Friday, September 30, 2005

Sonnet 87

By a strange coincidence I got an email from my brother asking how things were - as he had "not noticed any oblique references to temperament on the Blog of late" - on the same day that my Folio books caught up with me. This year's pack included a copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets giving me an excuse obliquiley to suggest that sonnet 87 just about covers it.

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate,
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me to whom thou gav'st it else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Summary Powers

From Tony Blair's speech at the party conference on Tuesday:
There will be a radical extension of compulsory drug testing for offenders; a doubling of investment in drug treatment; summary powers to deal with drug dealers and with the violence from binge-drinking; and those believed to be part of organised crime will have their assets confiscated, their bank accounts opened up and if they intimidate juries, face trial without a jury.

What are summary powers? What will they look like in practice?

  • Summary powers to eject an 82 year old delegate from the conference for having the effrontery to shout "nonsense" during a speech, then to confiscate his pass it seems and refuse him permission to re enter under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
  • Summary powers also to eject Steve Forrest, a constituency party chairman from Erith and Thamesmead in south-east London for daring to complain about the treatment of a frail old man.
It's enough to make me want to take up binge drinking.

deceptive grasshopper elbow

peaceful mist jab
murderous dragon forehead
jumping shadow vengeance
roaring panda shield
mongolian buddha smash
dancing willow protection
celestial fox-woman fist
seven turtle pounce
yellow emperor's cricket hand
I didn't realise that I needed an internet generator of absurd names for imaginary Kung Fu techniques but now that I have one, I wonder how I ever lived without it.

Which reminds me - for reasons no doubt buried, for good reason, deep in my subconscious - I developed my own insult generation algorithm on the way to work the other day. I haven't got round to coding a generator by it goes like this.

You've the "elevated quality" of an "everyday inanimate object", you "Anglo Saxon obscenity" "vehicle"!


You've the morals of a cupboard, you w**k wagon!

You've the integrity of a fish tank, you f**k truck!

You've all the fashion sense of a tree trunk, you c**t bike!

Use it wisely.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hoist by his own petard?

A police force is considering whether to investigate Tony Blair over an alleged slur against the Welsh.

Former Downing Street spin doctor Lance Price claimed in his diaries that the Prime Minister repeatedly made derogatory remarks about the Welsh while watching the disappointing results of the Assembly elections in 1999.

The claim was made in a draft version of the diaries, but toned down in the final published version.

North Wales Police confirmed it had received a complaint about the alleged comment and was seeking the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service.

I have gone on record here again and again and again with regard to my implacable opposition to hate crime legislation. There is an ungallant part of me however that would very much enjoy seeing Tony Blair up before the beak accused of it. That it was anti-Welsh prejudice would simply sweeten the dish.

In all honesty though I imagine the things that he allegedly said about the Welsh back in '99 are small beer compared to things I say about him whenever his perma-grinning visage pops up on my screen.

Keeping it in the family

I read on Yahoo! Music that plans are afoot to extend the shelf life of a heavily made up American rock phenomenon,

According to the New York Times, Kiss manager Doc McGhee 'has been toying with the idea of recruiting an entire band to...don the band's famous makeup.' McGhee said, 'Kiss is more like Doritos or Pepsi, as far as a brand name is concerned. They're more characters than the individual person. I think (new members) have a legitimate chance to carry the franchise.
I've got a good story that is not unlike that.

Years ago I knew two musician brothers, one a session player and the other who - while not a member - was gigging in the brass section of an up and coming band to save money to get married.

In the fullness of time the up and coming band got a two record deal and the main members trooped into the studio to record their first single. All, however, was not as it appeared. After the track was apparently in the can the session musician got a call from the producer asking him to come in and redo the bass on the record. It gets better, he also told his brother that peers and colleagues of his got called in to redo the drums, the keyboards, the guitars and everything else except the vocals.

When his brother turned up to play live with the band a couple of weeks later he found that the band had called a meeting and fired the singer.

So the next week their debut single came out without even one member of the current band performing on it although, apart from the singer, they remained blissfully ignorant of the fact.

To my disappointment, there were no Villi Manilli type revelations though, as it bombed. I still wish I had a copy somehow.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Line of Sight

Via Arts and Letters Daily:

The applicant had the experience he'd need as a chef: he knew how a busy kitchen works, knew the trade lingo. Plus, he even loved Hegel. And, oh yes, he was blind... more

That reminds me, I was once talking to my guitar teacher about perfect pitch telling him about a friend who realised he had it when music he was following on a score seemed wrong because it was in a different key to the performance. The teacher told me that his father was a piano tuner with perfect pitch which reminded me in turn of a blind piano tuner who had come to our house when I was a boy.

"My Dad knows a deaf piano tuner," said my instructor.

"That's amazing," I said imagining some paragon who could sense vibrations through his finger tips and tune accordingly.

"Not really," came the reply. "He's useless. My old man keeps having to go round to sort out the messes that he's made."

Any Old Iron

All the coverage of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton has reminded me of one of the more unusual sales that we made on behalf of Sussex Police via Bumblebee Auctions.

In September last year they put 500 metres of metal crash barriers and fencing (weighing in at between seven and eight tons) up for sale.

I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps they were kncking out the old lot because they had bought a new set of barriers for the conference season and if the money that they got was insignificant compared to the advantage of having the buyer turn up and take it all away.

They got two bids and it went for �244 which is under fifty pence a metre. I don't know much about scrap or second hand barriers but it sounds like a bargain to me.

Monday, September 26, 2005

a whole climate of opinion

When Google launched their blogsearch service recently, I was amazed to find that a post of mine about the murder of Robert McCartney was the first result turned up by a search against his name. It is still number four this morning.

I don't quite know what to make of this, but I have an inchoate intuition that the sprawl of weblogs, comments, trackbacks, blog search and tagging tools is evolving - in parallel to the mainstream media - into "a whole climate of opinion under whom we conduct our different lives" and that it is good to contribute to it in any small way.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tag Rugby

My four, nearly five, year old has made friends with a boy at school who has a father from New Zealand. The dad has persudaed me that it is never too early to begin rugby training, so this Saturday morning we took both boys along to the Oberon Sports Ground for Super Saturday Minnows Tag Rugby - mine in his Welsh jersey and his friend in an All Blacks top.

It was a really fine morning. The "tags" in tag rugby are streamers that the boys have attached to belts with velcro. There are two tags attached to each belt. Grabbing, removing and keeping hold of a tag is equivalent to a tackle as real physical contact is frowned upon until they are older.

The funniest thing of the day was the first drill. It was a game in which if someone tapped you between the shoulders with the ball, you were frozen and had to stay still until the end of the game or until someone "unfroze" you by crawling between your legs.

The instructor explained the rules thoroughly enough but failed to introduce the concept of the pitch so when he blew the whistle to start the game our two - reasonably enough - just took to the hills to avoid being caught. We had to chase after them as they were disappearing over the hoizon.

They got the hang of it later. I wish I had taken a camera. The first time that you see your little boy running towards the opposition with the ball tucked under his arm and his jaw set in determination is one of the pearls that you thread to make your life story.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


It distresses me to say it, when previously I have defended him, but I am beginning to worry about Ian Blair.

According to the Telegraph:
Britain's top police officer was accused last night of paving the way for "Judge Dredd law" by proposing that officers should be allowed to by-pass the courts and confiscate driving licences, seize vehicles and issue anti-social behaviour orders on the spot.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said "modernisation" of the force should be carried forward by introducing "an escalator of powers" for the dispensing of instant justice.

"One idea is to have some police officers - paid more and with more powers - to impose an interim anti-social behaviour order, for instance, or suspend a driving licence," he said. This would have an immediate effect rather than waiting for intervention by the courts, Sir Ian suggested.

He acknowledged that giving police powers currently exercised only by the courts would be controversial but could be seen as legitimate if they were used by properly trained constables.

"There is something here about making justice more immediately apparent, not only to the offender but also to the society that the offender is irritating," Sir Ian said.

What on Earth does he imagine that the Police have done recently that makes him think that we would be sanguine about granting them such draconian powers?

I read David Mery's piece in the Guardian earlier this week about being detained in Southwark tube station while the bomb squad checked his rucksack, then being incarcerated for the night, and finally having his flat searched. You can and should read the developing version here on his website.

Two bomb squad officers pass by. One turns to me and says in a joking tone: "Nice laptop!" A police officer apologises on behalf of the Metropolitan police, and explains that we are waiting for a more senior officer to express further apologies. They take off the handcuffs and start giving me back my possessions: my purse, keys, some papers. Another police officer says that this is not proper. I am handcuffed again.
Everyone understands that the police must be very or indeed over vigilant on London Underground. The officers on the ground made a judgement, took action, and then had the grace to apologise when they found out that there was no threat. I think that that is all exemplary.

It is simply the intervention of this jobsworth clown "another police officer" that escalates the incident into something like persection from an anecdote that could be laughed about or dined out upon.

While Police forces are liberally staffed with goons like that we should be extremely wary about extending their powers at all.

Where the feet hit the street Police action was hard, but fair and willing to admit mistakes. It was in the admin and the reckoning that the stuff began to hit the fan. Sir Ian to keep his own house in order. Action this day.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Oh No!

Looking through Time Out I found that I have missed Super Furry Animals and Goldie Lookin Chain on the same bill in Brixton last night.

O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic

For some reason, Christopher Walken as the mighty Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic has just popped into my mind. Perhaps I'm a trivial psychic as well?

[ Female Employee drops her styrofoam cup while pouring some spring water. Ed Glosser picks it up for her, then accidentally grabs her hand, falling into a trance ]

Female Employee: Are you alright?

Ed Glosser: [ pause ] You have a daughter..

Female Employee: Yes?

Ed Glosser: She's at home with the housekeeper..

Female Employee: Yes?

Ed Glosser: The housekeeper just waxed the kitchen floor..

Female Employee: Yes?

Ed Glosser: Your daughter's running.. on the wet kitchen floor..

Female Employee: [ panicking ] And?

Ed Glosser: She's leaving footprints..

Female Employee: Yeah?

Ed Glosser: The housekeeper's annoyed.. she has to do that part of the floor over again..

Female Employee: Really?

Ed Glosser: It's not too late! You can call her.. and save her!

Female Employee: Um.. I have some work to do, but I'll call her later. Okay? Say, how did you get these powers, anyway?

Ed Glosser: [ looks into the camera ] I.. don't.. know..

Announcer: Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic. During a brief power outage, Ed Glosser's tanning booth experiences a slight malfunction. Forfeiting a darker base, he instead gains the mildly impressive ability to foretell insignificant events of the immediate future. This is his story....

Roath Park

In June 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott set sail from Cardiff on his tragic expedition to the Antarctic, berthing in the docks for six days as an acknowledgement of the considerable financial support raised locally. Three years after his death in 1912, the people of Cardiff raised a monument to Scott in Roath Park lake, in the form of a lighthouse with a small replica of his ship, Terra Nova in which he made his last fateful journey.

I am glad to have sorted this out. As a child I got it into my head that I had been told that Scott had set off from the lighthouse in the middle of the lake in the middle of the town. A notion that puzzled me.

Not that I used to lie awake worrying about it. It was just a vague itch I couldn't scratch.

There is some history of the park here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Guv'nor

Brigadier John Lorimer

I don't know what you think, but as far as I am concerned Brigadier John Lorimer is the hero of the hour for taking care of business in Basra. The incontrovertible fact is that the two soldiers who were freed are alive today, who can say what would have happened if he didn't have the balls to act.

Here are some old words from Teddy Roosevelt which are as true now as ever they were and which I always try and remind myself when looking at the results of any official enquiry into anything.

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt was an amazing man. The news that Martin Scorsese is to direct Leonardo DiCaprio in a film of his life fills me with foreboding. The African proverb that he applied to foreign policy is also apt.
Speak softly and carry a big stick

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Whiz Kids

A universal human trait that we don't really like to admit is that we secretly rather like having our prejudices confirmed, so I bet a lot of us got a kick from this story in the The Times yesterday.

CITY brokers have never enjoyed the best of reputations. The popular image is of a brash and boastful twentysomething with more money than sense or sensitivity.

But now a study by a group of eminent American academics suggests that star performers on the stock market may be even worse and could best be described as 'functioning psychopaths'.

In a study of investors' behaviour, the team from three US universities suggest that people with brain damage can make better financial decisions than the rest of us.

I'm no stranger to schadenfreude myself, so this has brought to mind the rather ungenerous response of Thump the Clouds to the fate of those dumped on their uppers by Black Monday, the Stock Market Crash of 1987 as illustrated by the following extract.

924 from door to door was temporary glory.
Equity from equities was just a fairy story.
Chinese walls were not designed to stand the wind.
Puts and calls and bless me father I have sinned.

Whiz kids and was kids
Don't mean a lot to me.
Wish kids have been washed up kids
Since the 1970's.

That seems rather crass to me now.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Henora MacDonald

My paternal grandmother, who died long before I was born, was called Henora. I knew that her maiden name was MacDonald but I didn't know what her christian name was before I found it on a site that my brother in law David put together.

Shame on me.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Is Nothing Sacred?

I really don't know what is happening the world when the Sunday Telegraph starts handing over editorial space for Paul Morley - Time Out's "missing link between Ken Tynan and Johnny Rotten" - to profile Kate Moss, the cocaine hoovering Croydon waif.

If I had a subscription I would cancel it.

Further, the last time I found myself in my local GP's waiting room I couldn't help but notice that the only person present who had taken the time and effort to shine his shoes was a distinguished looking gentleman with a pronounced military bearing to wit, my good self.

I remain sir, your obedient servant,

Brigadier Sir Bufton Tufton (retd.)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The mad gardener's song

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,
'Extinguishes all hope!'

Lewis Carroll

Public Enemy

As I've been brooding on the vicious, criminal thuggishness of the Robert McCartney murder and its tortuous postscript, my thoughts have turned to a play called "Public Enemy" that I saw years and years ago in the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith.

It was written by and starred Kenneth Branagh and staged by his Renaissance Theater Company although I'd never heard of him at the time. It pre dated his breakthrough in the film of Henry V by a couple of years I think. (I still remember him in Hammersmith as being the most dynamic performer I have ever seen on a stage.)

The play was about a young Belfast man who is obsessed with the films of James Cagney. At the beginning it seems innocent enough as he does a Cagney act singing 'Yankee Doodle Dandy', but gradually he seems to drift into a more serious delusion and becomes a real killer while apparently living out famous Cagney roles. A very stylised piece as you might imagine.

What gradually emerges however is that his outrages are designed to provoke the gangster warlords of both the Loyalists and the Republicans, and that he intends to kill them all together in some great conflagration when they meet each other to discuss what to do about him and the problems he is causing their 'businesses'.

Branagh spent some of his childhood in Belfast, and this was the first time I was exposed to the now commonplace idea that the hardmen of both sides are really more career criminals than romantic idealists.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Half Empty

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Woody Allen

Shall Gods be said to ...

Out of the blue, it strikes me that for all I have never explained 'Thump the Clouds'.

Shall gods be said to thump the clouds
When clouds are cursed by thunder,
Be said to weep when weather howls?
Shall rainbows be their tunics' colour?

When it is rain where are the gods?
Shall it be said they sprinkle water
From garden cans, or free the floods?

Shall it be said that, venuswise,
An old god's dugs are pressed and pricked,
The wet night scolds me like a nurse?

It shall be said that gods are stone.
Shall a dropped stone drum on the ground,
Flung gravel chime? Let the stones speak
With tongues that talk all tongues.

McCartney Intimidation

After my post yesterday, more from the Guardian on the McCartney intimidation.

Republicans have picketed the home of Bridgeen Hagans, the one-time fiancee of Robert McCartney, and demanded that a friend allegedly attacked by IRA men withdraw his statement to the police, the family said last night. On Tuesday night, crowd of 50 people gathered outside the home of Ms Hagans and her two young children, chanting: "Out! Out!"
Ms Hagans, who lives behind bullet-proof windows after earlier attacks on her home, is said to be terrified after the recent pickets. The family say that on Monday ight IRA men involved in McCartney's murder used the cover of loyalist riots to ttack a relative, who was reportedly assaulted outside the family home. Afterwards they are said to have severely beaten McCartney's best friend, Jess Commander, 34, as he went through the nationalist enclave of Short Strand, which had come under sustained attack during the riots.

Almost unheard of in a nationalist area where the IRA are "protectors of the ommunity", Mr Commander complained to the police, naming his attackers. Picketers outside Ms Hagans' home then demanded that no charges be pressed.

Paula McCartney said the protesters were associates of IRA men involved in her rother's murder. She said there had been "no respite" in republican intimidation of he family and called on Sinn F�in to speak out against this intimidation.
This is appalling. There is something chilling about the cynicism of people who would use the cover of the Loyalist riots of the last few days to turn up the heat on those campaigning for justice for Robert McCartney.

What can be done? I'm sure that these sort of insects will scatter if enough light is shed on them. Just writing about it seems ridiculous, but the blogosphere is potentially a remarkable tool for focussing attention on things. What about something as simple as putting a webcam outside this poor woman's house? I'm sure that there would be someone somewhere in the world watching it every minute of every day. Would that panopticon help to deter anyone? I just despair of the kind of people who would form a mob outside the house of a single mother whose partner has been murdered and chant, "out, out, out!"

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Robert McCartney

According to the BBC, "relatives of murdered man Robert McCartney say the IRA intimidation campaign against them is intensifying." I suppose this was almost inevitable once press attention began to wane. It was as long ago as March that the family met President Bush in the White House and Sinn Fein seemed to be in disarray.

Let's take a moment to remind ourselves what happened on the night of January 30, 2005. Here is an extract, via the invaluable Slugger O'Toole, from the IRA's official statement.

Our investigation found that after the initial melee in Magennis's bar, a crowd spilled out onto the street and Robert McCartney, Brendan Devine and two other men were pursued into Market Street.Four men were involved in the attacks in Market Street on the evening of 30 January. A fifth person was at the scene. He took no part in the attacks and was responsible for moving to safety one of the two people accompanying Robert McCartney and Brendan Devine.

One man was responsible for providing the knife that was used in the stabbing of Robert McCartney and Brendan Devine in Market Street. He got the knife from the kitchen of Magennis's Bar.

Another man stabbed Robert McCartney and Brendan Devine.

A third man kicked and beat Robert McCartney after he had been stabbed in Market Street.

A fourth man hit a friend of Robert McCartney and Brendan Devine across the face with a steel bar in Market Street.

The man who provided the knife also retrieved it from the scene and destroyed it. The same man also took the CCTV tape from the bar, after threatening a member of staff and later destroyed it. He also burned clothes after the attack.

Reports in the media have alleged that up to 12 IRA Volunteers were involved in the events in Market Street. Our investigation found that this is not so. Of the four people directly involved in the attacks in Market Street, two were IRA Volunteers. The other two were not.

The IRA knows the identity of all these men.

That last sentence is a doozy don't you think? Here's another version of the events from the Guardian back in February. How much do you want to bet that the "senior IRA man" below is the "fifth person at the scene" above?

It was a Sunday night. Robert McCartney, 33, a forklift driver, was having a drink with an old friend. A number of IRA men who had come from the Bloody Sunday commemorations in Derry were drinking at the bar.

According to the McCartney family, a senior IRA man accused Mr McCartney of making a rude gesture to his wife. He denied this, but his friend, Brendan Devine, offered to buy the women and her friends a drink to apologise.

This wasn't enough for the senior republican, who asked McCartney: "Do you know who I am?"

McCartney, who also worked part-time as a bouncer to save for his wedding, was described locally as a diplomat, a diffuser of rows. He knew exactly who the man was, but did not apologise, saying he hadn't done anything wrong. A row ensued. A bottle was smashed, and used to slash Brendan Devine's throat.

McCartney and Devine stumbled out of the pub. Devine told his friend to run but he wouldn't leave him. At this point, a friend of Mr McCartney's called his mobile. He heard smashing glass, Devine shouting "I never touched anyone" and a woman begging the attackers to stop.

The family believe around 15 people followed the two men out of the pub. McCartney and Devine were beaten with plastic and iron sewer rods and slashed from their neck to their navel with knives, said to have been taken from the pub kitchen.

McCartney was kicked and his head stamped on. Some witnesses have said a gun was produced. McCartney lost an eye in the beating.

The family said the perpetrators left the men for dead, went back to the pub, locked the door, conducted a forensic clean-up operation in which evidence and CCTV footage were removed.

"They closed the doors and said: 'Nobody saw anything; this is IRA business'," says Paula McCartney.

No ambulance was called. The men were picked up by a police patrol. Devine survived. McCartney died in hospital.

One month on, of 70 witnesses in the pub, none has come forward with a full account of what they saw. Most tell the family they were in the toilet at the crucial moment. So many people have said they were in the small toilet at the time, the cubicle is now known as "the Tardis".

So, in summary, two men were stabbed, beaten and eviscerated in public because of a gesture. No one called an ambulance and one of the men died.

Everyone in the community knows who is responsible. They can't be allowed to get away with it, we mustn't forget, and his family must not be abandoned.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Skin Products

According to the Guardian:

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe.

Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is 'traditional' and nothing to 'make such a big fuss about'.

Depraved beyond belief, this clangs strangely with my last post. I don't think a Leslie Ash trout pout is going to look quite so funny in future.

The next paragraph says, "apart from the ethical concerns, there is also the potential risk of infection."

Apart from the ethical concerns? I really can't imagine how anyone could write such a bathetic sentence.

Solipsistic Silliness

There was a diverting article in Spiked recently in which Stephen Bower suggests that the cultural fascination with corpses, plastic surgery and healthy living suggests we are objectifying ourselves. I suggest you read the whole thing, but here's an extract that spoke to me.

What this represents, it seems to me, is the transformation of our common cultural understanding of human corporeality, from contingent assumption to axiomatic locus of meaning - in other words, from something we take for granted to something we feel compelled to obey. This is what unites a broad array of practices and symbolic representations, from personal behaviour to public broadcasting and all that unite the two.

From being the most immediate of categories, the body has become one of the most mediated, attuned to priorities beyond the self in the hope that this will put some flesh on the bones of the self. Tattooing and piercing are thus brought into the mainstream of fashion, tweaking the flesh in the desperate attempt to connect inner need with outer norms, through the medium of a corporeal statement. Transcendentalism is literally written on the flesh - in Sanskrit in the small of the back, maybe, a perfect expression of the solipsistic silliness of such acts.

The first paragraph above is an interesting take on contemporary narcissism, although the idea about the body as a contingent assumption puts me in mind of a conversation about Sebastian's decline between Charles Ryder and Brideshead (Sebastian's older brother) towards the end of Waugh's novel in which Brideshead shocks Ryder by considering his brother's phyiscal woes as insignificant compared to his moral condition.

Can't say too much about the second paragraph because I know someone who I certainly think would benefit from thinking about it.

If that all seems a bit po-faced, here's something a little more light hearted on body art. The highlight being:

When he copped for an arrow on top of Senlac Hill in 1066, King Harold's body was identified among the pile-up of his followers because he had the words "Edith" and "England" tattooed on his chest.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Curtains for Windows

I think that the dry interjection from the lawyer in this extract from a deposition taken from Steve Balmer relating to a court hearing lately is hilarious.

Ballmer: Kai-Fu had a -- a distinct commitment and responsibility on behalf of the company for being the senior executive here in Redmond, with responsibility for godfathering, shepherding all of our R&D activities in China. It's a structure we also use for India. We have a senior executive with knowledge of India be the R&D godfather for India, encourage work to go there, shepherd, and -- and mentor people in the area. Kai-Fu had that broad, important responsibility for China. ... '

Deposing lawyer: 'This term, 'godfather' -- is that an official title within the Microsoft organization?'

Maybe Willi Cicci and Senator Geary were talking about a buffer overflow in the Godfather Part II.

Senator Geary: Mr. Cici, was there always a buffer involved?
Willi Cicci: A what?
Senator Geary: A buffer. Someone in between you and your possible superiors who passed on to you the actual order to kill someone.
Willi Cicci: Oh yeah, a buffer. The family had a lot of buffers!

With Windows, just like the family,"when the boss says push a button on a guy, I push a button."

Monday, September 12, 2005


I've got a busy day today so the only bone I can throw you is a word that you can toss into a discussion of weblogs (or indeed almost any internet phenomenon) if you are bored but you want to sound clever.

Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".

Conrad originally described this phenomenon in relation to the distortion of reality present in psychosis, but it has become more widely used to describe this tendency in healthy individuals without necessarily implying the presence of neurological or mental illness.

He travelled all aroung the world and everywhere he went
He'd use this word and all would say, "there goes a clever gent."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Just to be alone

Chris and Kim have decided that 'Thump the Clouds' are belatedly famous, so I guess that the world might be able to stand the lyrics to another old song.

Looking through another window, at another view
It's so long since I've done any more than pass on through.
Ever changing, never changing faces old and new,
Looking for another me, perhaps another you.

Why would anyone come so far
Just to be alone?

Reach out for another glass or pop another pill
Its been so long since I really felt the first night thrill.
Maybe now the time has come to say I've had my fill
Always moving feels a lot like always standing still.

Why would anyone come so far
Just to be alone?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Land of Hope

I'm off to Cardiff today to meet up with my brothers and watch the boxing. Joe Calzaghe is fighting and Amir Khan is on the undercard.

I think Calzaghe is pretty much bound to win, but I hope it doesn't turn out to be a valedictory performance as he's due to fight IBF king Jeff Lacy in a title unification bout in November. Its amazing to think that he has held a world title longer than any other current boxing champion at any weight.

According to the Times today, Khan said, "Joe deserves more support than me. Look at what he has achieved in the sport. He�s been a world champion for eight years � it�s brilliant, isn�t it?"

He seems to be some sort of genius for always saying the right thing. I think that the lessons of Hamed's big mouth have been well learned at Team Khan. I wonder if his Dad has got much to do with it. I remember thinking in the Olympics that his Union Jack waistcoat was a bigger made a bigger contribution to harmony in the UK than Trevor Phillips and the Commission for Racial Equality ever managed.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Paul Whitehouse: WBI

According to the IMDB, Paul Whitehouse was born in Cardiff in 1958. I had no idea.

This cannot but mean that nonsensical football pundit Ron Manager; the accident-prone northern pensioner Unlucky Alf who greets his every accident with a resigned 'Bugger'; the enthusiastic but gullible young northern lad who considers everything 'brilliant'; the rambling, brain-addled gentlemen's club member Rowley Birkin QC who is always 'very, very drunk'; the ducking-and-diving wide boy Chris Jackson, aka 'The Crafty Cockney', who, being a 'geezer, a little bit tasty, a little bit wooor and a little bit waayyy', will 'nick anything'; Archie, the sad old character in a pub who, in order to strike up a conversation, claims to have done the stranger's occupation 'for 30 years, man and boy', noting that 'it's the hardest job in the world'; plus the 13th Duke of Wymbourne, an old scoundrel who looks into the camera and asks suggestively what he should be doing semi-clad in a schoolgirls' changing room are all Welsh Born Icons.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Batman does his best

At last, a follow up to the Captain America picture I posted back in January.

(Hat tip, Clive Davis.)

First Day of School

His mother and I have just dropped our four year old off at school on his first day. He is very keen and excited which is a relief, but - as he keeps reminding me - he is a "big four" as opposed to some of the other "small fours" in his social circle and he will be one of the older children starting today. That's no bad thing I think so I hope and expect he will thrive.

He'll be five at the end of the month which is a quarter of the way to being twenty. This may not come as a great surprise to any mathematicians out there, but - psychologically - it staggers me.

Tempus fugit. The Winnie the Pooh stickers on his bedroom wall have already given way to spiderman posters and football skills charts. Soon he probably won't want to hold my hand when he is walking on the wall on the way back from the park.

A good day I think to record some of the malapropisms and misapprehensions that used to charm me so but are now rapidly disappearing from his conversation.

As I leave for work - "See you later aligator, see you around crocodile!"

After Dr. Who - "I am a garlic. Exterminate! Exterminate! I am a garlic!"

At the cinema - "Will we see Shrek in the similar?"

And finally - to my embarassment when I was bickering with his Mum - "Just gnaw each other". He meant ignore. I was ashamed of myself that day.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Private Eye

As I referred to a long running Private Eye feature with my last post, I had a quick gander at the esteemed organ's website. I see that they are sticking it to Sir Ian Blair as well.

I've put a copy of the cover on the left and I have to admit that it is quite funny, but I remember writing in support of Sir Ian back in August when everyone was calling for his head.

Although I can't remember anyone in the media taking the same line at the time, these days blogs give us access to a wider variety of opinion. Here is some comment from Police blogs. I think that they widen the debate.

Another Constable: Death of an Innnocent

The Special Constable's Blog: Special Propaganda

The Policeman's Blog: IPCC

The last one is especially interesting I think. It says:

Anyone whose callsign is on the Jean Charles de Menezes serial is in for a few bowel-loosening moments at the hands of the ongoing IPCC investigation. In fact, those concerned probably realised the game was up when the Superintendent sat them all down and said, �You will have the full support of both myself and the Metropolitan Police.�

I think that is exactly the morale sapping reaction that the Commissioner was worred about, which is why I commented at the time that:

My impression is that, especially from July 22 onwards, the main intended audience for Sir Ian's public pronouncements has been his own officers, and that his main message has been to reassure them that they will not be hung out to dry if they make honest mistakes in tacking the deadly menace that confronts us.

I realise that this is probably a minority view.


Has any other reader noticed the remarkable resembance between Hotei - the obese and jovial Laughing Buddha - and Nick Browne. I wonder if they are, by any chance, related.

Hotei Koan

Hotei lived in the T'ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him.

Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him to play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.

Once as he was about his play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: "What is the significance of Zen?"

Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.

"Then," asked the other, "what is the actualization of Zen?"

At once Hotei swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.

Nick Koan

A boy was playing Halo on the XBOX when the six o'clock news was about to start.

Nick asked him what he was doing.

The boy replied that he was trying to master the game.

Nick said, "There exists a state in which you will not attempt to master the game, and the game will not attempt to master you."

The boy asked, "What is this state?"

Nick said, "Give me the XBox, and I will show you."

The boy gave him the game, and Nick threw it to the ground, breaking it into pieces.

Nick and the boy were enlightened by the six o'clock news.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Wish List

It was fun to meet up with Chris and Kim on the weekend. I am the laughing Buddha on the right here.

During the course of a long and rambling conversation they recommended a couple of books to me (Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History', and Robert Wilson's 'The Blind Man of Seville') so I set up an Amazon Wish List to remind me of them.

That made we wonder of there was a way I could add the list to the blog here as I know that Amazon is accessible via an XML Web Services API.

I found an overview of approaches to doing that here, but the code snippets and plug ins that they mentioned only seemed to work with not

I finally found something called AmazonBox which works for a nummer of locales. I've added it here under the blogroll.

It still needs a bit of work for formatting as the currency is not displaying properly etc. but I'm not really in the mood to start burrowing into the CSS at the moment. I suppose I could really write code to access Amazon directly myself if I get some time, but for the time being I am pleased with it as a holding pen for books, CDs and DVDs that people recommend to me.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Exceedingly Good

I read an enjoyable piece by Oliver Kamm in The Times over the weekend in which - in the course of putting the boot into several varieties of gobbledygook and moddish pieties - he refers to a story by Rudyard Kipling.

Rudyard Kipling is an unfashionable writer, but he had prophetic gifts greater than any spirit medium. His short story The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat concerns a group of motorists caught in a speed trap (it was written in 1913!), who exact revenge on the local magistrate who also sits as their MP. They set up a bogus 'Geoplanarian Society' to embarrass the man. It promptly votes, in the name of the village, to declare that the Earth is flat. The ensuing national ridicule is compounded when the genuine Flat Earth Society turns up to celebrate its 'dear friends and sympathisers'.

I've dug up a link to the story and popped it into the quote above although I haven't read it yet.

I love all the Kipling that I have read and I remain baffled quite frankly by his reputation as the embodiment of uncritical jingoism and prejudice.

I read his great novel Kim not long ago and my abiding impression was of the author's love and admiration for - and deep knowledge of - India and its peoples. In the course of a cracking adventure yarn, we are introduced to a dazzling array of warm, generous and tolerant characters. Indeed, as I read it I could almost imagine that it might have been written with the didactic purpose of explaining the different cultures represented to each other.

Do you remember the story I found about the script of Casablanca back in June? How when in the 1980s, this film's script was sent to readers at a number of major studios and production companies under its original title, "Everybody Comes To Rick's", some readers recognized the script but most did not. and many complained that the script was "not good enough" to make a decent movie.

Now that its out of copyright, I'm almost tempted to download the text of Kim from Project Gutenberg and submit it to publishers claiming that it is a new historical novel that I have written as a paean to multicuturalism with Mahbub Ali as the Muslim exemplar, Hurree Babu as the Hindu, and Teshoo - the Tibetan lama - as the Buddhist.

I wonder what sort of reaction I'd get.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Overheard, Underweight

I couldn't help but eavesdrop on two huge body builders who were dressing near to me in the Virgin Active changing rooms earlier.

Between them on the bench was a barrel of nutritional supplement powder, and they were so enormous that the reminded me of Clive James' description of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime as looking like "a condom filled with walnuts".

"I went out for dinner with that girl at the hotel in then end," said one.

"How did it go?" asked his friend.

"She asked me if I'd lost weight," came the morose reply.

"No," said his mate aghast. "That's the worst thing anyone can say to you.".

"I know," said the first flexing forlornly. "I've only lost a half a stone, but on me it really shows."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Out to lunch

I'm meeting Chris and Kim of Stuff and Nonsense at one o'clock this afternoon at the Founders Arms on the South Bank of the Thames, right outside the Tate Modern, around the corner from the Globe Theatre, and opposite St Pauls.

Then the Wales v England World cup qualifier kicks off at 3pm and as its being shown live on Sky Sports 1 will be available in most of the pubs in London but not at home.

Don't expect any entries here this evening.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sherriff Joe Today

I just found out that Rafio 4's Today programme has brought Sherriff Joe Arpaio - who runs the flamboyant hardline penal system I wrote about last month - to the UK to see what he makes of the British justice system.

He's been here all week and his contributions seem to he collected here. I haven't listened to them yet.

Don�t legislate against hate

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I laid the "don't legislate against hate" rap on ya, but here we go again.

Here's an extract from article by an Australian Muslim describing how Victoria's laws against incitement to religious hatred have sown division, and undermined freedom of speech, thought and conscience. It's an everyday story of Ms Oliva Watts: former policeman, transsexual naturopath, and witch.

In March 2003, Ms Watts decided to run for local government in the City of Casey, a community distinguished by its proliferation of Pentecostal churches. The possibility of a transsexual witch entering local government in this most Christian of communities provoked a fierce reaction. A day of prayer was called to protect the city, and councillor Rob Wilson issued a press release suggesting that a witch in the council might be a 'concern' for some residents of the area.

Understandably, Watts was offended. And to whom do disgruntled transsexual naturopath-witches turn for justice? The Equal Opportunity Commission, of course. It wasn't long before Ms Watts had Wilson hauled before the courts on charges of inciting hatred against witches.

At a time when everyone has a group to protect their 'identity rights', witches are no exception. So into the fray stepped the Pagan Awareness Network (PAN). Fuelled by a $400 donation from the Witches Voice in America ('NeoPagan News/Networking on the net since 1997'), PAN ran a fierce campaign: sending fire-and-brimstone letters to both the premier and attorney general of Victoria; rallying witches across the world; and publishing pamphlets rebuking the councillor for his wiccaphobia. Watts joined the Wiccan PR blitz. 'I have never in my life done any offensive piece of magic, a curse, a hex', she assured the Age newspaper. 'It would be inconsistent with my beliefs.'

As the trouble brewed, the attorney general moved quickly to clarify his government's position. 'We [the government] govern for all Victorians - and that includes witches, magicians and sorcerers', he declared.

Faced with the indefatigable forces of PAN and growing legal fees, councillor Wilson conceded defeat, entering an out-of-court settlement. As part of that, he was required to offer a public mea culpa, 'for any hurt felt by Ms Watts'.

By this time, Wilson had already accumulated a legal bill of $130,000 for the 14-month battle, and, adding insult to injury, the City of Casey faced an increase in its 2005 insurance premium as a result of the litigation.

It would all make a great joke, were it not now illegal to tell it.

You can read the whole thing here. Surely we don't have to jump over this precipice in the UK. There is still time to pull back.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

My New Motto

Eat right, exercise regularly, die anyway.

What's Welsh for Zen

Back in school - nearly thirty years ago - when Sean, Tim, Dave and I were trying to be a band in the front room of my parent's house on Saturday afternoons, one of the songs we tried to cover was the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat. What I wouldn't give to have a copy of our efforts today and hear our virginal adolescent voices quivering through:

Watch that speed freak, watch that speed freak,
onna shoot it up every night of the week
Hmm hmm, White heat
Aww sputter mutter everybody gonna go kill their mother

I remember though that, when Sean lent me the album to learn the song, the real revelation for me was hearing John Cale delivering the Gift in his mellifluous Welsh accent.

Inside the package, Waldo was transfixed with excitement that he could hardly breathe. His skin felt prickly from the heat and he could feel his heart beating in his throat. It would be soon. Sheila stood upright and walked around to the other side of the package. Then she sank down to her knees, grasped the cutter by both hands, took a deep breath and plunged the long blade through the middle of the package, through the middle of the masking tape, through the cardboard through the cushioning and (thud) right through the center of Waldo Jeffers head, which split slightly and caused little rhythmic arcs of red to pulsate gently in the morning sun...

To discover that the son of a miner born in 1942 in the small Welsh coal village of Garnant, between Swanse and Camarthen grew up to be a founder of the quintessential New York art band was marvellous beyond words. Later, when I was in Swansea University, my friend Howie - who attended the same secondary school as Cale two decades later - showed me a dog eared textbook that he had kept as a reliquary because the label inside showed that it had once been issued to and initialed by the great man.

He is hereby inaugurated as the latest Welsh Born Icon.

What's Welsh for Zen is the title of the autobiography Cale published a few years ago. There is a great review of it here. (I wonder if Dr Collis is any relation to me.)

In his discussion of his early years, Cale develops some suggestive links between his early musical education and the triumphs and excesses of his later life, which the book charts in pitiless detail. At the time he began learning the piano, for instance, he suffered a series of bronchial attacks and was prescribed Dr Collis Browne's cough medicine, a syrup laced in those days with opium. Here, he conjectures, lies the origin of 'the relationship between music and drugs' which would have him waiting anxiously for his man in the greenroom each night before he could take to the stage. Before one concert, when his parents were in the audience, he was so nervous he snorted chopped-up chalk, given him by his band as a prank, without even noticing.

To be a drugged up rock'n'roller is not unusual - could they all have been on Dr Collis Browne's mixture in their infancy?