Friday, April 30, 2010

headline of the day

Johann Hari in The Independent with an excellent reminder of some of the actual scary policy nuts and bolts behind the weirdly smooth blemish-free potato-ey face of Cameron's Conservatives: basically the usual Tory kowtowing to corporate interests, tax breaks for their aristocratic chums, knee-jerk little Englander Europhobia and wholesale fucking of the vulnerable. No surprises there; more surprising is the choice of headline:

Nice. Probably better than Cameron "revealing" or "exposing" his inner Bush, though. I expect we'll get that after the election. There's already a few stray pubes of crypto-religious twuntery poking out round the sides of the distracting lacy knickers of "compassionate Conservatism". More to come I expect.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

a load of balls and a snooker cue

Obscure annoyance of the day: snooker. Not snooker in general; obviously I'm as snooker loopy as the next bloke, and I've been enjoying the blanket coverage on the BBC's red button service. However: it's at about this stage of the tournament that I always experience a hot flush of annoyance - the transition between the second round matches and the quarter-finals.

Why? Well, I'm glad you asked. It's the length of the matches. Ever since the modern format of the tournament was established back in 1980 (the year before the first tournament I remember watching, Steve Davis' first title in 1981) the lengths of the five rounds in the main televised stages of the tournament have been as follows: best of 19, best of 25, best of 25, best of 31 and best of 35 (i.e. first to, respectively, 10, 13, 13, 16 and 18). The only change was in 1997 when they changed the semi-finals to be best of 33 (i.e. first to 17). So, in other words, the second round matches and the quarter-final matches are THE SAME LENGTH. It's literally madness, particularly when there are second round and quarter-final matches going on in parallel, because then you can't tell what stage it is just by looking at the "best of" figure on the screen. Also, while by this scheme the second round matches are deemed to be three frames more important than the first round matches, and the semi-finals a whopping four frames more important than the quarter-finals, the final is deemed only to be one frame more important than the semi-finals, which seems rather unsatisfactory.

If you decide that the first round will be first to 10 and the final first to 18, then you have a ready-made sequence of 12, 14, 16 for the intermediate rounds. Why would you not do it this way? I literally cannot imagine. If you allow a bit more leeway for change then you might come up with a scheme of 10, 12, 14, 16, 20 for the five rounds, which I reckon would be just about perfect.

Best of 35 is comfortably the longest match on the snooker calendar these days, but, if you still feel that's a bit long, be thankful you weren't watching back in the 1940s, when the final was a gruelling best of 145 frames. And they weren't exactly scooting round the table knocking in centuries every five minutes back then, either; it must have taken months.

Incidentally the two most recent years during which the scoring system was adjusted coincide with the only two years in which the modern championship has been won by a player from outside the UK (Cliff Thorburn and Ken Doherty respectively). So if you get wind of further changes (probably any day now as soon as the WPBSA get wind of this blog post) stick a monkey or two on Neil Robertson or Ding Junhui.

a view to a bill

The always diverting Strange Maps triggered my Ooh Ooh I've Been There alarm this morning with this post featuring a napkin from The View revolving restaurant at the New York Marriott Marquis on Broadway. I would have dabbed red wine and bits of chocolate cake from my slavering chops (and there was a certain amount of slavering going on towards the end after all the drink we'd put away) with an almost identical napkin during our visit there. Here's a menu in case you fancy popping in for a quick snack. And in case you can't be arsed to click on the link here's the map featured on the napkin:

The only thing I will say about the revolving restaurant thing, great gimmick though it is, is that since the "core" around which the restaurant revolves obviously stays still, getting up to blearily weave your way to the toilet becomes even more disorienting than it would otherwise be. You should resist the temptation to just give up and go in a plant pot or someone's salad, though. Standards.

Monday, April 26, 2010

pope on a rope

Much excellent hilarity to be had in the reactions to the complete non-story about some Friday afternoon e-mail prankery among junior civil servants in the Foreign Office.

And what was the source of the outrage? A just-for-fun list of things the Pope should consider doing on his impending trip to the UK. Now if you or I had been tasked with doing that (particularly on a Friday afternoon) we'd have come up with the usual nonsense about wrestling the Queen, nude, in a vat of baked beans, or chainsawing a live cow in half or something like that. But no, this was actually a list of quite sensible stuff like blessing a civil partnership, launching a helpline for abused children, etc.

What's interesting is that while a large majority of professed Catholics would probably not object in principle to a lot of the stuff listed, they would nonetheless agree with Malcolm McMahon, the Bishop of Nottingham, when he says:
This is appalling. You don’t invite someone to your country and then disrespect them in this way. It’s outlandish and outrageous to assume that any of the ideas are in any way suitable for the Pope.
It would be fascinating to get any of those people to articulate why it's "outrageous" to suggest these activities for the Pope despite their believing they are generally a good thing. As always, though, there's probably some internal mental safety valve that prevents that sort of self-questioning, lest their minds should react like one of these.

The best bit of the BBC TV report on the story was when one of the talking heads they'd wheeled in offered the opinion that there was a very real danger here that members of the Catholic Church might be made to feel that their beliefs "weren't being taken seriously". To which the only rational response is HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA NO SHIT YOU CRETINS. Or something like that.

Laughter is perhaps not the appropriate response to Damian Thompson's jaw-droppingly inane blog post on the subject in the Daily Telegraph (apparently it's all Political Correctness Gone Mad or something), at least once you realise that the commenters are not taking the piss. As always Poe's Law makes it hard to be sure, but hey, it's the Telegraph. Thompson has a fair bit of previous in this department as well.

The Guardian article takes a more balanced view, as you might expect, with an undertone of amused bafflement both at the absurdy defensive overreaction from the Catholics, and from various senior Government officials (including David Milliband) who've been falling over themselves to fawningly apologise for the whole thing.

The Guardian article does also give a scoop on a major showbiz story you may have missed:
Among its other suggestions were that the now-Catholic Tony Blair and the singer Susan Boyle might be suitable candidates to be introduced to the Pope, while the atheist Richard Dawkins and Wayne Rooney – who married in a Catholic ceremony – might be less suitable.
Wait a minute - Richard Dawkins and Wayne Rooney got married in a Catholic ceremony? Maybe the fusty old Catholic Church is getting a bit more groovy after all.

The amusing (in a way) footnote to the story is that the FO employee on question has now apparently been "demoted" - if that's the case then it's richly ironic that his punishment for indirectly pointing out that some members of the Catholic clergy rape small children exceeds in severity that meted out to the priests who actually did the kiddy-raping, most of whom were simply transferred to different dioceses.

I wonder if it's too optimistic of me to imagine the whiff of a paradigm shift in the air - all it takes is a few people to stop and examine the basis on which they give a free pass to certain groups to peddle bigotry and intolerance (not to mention actual criminal behaviour) and fleece their followers for enormous sums of money, and for other people to look round and go "well.....actually I was only doing it because you were", and suddenly the whole house of cards falls away and it becomes clear that there was just a small slimy tentacly green blob inside the Dalek costume all along. Or maybe it'll be a bit like this. By Vectron's knees!

Anyway, if you fancy treading on the Pope's velvet slippers a bit have a look at the various resources here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

none more black

My excellent and attentive web hosting provider assures me that my photo gallery will be back up and running literally Any Day Now. I've got a bit of a backlog of stuff to upload, but here's a sneak preview. These are a few photos of a couple of recent outdoor jaunts, one Hazel and I did a few weeks ago, and one I did on my own yesterday.

We did a last-minute impromptu getaway on Good Friday for a night in a B&B , which turned out to be the Ty Newydd Country Hotel just down the road from Penderyn village. Now if you've been paying attention then you'll know that Penderyn is home to Wales' only distillery, so obviously with a few hours to kill on Friday afternoon it would have been rude not to stop in and have a look around. You can get a very basic tour with a couple of free snifters afterwards for a fiver a head, so that's what we did.

Here's a couple of Penderyn facts for you:
  • The way their wash is produced (it's specially brewed to Penderyn's specifications at the Brain's brewery in Cardiff and then tankered up) would disqualify them from calling their product "single malt Scotch whisky" were the distillery in Scotland; the rules dictate that while there's no requirement to malt your barley on-site (and very few distilleries do) or bottle the end product on-site, you must do everything else on the distillery premises. Fortunately as the only distillery in Wales they can make their own rules.
  • The peated expression (which was probably my favourite of the ones I tried) is produced by finishing the standard Penderyn spirit in casks that previously held Laphroaig. This is basically the same method used to make the Glenfiddich Caoran Reserve.
  • There are apparently no plans to release any aged expressions of Penderyn; I suspect this is largely down to the volume of spirit they produce from their single still. If you're going to start laying down casks and leaving them for ten years and more you need a bit of spare production capacity, and it sounds like they're pushed to keep up with demand as it is.
Anyway, the following day we went over to Glyntawe, which is maybe 8-10 miles north-west of Penderyn as the crow flies, though a fair bit further by road. This is a good base from which to explore the western peaks of the Brecon Beacons, collectively known as the Black Mountain (though in fact it's several mountains). Because these aren't quite as high or as easily accessible by road as the eastern Beacons, and Pen y Fan in particular, they see only a tiny fraction of the visitor traffic that the eastern Beacons do, which on the one hand is a shame as these are interesting and challenging hills, but on the other hand is just fine by me, meeting other people not really being the point of the whole exercise (just the opposite in fact).

Other reasons we didn't meet more than half a dozen people all day would have included it being Easter Saturday, and also that there was quite a thick covering of snow on the ground once you got above 1500 feet or so, drifts of a good couple of feet near the top in fact. The highest point of the Black Mountain is Fan Brycheiniog at 802 metres (2631 feet); it has two summits of identical height, one of which has a trig point, the other having to make do with a low cairn.

As Hazel was off photographing a wedding yesterday I thought I'd take the opportunity to get another walk in, particularly as it was such a glorious sunny day. The route I chose was broadly the same as the one shown on this map (taken from this interesting list of walks on BadgerTrek). A couple of reasons for this: firstly I wanted something long and challenging to fully capitalise on being out on my own (no disrespect to my regular walking companions) - the route on the map claims to be 17 miles, and since I parked a bit further away in Crickhowell here I probably had to walk another couple, so I reckon 19 miles would be about right. Secondly I'd had in mind for a while a trip taking in Waun Fach, the highest point in the Black Mountains at 811 metres (2661 feet), and it's legendary for being a bit boggy, so a hot dry day at the end of a longish sequence of hot dry days seemed like the ideal time to tackle it.

A quick explanatory word: the Black Mountain in the Brecon Beacons is different from the Black Mountains of which Waun Fach is the highest point, and of which the Black Mountain and the Black Hill are subsidiary peaks. Hope that's clear.

Anyway, the route up from Crickhowell takes in the Iron Age hill fort of Crug Hywel from which the village takes its name, as well as the shapely twin peaks of Pen Cerrig-calch at 701m (2300ft) and Pen Allt-mawr at 719m (2359ft). The best that can be said of Waun Fach itself is that the views back down the ridge from its slopes are impressive; the summit plateau itself is a vast featureless bog with only a disembodied concrete stump in the middle of an eroded muddy depression to mark the spot where the trig point once stood. Even after a long dry spell some of the terrain was still a bit squelchy; in the wet it must be a bleak treacherous marshy hellhole, and if you insist (as I do) on standing by the summit marker to have your photo taken you might have to swim for it.

Again, because these hills don't quite have the glamorous appeal of the eastern Beacons they're really not all that heavily frequented - apart from the group of mountain bikers that crossed my path just before the Waun Fach ascent I don't suppose I met more than a dozen people all day. I bet you could barely move on top of Pen y Fan though.

Friday, April 23, 2010

parking fine! well that's all right then

Anyone regularly leaving the M5 at junction 16 as I do will know that there is currently a certain amount of seemingly purposeless digging and traffic cone activity at the Aztec West roundabout, and a corresponding reduction in the number of usable lanes. All the more surprising, then, to see a sign very like the one reproduced on the left here as I left the motorway. The irony was positively Morissettian.

That might in itself not be worthy of mention were it not for the coincidental fact that not 24 hours earlier I'd seen a link posted on Facebook to this lengthy list of similar amusing road signs and vaguely related stuff. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

take me to the river

Continuing my New Year's resolution to make it to more music gigs, we went to see Cerys Matthews in concert last week. I was never that big a fan of Catatonia, to be honest, but the tiny proportion of her solo output that I've heard suggested that she'd taken a turn for the acoustic/rootsy/folky/country since the band split up, which sounded a bit more interesting. More pertinently, though, the gig was scheduled to take place at the Riverfront Arts Centre in Newport, one of the few cultural bright spots in central Newport, which is otherwise a fairly unappealing concrete jungle without much in the way of nightlife. So I felt it was important to go along and give the place our support (and also some money) and also to check out the facilities. Plus it's only about ten minutes walk from the house.

It turns out the Riverfront is an attractively modern-looking building quite literally right on the riverfront (as the name suggests), and pleasantly light and airy inside - lots of whitewash and exposed wood, that sort of thing. The upstairs bar also sells bottled Rhymney Bitter which is very pleasant. The main auditorium probably holds about 500-600 people, I would guess, which is about the right size for an intimate gig featuring Cerys Matthews and two blokes with guitars sitting on chairs in the middle of the stage; they'd have seemed a bit lost at Wembley Stadium. Anyway, it was all very pleasant, Cerys' slightly scatty garrulous comedy Welsh barmaid persona is quite appealing, and the music was an entertaining mix of American and British folk tunes (plus a brief blast through Mulder And Scully for the Catatonia fans), concluding with a rousing singalong of Sosban Fach. Good stuff. Just enough time left for a couple of cheeky pints of Samuel Smith's in the Murenger House, and then home to bed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

the last book I read

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Mikael Blomkvist is in a bit of a spot. He's just lost a libel case after publishing what turned out to be unfounded allegations against a prominent Swedish businessman and financier, and consequently Millennium, the magazine he runs (with his colleague and occasional lover Erika Berger) and in which the allegations were published, looks like it may be going down the tubes as well. Also, the loss of the libel case means he's going to have to spend three months in prison pretty imminently.

So when elderly industrialist Henrik Vanger comes to Blomkvist with a proposal, Blomkvist isn't really in a position to refuse. What Vanger wants is for Blomkvist to write a history of the Vanger dynasty. Well, actually, this is just a cover for what Vanger really wants, which is for Blomkvist to investigate the unsolved disappearance of his niece Harriet way back in 1966. Reluctantly, since it will involve several months living up in northern Sweden some hours away from his home in Stockholm, Blomkvist agrees.

In parallel with all this we are introduced to Lisbeth Salander, straight out of the box marked "quirky anti-heroines". Tiny waif-like creature? Check. Tattoos (including the titular dragon)? Check. Bisexual? Check. Murky past of unspecified but vaguely alluded-to horror and abuse? Check. Salander is also a brilliant computer hacker who does freelance work for a firm of security consultants, in which capacity, it turns out, she was hired to do some digging up of information on Blomkvist for Vanger's lawyers before the job offer was made. Eventually Blomkvist and Salander meet, and she agrees to help out with the investigation.

Most of the Vanger dynasty still live on the (fictional) island of Hedeby, which functions as a sort of family compound. And a rum lot some of them are too, especially Harald, Henrik's older brother, with his links to Sweden's murky flirtation with Nazism back in the 1930's, and icy and intimidating matriarch Isabella, wife of Henrik's late nephew Gottfried. The younger generation seem more accommodating - Gottfried's son Martin (brother of Harriet) is now the CEO of the Vanger corporation now that Henrik is in semi-retirement and seems keen to help, and when Blomkvist calls on Harald's daughter Cecilia and she answers the door clad only in a bathrobe it turns out she's happy to be very accommodating indeed, if you know what I mean. You'll have worked out by now that Blomkvist is a bit of a playboy (and pretty clearly a thinly-disguised authorial alter ego) with a typically Scandinavian lack of hang-ups about sex; just to prove the point he starts sleeping with Salander as well just for good measure after she comes to stay on the island with him.

Anyway, the investigation progresses, clues are found, false trails are followed, people turn out to be not all they seem to be, and gradually the solution to the mystery is revealed. I won't spoil it for you, but a gruesome tale of religious mania, misogyny, Nazism, serial killing and incest it is too, complete with the obligatory secret subterranean porn dungeon for the hero to be rescued from in the nick of time as he is about to be buggered to death or something similar.

Nothing I might say about TGWTDT is going to affect its status as a publishing megaphenomenon, at least part of which is down to the poignancy of Larsson dropping dead only a short time after delivering the manuscripts for the first three novels in the series to his publisher (there are rumours that he planned to write up to ten books). The Swedish setting is interestingly quirky as well; it's a bit more exotic than St. Mary Mead, anyway. One certainly might argue that the exotic Arctic setting added a veneer of artiness to films like Insomnia and Let The Right One In that made them seem more interesting than the police procedural/serial killer flick and mildly quirky vampire film they would otherwise respectively have been, and you could probably say the same for this book (and maybe for Henning Mankell's highly-regarded thrillers as well, though I haven't read any of them so I couldn't say).

Which is not to say there's anything wrong with it, just that the overblown praise is a bit much for what is essentially a pretty workmanlike, and occasionally slightly clunkily written (though of course Reg Keeland's translation could be to blame) serial killer thriller. To pick a similar novel for comparison, it's neither as well-written nor as bonkers as Peter Høeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow, for example (though Smilla and Salander's shared quirky skills and up-front sexuality make them first cousins). The ending is oddly constructed as well; once the horrific family secrets are revealed we should really be wrapping things up and getting our coat, but instead we get another 70 pages or so of internal machinations at Millennium and Salander's incomprehensible financial shenanigans in Zurich and the Cayman Islands, the purpose of all of which is to give the crooked financier who got Blomkvist sent to prison right at the beginning his comeuppance. Fine, but it doesn't really compare, excitement-wise, to the revelations that came before (not to mention the porn dungeon stuff).

There is also a disturbing undercurrent of sexual violence against women running through the book (as its original title Män som hatar kvinnor – "Men Who Hate Women") shows more clearly. Whether the slightly unwholesome relish Larsson takes in describing all of this is mitigated by having a Buffy-style ass-kicking heroine as well is a subject of interesting debate.

I'm sounding a bit down on the whole thing there, so just to recap: I wouldn't want you to think that a) I didn't enjoy it and b) I won't be reading the other two - I did, and I'm sure I will. Just, you know, let's all just calm down a bit.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

simon says clap your hands

Here's a bit of unexpected good news: the British Chiropractic Association have dropped their libel case against Simon Singh. This is a refreshing victory for good sense and rationality (and science) and comes on the heels of Singh's victory in his preliminary appeal a couple of weeks ago which allowed the prospect of a full libel hearing, something the BCA obviously decided would not be in their best interests, what with it inevitably focusing on the evidence for and (more importantly) against the claims they make for their treatments.

Feel free to offer your congratulations at Sense About Science; once you've done that pop over to Libel Reform and add your name to the petition. As Singh rightly says, his success in this case has come despite the current libel laws, and at the cost of a wholly unreasonable amount of time and money despite his manifestly obvious rightness in every aspect of what he wrote.

The BCA's typically weaselly and disingenuous statement on the matter is here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

you radiate cold shafts of broken glass

More election-themed stuff to come soon, probably, but for the moment here's just a quick tip of the hat to the Independent's John Rentoul for managing to weave a selection of Pink Floyd lyrics into this piece about the Conservative Party's manifesto launch.

The connection is that the launch took place at Battersea Power Station, famously used for the cover of the Floyd's 1977 album Animals, whence the lyrics in the Independent piece are taken (from Sheep, mostly, though there is a snippet of Pigs in there as well). One of their less well-known albums, it probably suffered from being an album released at the height of punk that featured just five songs: two of them being short acoustic bits of a minute or so each that bookend the other three which are 17, 11 and 10 minutes long respectively - not really in line with the punk ethos of 3 minutes, tops.

Paradoxically, though, this is their punk-est album musically - none of the noodly synths and wailing gospel vocals from The Dark Side Of The Moon here; it's all pretty savage and guitar-driven. Pigs and Sheep are both cracking tunes; to be honest Dogs is a bit long (at 17 minutes) and the central metaphor is a bit overdone by the end, mainly because it's a bit more obvious and less clever than Roger Waters thinks it is. It does feature a couple of glorious long double-tracked David Gilmour guitar solos, though, so it's not all bad news.

room 101 schmoom 101

Rats? Pah! You want the worst thing in the world? I got your worst thing in the world right here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ladies DO engage in despicable acts; I've seen it on the internet

As the traffic at the M4/M5 junction has been so bad the last couple of days I've found myself sitting in a static or nearly static queue of traffic at 9am as the Today programme segued (via the news) into the next programme in the schedule. Yesterday this was a fascinating edition of Andrew Marr's Start The Week featuring (among others) playwright David Hare and kooky multimedia experimentalist Laurie Anderson; today it was an edition of Between Ourselves featuring a couple of gay Anglican priests, one male and one female.

Listening to the two of them chew over their experiences over the years provided a fascinating insight into the corrosively harmful effect religious indoctrination and belief has on the critical faculties and the ability to think in a straight (no pun intended) line. Presenter Olivia O'Leary commendably made the obvious point about the fairly specific prohibitions relating to male homosexuality in Leviticus, and the absurdity of picking and choosing which bits of the Bible to take literally and which to shrug off as either "metaphor" or "only relevant to the time they were written"; she referred to this as "à la carte Christianity" which I thought was quite apt. Others attempt to get round these issues with some hilariously fatuous weaselling known as "Biblical hermeneutics" (see also "Christian apologetics").

Neither guest made a particularly convincing reply to this, because, essentially, there isn't one - as soon as you claim to know better than the Bible on moral issues then you instantly torpedo any notion of the Bible (and hence God) being the source of all wisdom regarding morality. If you were intellectually honest you would then have to go on to investigate why you think you know better, how you would know if you were wrong, and stuff like that, but of course one of the ways the meme of religion perpetuates itself is by shutting all that off: thinking is dangerous, leave it to us, we'll do it for you.

Another illustration was provided when the lady priest revealed that she had undergone psychiatric therapy in the past to try and "cure" herself of her lesbianism - the notion that, if your perfectly natural sexual preferences conflict with your belief that there is some bloke watching over us who created the world, us, free will, all that stuff, solely so that he could then take a prurient interest in what we do with our genitals and arbitrarily declare some permutations unacceptable for ill-defined reasons, then it's the sexuality bit that needs to go is indicative of Something Very Wrong somewhere.

Incidentally I'm pretty sure Leviticus only specifically proscribes male homosexual activity; possibly for similar reasons British law only ever did the same - Queen Victoria apparently refusing to accept that lady homosexuals existed:
"Ladies would never engage in such despicable acts."
So it may actually be that hot girl-on-girl action is all totally A-OK with the big man upstairs after all, and that there's nothing to worry about. Although it could also be argued that assuming anything not explicitly prohibited in the Old Testament is therefore acceptable is a quick route to a) prison b) hell or c) both.

[Footnote: actually this was yesterday. So for "today" read "yesterday", and for "yesterday" read "the day before yesterday". Except for the "yesterday"s you got by converting "today" to "yesterday" just a few seconds ago; leave them as they are. Hope that sorts it all out for you.]

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I'll get you, my pretty

A big high-five to the city of Baltimore for enacting a law that requires centres offering advice and counselling for pregnant women to clearly state up-front which services they do and do not provide; specifically, that if they do not under any circumstances refer women for abortions or offer guidance regarding birth control they should say so.

On the face of it this is all eminently sensible and uncontroversial; the fact that it has prompted squeals of protest and even legal action from local Catholic groups is one the one hand hilarious and on the other hand profoundly revealing of how these people's mental processes work, and what they're really up to.

You see, you would think that on the face of it an organisation like the Catholic Church, which makes no particular secret of its opposition to sensible birth control and abortion, and indeed sex (sex with young boys excepted, of course) and women's rights in general, would be only too happy to trumpet these policies as publicly as possible. Not in this case, however, and for the same reason that I'd guess these Catholic-run "centres" probably tone down the old crucifix and Virgin Mary stuff on the signs as well: because their intent is to deceive, i.e. lure vulnerable women through the door with vague promises of "health advice" and "counselling" and only once they're safely inside reveal that this "advice" basically boils down to ABORTION IS MURDER and YOU ARE A WHORE and ONLY THROUGH JESUS CAN YOU BE FORGIVEN FOR YOUR WHORISH WHORISHNESS and so on and so forth.

Now clearly you can't make that argument in court, i.e. stamp your little feet and demand that you must be allowed to lie to people - or rather, you can't make that argument without adding a further layer of lying and obfuscation and claiming that it's a freedom of speech issue. Which it is in exactly the same way as the fuss over the right to be an evil homophobic bigot was, i.e. not at all.

This is the sound of squeaking rodent-y protest at floorboards being ripped up and cleansing daylight being cast into previously hidden nooks and crannies (I recommend reading Stephen King's short story Graveyard Shift for a nicely gruesome extension of this idea), or of Dracula melting away into dust in the first rays of the morning sun, or, my personal favourite, the Wicked Witch Of The West's demise:
Look what you've done! I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!

the final camel that broke the jigsaw's back

Top analytical skills from the talking head they wheeled in on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning to talk about the ramifications of the British Airways-Iberia merger: not content with making reference to "a lot of testerone" flying about in regard to the current union difficulties BA are having, he went on to use the word "murder" instead of "merger" at least once, and then refer to the deal being "the final jigsaw in the puzzle" for BA's plans for world domination. Perhaps just the one schooner of sherry for breakfast next time?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

quote of the day

I've seen this attributed to Democratic senator Tom Harkin, but it seems that it's probably older than that. You can understand the temptation to keep recycling it though, as it's nice and pithy:
Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
Obviously the party references place this firmly in the USA, but so does the unthinking assumption that everyone will be familiar with the layout of an automatic gearbox. I don't have any figures for the ratio (if you'll pardon the pun) of automatic to manual transmission cars sold in the USA, but the general references in US book and film to a "stick shift" being something weird and exotic suggests it's quite high. This article from September 2006 suggests that the ratio (pardon the pun, again) is about 4:1 in favour of manual transmission in Europe; I wouldn't be surprised if the situation were reversed in the USA. I suppose the sheer size of the place means the ratio (pardon, etc.) of driving along in a straight line in the same gear to stopping and starting and going round corners and shit is relatively high compared to little old Europe.

If anyone has a definitive set of figures I'd be interested to see them. Well, I say interested, I'd tolerate them. Well, I say tolerate......[etc.]

[Footnote: this article suggests that less than 10% of cars sold in the USA now have manual transmission. Lazy bastards.]