Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Bliar Wars: Revenge of the Humphreys

When I worked for the Government this happy chappy was, for a time, my supreme leader or 'Permanent Secretary' - the position occupied by Sir Humphrey in the well-known television comedy series, Yes Minister. We used to call him Wingnut Wilson, for obvious reasons (check out his lug'oles!) but he's more properly known as Lord Wilson of Dinton. He was a decent sort, if a tad remote, and we saw him only occasionally when he would tour the office and administer the metaphorical pat on the head and say "You're all doing very well". Wingnut went on to better things and became the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service where he fell under the domain of our former Prime Minister Mr Tony Forked-Tongue Blair. Wingnut has been retired for some time now and was awarded the customary peerage, and sinecure at Cambridge University, but he has emerged from the depths of  academia and the House of Lords to advise the Iraq Inquiry that Mr Blair has not exactly been telling the truth as regards how well he kept his Cabinet colleagues informed on plans to invade Iraq. The Independent reports that:
'Far from keeping his Cabinet in the loop, Lord Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary from 1998 to 2002, said Mr Blair assured them in April 2002 that "nothing was imminent. I don't think anyone would have gone away thinking they had authorised a course of action that would lead to military action," Lord Wilson said.
Coincidentally, Wingnut's successor as Cabinet Secretary, Andrew Turnbull also served as my supreme leader for a time. He went for a more down-with-the-kids approach - he supported Tottenham Hotspur and held 'focus group' meetings with us plebs from time to time. At one of these, I induced an awkward silence when I berated t'management for the half-baked,  hare-brained and iniquitous performance pay scheme they had foisted upon us. But that's another story; Turnbull nevertheless got the Peerage and some directorships after retiring. The estimable Lord Turnbull has however corroborated Wingnut's view of Blair's attitude towards the Cabinet:
"The Prime Minister basically said, 'They knew the score.' That isn't borne out by what actually happened," he said. "By the summer [of 2002], he'd largely made up his mind at a time when his colleagues were a long way behind." He said Mr Blair had repeatedly put off discussing the policy of invading Iraq until shortly before military action began in March 2003. He also confirmed key policy papers detailing the possibility of military action against the Iraqi dictator were not shown to many Cabinet members.
So there we have it. Blair exposed in public by two former Humphreys, now members of The House of Lords, as a liar. It won't be just his ears that are burning.

That Would Explain It Then...

We Have Nothing To Fear But A Giant Muffin Falling On Our Heads

Monday, 24 January 2011

"How would you like to wear your face backwards?"

Farewell My Lovely. Funny film noir.

"'Okay Marlowe,' I said to myself. 'You're a tough guy. You've been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you're crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let's see you do something really tough - like putting your pants on.'" 

Grayle: It's a long story and not pretty. 
Marlowe: I got lots of time and I'm not squeamish. 

"She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle."

Marriott: I'm afraid I don't like your manner.
Marlowe: Yeah, I've had complaints about it, but it keeps getting worse.

Friday, 21 January 2011


I have received an invitation from The London Review of Books to attend a lecture at The British Museum entitled Who Owns Kafka? Now then, anyone who has read any of Franz Kafka's works will immediately find the concept of the ownership of yer man, or his works, a troubling thing to grapple with given the intrinsic tendency towards existential nihilism which permeates much of his writings. Not to mention the surreal imagery, depression and hopelessness.
Be that as it may, it seems the State of Israel is determined that because Kafka was Jewish then his works belong to Israel so they are taking legal action to secure Kafka's unpublished papers for the Israel National Library. But the woman who actually owns the unpublished papers, through inheritance, wants to sell them to a German museum - more info on the background at the BBC. The problem arises because Kafka's friend Max Brod disobeyed his instructions to burn all his papers after his death, and instead took them with him to Israel in 1939 and gave them to his secretary who left them to her daughters. This one will run and run and keep the lawyers happy as well as provide a nice little sideline for intellectuals, whether Jewish or not.

Lies, Damned Lies and Tony Blair

Tony Blair belongs to that most reprehensible species of liar; he believes his own lies. He's been exposed as a liar but continues with his lies. And so lie follows lie whilst we all stand flabbergasted at his self-delusion. There is not a scrap of decency left in him.
Blair now claims that the advice given to him by the Attorney General that war against Iraq was illegal was 'provisional'. No it wasn't; that was his considered advice but Blair and his cronies sidelined the Attorney General and subsequently bullied him to make him prevaricate and fudge it. The legal advice was only 'provisional' in the sense that Blair disagreed with it - and apparently still does.
And many more. Lies about weapons of mass destruction, exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq, lies about links with September 11 and Al'Qaeeda, etc etc when all along the objective was regime change - an objective set by George W Bush and his neo-con buddies back in 1998. You can check out the evidence for yourself at The Iraq Inquiry website, and there's a piece over at The Independent which pretty much sums up Blair's mendacious behaviour.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Bang Bang You're Dead (cont'd)

Reuters news agency reports that Eric Fuller, 63, who was shot in the knee on January 8 by Jared Loughner in Tucson, Arizona, objected to comments from Trent Humphries, leader of the conservative Tea Party political movement in Tucson. Fuller was one of 13 people injured when Loughner opened fire during a gathering of constituents of U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. During a town hall meeting Fuller stood, turned and snapped a picture of Humphries,  yelled at him and said, 'You're dead.' Deputies arrested Fuller on charges of disorderly conduct and making a threat and, after consultation with a doctor,  took Fuller to a local hospital for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation.
Humphries is a leading light in the Tucson branch of the so-called 'Tea Party'. He had spoken out in response to allegations that outpourings by 'Tea Party' followers and right-wingers such as Sarah Palin have not only polarised American politics but might also have encouraged Loughner by their use of gun-toting imagery and language. Humphries said, amongst other things, that Congresswoman Giffords should bear responsilbility for the shooting because she arranged her constituency meeting without employing armed security guards. Humphries apparently believes armed security might somehow have deterred or restrained Loughner.
It is arguable whether or not that might be so, but in any case it is ironic that Humphries himself should now be exposed so easily to attack not by a nutter with a Glock 19 automatic pistol, but be 'shot' by a chap with a camera. Let's hope Humphries and his chums reflect on the fragility of their position.
Full marks to Mr Fuller!

University Challenge Update

Now that we have reached the quarter finals, I thought I'd give you all an update on how the household is doing.

Mum falls asleep a lot

I'm the only one on an upward trend. Dad is going downwards.

Harpo Picasso

One of these gentlemen is not wearing his usual curly wig and the other is looking typically inscrutable. Neither of them wrote 'Das Kapital' but I doubt if they were ever seen in the same room together. I think we should be told.


We have just taken delivery, on behalf of the estimable Tom Braggins, of a brand new Fender Hot Rod Deville 212 III amplifier.
Prior to handing it over to Mr Braggins, I've been trying it out using one's amended Epiphone Les Paul (DiMarzio pickups fitted). It sounds rather good - it's a 60 watt combo comprising two twelve inch speakers, with all the inimitable Fenderness of a Fender amplifier. An excellent range of sounds and it's very powerful too. With the use of the 'drive' and 'more drive' channel you can get all the distortion a sensible person might need, and the spring reverb is spiffing.The 'clean' sound is nice and crisp, or soft and warm, or anywhere in between.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Badjelly's Bad Christmas

You've only got today, tomorrow and the day after that left in which to go to Chickenshed Theatre to see their splendid show Badjelly's Bad Christmas (four performances remaining). The show, written by Jo Collins and David Carey of Chickenshed,  is based on Spike Milligan's various works and centred on the character of Badjelly the Witch who featured in a fairy story Spike wrote sometime in the early 1970s.
For a Christmas show it's not really very Christmassy which, as far as I'm concerned is A Good Thing. Chickenshed simply use the baubles for the Christmas tree as a plot device, and the plot isn't necessarily that important when you're dealing with Spike Milligan*. Like Chekhov, Mr Milligan was more about generating moments, ideas, jokes and glimpses of life. But, of course, as the show is for the family it has been given a beginning, middle and end and the goodies not only win in the end but the baddie turns good. You won't find that very often in Chekhov though.
Any road up, the show is rather good and makes excellent use of Spike's work. There's a lorra lorra laffs and excellent performances from the cast. It must have been quite a task for Chickenshed to organise. They have used four different rotas (or casts) so that the show could run for some sixty performances in all, there being a limit on how many shows children can do in any given period. Getting them rehearsed and confident in their roles requires not just commitment and discipline but also dedication. And it's that feeling of dedication that comes through the performance, reflecting Spike Milligan's own enthusiasm and child-like joy in having fun.
*Many of Spike's sketches for his Q5 TV show ended with the cast saying in unison 'What are we going to do now?' rather than a punchline. Chickenshed slip this line into the show so I'll give them a bonus point.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Thanks For All The Fish

Chief Tecchie and Drummage Operator, Our Phil, took members of the Xorg Collective out for a spiffing slap-up feast at our local Loch Fyne restaurant t'other night. Another 'chain' amongst others which are rendering our towns and cities anonymous but none the less providing good food, although not at what you might call bargain prices. Fortunately, El Presidente had a voucher which knocked £20 quids off the bill thereby relieving Phil of some of the pain.
I enjoyed a bowl of lobster bisque with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and toast. The soup was quite good, although they could have been more generous with the toast. This was followed by a 'Seafood Selection' comprising salmon fillet, sea bass, a very large prawn and roast spuds all resting on some concoction or other. Again, I felt short-changed by the accompaniment but the fish itself was excellent. Items consumed by my colleagues included whitebait, chilli prawns, Goan fish curry, sea bream and lemon sole. Very good overall experience, and the main element - the fish - is spiffing. But several points deducted because they charge you £1.50 extra for bread which is a downright rip off.

Bang Bang You're Dead

There I was, naively thinking this latest shooting incident in America might make them think more seriously about gun control. Not a bit of it. The Washington Post reports a 60% rise in the sale of handguns in Arizona, 65% in Ohio, 33% in New York etc etc. Mind you, the national average rise is only 5% so presumably there are some places where people aren't quite so paranoid and gun-happy. The Land of The Free; but they all seem to be so scared of each other!
Just think of all those guns swishing about in America - even if they did bring in some controls now, how would the authorities ever manage to collect them all in? I suppose that as Americans are very fond of money the authorities could offer compensation but as a Glock 19 costs $499 that's going to add up to a tidy sum - estimates vary but the Violence Policy Centre quotes a figure of 65 million as the number of handguns in America. Then there's all the other firearms; Uzi machine guns, shotguns, rifles etc.
But what can you expect from a society which stole its country from its indigenous people. Violently. With guns.
Addendum: US gun crime statistics from The Guardian

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Twiddlin' the Night Away

A glimpse of The Boy Wonder at work with his mixing desk and various gubbinses, during the interval.

How To Make A Time Machine

Phase One: You Need a Black Hole
If there isn't one handy, bring a lot of stars together in one place and squeeze them within the Schwarzchild Radius for the whole heap of stars. You'll need about 1,000 stars like our sun to make a hole big enough to work with.
(Schwarzchild's critical black hole radius is equal to an object's mass multiplied by twice the constant of gravity and divided by the speed of light squared).
Phase Two: Pop Through The Wormhole
Drive your spaceship carefully into the Black Hole, through the space/time tunnel (or wormhole) and out the other end. You will now be in a different place and a different time. Find a large mass (e.g. a big planet) to dangle in front of the wormhole's mouth.
(Check whether the planet is inhabited by sentient beings. Inter-galactic law may require relocation strategies to be in place prior to dangle).
Phase Three: Pull The Wormhole along
Dangling the planet in front of the wormhole, tow it back to where you started - gravity will cause the wormhole to follow like a donkey following a carrot. As soon as both ends of the wormhole are near one another drive round and round in a circle.
Phase Four: Twist The Ends of The Wormhole
This is where it gets tricky (as opposed to merely difficult).
You will recall that Einstein predicted gravitational time dilation in 1907 as part of his Theory of Relativity. This phenomenon has since been confirmed by experiment  (see American Physical Society: moving clocks run slow relative to one another) so it ought to work, fingers crossed, touch wood etc. but you will need to be patient.
Whilst one wormhole mouth is circling around, time is passing more slowly for it. So keep twisting for as long as you want, as fast as you need, to make a time difference between the two ends of the wormhole. Each twist increases the time difference and the faster the twisting is done, the greater the difference. When you stop, and have parked the moving mouth down next to the original black hole, the mouth you moved will now be a set distance in time behind the other mouth (the Black Hole). Don't worry; each end of the wormhole will have the same gravitational influence so they will balance each other out and you won't get dragged into a continuum paradox.
Phase Five: Using Your Time Machine
Suppose you have set a time difference of a year. Drive in one mouth and you come out of the other a year in the future. Go round as often as you like, jumping another year on each occasion. To get home, go round the other way, jumping backward one year on each journey.
Important: You can never go back further than the time when you built the Black Hole. If you do, then you will be in another universe with a different time line, where it would be possible for you to murder your own grandfather and still be alive in the universe where you started from. But things might not be quite the 'same'. Better to stay in the universe where you are, so you only have one time line to remember and your mum won't be quite so upset with you.

Keats and Chapman Examine the Avifauna

Keats popped out one afternoon to the off-licence and encountered Chapman, who was dressed in a camouflaged hat and jacket and rubber boots and was carrying binoculars and a telescope.
Said Keats "Where are you off to?"
Chapman replied "I'm off to the marshes. I've taken up orthinothonology."
"Oh!" said Keats. "you sound like a word-botcher."

2nd Amendment

This is a Glock 19 automatic pistol as used by Jared Loughner in his shooting spree in Arizona. As with all Glock pistols it features 'safe action' which is a euphemism for being able to shoot many rounds quickly when you want to as opposed to when you drop the gun on the floor. Its magazine can hold up to 33 rounds; Mr Loughner apparently had two such magazines with him. The Glock 19 is described as 'compact' which means it is easily concealed. Interestingly, although  it is reported that Loughner had a history of drug arrests, had been excluded from school and college and was rejected by the Army because of his 'instability', he was able to obtain and carry this weapon legally in Arizona. Maybe the Americans ought to examine their gun culture and revisit their constitutional right to bear arms. A person with a Glock 19 can shoot more people, more easily and more quickly than a person without one. This might be useful for a militia when repelling invaders but it is a bit of a risk when in the hands of a politically (or otherwise) motivated nutter.

Frank Zappa:The Black Page

This tune exists in several versions in Mr Zappa's output and was a regular feature in his concerts. Here it is played by a young lady in The Young Musician of The Year Competition. Go here for more information on Mr Zappa's recordings.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Books and Stuff

Well. I'm still plodding through Chekhov's short stories (currently The New Villa) but, meanwhile, I have re-visited Terry Pratchett's first two Discworld books The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Interesting to note that he uses less 'magic' in the later books; or rather the weird stuff is not explained so explicitly as magic - it's just weird stuff and his readership know what's what anyway.
Another couple of volumes of Spike Milligan's memoirs. I'm up to where the War is over and he's been demobbed. I'm not sure if I quite believe everything he says, particularly in the detailed way he reports it. But I guess that's autobiographies for you - not necessarily made up but embellished with a bit of poetic licence. Having said that, he is honest in acknowledging where his former comrades' recollections are different.
A Judge Dredd graphic novel entitled 'The Pit' which describes the problems inherent in having a public housing policy which employs 'sink estates' to deal with problem families. It also looks at the inevitability of corruption within the justice system.
The London Review of Books. My sister-in-law nominated me for a free 12-month subscription for this learned and erudite journal. It is not necessary to have read, or even intend to read, the books under consideration as the reviews are lengthy and are more like essays so you know what's going on and, assuming you trust the reviewer, therefore, Bob's yer Uncle. There are also free-standing articles on this and that. Requires concentration though.
Next up is 'The Adventures of Mr Thake' by Beachcomber (J B Morton). Should be a laugh. BBC Radio 4 have been broadcasting some of this book in their afternoon reading slot. It's interesting to note that Beachcomber's writings were originally published in The Daily Express, back when it was more like a newspaper. That kind of thing doesn't happen these days. Now it's all celebrities, gossip and back-biting and just plain lies that editors seem to think we find entertaining.
Meanwhile, El Presidente has gone all classic A Level on us and is reading 'Mary Barton' by Elizabeth Gaskell. Recommended, but a bit of a task to read so if you'd rather listen to it being read (for example, whilst doing the ironing or darning socks) go to Librivox for a free download. Sheds light on 19th Century industrialised Britain, The Chartists and Trade Unions so it counts as social history as well as literature which is probably why it is on the A Level syllabus, like.