Saturday, August 30, 2003

Because France-bashing is so April...

I was a little surprised that there wasn't more discussion about France's proposal for a new Transatlantic Charter (similar articles in the Guardian and on Deutsche Welle) over the past couple of days. While there are many pros and cons to the proposal itself, I thought it was an interesting idea for someone at the level of De Villepin to propose, as in a way it is an admission of the failures of diplomacy between parts of Europe and parts of North America.

Part of the problem, I guess, comes from the fact that it is stressing the idea in a rather French way - combating the problem through statute, treaty and Charter, which doesn't really square with the current ideals of the US. However, I would suggest that if no formal Charter or Treaty emerged from what De Villepin has proposed it would still be a good thing in that it would get the various sides talking to each other on a friendly basis, accepting that they do have more in common than they seem to be willing to admit at the moment.

I suppose the main problem comes from the fact that relationships have broken down to such a level that if one of the parties proposes something the other will instantly ignore it without regard to its merits - this would no doubt be just as likely to be the French response to any US proposal on similar lines. The need is for one of more countries to try and take on a mediative role, trusted by both sides, though I'm not sure how many fall into that category - Canada, Portugal and Ireland do spring to mind, though.

Resemblance

(Probably only of interest to comics fans) I was flicking through The Killing Joke last night when a thought struck me - in it, The Joker bears a pretty striking resemblance to the actor Alan Cumming, doesn't he?

Friday, August 29, 2003

Using new toys for good

Chris Brooke has just bought himself a scanner, and one of his first acts with it has been to scan and republish the text from a September 1944 pamphlet entitled 'Are Refugees An Asset?'. It's a fascinating read and, as he says, it's 'highly deserving of a place somewhere in cyberspace.'

A candidate we can all support

As I got the name for this blog from his book Reality Is What You Can Get Away With I feel I have to endorse Robert Anton Wilson's write-in candidacy for Governor of California for the Guns and Dope Party. How can you not support a candidate who promises 'freedom of choice, free love, free speech, free Internet and free beer' and to replace 33% of the California legislature with ostriches?

It goes anywhere

Someone's ridden up Mount Washington on a Segway which prompts the question if I stood on one while riding the Snowdon Mountain Railway would it count as having climbed Snowdon? And if so, how long before someone tries the Three Peaks Challenge on one?

President Clark?

As General Wesley Clark seems to be close to announcing that he will run for US President, there's an interesting article by him - An Army Of One? - that's worth reading. It's an interesting perspective on war from the man who led the Kosovo campaign, but as a statement from a Presidential candidate it does outline a different version of US foreign policy:
In the twilight of World War II we recognized the need for allies. We understood the need to prevent conflict, not just fight it, and we affirmed the idea that we must banish from the world what President Harry Truman, addressing the founding of the United Nations, called "the fundamental philosophy of our enemies, namely, that 'might makes right.'" Truman went on to say that we must "prove by our acts that right makes might." Since September 11, America has been in a similar position: the most powerful nation in the world, but facing a deadly enemy. The United States has the opportunity to use the power of the international institutions it established to triumph over terrorists who threaten not just the United States, but the world. What a tragedy it will be if we walk away from our own efforts, and from 60 years of post-World War II experience, to tackle the problem of terror without using fully the instruments of international law and persuasion that we ourselves created.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

The truth about Lapdance Island

For those of you hoping that Lapdance Island was an actual TV show, unfortunately it's not, as the following email I got this evening from Channel 4 will confirm:
Dear Lapdance Island applicant

I would like to apologise unreservedly to the tens of thousands of men who recently applied online to take part in E4's new reality show Lapdance Island at http://www.channel4.com/lapdanceisland

The show promised to take ten hot blooded male contestants to a deserted tropical island and have forty lapdancers gyrate around them 24 hours a day.

The truth is there are no lapdancers. There is no island. There is no show.

We made it up to promote The Pilot Show, a genuine series starting on September 8 at 10.30pm on E4. The Pilot Show hilariously dupes unsuspecting celebrities and members of the public into appearing in bogus TV shows.

Sorry about the lapdancers but, as compensation, you can laugh as other people get taken for a ride on The Pilot Show by watching the special preview clips at http://www.channel4.com/pilotshow.

Yours faithfully,

K Andrews
Managing Director, E4

Bostin' news!

I'm amazed Tom Watson hasn't spotted this already, but a researcher has discovered that the Brummie accent is one of the favourite British accents amongst foreigners:
The Birmingham accent is far from its traditional image of "ugly" and "inferior" and is, in fact, regarded as "lilting and melodious" by overseas visitors, academics have discovered.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham found that the second city's much-maligned accent is highly favoured by foreign visitors unaware of the negative connotations the accent holds in Britain.
Though there is part of me that suspects researchers at Newcastle would find that foreigners liked the Geordie accent best, researchers in Cardiff would find they liked the Welsh accent best etc...

Are you sure it said 66?

Popbitch reports today that 'Clinton, Oklahoma, has a law against masturbating while watching two people having sex in a car.' I can't help but wonder if it's connected in some way to the fact that Clinton is the home of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum and if I missed out on noticing any secret purpose to it when I visited last year.

Should you ever find yourself travelling down I-40 through Oklahoma and need a break, it is quite an interesting museum to visit as it looks a the social effects roads like Route 66 had on the areas they passed through and has quite an interesting collection of artifacts from the last eighty years.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

1-0

So, not as bad as I was expecting, and could even have been better had Henri Camara developed the ability to hit a cow's arse with a banjo.

But, the most stunning realisation of the night was that Man United have signed Peter Kay, put him on a diet and are now playing him in their defence under the name John O'Shea:

More Brent East

The Guardian reports that there'll be an independent Labour candidate (Harold Immanuel) in the Brent East by-election, which means there are now five candidates I know of - not quite California, is it? I presume there'll be Green and UKIP candidates, but neither of their websites have any information that I can see, though UKIP's does say that they 'contest all by-elections'.

The Oldman Index

I finally got around to watching the excellent 28 Days Later tonight and something about Christopher Eccleston's performance reminded me of this post on Bar Room Philosophy asking people to name a film where Gary Oldman wasn't playing a nutter, with the eventual conclusion being that his appearance as Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead was just about it. It occurred to me that Christopher Eccleston has a large number of nutters in his history, so I checked his IMdB profile and discovered that, while he's not up to Oldman levels of nutterdom, there's a pretty strong streak of it through his career - after all, this is the man who managed to play a rather nutter-esque character in an appearance on Linda Green.

But it made me think - shouldn't there be some kind of measurement of an actor's propensity to play nutters? Call it the Oldman Index, expressed as a percentage of their films they've been nutters in. Oldman himself of course rates a full 100, as I feel we can discount Rosencrantz based on it being a Stoppard play and I think every actor should be allowed to have one role we can ignore in the ranking. On this ranking, I'd say Eccleston should get an Oldman Factor of about 50-60, and someone like Dennis Hopper would probably be somewhere in the mid-90s (off the top of my head, both Hoosiers and True Romance come to mind as films where he's played sane characters, and I'm sure there are others - Easy Rider is debatable) and someone like Tim Robbins is going to have a very low Oldman Factor (for just Arlington Road and maybe Bob Roberts).

I'm not really sure what to do with Oldman Index now I've thought of it - perhaps it could be part of some kind of alternative movie star Top Trumps? As well as their Oldman Factor, there could be categories like degrees of Kevin Bacon, family film avoidance factor, descent of career into embarrassment factor (Dan Aykroyd would probably be the index for this one), scenery chewing ability etc

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Forever Free

I've just finished reading Joe Haldeman's novel Forever Free, a sequel to his classic The Forever War and it's left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. I think the main problem with it is that it's a unnecessary sequel - Forever War didn't end with any major unanswered questions, or with the reader thinking 'but what happened next?' What helped to make it a classic was that sense of completeness at the end, that the whole story had been told. Literature is full of unnecesary sequels, ful of authors and publishers heading back to the old territory in search of another bit of that published gold, but Forever Free feels like it's one of the worst of those kind - the 'authorised sequel' - written by another writer but licensed by the author or his/her estate, such as the godawful Night of The Triffids. At times, I did find myself checking the cover pages of Forever Free just to be sure that Haldeman hadn't done a Tom Clancy and just attached his name to something written by a passing hack, but no it was 'Forever Free by Joe Haldeman' not 'Joe Haldeman's Forever Free by Bob Workforhire'.

I might be being a little harsh there, but it's hard to believe that the imaginative vision shown in The Forever War came from the pen of the same writer. The Forever War was centred around a great sf metaphor, using the experience of the soldiers fighting the Forever War, moving further and further into the future and fighting for an Earth and humanity they barely recognised, as a metaphor for the experience of Vietnam veterans (like Haldeman) who saw themselves becoming increasingly isolated from the society they returned to. It was also a counterpoint to novels like Heinlein's Starship Troopers, depicting the pity of war rather than any scenes of brave heroism. Forever Free suffers from what I can only describe as a metaphor shortage with many of the characters seemingly moving around the galaxy at increasing speeds in search of something to represent, but failing to find anything and eventually ending up in a conclusion that bears a strong resemblance to a poor episode of Star Trek, as other reviewers have noted.

On a final note, one of the other problems with the book for me is that Haldeman doesn't really seem to know the nature of Man, the collective existence humanity had become by the end of The Forever Book. In that book, the emergence of Man is presented as the final irony - the civilisation the soldiers are fighting for has now become more akin to the enemy Taurans than the soldiers themselves. While the concept works excellently there, when it's examined closer in Forever Free it doesn't really work. The problem for me is that Man in some ways closely resembles the Edenist culture of Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn series, and it suffers from the comparison. The concept of the Tree used by Man to exchange information is described in ways similar to the Edenists' affinity, yet the beings who make up Man are effectively interchangeable, genetically as well as mentally, in a way that doesn't seem to represent a workable civilisation. Because The Forever War didn't need to show that civilisation in any great detail, it can get away with it, but when the civilisation is presented for closer scrutiny in Forever Free it seems pointless.

In short, if you haven't yet read The Forever War you should go out and read it soon, but if you already have you don't really need to bother with Forever Free.

You couldn't make it up!

Though sometimes you suspect that The Sun does.

Yet again, Rebekah Wade climbs onto her moral high horse...and canters straight into the nearest wall. The main headline in today's Sun is 'Ban Vile Paedo Book: Outrage as Amazon best seller backs sex beasts' (the story is refers to is here) making a huge deal out of the fact that Amazon stocks a book that doesn't scream 'all paedophiles are evil monsters who should be shot' on every page.

Now, The Sun attempts to call the book a 'best seller', based on the fact that someone may have bought a copy recently, meaning it ranks highly in Amazon's sales charts, failing to understand that just one or two sales of a book can quickly lift it great distances in Amazon's charts because of the low sales generated by most books over short term periods. This is a book that has probably sold no more than a handful of copies that The Sun has suddenly promoted to the level of a great moral threat.

What I fail to understand is why The Sun has plastered this all over its front page. Even if we assume that this book is a great moral threat, how does giving it what is effectively thousands of pounds worth of free advertising help to prevent it from reaching the hands of paedophiles, supposedly The Sun's aim here? The article, both online and in the paper itself, gives the name of the book, the author's name and a screen grab of the Amazon page for the book itself. Now, even if you do reside on Planet Wade where no paedophile takes The Sun on a regular basis, surely plastering a huge headline about an 'evil paedo book' on the front cover, and then giving details of what it is, where to get it, and how much it will cost inside is not really making it hard for them to get hold of it.

I'm really at a loss as to why The Sun has gone so big on this story - it's not a new book (the Amazon page gives it a publication date of March 2000) and I can't remember hearing this book cited as an influence in any recent articles or events, so is it just a really slow news day? Or, is this just a symptom of some bad blood between News International and Amazon that I'm not aware of?

(and just to clarify before someone wilfully grabs the wrong end of the stick and accuses me of being 'objectively pro-paedophile' or similar, I'd like to go record as saying that paedophilia is wrong. I haven't linked to the Amazon page because the book does sound pretty distasteful and I think The Sun's given it enough free publicity already)

Liberals and sex

Vivienne has an interesting post about liberals, sex and freedom. With additional mention of talking kangaroos and manga characters as well. (No permalinks - scroll down to the entry on August 25th called The kangaroo consented, m'lord) But just to warn you, there's some rather disturbing information about Ann Coulter in the comments.

On energy

Over the last few days, I've been watching an interesting debate in the comments section of Beatniksalad between Jim Fitsimons and David Duff about oil supply and the future of the world. It prompted me to check out Jim's site where I found an interesting post on an interview with Matthew Simmons, CEO of an energy investment bank and an advisor on energy policy to the US Government. Given that, his views are not what you'd probably expect:
This ought to be an incredible jolt telling us about a host of energy problems that are ultimately going to prevent any future economic growth. It's like people have been ignoring annoying phone calls and living in denial about a problem that won't go away ... the problem was inevitable. The only thing we didn't know was when it would happen.

Live Forever in the same time period

I was watching the documentary Live Forever this evening, which was quite interesting though seemed to miss out an awful lot of anything that didn't happen to Blur, Oasis or Pulp. But, rather than get into discussions of what could have bene included (though I'll just mention in passing Screamdelica and Richey Edwards' disappearance) it prompted a sort of explanation as to why Blur and Pulp were able to move on musically from the mid-90s while Oasis seem stuck in the same groove.

Essentially, it comes down to the fact that Blur and Pulp both recognised that the period was coming to an end, that the party was over, and made albums that were could be seen as 'comedown' or 'morning after' collections. Pulp's This is Hardcore is probably the best example of a look at the dark side and after effects of hedonism. However, Oasis never realised it was over, or if they did, they never admitted it to themselves and just continued on the same track, with no real thought given to moving or changing with the times and slowly heading down the road towards self-parody. Oasis are like the people at the end of the party still trying to encourage everyone to have one more drink, one more dance when everyone else is heading out the door and the host just wants to kick everyone out, turn the lights out, go to bed and deal with the mess in the morning. It's not the prettiest of sights, really.

Monday, August 25, 2003

The view from the bottom

OK, time for the Week 2 update of the UK Bloggers Fantasy Football League and congratulations to Iain Murray, whose Spartak Brockley Whins have now opened up a 30 point lead at the top of the table. Despite Iain earning 75 points again, this week's star performers were Moose Rot's AFC Wibblington, whose 80 points moved him up to second place.

I'm still bottom, though my inspired purchase of Adrian Mutu in midweek has helped me close the gap. The jettisoning of any Wolves players from my team also seems to have helped. Loyalty? What's that?

99

As England stumble to another Test match defeat, this article in the Guardian shows a strange little statistical quirk (though it's not as if cricket's short of a statistical quirk or two) - yesterday, Andrew Hall became only the fifth Test batsman to be stranded on 99 not out at the end of an innings. What I found interesting, is that in the more than 100 years of Test cricket, it wasn't until 1979-80 that a batsman got stuck on 99 (ironically, Geoff Boycott, finally realising that maybe he should have gone for that second run one time), then it didn't happen again for 15 years, but has now happened three times in the last four years - twice to South Africans.

If the incidence of 99 not out increases at the current rate, it's only going to be a few years until every innings ends with some batsman stranded there. Probably some number 11 bowler on his debut against England, if the other recent trend continues.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Prediction Watch

Well, I was right about Alonso winning the Grand Prix, but I didn't get James Allan's cliche right. But, if I'd have known that Alonso's father was a demolitions expert, then 'and he's causing a few explosions in Formula 1' would have been high up on the list.

Closest World Championship in years though, with just two points separating the top three drivers. I'd place Montoya as the marginal favourite as I think the combination of BMW power and the Michelin tires should give him enough of an advantage at Indianapolis and Monza to offset any advantage Ferrari and Bridgestone may have at Suzuka. One slip from any of Schumacher, Montoya or Raikonnen could change the whole picture in a second, though.

Alliterative advertising

An idea that just came up in a conversation with a friend of mine. We reckon that the BBC should sponsor a series of boxing matches that will all take place at the same time in early May of the year after next. All the fights will be covered on BBC Radio, meaning that we have:

Five fights live on Five Live at five on 05/05/05.

I'd go and work in advertising, but I like having a soul.

The imaginary onion

If, like me, you were a student in the early 90s (or someone else whose lifestyle allowed them to stay up until the small hours) then you'll no doubt be aware of the fantastic late-night cookery show Get Stuffed which may well be one of the cheapest TV shows ever made - excluding anything ever aired on Live! TV, course. Having realised that nothing on their late night schedule comes close to recreating the glory days of Get Stuffed (which would usually be followed by other high quality TV like American Gladiators and Renegade) ITV are now showing repeats of it in the middle of the night, allowing a whole new generation to discover just how to make rather simple food with ingredients usually picked up from a nearby Happy Shopper store.

There's some interesting information on the website, including a few sample recipes and the history of the show, including how the first Gulf War was to blame for the whole thing, and how not to do a TV cookery demonstration:
What happened in front of the cameras remains indescribable but it had nothing to with a television cookery demonstration. Food was dropped on the floor, essential utensils suddenly broke, ingredients got burnt or simply lost in the mess. At one point, an onion had to be chopped and added to a mixture, but the onion had somehow fallen off the presentation desk and got lost on the floor. The answer was for Last Ditch TV to demonstrate the chopping of an “imaginary” onion. The concept of imaginary onions might just have worked on the radio, but imaginary onions are a total no-no on the telly, which is primarily a visual medium. The cameramen had never known anything like it and could not believe that what they were witnessing their viewfinders was really happening in front of their lenses so they stepped around their large, pedestal mounted cameras to eyeball and get a reality check on an event that was beyond their deepest dread and imaginings.

Expanding space

I have to admit that until I heard about the accident that killed twenty technicians yesterday I wasn't aware that Brazil had a developing space programme. It's interesting that while the 'pioneers' of going into space seem to be losing interest in it, other nations now see it as an area to develop, perhaps planning on following China into sending their own astronauts/cosmonauts/taikonauts into space. But what will they call them? It seems that one of the rights you get after sending someone into space is to give them your own name - China is using the term 'taikonaut', for instance.