Saturday, August 16, 2003

Professionalism is ruining this game...

There's a sign at Liverpool Street station warning that 'professional beggars are operating in this area'. Now, I know what they mean, but for there to be a distinct class of professional beggars, doesn't that imply that there are also some amateur ones operating out there as well?

Shock horror

Now, sometimes I agree with Julie Burchill and sometimes I violently disagree with her. I suspect this is a common response among people of all political stripes (though the agreement and disagreement differ, obviously) but I wonder if we can all agree that her last couple of Guardian columns have been pretty, well, bland? It's all a bit David Baddiel-esque 'it's a bit shit, really' writing that's far too lazy to be ranting. Hopefully, she'll be back offending and/or delighting next week, but until then, there's always the fun of judging just how much she and Alexander Chancellor resemble each other, and of course, the Julie Burchill Random Recycler:
When I was a kiddy growing up in the early 70s, my school was literally a concentration camp I literally felt the world shift on its axis makes so much more sense than male homosexuality.

An argument against organ transplants

Anyone want to donate a kidney to Idi Amin? Thought not.

Update: News 24 are currently reporting wire reports that he's just died. Here's the story from Sky News.

Prediction time

OK, with the new Premiership season starting later today, here's a few of my predictions for the year:

Wolves will not be relegated and will finish around about 13th. However, a flirtation with the relegation zone around Christmas will allow sports editors to get out the 'Wolves at the door' headlines they've been saving up. 'Howling Wolf' and 'Big Bad Wolf' will also be used, though less frequently.
Chelsea will either win the league by a mile or not be involved in the title race at all. However, if Chelsea aren't in the running by the time the transfer window reopens in January, Roman Abramovich will simply buy every other side in the Premiership to ensure victory.
Leeds will sell several players, usually within hours of announcing that 'X is not for sale at any price'.
The fact that Man Utd's new keeper, Tim Howard, suffers from a mild form of Tourette's Syndrome will be mentioned, on average, around 13 times during every commentary. At least two of these mentions will include a reference to how 'Peter Schmeichel didn't have an excuse for all his shouting'.
Portsmouth will be relegated - several reports will link this to the town's naval history and use 'sinking ship' metaphors to describe their plight.
Chris Coleman will lose his job as Fulham manager. Several people I know will celebrate this as it will mean they're no longer older than the Premiership's youngest manager.
Leicester will also be relegated. Fans of other clubs will celebrate this, given the fact that they cheated their way to promotion last year. Sportswriters will celebrate this because they'll have run out of Gary Lineker and crisp-related jokes to use in their reports.
Leeds will be the third relegated side. This will have nothing to do with the players or Peter Reid, but rather the fact that the board will accidentally sell off all their remaining players to Accrington Stanley for 75p and a back issue of Roy Of The Rovers. The board will deny that any sale has taken place.
After a cold winter, fixture congestion around February will result in Man Utd and Arsenal having to play each other three times in the same day. Alex Ferguson will request an extra hour be added to the length of the day to allow for injuries. None of the matches will kick off at 3pm, though.
The Leeds board will begin to deny their own existence.
Someone, somewhere, will claim that if Premiership players all started blogging it would improve the quality of their play.
Leeds will attract their highest crowds in years as most of the world's philosophers begin attending Elland Road to discuss whether a game has taken place if one side doesn't exist.
Several young men in their early twenties will drink heavily while on holiday in a foreign country. Because they make their living as footballers this will be decreed news.
Having solved the question of whether or not Leeds exist, several philosophers will attempt to understand the 'ranking coefficient' system used by UEFA. They will fail, and will spend the rest of their lives in comfy rooms being kept away from sharp objects.
Finally, Arsene Wenger will still fail to see any incident in which an Arsenal player is sent off. To predict otherwise would just be far too silly.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Lapdance Island

This has got to be a joke, or just the set up for something else, but the important question is what? There's a vague air of Charlie Brooker about it, but I'm not sure. Anyone got any ideas?

Update: So, I thought I'd see what happens when you fill in the form and whether you get some 'ha ha, fooled you' type response. Nope, you just get to another page where you're asked to enter the name of five friends to be your 'referees' for the project. Now, one of the joys of owning my own domain name is the unlimited email addresses that come with it so I didn't have to inflict this on any of my friends. 'Referees' get the following email:
Nick Barlow has applied to be a contestant on E4's brand new reality show - Lapdance Island.

10 male contestants on a paradise island surrounded by 40 professional lapdancers - one rule - contestants can look but they can't touch.

As with all projects of this nature, it is important to get the right people and Nick Barlow has asked you to be a referee. The main issue we need to investigate is the motivations of the applicants. Please can you answer in no more than 150 words why you think Nick Barlow applied to be surrounded day and night by 40 professional lapdancers.
And I got this email:
We have now received and processed your application to take part in Lapdance Island http://www.channel4.com/lapdanceisland. The referees you have supplied will be contacted and, if they are prepared to supply a reference, this will be added to your application.

If you are not Nick Barlow, or you suspect that someone has applied on your behalf, please report this abuse of the application process by replying to this email, or contacting us at lapdance@channel4.com and your data will be removed.

Disclaimer: tests have shown that prolonged exposure to lap dancers can cause problems with vision and have detrimental affects on the male libido. E4 can not be held responsible for medical side effects produced by contestants taking part in the show.
So, they are taking the joke further than just the initial application. I'm now thinking this is an attempt to get ten blokes for a new series, but I seriously doubt they'll all find themselves on an island full of lapdancers. The big question, of course, is what are they being set up for?

Politico-Journalistic philosophical question

If there's a by-election in a local authority somewhere, and the BNP aren't involved does it even take place? Obviously, in the eyes of the media, the answer is no. Should you want to see results of those elections that didn't really happen, and where Greens, Independents and various Residents parties won more seats than the BNP can dream of, they're here.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Fantasy football update

There's now 11 teams entered in the UK Bloggers fantasy football league - my Disposable Heroes, Dr Rock's TurnedOutNiceAgain Rovers, British Spin's Real Politik, Jez's Deportivo La Yorkshire, Iain Murray's Spartak Brockley Whins, Occupied Country's Team Chic Sentry and Simon's You Bees! are the ones whose owners I know. I'm not sure who's entered Seagulls FC, Pomo Pornstars XI, Everywhens and AFC Wibblington (though I presume one of them belongs to Bingobowden) so let me know if one of them is yours. I'd like to give a brief weekly plug to whoever is leading the table and whoever gets the most points, but I can't do that if I don't know you!

If you still want to join, then you need to go here to set up a team, then once that's done go to the main page, choose 'join a private group' and then enter group ID# 23975 and password 'orlowski'. If you've already got a team on Yahoo! you can join this group as well as any others you're already a member of and though you need to enter a team by midnight on Friday to score points for this weekend's games, you can enter a team at any point in the season.

Welcome to the 21st Century

Now this is the sort of thing we were always told was waiting for us in the future - Dubai is planning to build the world's first undersea hotel as part of its bid to become the leading luxury tourism destination.

Ah, but did it cause the hole in the ozone layer?

Australian scientists have achieved yet another world first - the first picture of a whale farting. (via the non-flatulent Hot Buttered Death)

Mmm...Ink

Via Eschaton, here's an interesting Andrew Orlowski article from The Register about the BloggerCon event. The most interesting stuff, though, is when he gets to the more general issue of the self-congratulatory nature of some blogging (a vice I'm sure I've succumbed to before, as have we all no doubt):
Cast your minds back to another 'revolution', the desktop-publishing era, when a combination of easy-to-use publishing software on cheap desktop computers, and low-cost laser printers, made it easy to publish newsletters and flyers for your community. The DTP era produced a deluge of bad design, aesthetic atrocities which were ridiculed by professional designers, but at no point did the tools vendors - Aldus, Adobe, Quark and Apple - treat this as a personal affront. This is what distinguishes today's tools vendors and their permaflunkies - a contingent of reporters, 'analysts' and marketeers who have unearthed a lucrative junket circuit by exploiting weblogging. Every attack on a lousy weblog is met with outrage. This terribly smacks of insecurity, and suggests they aren't concerned with quality as much as failing to discern volume. As if the solution to bad speech is lots more bad speech...

...The medium is not the message. Imagine how tedious newspapers would be if every other story proclaimed "We use INK!!!" The writers don't care, and the readers don't care, how this message was delivered: but readers do care about quality.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Fantasy Football

For those of you reading out there who are football fans (including Brentford supporters...) I've created a UK Bloggers fantasy football league on the Yahoo! Fantasy Sports site. It's all free, and could introduce a fun bit of rivalry between blogs over the season.

So, if you want to take part, you first need to go here to create a team, then when you're back on the main page after doing that, click on 'join a private group' and then, when prompted, the group ID# is 23975 and the password is 'orlowski' (I figured I'd go for a name bloggers seem to remember easily).

Points are calculated weekly, so if you want to take part you need to have a team registered by 11.59pm Friday night to get points over the weekend!

Peter Jackson's next movie...

...will be a remake of King Kong. Since I read that New Line (the company behind Lord Of The Rings) had bought the rights to film Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, I was hoping that would be his next project, but I can live in hope for the future. Of course, Jackson would have a problem in filming it, as there isn't (to my knowledge, anyway) anywhere in New Zealand that could effectively double for the Oxford of the books.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Come in number 247

And the latest from California is that there may be as many as 247 candidates for Governor in the recall election. Now, I've run elections with more than 10 candidates and I've voted in ones with over 30, but 247? I seriously do believe that if some of these candidates don't vote for themselves there could well be people receiving no votes at all. Which would be a different way of distinguishing yourself from all the others afterwards.

I have thought before, if I had the money to throw away on a deposit, of standing in a by-election as the 'Don't vote for me Party' just to see how few votes it would be possible to get, with that added bonus of pseudo-immortality in the Guinness Book of Records. I think the record (post everyone getting the vote, anyway) is something like 11 votes by Lord Buckethead or someone similar.

Update: The lowest is apparently the seven votes received by Dorian Vanbraam in Putney in 1997. Thanks to Anthony for the pointer.

Is that a bandwagon I see before me?

What with the general lethargy caused by the heat and my weird shift patterns at the moment, I've been stuck for inspiration on anything to post about beyond the odd link or two. This post by British Spin sums up my attitude to posting anything about the Hutton Inquiry, so instead I've jumped on the latest meme that I found at Green Fairy:

1. If you want to participate, leave a comment saying "interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different.
3. You will update your journal with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


So, unable to resist the temptation to let someone ask me whatever they wanted (which is a rather strange temptation, I admit), I signed on and here's what she asked me:

1. What is the greater sin, hypocrisy or greed?

Leaving aside any of my qualms at the use of 'sin' as a concept, I think I'd have to go for hypocrisy. It's based around a central dishonesty of saying one thing and doing another, whereas greed, for all the problems it may cause, is not necessarily dishonest. People who are greedy can be very upfront and honest about (not always, of course) but hypocrites, by their very nature, are always being dishonest on some level.

2. Are you living the life you right now that thought you would be as a child?

This is a tricky one, because I'm not sure I ever really envisaged in any great detail how my life would pan out. That's not to say I haven't had dreams about things I want to do, but I've never been one for setting out great long-term goals or directions in my life. I always recoiled from the idea of 'careers' at school and college, as the idea of saying some kind of 'yes, this is what I want to do and I'm going to do it for the rest of my life' kind of scared me, maybe because I've always had some form of commitment-phobia. So, while I might not have achieved some of the dreams I had as a child, most of them are still within the realms of possibility - though I've accepted that my hopes of being a global rock star or captaining England to World Cup glory aren't that likely to happen now.

3. What appeals to you about football?

Now, I could be all high-minded about this and talk about how it's the 'beautiful game' that draws the world together and provides moments of skill, beauty and genius and how the best matches are like mass theatre with plots, sub-plots, emotional upheavals and incredible stories, but I think that would be a rationalisation rather than a real reason. That said, Bergkamp's winning goal for Holland against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup was art and drama combined.

In truth, it comes down to one of the reasons Nick Hornby identified in Fever Pitch - it's provided one of the constant things in my life. I first became a Wolves fan when I was just four years old - on holiday, I'd got a new pair of trainers that were partly a yellow/gold colour so I asked my brother what football team played in that colour. He said 'Wolves' so I replied 'I'm a Wolves fan, then' - the wind must have changed at that point as it stuck and I'm still supporting them twenty-seven years later. It's just one of those things that gets ingrained in you, and no matter how hard you try you can't shake it. In a way, it can take the place of religion in that it gives you something outside yourself to believe in. As I've said before, being a Wolves fan is very similar to being a Catholic - there's lots of pain and suffering, with promises of a rosy future and you have to regard a slightly dotty old man as the supreme authority.

4. Assuming the inevitability of burial for a moment, what would you want on your gravestone?

'Born 1972 - Died 2593'
Or, to be serious, either 'He made a difference', 'He will be remembered' or something of that ilk - I think that's really the best thing anyone can hope for.

5. 'Dr Pepper is clearly better than Vimto, and what's more cream soda is disgusting.' Discuss.

It's been years since I drank cream soda, but my memories are of a substance that was almost impossibly sweet and tasted far gloopier than a liquid ever should. However, I have to take the side of Vimto over Dr Pepper, but I'm not sure there's a rational reason for it - I've only rarely tasted Dr Pepper firstly because I think there's a subconcious reflex that says anything with 'pepper' in the name is going to taste...well, peppery and secondly, the first time I encountered it as a child I was told that it wasn't a drink in itself, it was just made from mixing together what was left of all the other drinks at the pop factory. It really is quite amazing the kind of deep subconcious implications combinations of fizzy water, sugar and flavourings can have, isn't it.

So, my response would be that Vimto edges out Dr Pepper in my personal taste test, though either one would be preferable to cream soda. However, all soft drinks should kneel and pay homage to the mighty Irn Bru.

Update: Questions for Mala and James in the comments section.
Update 2: Answers from Mala and James, and a set of questions for Ryan in the comments.

Choices in Afghanistan

An interesting opinion piece from Deustche Welle - An Afghan Mission with risks or total chaos? - looking at the need for the ISAF to be deployed outside of Kabul if there's going to be any long term stability there:
The result is that Afghanistan's provinces must be pacified. After two decades of bloody quarrels, the Afghans will hardly put an end to the power struggles and overcome the ethic [sic - I presume it's a typo for 'ethnic'] conflicts on their own. The wounds are too deep and the appetite for revenge too strong for reconciliation without help from outside. Afghans will not recognize there is a better alternative to the culture of the Kalashnikov until reconstruction of the country delivers visible advantages and palpable benefits to all.
There's also some worrying news about press freedom in Afghanistan in there:
The death sentence delivered to two Afghan journalists and confirmed by Supreme Court President Maulavi Fazl-e Hadi Shinwari is a shocking step backwards that recalls the misdeeds of Taliban regime. In the weekly Aftab the two men, Sayeed Mahdawi and Ali Reza Payam, had criticized what they described as the reactionary interpretation and abuse of Islam for political purposes in Afghanistan.

Afghan mullahs have accused them of blasphemy. The theological exchange is one thing, while the brutal death threat is another entirely unacceptable response. Instead of reacting in a knee-jerk fashion and sentencing people with a different opinion to death, the Afghan clerics should engage in a sincere, verbal discussion about the correct interpretation of Islam.

The Director-General of the Deutsche Welle, Erik Bettermann, was right to protest publicly against the death sentence. He described it as a "severe blow to the basic right to press freedom" and an "alarming step backwards in the development of a civil society in Afghanistan."

Parallels

I meant to link to this yesterday, but didn't get around to it. The Guardian has an interesting extract from South African writer Christopher Hope's new book, Brothers Under The Skin in which he outlines some interesting similarities in the world views of Robert Mugabe and Hendrik Verwoerd, the founder of apartheid.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Brent East by-election again

I've been emailed by the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (did they email any other bloggers?) to inform me that they have selected a candidate for the Brent East by-election. Chris Baldwin will be representing them, who was their candidate in Worthing East and Shoreham at the last election, where he got a quite respectable 2.1% of the vote.

I had a quick look at the UKIP and Green Party websites but can't find any details of whether or not they're standing candidates.

From the pages of Analog

There's something about the whole cosmonaut getting married while in space story that reminds me of the sort of stories that were the stable publishing diet of the old SF magazines up until the 50s. There's a whole 'and in the future, you'll be able to get married over the wireless while you're in space and your bride is still on Earth!' air about the whole thing, really. I think the clincher is the line where it's announced that the bride 'plans to move to Moscow and open a vitamin store while her husband continues his space career'. OK, it's not quite selling the mythical food pills we were promised as part of the future, but a 'vitamin store' does come close.

Phew! What a scorcher!

One positive side-effect of the heatwave was to remind me that I had a copy of the film The Day The Earth Caught Fire, so I watched it yesterday feeling it kind of apt that it was the day Britain hit a record temperature, I'd be watching a film where it would be regarded as a wonderfully cool day.

It's one of those classic, and now almost forgotten, British films that we used to produce regularly up until the 1960s but now only seem to be able to do every few years, if at all, making it a sad reminder of the decline of our film industry. It also fits in with the rather British form of SF, not least because it was written and directed by Val Guest, who had been responsible for the first two Quatermass films, but it also has a similar feel to the novels of John Wyndham, especially The Kraken Wakes with its particularly British response to global catastrophe and it's telling of the the story through the eyes of reporters (a trend that's continued in 'global disaster' movies right through to the more recent Deep Impact).

The Day The Earth Caught Fire offers a rather unique turn on the nuclear paranoia of the late 50s and 60s. Unknowingly, the Americans and Soviets have conducted simultaneous tests of the two largest nuclear devices ever built at opposite ends of the world. Freak weather conditions are happening across the globe - monsoons in London, snowstorms in New York, cyclones in the Mediterranean - with no explanation available.

It would be an easy story to tell in classic disaster movie mould - lots of shots of the affected areas, then various scenes of scientists meeting with Presidents and Prime Ministers etc etc but Guest (and co-writer Wolf Mankowitz) instead give it to us from the perspective of Daily Express reporter Peter Stenning (played by Edward Judd). At the start, Stenning is almost the stereotype of the washed-up journalist - an embittered, divorced alcoholic, uninterested in his job (and almost all of life) and only keeping his position on the Express thanks to the efforts of his friend and fellow journalist, Bill Mcguire (an excellent performance by Leo McKern). The story is as much about Stenning's redemption, catalysed by his relationship with Janet Munro's Jeannie, as it is about the disaster that is about to befall the Earth.

It's through Jeannie, who works as a secretary at the Met Office, that Stenning is given both his personal and professional redemption. She discovers that the explosions have not just affected the Earth's weather patterns - they've shifted the planet's axis, a result that's is probably impossible in the real world but her, in line with the rest of the film, it's presented so credibly that you do believe it, or at least you suspend your disbelief, even when it's announced that the shift has knocked Earth out of its orbit, pushing it towards the Sun.

What makes it such a good film, though, is that it takes what could have just been a melodramatic disaster movie and instead produces a superbly written and acted character piece, letting their emotions persuade us that the end of the world is possible. Judd and Munro both put in fine performances, he making Stenning's despair and comeback understandable, she turning Jeannie into more than the screaming wallflower women often become in these films - considering it was made in 1961, her actions (including the slap she gives Stenning on their first meeting) are rather ahead of their times. It's McKern, though, who almost steals the films from the others, partially because the script gives him some of the best lines - 'We've got about four months before there's a delightful smell in the universe of charcoaled mankind.' is a particular favourite - but also because he brings such relish to the role of a Fleet Street hack finally given a big story, perhaps the biggest story ever, to report.

One final touch that elevates the film is that the newspaper scenes were produced in collaboration with the Daily Express - some of its staff actuall appear in the film as editors and the like - and you feel that you're watching a real newspaper in action with all it's jargon and foibles rather than the sanitised and smoothed out version of the media you often see in films.

In short, it's a film well worth watching, even if the thunderstorm that's passed over as I've written this signals the end of the heatwave. It's occasionally on TV (my video comes from what I believe was the last time it was broadcast, in 1999) and it's also available on a rather well-reviewed DVD.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Steps towards peace

A group of Indian MPs and journalists are currently in Pakistan, meeting their Pakistani counterparts in an effort to promote peace:
This is by far the biggest gathering of elected representatives and writers from the two sides since the start of the latest attempts to normalise relations two months ago.

The conference is a private initiative by a regional grouping of liberal journalists known as the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) but it seems to have the blessing of both governments.

Several prominent Indian MPs, including those from the governing BJP and some other Hindu nationalist groups, are part of the delegation.
This doesn't seem to have had much coverage over here, but it's big news in the Asian newspapers and looks like it's being seen as a positive step forward by both sides.

A new party for Wales?

John Marek, the former Labour AM who was elected to the Welsh Assembly as an independent as the last election, is talking about setting up a new left-of-centre party for Wales. Interestingly, the meeting he's holding to discuss the idea is being addressed by Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan, and one would expect that the name 'Welsh Socialist Party' would be the logical name for the new party should it be formed.

It'll be interesting to see if a 'WSP' can have the same impact on the Welsh political scene as the SSP has had in Scotland. Any new party in Wales would have the same advantage as the SSP in having a well-known leader to rally round (Marek in Wales, Sheridan in Scotland) but it would face the same problems of having to break into a very solid Labour vote, persuading some of the die hard Welsh Labour voters to shift their votes. However, as the Plaid Cymru surge at the 1999 election showed, that is certainly possible.

He's back...?

Is next year's US Presidential election going to be the world's first retro election, all carefully set up to be the American version of 'I love 1992'? There's a President Bush who's fought a war in the Gulf and is now slipping in the polls because of trouble in the economy, one of the leading Democrats is the Governor of a relatively small and obscure state, and now Ross Perot seems ready to audition for his old role as well (on Salon, so registration required if you want to read the whole thing)... does this mean the BBC's election coverage will be hosted by Stuart Maconie, Paul Ross and a similar group of minor celebrity talking heads with the ability to state the obvious? (original story via Not Geniuses)

Oh, you don't get me that way...

The always rather amusing Tom Burka suggests me, along with several other bloggers, as a candidate for Governor of California. Regrettably, despite this interest, I must decline this invitation to join the race on the grounds that most of California is just too damn hot and too damn close to Nevada. I don't think that I can best represent the people of California if I'm continually leaving the state to gamble next door. However, should there be a major wibble in the space-time continuum and I do get elected, I would like to state that I will attempt to close up the state's budget deficit by gambling what's left of the state's income on the blackjack tables in Vegas.

Of course, I'd like to know why the tiny Peace And Freedom Party, didn't nominate their most famous supporter, Larry Hagman, for Governor. Then we'd have had Arnie vs Arnold (from Diff'rent Strokes) vs JR Ewing. All it'd need to complete the world's first 80's pop culture retro election would be the entry of David Hasslehoff into the race.

Update: Nominations have now closed, with over 100 candidates, though seemingly no Hagman or Hasslehoff according to CNN. And there's a great line in the comments to this Daily Kos post on the situation: 'the volatility of the situation at the moment makes the Indonesian stock market look positively placid.'