic. What is lacking is not so much an understanding of irony but more some context, some background. Is rain on your wedding day ironic? Well, it could be; it rather depends. And so I was very pleased to be proven right, yet again, when I found the following draft version of the lyrics scrawled on a selection of napkins and envelopes stuffed down the back of a second-hand sofa that was definitely once owned by Ms Morissette and was on sale for a mere twenty quid in a bric-a-brac sale in Donaghadee for some reason. I have had the ink carbon-dated, and can confirm that the following was definitely written on November the 13th, 1994, at about 2:30am, in a pub in Toronto.

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
He had spent his life leading an unsuccessful campaign to ban gambling
On the grounds that God disapproved of it
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
Which you are drinking to celebrate winning your bet
That you could eat a kilo of insects
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
Because the Governor couldn't get through due to a telecomms problem
The condemned man's victim was the state's chief telephone engineer
He was very good at his job
This sort of problem never occurred when he was in charge
The new guy's shite
And isn't it ironic
Don't you think

It's like rayiyai-ain on your wedding day
As predicted by the weather forecast
Which has been consistently wrong about the weather every single bloody day for weeks
It's a free ride when you've already paid
For once
'Cause usually you fare-dodge
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Coming, as it did, from the same guy whose advice you had been following for quite some time
Which had led to your financial ruination and the break-up of your family
Who would've thought it figures, eh?

Mr Play-It-Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought "Well, isn't this nice"
Because the bomb he'd managed to smuggle on board wasn't due to detonate for another half-hour
And isn't it ironic
Don't you think

It's like rayiyai-ain on your wedding day
When you're marrying the man you met when he rescued you from dying of thirst in the Outback
It's a free ride when you've already paid
To have your car professionally valeted
After you picked up a hitchhiker and they threw up all over the upholstery
And you've therefore vowed never to give anyone a free ride ever again
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Because it happened to be in a horoscope
And you had taken the other good advice to ignore superstitious claptrap
Which, mind you, didn't stop you refusing to let your child be vaccinated
Who would've thought it figures, eh?

Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you're already late
For your job as the town's chief designer of roads
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
When you've just invented the cure for emphysema
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
But, funnily enough, you did need a spoon ten minutes ago
But couldn't find one
So, improvising, performed the task with a knife instead
Which you have now mislaid
It's meeting the man of my dreams
Who's been after me for years
But I'd always turned him down before because I thought I was a lesbian and I was in love with this woman
Who wasn't interested in me
But now I've finally decided that actally I should get together with him cause he is wonderful
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And it's her
Damn
And isn't it ironic
Don't you think
A little too ironic
And yeah I really do think

It's like rayiyai-ain on your wedding day
If you're marrying a famous meteorologist
It's a free ride when you've already paid
For your shiny new car
Which you bought so that you wouldn't have to rely on other people for lifts any more
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Because you knew damn well that the guy giving you the advice hates your guts and was trying to give you bad advice
But it turned out he was wrong
And his advice, though it was meant to screw up your life, was actually, unintentionally on his part, rather good
Who would've thought it figures, eh?

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out
Helping you out


As you can see, Morissette's original lyrics make the various cases of irony clearer, but arguably don't scan as well as the final version. The reputation of the people of an entire continent has therefore been needlessly damaged by the mere rhythmic requirements of the pop music form. A form that was made ubiquitous by the denizens of that very continent, I might add. Ironically.

No, the problem with Ironic is not the lack of irony in its lyrics. It's the fact that it's turgid insipid tripe.

Thursday, November 9

Bush derangement syndrome.

A work acquaintance of mine — a perfectly intelligent and reasonable bloke — said this today:

Did anyone else find that rather worrying this morning, seeing President Bush on the TV saying "I thought it'd be all right. Shows what I know." You're the President, for God's sake! You're supposed to know these things!


For obvious reasons, I've not been keeping up with things of late, so I assumed this was something to do with Iraq. So I asked "What was he talking about?" and got the reply "The mid-term elections." Apparently, the Democrats have taken control of the House and the Senate. Tsk.

So this is interesting. There are all sorts of things the President is supposed to know and can be rightly criticised for not knowing, but the results of elections, in advance? If he had known, that would be grounds to worry. His not knowing — and every other democratic politicians' not knowing — is the right and proper way of things. Obviously.

Can we imagine a perfectly intelligent and reasonable bloke making that criticism of any other politician, ever? Even Reagan didn't get this.

Great spam subject lines of our time.

Spurious banana


Spamming works, so, presumably, somewhere out there, someone was eagerly awaiting an email regarding unnecessary and out-of-place fruit, so opened this. I would like to meet that person and ask them questions about their life.

Monday, October 23

Dancing about architecture.

OK, here's another one.

A quick recap of the rules for those who weren't here last week: I provide a description of a band or other flavour of musician. You then guess who I'm talking about, in the comments. There is no grand prize. Sorry. Budget cuts.

Bored Cockney lass meanders through ancient reggae collection.

Peer pressure.

I reckon that Jackie should blog a controlled-conditions blind-taste-test showdown to the death between Marmite and Vegemite. It'd be like The Ashes series for brown salty condiments. If you agree, go and harness The Raw Power Of The Web by telling her so. We can force her to do our bidding because she is a new media marketing guru so has to do what random people off of the Internet tell her else her career be doomed.

Money.

One of Natalie's correspondents, JEM by name, writes rather sensibly about the Euro:

The euro may have been assembled in a flawed way — I agree — but that is not to say that the idea of a common currency is of itself wrong in principle.

After all, if it's better for each country in Europe to have its own currency, how much better it would be if each county in the United Kingdom had its own currency too... or each town... or each street... or each house... After all, why should the Central Bank of 25 Typical Street hand over control of the 25 Typical Street Groat to the Central Bank of Typical Street and their Typical Street Groat?

... After all, what is money? A national totem? No, it's just a medium of exchange: a tool.


Damn straight.

So here's my cunning Euro policy what I would enact was I in charge.

I would legalise the use of the Euro in the UK but I would maintain the pound. I'd stick a cap on what banks could charge their customers for switching between the two currencies and allowing them to deal in both with minimum effort, and perhaps a cap on the maximum time they could keep money in limbo between currencies when a customer asks them to change it. (In an ideal market, that wouldn't be necessary, but British banks act as a cartel whenever they get half a chance. Unfortunately, they need the occasional legislative kick.) I'd require British businesses to accept either currency — though they'd be allowed to offer incentives if they wanted — 10% off if you pay in Euros; that sort of thing. And that's it.

Those people who hate the Euro wouldn't have to use it. Those who love the Euro could use it as much as they liked. The rest of us — which I reckon would quickly become most of us — could just use whichever was the most sensible at the time. We'd get lots of the economic advantages of having the Euro, with few of the disadvantages (I reckon — I'm not an economist). The public would generate money out of nothing as they'd start to watch interest rates closely and switch currencies whenever profitable. And everyone in the country would get much much better at mental arithmetic. Lord knows the schools aren't teaching it to them.

It's the law.

Here we have an interesting legal conundrum. It would be illegal for me to name a woman who has made a false accusation of rape. However, it is perfectly legal for MPs and Lords to do so in Parliament. Furthermore, should they do so, it is legal for Hansard to quote them. So a certain woman's name is on the Web right here: last Thursday, Lord Campbell-Savours called her "a serial and repeated liar". As well as the damage she has done to her victims' reputations, she has succeeded in getting one man, Warren Blackwell, jailed for three-and-a-half years. Lord Campbell-Savours reckons she should not only be named, but done for perjury, too. Quite right. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, women who do this do untold damage not only to their targets' reputations but also to every genuine rape victim.

Anyway, back to the legalities. The reason for this apparent paradox is helpfully explained over at The Anglo Saxon Chronicle:

Lord Campbell-Savours was able to do this because he is protected from legal action for comments made in the House of Lords by Parliamentary Privilege.

That Privilege is granted to him in law by the provisions of the Bill of Rights 1689, which states: That the freedom of speech, and debates or proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.


That's pretty clear wording.

Mr Chronicles has decided to go for the law with a full frontal approach: he's named the woman, as the Bill of Rights clearly says he is every bit as entitled to do as Lord Campbell-Savours, and is daring the authorities to prosecute him. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Good luck to him.

But I'm going for a slightly different approach: merely demonstrating that the law, even if enforced correctly, is useless on its own terms. I mean, look at this post. I haven't broken the law; I haven't named this bastard of a woman; and yet I have legally linked to Hansard, who have legally published the transcription of Lord Campbell-Savours legally naming her. This is ridiculous.

Friday, October 20

Dancing about architecture.

This might be a new feature, and might just be a one-off. Depends how many I can think of and whether everyone hates it.

I shall provide a snappy, music-journalistesque description of a band or popular beat artiste. You may then, excitingly, use this Web-log's modern commenting facility to guess who the hell I'm talking about. If I'm any good at this, it won't take you long. First person to get it right wins a prize, that prize being the knowledge that they were the first person to get it right.

So, here goes.

Slade team up with Chas and Dave to work on the Bugsy Malone soundtrack.

How to kill fewer patients.

Six days to go till I become a dad. Excellent.

Back in March, I mentioned one of many problems with the NHS:

NHS hospitals are now insisting that no patients be allowed to administer their own medication, and that includes diabetics giving themselves insulin. When a diabetic is admitted to hospital, they are expected to give their insulin to the staff and rely on nurses to check their blood sugar and inject their insulin. This is a Bad Thing.

In our experience, the trouble is not merely that your average nurse or even doctor knows very little about diabetes, but that your average doctor or nurse is so keen on ignoring or overruling their absent colleagues. So, when you're on a hospital ward, the advice of your diabetic specialist consultant who's been treating you for years really carries no more weight than the opinion of the duty nurse who's known you for twenty minutes, because the nurse is there and the consultant isn't. This isn't a huge problem when you're injecting yourself, because you can in turn choose to ignore the idiotic advice of the ignorant nurse and do what your consultant advised you to anyway. But that, apparently, is no longer allowed. The people who don't know what to feed you, how much insulin to give you, or whether to put you on a glucose drip are now solely in charge of feeding you, injecting your insulin, and deciding when to put you on a glucose drip.

It will come as a surprise to no-one with any experience of the NHS to learn that this approach has so far killed two people in Northern Ireland alone.


Vic, my wife, is diabetic, so, as you might imagine, one of the things that has been worrying us both about the impending birth is her being killed, put into a coma, or otherwise badly damaged by a nurse giving her an insulin overdose. It's not as unlikely as you might hope. We've had first-hand experience of exactly the arrogant idiocy I was writing about above. A couple of years ago, she was admitted to hospital the night before a minor operation so that she could be put on a glucose drip — you have to fast before being given a general anaesthetic, but fasting, obviously, is dangerous for diabetics, so they get brought into hospital the previous day so they can be given a glucose drip and have their blood sugars controlled without eating. This is entirely sensible. On being admitted, Vic was faced with a ward nurse who refused to give her the glucose drip on the grounds, when you get down to it, that she thought she knew better than the surgeon, the anaestetist, and the diabetic consultant, and it was her opinion that mattered because she, unlike them, was there. The drip was the only reason Vic was even in hospital — were it not for that requirement, she wouldn't have come in till the following morning. So the nurse in charge refused to give her the only thing she was in hospital to receive. The next morning, unsurprisingly (to us), Vic had a hypoglycaemic attack — ideal preparation for an operation. I'd love to say that this experience was a one-off, but it wasn't. It's the norm.

So the prospects aren't good, even before you take pregnancy into account. Pregnancy, you see, does a couple of things to diabetics: firstly, you need lots of extra insulin to convert sugar into a baby's body; secondly, your insulin resistance increases dramatically — a lot of non-diabetic women, in fact, become temporarily diabetic during pregnancy. Both these things mean that your insulin dose increases — by the end of the pregnancy, by a factor of about three. What this means, for those of you who don't know much about insulin, is that a heavily pregnant diabetic woman is injecting herself four times a day with what would usually be a lethal dose. As soon as she gives birth — within minutes, in fact — the required dose goes back down, not only to what it would be usually, but, as sugar is now being converted into milk instead of stored as fat, even further down that that.

So, you have nurses who know sod all about diabetes and are arrogant enough to overrule the instructions of diabetic consultants and the protests of experienced patients, in charge of giving insulin to a diabetic whose required dosage was about thirty-six units a couple of hours ago but who would now be killed stone dead if injected with even twenty units, whose ideal dosage is far lower than anything that has ever been recorded in her medical records, and who, on a drip and having just given birth, is in no condition to resist being given the medication. Really, it's amazing only two people have been killed.

So it was a great relief to us when, earlier this week, Vic's diabetic consultant told us that he has "an arrangement" with the nurses and midwives at our hospital whereby his patients are allowed to medicate themselves. He says they're all under strict instructions to allow his patients to inject their own insulin and to bow to their expertise over what dosage they should be taking. If there's any argument, we're to tell the nurses to call him, and he'll tell them that the ideal dose is whatever Vic says it is. Which is great.

For his patients.

For this is sheer luck. If we had a different postcode, Vic would have a different diabetic consultant, who might not have decided to overrule NHS policy and whose patients would therefore have to run the gauntlet whenever they went to hospital. If we move house, even if our new location is perfectly convenient for visiting the same consultant, the NHS might still insist that Vic be assigned to a different clinic, and there'd be sod all she could do about it. They did actually try to change her consultant a year or so ago, due to a bureaucratic reorganisation, but luckily that one was semi-optional — "semi" because they don't tell you it's optional unless you protest, as Vic did, thank God. This is how the NHS works: thanks to her address, Vic's chances of surviving next week are slightly higher, and her chances of not being a victim of negligence or malpractice are much higher. All the diabetics in our area who simply accepted that reorganisation when they were told about it — that's probably most of them — do not have that advantage.

I did rather get the impression that the two deaths are something of which the consultant is well aware, though he didn't mention them. He did tell us what the reaction used to be when his patients attempted to refuse to take the insane dose of insulin that a nurse was trying to give them: the nurses would call for a houseman to come and harass and bully the patient into taking the dose. The attitude was that patients who refused to take their medication were bad, and needed to be told off; patients who asked nurses to double-check with diabetes specialists were just being difficult.

Think about that. I don't know the details of those two deaths, or of the other deaths in other parts of the UK brought about by the same NHS policy. Maybe the patients were asleep, or senile, or delirious, or otherwise unaware. Or maybe they knew that the dose they were about to be given would kill them, and so kicked up a stink, and appealed for a diabetes specialist to give a second opinion, and did all they could to stop it happening, and were calmly and professionally overruled and sedated so that the nurses could get on with their job.

Like I said, knowing that we will not be subject to standard NHS policy on this issue is a great relief.

Thursday, October 19

Quite a long time.

A friend of ours today received the results of a medical test they had done four years ago.

Tuesday, October 17

Bastard.

I stand by all my previous comments about that bastard David Blunkett. Because I was right:

David was certainly furious. He was also hysterical. He directed me, without delay, to order staff back into the prison. I told him that we did not, at that time, have enough staff in the prison to contemplate such a move but that many more staff were on their way from other prisons. I insisted, however, that although I was determined to take the prison back as quickly as possible, I could not, and would not, risk staff or prisoner lives in attempting to do so. He shrieked at me that he didn’t care about lives, told me to call in the Army and “machine-gun” the prisoners. He then ordered me to take the prison back immediately. I refused. David hung up.


I'm one of those people who believes that prisoners have fewer rights than the rest of us and should not be mollycoddled; prison shouldn't be all that nice a place to be. I don't, however, think that Home Secretaries should be allowed to gun them down. Call me picky.

Wow.

It is distinctly possible that this is the best blog post ever.

A rather difficult personal issue in 1985/6 saw me disappear into the underbelly of Glasgow, emerge driving a minicab at night in Peckham, S.E. London, then reappear, with a surprising number of extremely colourful acquaintances, working for a spy equipment shop in Mayfair. I left and set up my own "security" business in the Borough, just south of London Bridge, in partnership with an ex-armed robber called Tom.

You can probably picture the next couple of years: bug sweeps, body armour, unofficial meetings with the Foreign Office, ex-SAS soldiers, hidden video cameras... and there were less predictable things ...

 

The real problem with Americans.

As you might have noticed, there's always a lot of talk about what stupid insufferable imperialist uncultured arrogant fat violent ignorant parochial bastards the Americans are, and I disagree with it for two reasons: firstly, because it's not particularly true (apart from the fat thing, but, as I've said before, the food over there's just so fantastic that anyone who lives in America without getting fat is, frankly, stupid); and, secondly and far more importantly, because it distracts from the real problem. For yes, there is a real problem, and no amount of arrogantly and stupidly invading countries like Iraq and Germany and Japan for no reason at all while eating hot-dogs could ever come close to the sheer awfulness of what that bloody nation insists on inflicting on us.

Americans think Chevy Chase is funny.

Just think what a great film Spies Like Us would be had they cast anyone else in his role. Anyone at all. Ava Gardner would have been an improvement.

As if that weren't bad enough, it turns out that Americans love that Chevy Chase thing, whatever it's supposed to be, so much that they just can't do without it. And his recent and blessed lack of film appearances has therefore created, rather than a gigantic sigh of relief, a gap in the market.

Step forward, Will Ferrell. Great.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how good Wedding Crashers was. It was excellent, in fact. I was really enjoying it till Will Ferrell entered and, even with just a tiny cameo role, proceeded to shit all over the film. Like Chevy Chase, not only is he not even slightly amusing at his best, not only does he nevertheless inexplicably exude the smug certainty that he is the funniest thing alive, but he also has no ability to appear even vaguely realistic. It is impossible to maintain any suspension of disbelief while watching a gurning twonk who might as well have the words "Look at me! I'm in a film! Acting!" emblazoned on a large puce hat.

I have a request. I do not wish Chevy Chase dead — that would certainly be unreasonable — but the fact remains that, one day, contrary to the impression given by the look on his face, he will die. Chevy, when you go, could you take Will with you? Cheers.

Keeping up.

Jon provides plenty of ranting about this ridiculous story, so I don't have to. I'm just going, as is my wont, to pick up on one little detail:

But they say her comments afterwards raised further concerns, for example allegedly referring to the students as "blacks" — something she denied yesterday.


I think I've mentioned before that, when I was at school in South London in the Eighties, it was considered borderline offensive to describe black people as "black" and polite to describe them as "coloured". Forward to the Macpherson Report, and one of the damning pieces of evidence of the police's institutional racism is the fact that many of their officers described black people using the offensive term "coloured" instead of the polite "black". If I could bear to spend more than about ten minutes in London, I could find myself being condemned as racist as a result of trying to use non-racist terminology. Which would be annoying. But now it looks like it's changed again. That a girl used the word "black" is now considered by some as an excuse to arrest her, and the suggestion that she did so is considered such a serious allegation that she feels it worth bothering to deny it.

Personally, I'm not superstitious about language, and don't care which words people use as long as they don't say "wacky" or "zany", but I'm perfectly willing to accommodate people who are deeply offended by certain words: I don't say "fuck" within earshot of my grandma, and I won't say "nigger" around black people. What I'm not willing to do is to waste my time reading press releases from victim groups so that I can keep up to date with which words I'm allowed to use this year and which I'm not. Make up your minds, please.

There is a good reason.

I and others argued for bloody ages here about scientific consensus, but none of us managed to make this beautifully succinct point:

The consensus convinces because there is no good reason to suppose that so many eminent scientists are lying or deceiving themselves when they say climate change is happening. But if you give me cause to believe that departure from the consensus gets a person ostracised, then there is a good reason.


Thank you, Natalie.

Thursday, October 12

Got my vote.

There is only one good thing about this story, and it is this:

Tory MP Philip Davies said of the attack: "This is outrageous.

"If there's anybody who should f*** off it's the Muslims who are doing this kind of thing. Police should pull out the stops to track down these vile thugs."


I do believe that this is the first time I've seen an MP use the phrase "fuck off" in an official statement. And a Tory, too. My, my.

Numerology.

I wasn't blogging back in 2001, so didn't get an opportunity to rant as publicly as I can now about the crappy numerology emails that started circulating on the 12th of September. "Oo, look! If you add the flight number of the first plane to the fuel capacity of the second one, then convert the name of the destination of the third plane into numbers using this arbitrary calculation, then square it, then take away my birthday, then round up to the nearest 911, YOU GET 911!! COINCIDENCE??!!? I think NOT!!!!!!" I did point out to one of my more superstitious colleagues (who had forwarded such an email to us all) that, if the date had any significance to the perpetrators, it was slightly more likely to be the Siege of Vienna, and that the planes might well have been picked for their large fuel capacities and hence explosive power rather than the mystical significance of their flight numbers — especially when numerology has its roots in a Hebrew tradition, not something Muslims are notorious for their reverence to. She was very upset and shouted at me about how I always have to be right about everything and since when was I such an expert that I could claim to know more about this than whoever the fuck it was who'd originally written the email that Simon in Accounts had forwarded to her? I agreed that yes, some random numerologist with an email account, a font fetish, and a gippy caps lock key probably did have more insight into the event than the combined ranks of the FBI, CIA, and FAA. (Hey, it seemed like a good bit of sarcasm at the time. It was early days. How was I to know I was right?)

Forward to today, and... oh, for crying out loud.

Since when is five years and one month a special, significant, momentous anniversary? Anyone celebrate their five-years-and-a-month wedding anniversary? Anyone mourn the five-years-and-a-month anniversary of the death of a loved one? Anyone remember their five-years-and-a-month birthday party? Anyone?

The incident occurred exactly five years and one month after terrorists flew two planes into New York's World Trade Center, bringing down its landmark twin towers.


In other words, the incident occurred on the eleventh. Of a month. So fucking what? Is every minor disaster that occurs on the eleventh of some month or other going to be given this stupid coverage from now on?

Yes, of course people were reminded of 9/11 because a plane hit a building in New York. That's a genuine parallel worth reporting on, obviously. Had it occurred on the eleventh of September, again, it'd be stupid not to mention it, even if it were mere coincidence. But the eleventh of any other month is not worth mentioning. We have eleven of them every year, and stuff happens on those days. Get over it.

And what's so special about a month, anyway? Are months really more significant than weeks? What if this had happened on, say, the 18th of September? Would it have been reported as "exactly five years and one week after terrorists flew two planes into New York's World Trade Center, bringing down its landmark twin towers"? Probably, sadly, yes.

So, to recap, any disaster that could possibly look a bit like a terrorist attack and occurs on the eleventh or twenty-fifth of any month, the first or eighth of January, February, April, June, August, September, or November, the second or ninth of May, July, October, or December, or the fourth or (in a leap year) the third of March, is likely to be reported as some sort of significant anniversary of 9/11, and therefore scarier than if it had happened on the dull old nineteenth of June.

All because of an attack by people who use a different calendar.

Monday, October 9

16 Blocks.

I don't tend to go to the cinema these days — films are released so quickly on DVD now, and I see no reason to fork out a handful of money just to listen to other people cough into their mobile phones. So film reviews on this blog are likely to appear a few months after the film was actually in the cinema. Sorry about that, but hey.

So anyway. The Gauntlet is a seriously good film — strangely little known for one of the great Eastwood films. So I was interested to hear that a remake was underway. And then I heard the big idea behind it: instead of having to get a witness safely across a couple of states while the mob and the entire police department try to kill them both, the hero was only going to have to go sixteen blocks. That seemed to me like a very nice idea: concentrate and intensify the action. Bruce Willis playing the Eastwood role — another good idea. This film was elbowing its way to the top of my must-see list. And then I discovered that Richard Donner was directing. Hmm.

It's not that Richard Donner's a bad director. He's made some very good films. But he's made some dodgy films, too. And, even in his good films, he has this penchant for conveying action and excitement by getting the whole cast to shout at each other at once. It kind of works in the Lethal Weapon films, but combine it with high-pitched voices — as in The Goonies — and you get a noise that never fails to induce a migraine. And the Lethal Weapon films, though great fun, are kind of frivolous — not a tone that suits The Gauntlet. He likes a bit of silliness, a bit of slapstick. On the other hand, he's great at conveying camaraderie, making actors really seem like they're the best of friends, and he prefers a good honest explosion and a squad of stuntmen to CGI any day. So he might have been right for this film. And might have been quite disastrously wrong.

So I bought it. And it was a great relief and pleasant surprise to me to discover that 16 Blocks is by far the greatest film of Richard Donner's career.

I just cannot fault this. Willis gives an astounding performance as the washed-up alcoholic cop: looking totally hungover most of the time, then occasionally flashing into bright-eyed alertness, like his younger self is fighting to get out. David Morse is as good as ever, if not better, completely underplaying his character's menace to seem like a genuinely reasonable guy. Mos Def, who up till now I'd only known as a rapper, is excellent too. The script is superb: it takes the essence of the original and retells the story on its own terms, coming up with new motivations for the characters, a different back story, and a better ending — the weak ending being the only real problem with The Gauntlet. And the direction is perfect: the photography's beautiful, the pacing and tension are just right, and Donner hasn't asked his actors to conduct half their conversations shouting over gunfire — in fact, everyone's very quiet most of the time. I cannot think of any way in which this film could be any better.

Donner could, though. The DVD includes the alternative ending that they shot but didn't use, providing an object lesson in how people capable of true excellence are often incapable of quality control. Donner and Richard Wenk, the screenwriter, introduce it by explaining that the ending in the film is what was in the script, but that, while shooting, they saw an opportunity to improve the ending, offering, they say, more empathy. Empathy? The alternative ending, in the space of a few seconds, turns Morse's character from a thoroughly believable bad guy into a silly plot-driven caricature, turns the ending from a beautiful bit of understated realism into an over-the-top cartoon, and is not even as well shot. Looks like it took some disgruntled preview audiences or pushy producers to tell these guys to stick with the work of genius and ditch the poorly-thought-out hackery. Funny old world.

In short, watch this film. If you didn't already, six months ago.

Proper science.

Back in June, I expressed a certain amount of cynicism towards the results claimed by scientists who rely excessively on computer models. Despite my saying up front that I wasn't especially picking on climatologists, there was still a bit of an indignant kerfuffle in the comments courtesy of a reader who believed that any even tangential criticism of the humans-are-boiling-the-planet-to-death theory — even just a criticism of the methods that some of its exponents use to reach some of their conclusions — is an ignorant attack on the science of climatology and, indeed, on the whole of science itself.

So it's nice to see this example of climatologists using some seriously impressive science to get some proper results:

A team at the Danish National Space Center has discovered how cosmic rays from exploding stars can help to make clouds in the atmosphere. The results support the theory that cosmic rays influence Earth's climate.

....

The experiment called SKY (Danish for "cloud") took place in a large reaction chamber which contained a mixture of gases at realistic concentrations to imitate the chemistry of the lower atmosphere.

Ultraviolet lamps mimicked the action of the Sun's rays. During experimental runs, instruments traced the chemical action of the penetrating cosmic rays in the reaction chamber.

The data revealed that electrons released by cosmic rays act as catalysts, which significantly accelerate the formation of stable, ultra-small clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules which are building blocks for the cloud condensation nuclei. A vast numbers of such microscopic droplets appeared, floating in the air in the reaction chamber.

"We were amazed by the speed and efficiency with which the electrons do their work of creating the building blocks for the cloud condensation nuclei," says team leader Henrik Svensmark, who is Director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research within the Danish National Space Center. "This is a completely new result within climate science."


Now, this result is going to get jumped all over by some very enthusiastic people who think that global warming is complete bollocks but know very little about science. I'm not one of them. This is a very new result, and it would therefore be foolish to go drawing too many conclusions from it. For all we know, for various reasons that no-one has even thought of investigating yet, this makes it even more likely that man is catastrophically heating the Earth and needs drastic action to save future generations. (For the record, my main disagreement with the global-warming crowd is over what that drastic action, if it prove necessary, should be.)

No, I'm drawing attention to this news for two reasons.

Firstly, we now know for a fact that every single climate model ever developed, from the basic ones to the very best of the best, omitted a major and significant piece of information about what shapes our climate. It was omitted simply because no-one knew it. It would be very surprising indeed if more scientific discoveries about what affects our climate aren't made in the next century. That doesn't mean that there is no point in using computer models in science — they are very useful indeed. But it does remind us of how rash it is to make a prediction of the future based on a model of a system that we do not fully understand. This isn't a criticism just of the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming, either: all those climate models that showed that the Earth was cooling down, that it was staying the same temperature, that it was warming up but not because of man... all those models are now every bit as obsolete as the ones which blamed America for plunging us all into a fiery death, or something.

Secondly, this is a great example of a proper climatology experiment. What's happened here is that a group of scientists have discovered what happens when the gases of the lower atmosphere interact with ultraviolet light and electrons, and they can be confident that they're right because the way they did it was to take the gases of the lower atmosphere, some ultraviolet light, some electrons, and mix them all up and watch to see what happened. And here's a thing: we know enough about electrons to model them accurately, we know enough about the various gases in the atmosphere to model them accurately, and we know enough about light to model it accurately, yet no-one got this result from a mathematical model. In fact, if this result had come from a model, it would still be regarded, quite rightly, as a hypothesis, albeit one with a little more evidence in its favour; it is only once the result has actually been replicated in reality — as it has — that it attains the exalted status of fact.

Over the years, climatologists have often used similarly robust methods to develop the theories behind global warming — how do you think we know that carbon dioxide contributes to the Greenhouse Effect? — and those theories are generally solid and sound. At other times, climatologists have used computer models to make predictions about what will happen a hundred or more years in the future. There is a reason why some of us place a lot more trust in the former and cynicism in the latter, and that reason, thank you very much, is not ignorance of climatology, ignorance of computer modelling, or ignorance of science itself. On the contrary, it is scientific ignorance that leads the general public to give both types of result the same weight.

Tuesday, October 3

Improvisatorily coinificating.

Speaking to someone yesterday, they three times used a word which I suspect is entirely of their own devising: "updation", meaning "update".

Nice one, I think. I like the idea of "I'm going on a blind dation."

Saturday, September 30

Excellence in memery.

In response to my tagging her, the enigmatic Ms Wilberforce-Packard has tagged me right back:

Joseph Kynaston Snodgrass Tungsten Reeves tagged me for a meme while I wasn’t paying attention. I intend to supply my responses soonish – but in the meantime, I’ve created a meme for him. No one else is allowed to answer these questions. This is a one-man meme.

Private Meme for Squander Two Only NO ONE ELSE IS TAGGED AND HE CAN’T TAG ANYONE EITHER! HANDS OFF!

1. What is your favorite shade of yellow? You can’t say mustard – that one’s taken.


The yellow stripes on a bumblebee are quite fetching.

2. If you were a pregnant woman, which would you rather give birth to: a healthy baby stoat who wishes to study carpentry and will leave you without stretch marks, or a large human baby with rabies and a peg leg? Note: the human baby can also solve crimes.


Got to be the stoat. I love all weasel-like creatures. I'd prefer a pine marten, though. Human babies are pretty cool, but less so when rabid. At least when a stoat attacks you, it's kind of cute. Also, you can keep stoats in your pockets legally. And solving crimes is pointless: this is Britain.

3. Do you use a sawing motion when you floss your teeth? Because you’re not supposed to use a sawing motion.


I use a saw.

4. If you had a 4-ft possum tail and you had to conceal it for an important business meeting, would you tape it to your back, or against your leg? You might also consider wrapping it around your abdomen, I suppose.


I would never dream of concealing such a wonderful thing. I'd love to have a tail, especially a prehensile one. In fact, all humans should have tails. What were our idiot ancestors thinking of, evolving?

5. If you were a 200-meter tall man, where would you sit?


Wherever the hell I liked, I should think.

6. Who would you like to have drowned in chocolate? Who would you like to have drowned in borscht?


This is weird. I can think of plenty of people to have drowned in water, but change the drowning medium and the question becomes inexplicably impossible to answer. Were David Blunkett drowning in the sea, I'd have no hesitation in being too busy rescuing his dog to help him, but were he standing dangerously close to the edge of a vat of chocolate, could I bring myself to push him in? I think not, and have no idea why. I would hit him with a salami, though.

7. It turns out that Jerry Garcia is still alive and would like to hit the road again. Would you rather follow the Grateful Dead, or have the Grateful Dead follow you? You must choose one or the other. Please stop screaming.


I'd have them follow me. Just imagine: the Grateful Dead commute to an industrial estate just outside Belfast to program computers for eight hours every day; the Grateful Dead go to Homebase to buy some MDF and a potted plant; the Grateful Dead pop into my kitchen to fix a slice of bread and butter and Vegemite. That is entertainment.

Keep music live.

A common feature of the modern office is the ringtone. At random moments throughout the day, the air is filled with intros. Sometimes it's the intro of a shite song, which is annoying, and sometimes it's the intro of a dead good song, in which case having it cut off after ten seconds is annoying. And sometimes, of course, it's some bloody bleeping monophonic doorbell version — the less said about them, the better.

Since the principle of loud music in the office seems to have been established and accepted, I have an idea. Why not employ an actual guitarist in your office? All the staff hand their phones over to him or her every morning, and the phones get put on silent. The guitarist then spends the day watching the phones. When one rings, he plays the tune for that phone. And you could make requests: "If my mother-in-law calls, could you play Smoke On The Water?" "If my bank ring, could you play Flight Of The Bumblebee extra-fast?" If a song's particularly popular, everyone could request that he continue playing after the relevant person has finished their phone call.

You know, on second thoughts, this would be so much better with a lounge pianist.

The wrong way.

So you use a public toilet. And, being a clean sort of a person, you wash your hands. You then leave. But the doors of publlic toilets always open inwards. If they opened outwards, you could just shoulder them open, but no: the only way out is to use your freshly cleaned hand to grasp and pull the door-handle — a handle that, you just know, was recently grasped by some dirty bastard whose hands haven't been washed in a hundred years, and who probably works on a pig farm. Or in insurance.

I can't be the only person bothered by this.

Friday, September 29

Perverse incentives.

Surely there comes a point when the unintended consequences are so bloody obviously inevitable that one must question whether they're really unintended. (Natalie the Wise is having similar thoughts.)

So here's a fab new wheeze from our lords & masters:

SERIOUS crimes such as assaulting a police officer and mugging will be punished by instant fines of up to £100 from next year under plans to keep hundreds of thousands of offenders out of court.

Proposals drawn up by the Home Office, and seen by The Times, envisage a huge extension of fixed-penalty notices from early 2007. They would apply to nearly 30 offences, including assault, threatening behaviour, all types of theft up to a value of £100, obstructing or assaulting a police officer, possession of cannabis, and drunkenness.


In other words, we're continuing to see the move from a system in which people are presumed innocent and can only be convicted through a trial to one in which the police can punish you without having to bother with any of that legalistic time-wasting.

Unlike conditional cautions, the fixed-penalty notices do not require the offender to admit guilt, and the penalty is not a criminal conviction.


Since the fixed-penalty notice involves a punishment, what's so great about its not constituting a criminal conviction? Why not extend this principle to fixed-penalty jail time? The police lock you up for a week, but don't worry; it doesn't go on your record.

Quoth Tim:

Have these people no clue? Assaulting a police officer? 100 quid? Should be five years minimum! Violence directed at the police should be severely punished simply to discourage anyone else thinking of doing the same thing. That's the only possible method of retaining (as I desperately hope we shall) the tradition of largely unarmed police.

Let's go one better shall we? Let's make assaulting a politician cost 100 pounds.

I've got my money right here and if it's John Reid we catch I'll lend you yours.


But this legislation also has a down-side. What if you steal more than a hundred quid? Mug someone to the tune of two hundred quid and a walletful of credit cards, give one hundred quid to a policeman, and be on your way with a tidy net profit. I believe a similar scheme has been tried before, in Chicago in the 1920s. The difference is that the US Government took measures to stop it, on the grounds that it was "corruption". Our Government are establishing, formalising, and legalising it, on the grounds that it will "speed up justice".

Do we really want a system where criminals can avoid arrest and a criminal record by handing over cash to police officers? None of our leaders foreseeing any problems with that? Anyone?

Oh, all right, then.

Thursday, September 28

Temperamentalism.

My car — a Golf Mark 2 — is a bit temperamental. Well, it is old. For the first five minutes or so of driving it, before the engine warms up, it just doesn't like being driven. It judders a bit, prefers not to go uphill, and floods the engine in protest if you try any gear above second. Then the engine warms up and it turns into the proper little racing demon that all old Golfs are at heart.

For those first few minutes — especially if it's been raining — a bit of cleverness can be required by the driver. The engine tends to idle too low, which can necessitate revving when stationary — or even revving in neutral while the car's moving — to stop it stalling. Up till a couple of days ago, this was rather annoying because it presented the danger that passers-by might think I was a boy racer. But, now, things are much worse. Now, I have to look out for Muslims.

Because revving your car's engine within earshot of a Muslim is now a criminal offense.

Tuesday, September 26

Irishness.

In much of Britain, the word "Irish" is commonly used to mean "wrong, odd, strange, skewiff, weird, shoddy, incompetent". If a shed has been built in such a way that it may fall down at any moment, it's a bit Irish. If a car has one wheel slightly larger than the others, it's a bit Irish. If a shop has some weird convoluted refund process that makes no sense whatsoever but doesn't annoy you too much, it's a bit Irish (not to be confused with "Swedish", which is far more annoying and caused by vindictiveness rather than incompetence). Some people might say that it's unfair that this ridiculous prejudice that the Irish are all stupid or permanently drunk or both has entrenched itself in our language. Those people, I put it to you, have never tried to drive through Ireland.

Twice in the last couple of weeks, I've had to drive to Dublin. And I'd like to make a suggestion to the Irish authorities. Have you ever considered using road-signs as indicators of where places are?

We're all familiar with the "Services" sign on a motorway. It doesn't even need to say "Services" these days, having helpful little icons of petrol pumps, knives & forks, toilets, beds, brothels, etc. It's the same across Europe: you approach a motorway exit, there's a sign with a picture of a petrol pump on it, and that means that, if you exit the motorway at this point, you will find a petrol station. And the reason you'll find it, mundanely, is because it's there. Unless you're in Ireland, in which case, replace the word "mundanely" with "astoundingly". Because it'll never happen.

Driving down an Irish motorway, you see a sign with pictures of a petrol pump and knife & fork on it, and an arrow pointing off the next exit. Being both low on petrol and peckish, you drive off that exit and immediately find yourself at a roundabout with one sign to Ballymiddle, another to Ballyonowhere, another road with no sign at all, and no indication of anything petrol-related. A sign says that Ballymiddle is three kilometres away; Ballyonowhere is, presumably, also some distance away, but who could say what that distance might be? You drive around for a bit, and find some trees and a cottage and maybe even wild blackberries — perhaps they're what the knife & fork were referring to. Then you give up and go back to the motorway, heading for the next "Services" sign and the same pallaver all over again, only this time you also find a horse. Eventually, your petrol runs out and you are forced to abandon your car, find the nearest pub, throw away your shoes, and drink Guinness for twenty years.

For, you see, when the Irish put a picture of a petrol pump on a sign, what they mean is "There's a petrol station somewhere round here, possibly in one of the villages within a five-mile radius; possibly on the way to one of them; maybe behind that hill. It might even be open. And have petrol. Sure, you know the place, anyway, so you do. You know, Mick's Petrol Station. You know, Mick with the leg." As far as they're concerned, being told to leave the motorway is all the direction you need; after that, you can find the petrol using your sense of smell and by asking sheep for help.

I actually managed to find one of these petrol stations on the way back to Belfast. I was dead pleased with my achievement until I discovered that it was in fact a devious new twist on the theme: you can find the place (just), but you can never leave. Every time I followed the signs back to the motorway, they brought me back to the petrol station. It took me (I kid you not) fifteen minutes before I eventually figured out the knack: to get back on the motorway to Belfast, on no account follow signs that say "Motorway" or "Belfast" — in fact, going in the opposite direction to that indicated by such signs is a good idea. But of course.

Petrol is cheaper in the Republic, so I know people who drive down South to fill their cars up. How?

A drop in standards.

I notice that my last two posts have been on the subject of dogs' anuses. I find myself torn between saying that, well, it's more interesting than the Blair/Brown nonsense dominating our news and saying that, actually, it's much the same thing.

Monday, September 25

The ideal Saturday morning.

Turns out that Monty's little occurrence last week was a mere hors-d'oevre of the extravagant smorgasbord to come. When we got home on Friday afternoon, there was no part of the kitchen floor that he hadn't covered in vomit. I say vomit: we thought it was diarrhoea at first. You know someone's ill when you can't tell the difference. But, once I was down on my knees picking it all up, it became apparent that there was just enough of a difference for us to notice the change when, on Saturday morning, there was no part of the kitchen floor that he hadn't covered in diarrhoea.

The key difference between vomit and shit, I find, is that, although shit, especially dog-flavoured, smells quite a lot worse, the smell stays with the shit: remove the shit, and goodbye smell. The smell of vomit has a life of its own, dominating a room long after the vomit has gone. I'm sure you're glad I shared that with you. Be thankful we don't yet have scratch-and-sniff monitors.

Monty's still in hospital, poor lad, getting probed and tested. He seems to love it at the vet's, but then he is rather fond of attention and people and other dogs, so it's kind of a paradise for him. Mind you, he may change his mind after discovering endoscopy.

Sunday, September 17

Spoiling the ambience.

So it's Sunday. I get out of bed before midday for once in my life, feed the dogs, fry myself some eggs and bacon and potato scones, and drink some orange juice. Then I do some more frying for my beautiful wife when she comes downstairs shortly afterwards. And we sit and have a chat. It's a beautiful sunny day.

Then the bloody dog carefully and deliberately wipes his arse on the side of the sofa.

Friday, September 15

Tagged.

Jackie has asked me to answer this here list of questions. In general, I find these meme things a bit too chain-letterish for my taste, but I make an exception for ones about books. Books are great (aren't they, mate? — Yeah, mate, they're like films in book form), and I'm more than happy to have an excuse to blather on about them.

(As an aside, has the time between the word "meme" being coined and its having its meaning changed through popular misuse set some sort of speed record?)

1. A book that changed your life.
Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson, an epic comic novel about anthropology, quantum mechanics, politics, psychology, crime, drugs, and sex. Read it when I was about eighteen, I think, and have never thought about the world in the same way since — it is no exaggeration to say that it was a revelation to me. Did a huge amount to shape my understanding of and approach to humanity. But the great thing about it is that you can ignore all the philosophical nonsense and merely enjoy one of the funniest and most bizarre novels ever written — I once lent it to a friend who said that she didn't understand a word of it yet couldn't put it down. And it's not really a trilogy. Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty appear to have based their entire careers on this book, by the way.

2. A book you’ve read more than once.
I actually read most books more than once, unless they're shite. Only very bad writers create books that don't reward repeated reading. I'm talking about novels here, of course, because I tend not to read non-fiction. Picking just one: Spares by Michael Marshall Smith, a book about love, grief, and redemption. With lots of big guns. In a shopping mall full of psychos. Gets better every time I read it.

3. A book you’d want on a desert island.
Some sort of survival handbook? Or, if I were there by choice, with luxurious amenities, Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy or The Annotated Alice — a copy of which my grandfather died clutching.

4. A book that made you giddy.
Giddy? I suspect this may be a girl thing. The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills is pretty amazing. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who's not read it, but the very end is completely disorientating: it's so much more than a mere twist. More literally, Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks probably does the best job mere writing can do of inducing vertigo.

5. A book you wish had been written.
My dad should pull his bloody finger out and write his memoirs, including what he knows of his bizarre ancestors (the film The Piano is suspiciously similar to the tale of one of his great-aunts, or possibly great-great-aunts, his grandfather was a professional card sharp in the Australian Outback, and he is also related to Wild Humphrey Kynaston, the Robber Troglodyte). Also, I am currently working on a novel, and I wish that were finished. It's taking me years.

6. A book that wracked you with sobs.
Again, call me a man insufficiently in touch with his deepest emotions, but being wracked with sobs ain't quite my bag. In the worst moments of my life, I prefer to go for more of a nervous-breakdown kind of approach, with severe stammering and bowel problems. Books don't do that to me, thank God. But The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, Small Gods, and Spares induced me to cry, quietly, in places. Actually, come to think of it, Triggerfish Twist wracked me with sobs, but that was laughter.

7. A book you wish had never been written.
A Clockwork Orange. Many books are very, very bad, but few come close to this. No, it's not an exciting experiment with language: it's just unreadable bollocks. More to the point, if you can bring yourself to wade through the awful and irritating prose, you discover a shallow, trite, obvious, unoriginal, and uninteresting story about characters that somehow manage to be both one-dimensional and thoroughly unsympathetic. And then there's the moral at the end, laid on with trowels by a squad of blind builders working on commission. Even Stanley Kubrick, a man who loved the book so much he filmed it, still found the final chapter too awful to include. Even all that would be forgivable if the damn thing would just keep itself to itself — why should I care that a bad book has been written? It's not like I was forced to read it. But no: coke-addled halfwits corner you at parties and tell you how amazing it is, at great length. Feh.

8. A book you are currently reading.
Feersum Endjinn, for, I think, the third time; maybe the fourth. Utter, utter genius. Also, Anthony bloody Burgess take note: this is what an interesting experiment with language looks like.

9. A book you’ve been meaning to read.
All the Aubrey-Maturin books that I've not yet read. That's about half of them.

10. Tag 10.
Ten? Blimey. I don't have that many friends. And most of my blogging friends are the sort of people who get royally pissed off by these things. Apart from Jackie, who, obviously, has already done it. So, anyone who's reading and feels like being tagged, consider yourself so, and let us know in the comments, please. The two people to whom I will boldly throw down this gauntlet are Ms Wilberforce-Packard, because the results were so brilliant last time, and Natalie the Wise, because she hasn't blogged in weeks and needs a bit of a nudge. I'm going cold turkey here.

This is the perfect opportunity to mention that Tim has just done a slightly different version that's currently doing the rounds — with hilarious consequences!

Wednesday, September 13

The Guardian is staffed entirely by foul-smelling, facially deficient, self-soiling toads.

Actually, I'm sure many of them are perfectly nice and even house-trained, but the revelation that they're reading this blog presented an opportunity that simply could not go unmissed. Call me childish.

That could be true about the smell, though. I have no idea. I don't make a habit of sniffing journalists. Not after last time.

What the?

OK, I'm not usually one for checking my hit stats (really, who cares?), but I had a look at them today for the first time in months and it turns out that this little blog has had two recent referrals from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Tuesday, September 12

Reflections.

DumbJon:

If I'd been asked on that day why I thought America was attacked, I'd have said that it was US support for a Jewish supremacist state insistant on maintaining virtual colonies in the Occupied Territories. I suspect I'm not the only one who's learnt a lot these last few years.


James Lileks:

If 9/11 had really changed us, there’d be a 150-story building on the site of the World Trade Center today. It would have a classical memorial in the plaza with allegorical figures representing Sorrow and Resolve, and a fountain watched over by stern stone eagles. Instead there’s a pit, and arguments over the usual muted dolorous abstraction approved by the National Association of Grief Counselors. The Empire State Building took 18 months to build. During the Depression. We could do that again, but we don’t. And we don’t seem interested in asking why.


Mark Steyn:

Five years on, half America has retreated to the laziest old tropes, filtering the new struggle through the most drearily cobwebbed prisms: All dramatic national events are JFK-type conspiracies, all wars are Vietnam quagmires. Meanwhile, Ramzi Yousef's successors make their ambitions as plain as he did: They want to acquire nuclear technology in order to kill even more of us. And, given that free societies tend naturally toward a Katrina mentality of doing nothing until it happens, one morning we will wake up to another day like the "day that changed everything."

 

Monday, September 11

Farewell, freedom.

It's getting rather pointless, cataloguing the myriad little ways in which the current government are destroying this country — and I should add here that I am not one of those idiots who believe that this wouldn't be happening if the Tories were in government — but here we go again anyway.

Ann Ming is rather pleased with herself. Her daughter was killed back in 1989 and her killer has just today, finally, been convicted. One might think that she has every right to be pleased with herself. Who wouldn't be? Trouble is, the killer, Billy Dunlop, was acquitted, so the reason Ann Ming is so bloody pleased with herself is that her long campaign to overturn the double jeopardy rule — one of the oldest guarantees in the world of the citizen's freedom from persecution by the state — has succeeded.

There's really no doubt that Dunlop is guilty, and he's helpfully pled guilty this time around. But that, right there, is the problem. It's always easy to smear a bit of shit on the big picture when the little picture's so pretty. But think a bit about the world as you know it. Do the police ever pursue the innocent? Do they persist in trying to prosecute them, sometimes harassing them for months or even years? Do the police and the CPS and the Home Office regard certain people as guilty as hell even after not-guilty verdicts?

Here's Lord Goldsmith:

The Criminal Justice Act of 2003 brought about a significant and welcome change in our criminal justice system, by giving the Court of Appeal the power to quash an acquittal and order a retrial for a serious offence when there is new and compelling evidence relevant to the guilt of the acquitted person.

It is in the interests of justice, and of the public, for such retrials to take place. As this verdict shows, if acquitted of a serious crime, offenders will no longer be able to escape responsibility for their act should new and compelling evidence come to light.


This is something that Americans understand and the British, as a rule, don't. The point of the criminal justice system is not merely to find guilty people guilty. It is to protect innocent people from the state. Lord Goldsmith is right: if acquitted of a serious crime, offenders will no longer be able to escape. What he omits to mention is that, if acquitted of a serious crime, no-one will be able to escape. If the police decide that a totally innocent person simply must be guilty — and we all know it happens — no longer will an eventual verdict of "Not guilty" signal the end of that person's ordeal. No, as of now, they can spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder as the police try again, and again, and again.

But what, you might be asking, about this "new and compelling evidence" rule? Well, as far as I can see, this gives the police an incentive to suppress at least one piece of evidence per case. As long as there's one thing that they don't bring out in court, they can always turn it in after their case collapses, and try again.

Mrs Ming is reported to have said that she is glad not only to have brought her daughter's killer to justice but also to have left a lasting legacy. Indeed she has, the selfish bloody idiot.

The day not enough changed.

For some people, anti-Americanism trumps all other considerations.

On this day five years ago, some of my friends made themselves my enemies, because I didn't think that America had it coming.

I don't miss them.

Monday, September 4

More on those tomatoes.

Back in May — oh, those heady days of youth! — I wrote this little rant about environmentalist opposition to genetic modification. Thanks to that bastard Tim Worstall (who has placed me under strict orders not to tell anyone he's actually very nice, the malingering git), that poorly-researched but essentially right piffle has now evolved into this exceedingly well researched and even righter non-rant what is my first piece published by the possibly illustrious Tech Central Station. Look! Measured tones! Reasonableness! Interviews with experts! No swearing! It's amazing what you can get out of some bloody blogger if you pay him. And, any day now, I'm sure they will. I wish pound notes still existed, for then I could insist on being paid in them and throw my fee in the air, jigging gleefully as it showered down around me. But then I think that whenever I get paid. Hell, I think that when the assistant in Tesco hands me my change. PayPal's great in many ways, but not so much with the jigs.

If you enjoyed my piece, I encourage you to write to TCS and demand that they hire me on a permanent basis for all the money in the world and a therefore superfluous lifetime's supply of dog-food.

Thank you for your time.

Yours, etc.

I've got a degree in maths, you know.

You know you're not at your best when you're at the MDF-cutting place in Homebase getting — surprise — some MDF cut to size, and the assistant queries your measurements, pointing out that 18232 milimetres is over 18 metres, and that they don't have any pieces that long.

Being clever, I immediately deduced that I had made a slight error in my measurements, as I am building a wardrobe less than 18 metres long.

Not sure it would have fit in my Golf, anyway. Even with the roof-rack.