Saturday, September 13, 2003

La da de, la da do, a pollarding we shall go...

I love Smallweed:
A literary critic writes: Last week you listed someone called Stephen Pollard as an admirer of Donald Rumsfeld. Please tell us more.

Smallweed replies with a smirk designed to suggest a benign intention: Gladly. This Pollard, once research director of the Fabian Society and regarded (at least by himself) as one of the originators of New Labour, is a professional rantsmith or spewer out of abrasive opinions who's been having much recent success in the broadsheets. My monitoring service spotted an average of 5.75 rants a month in the Times, Independent and Daily and Sunday Telegraph between April and the end of July, but Steve bumped that up to a mighty 10 (four in the Times, four in the Independent and two in the Sunday Telegraph) in August. His subjects over the full five months have included: Self-haters who want the west to fail (Times, April 1); If Syria isn't next on America's hit list, it certainly should be (Telegraph, April 15); I know that Rummy's my hero (Times, April 16); Nauseating hypocrisy from the axis of weasels (Times May 9, the weasels being opponents of the war in Iraq); Juice-bar lefties kick the poor and sick out of the NHS (Times, June 4); Opponents of military trials are friends of al-Qaida (Times, July 14) - and so on. I expect you've got the message by now. Other targets fearlessly skewered by pop-up Pollard include people who go to the Proms - noisy, fidgety, intolerant (sic) and smelly; people who complain about the new directory enquiries system; the spate of summer festivals (a waste of the public's money); and David Hockney (Steve's four-year-old nephew can do better than that). There is also, I'm told, a website.

An arboriculturist writes: This kind of sudden proliferation is always unhealthy. One gets the same problem with trees, but there, there's a simple solution. We pollard them.

I saw him! Oh no, that was Ralf...

The Telegraph gets to the heart of Formula 1's missing person mystery:
Have you seen this man? Invincible German racing driver, age 34, owner of five world titles, believed to have lost his way while searching for a record-breaking sixth championship earlier this summer.

Last reliably sighted on the top step of the podium at the Canadian Grand Prix in June, since when only an unconvincing lookalike has been spotted driving his car to little success. If found, please return to the Ferrari motorhome in the Monza paddock. Thank you.
Also, the article pretty much pinpoints just why Montoya and not Raikonnen gets most of the 'Anyone But Schumacher' support:
It is hardly a secret that neutrals cannot help rooting for Montoya to snatch the title. Kimi Raikkonen has shown he may possess the same daring racecraft but unlike Montoya he occupies a charisma famine zone.

The Finn's permanently frozen expression and habit of speaking without moving his lips puts one in mind of the American chat show host Jay Leno's comment on meeting the notoriously waxen former Vice-President Al Gore: "So life-like."
Though I do prefer Jeremy Clarkson's comment on Top Gear after trying to interview a Cyberman (it made sense at the time): 'It's just like interviewing Kimi Raikonnen!'

Friday, September 12, 2003

Proof at last!

People who appear on Gladiators really aren't the sort of people you want round for dinner. Or to invite you round for dinner. Or to have anything to do with, really. At least not in Finland. (via Die Puny Humans)


Did you know that you can replace the lyrics to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit with the words of John Betjeman's poem 'Slough'? All together now... Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough, it isn't fit for humans now

The balanced sample

I can't remember why (probably to illustrate an obscure point about polling in a discussion with him and him), but a couple of months ago I was trying to find the dialogue from Yes, Prime Minister where Sir Humphrey shows Bernard why opinion polls are so unreliable. Kieran Healy would appear to be better at searching the web than me (either that, or it's only been put online recently - though I'd go for the first explanation) as it makes up the bulk of a post by him on Crooked Timber.

A party of gamblers?

James Graham has the latest odds from William Hill on the Brent East by-election, which show an interesting 'swing' since Wednesday. Labour's Robert Evans has drifted from 2/5 on on Wednesday to 5/6 while Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather has moved in from 7/4 to 5/6. The Conservatives have gone out from 16/1 to 25/1 while the Greens remain on 50/1.

Of course, the problem with bookies odds is that you don't know whether they're changing them because of information they have that suggests a Lib Dem win, or just because more people are betting on a Lib Dem win and they're cutting the odds to protect themselves. Still, every bit of good news is welcome.

Tour de Londres

London is to officially bid to host the start of the Tour de France in 2006. The print version of the Guardian had maps of the proposed stage routes which looked rather impressive, especially the prologue which starts from Admiralty Arch, heads down past the Houses of Parliament then loops round Buckingham Palace through Hyde Park to a finish on Pall Mall. I looked on the Transport for London and London Mayor websites, but there didn't seem to be any information there yet.

Still, I'm hoping it comes about, and if David Millar continues in the form he's shown in the Tour for the last couple of years, he could well be wearing the Maillot Jaune while the tour heads through Britain.

The Anderson factor

After I mentioned James Anderson in the entry below, I went to check out his statistics to see if my off-the-top-of-my-head statement about him having played more games for England than Lancashire by the end of next year could be right.

And he's almost close - he's already played more one day matches for England than anyone else (23 out of a total of 32) but Tests are still just seven out of a total of 24 first-class matches. However, there are sixteen tests to be played between now and next September, so if he features in the bulk of them he'll be getting close. Of course, if England's tour matches feature in the first-class averages then he'll have a little boost there.

On the simple scale of how his bowling's been allocated, he's bowled a total of 922.5 overs in his career (both first-class and one-day) of which 417.1 (or 45.2%) have been for England.

Leaves stopped play

I've just been looking at the schedule the England and Wales Cricket Board have announced for next summer's internationals and two thoughts struck me. The first, which has been noted many times in the media, is 'that's a lot of cricket'. There are very few gaps between internationals and I suspect that many of the leading players are not going to be playing many games for their counties. If it's not the case already, I'd expect that by the end of next season James Anderson will probably have played more cricket for England in his career than he has for Lancashire.

But, the one thing that really caught my eye is that we're hosting the ICC Champions Trophy next year - in September. Leaving aside the question of who'll actually be going to the games, it seems to me that the ICC and ECB are both crossing their fingers hopefully in expectation of good weather around this time next year. The nights are already closing in, and with the final scheduled for September 25th, it's not going to take more than a few showers to leave the entire tournament in chaos. Evenings are already cool enough to make any day/night games a challenge in averting hypothermia (does cold air aid or hinder swing?) and as the tournament is primarily a knock-out one there could be a few 10 or 20 over matches resulting, and knowledge of the Duckworth/Lewis tables could be the key to victory.

With a tour of South Africa, winding off the year I suspect the players will be glad of the break they'll get at the start of 2005. They'll need it, because after a couple of tests against Bangladesh, the main tour that summer is the return of the Australians...

Thursday, September 11, 2003

As false as a $200 bill

Police in North Carolina are searching for a man who paid his $150 supermarket bill with a $200 bill, got $50 change and disappeared before staff realised there's no such thing as a $200 bill. You also would think that the picture of George W Bush on the front of the bill might have tipped staff off that it wasn't quite real. (via Hesiod)

Everyone please note: £200 notes with pictures on Tony Blair are not likely to be accepted at your local Tesco. Try Asda instead.

Yes, but...

Chris Brooke:
Thus it was only to be expected that those who contested the policy -- and there were lots of reasons for contesting the policy, as we all know -- also sought to contest the underlying series of claims and justifications underpinning that policy, which included already-politicised claims about the causes of the events of 11 September. Against a President who rested content with over-simplistic (if not entirely stupid) public explanations for what happened, his critics had to explain that things were, as they saw it, a bit more complicated than that. But, in the circumstances, that was something which was very hard to do without saying things that could, either at the time or subsequently, be considered a piece of "Yes, buttery...", for the "but" marked, as it were, the moment when the speaker began to set out at least part of the grounds of his or her political disagreement with the Administration's view of things.

And that's how, it seems to me, that troublesome "but" needs to be understood in most cases: not as the product of a morally defective desire to excuse atrocity, but as part of an (as it turned out) politically ineffective attempt to resist the drumbeat of war.
Marc Mulholland:
But it is irksome still to see the divide on the Left since September 11. Anti-war lefts are berated for their callous moral-equivalence between the west and Islamo-fascism. A tedious kind of audit of moral outrage goes on. People like Christopher Hitchens exult in the licensing of their militant hatreds - a trait of the ultra-left, from which he originally hails. Hitchens happily celebrates the hunting down and killing of all Islamo-fascists, in a macho swagger that makes me regret his reviling of at least one aspect of religion, that of redemption. Anti-war critics of the left are forever taken to task for condemning the September 11 attacks only with a ‘but’ attached. This is taken as an insult to the dead.

To prove one’s fidelity to all that is good in the west, one must breast-beat and swagger and shout and rage. Where has the notion gone of opposition as a value in itself, a check on every action we take, valuable even when misconceived? Should we not, even in ourselves, always attach a ‘but’ to anything we say, do and think? Of course, these ‘buts’ must be put to one side when action is taken, but not forgotten or shouted down. I can’t think of many opinions I hold that one could not make reasonable counter-arguments to. It doesn’t stop me holding opinions, but its good to be reminded of them. Long live the ‘buts’, ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’. And action, particularly lethal action, is always best taken in cold-blood.

Now it gets interesting

The Washington Post reports on a series of talks between Democrat Presidential candidate Howard Dean and potential candidate General Wesley Clark, and reports that Clark might join the Dean campaign potentially as the Vice-Presidential candidate. Now, I don't think that's likely (and The Clark Sphere are even more incredulous though they seem to be gearing up for a Clark vs Dean primary battle) but the possibility of Clark endorsing Dean must be scaring the other candidates in the race, not least because of Clark's links to Bill Clinton and the possible implication that may give of a Clinton endorsement of Dean.


I think Atrios says it best today:
I'm not gonna get all weepy, because I'm just angry.

And Winchester almost sounds like Lancaster...

Following on from the misidentification of a folk singer as Lord Lucan, David McKie's column in today's Guardian proves conclusively that England cricket hero Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff is actually Alfred The Great.

Conservatives start their divisions early

Today's Mirror had an interesting little article about a series of rows at a Conservative Future (The movement formerly known as the Young Conservatives, Federation of Conservative Students and various other names) conference over the weekend. Unfortunately, I left the paper on the train, and the story isn't on the Mirror website (they don't put all their stories on there, just the bigger ones) so does anyone know anything about this?

I tried looking at the Conservative Future website, but it seems to be in need of updating quite dramatically, given that the most recent listing in the 'events' section is for March 2003.

Update: James Graham obviously has a copy of the Mirror handy. Full details in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

An interesting candidate

One of the independent candidates in Brent East is Kelly McBride, standing to raise attention to the case of her brother Peter, who was killed by British troops in Northern Ireland. Roy Greenslade explains the background in today's Guardian. A quick Google News search for 'Kelly McBride' does show that there's much more attention being paid to her candidacy in the Northern Irish media than there is in the rest of the uk.

See you in the funny papers

The Mighty Reason Man has a few generic right wing posts.
Tom Burka reports some shock findings from a recent poll.

But, if neither of those get you smiling, there's always a petition for you to sign:
We hold that Peter Cuthbertson should be considered the Funniest Blogger Alive, and we know that Oliver Kamm is the Supreme Arbiter of All That Is Blog.

Therefore, we petition the mighty Kamm to annoint Mr Cuthbertson to his rightful title as Funniest Blogger Alive. The two will then officially rule the Blogiverse, destroying dissent with a combination of sophisticated argument and witty, subtle humour.


The Undersigned

A nice view

For those of us who are unlikely to ever make it in person, here's what it looks like when you get to the summit of Everest.

TUC Conference

A couple of snippets from the TUC Conference for those of you interested in it. Kate at 4Glengate is a Unison delegate there and gives us her perspective on it. And, via 4Glengate and a few other blogs, comes news that two senior Union figures have now started blogs - Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union and Judy McKnight, General Secretary of NAPO. Now, I could use this to herald some major breakthrough of blogging and trumpet them as the herald of a new trend in politics...but instead I'll say they both seem like interesting websites, and worth visiting.

Finally, there's a great quote from Amicus General Secretary Derek Simpson in today's Guardian. Asked 'what would you change in the union movement?', he replied:
We need to reduce the number of unions. There is no need for more than three unions in Britain: a public services union, private sector skilled and professional union, and the National Union of Journalists which will never merge with anyone.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Not a bad price

We Want Your Soul reckon mine is worth about £17840. Now, if only they were actually buying it...because that's a pretty good price for something that doesn't exist. (found via Bloggerheads)

Das Republik von Texas

Via Counterspin, I discovered this interesting article about a German 'plot' to colonise Texas in the 19th century. As is always the case when these weird bits of history crop up in the news, they often prompt a discussion on soc.history.what-if which usually debunks them quite handily and this is no exception. I have to admit that my suspicions were roused by this section of the article:
The prince added that Britain considered sending military equipment overland from California. Messages between Lord Aberdeen, the foreign secretary, and the new German community were handled by William Kennedy, the British consul in Galveston.

"Unfortunately for the venture, it was this course of communication that ultimately proved their undoing and forced the US to speed up its annexation of Texas," the prince said.

"The government messenger was instructed to hand over the correspondence personally to the British consul. But instead of that, he was met by a US spy who drank him under the table and intercepted the information that was then sent to the White House."
I can go for a German Texas, but a British diplomat being outdrunk by an American?

Anyone got an answer?

Via Dormouse Dreaming, I've discovered the interesting Nitpicker, who has a question he needs answering:
I'm honestly asking: Which liberals, Democrats or general lefties blamed America for the 9/11 attacks. I want links or documentation that can be verified. I can't find any. I can find where right-wing Christians like Falwell, Robertson and, yes, Fred Phelps have blamed America, but no lefties. I can find where fringe lefties like Chomsky have said that maybe we shouldn't have been funding these bastards in the first place. I can even find where plenty of mainstream conservatives blame the president -- the former president, of course. I just can't find any mainstream liberals or lefties who have even suggested that the US should feel any guilt for causing 9/11. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough, because someone out there must be saying it.

And they're pissing Christopher Hitchens right off.
He also has a nice examination of Christopher Hitchens' latest piece, under the title 'Aren't there publications fo him to embarrass in Britain?' To which I answer: oh no, he's all yours now, except for his occasional spleen-venting in the Mirror.

But where's Bill The Cat defecting to nowadays?

Something for everyone who remembers Bloom County - Berke Breathed is bringing back Opus the penguin for a new weekly strip. Coincidentaly, it's just a week since Huey was complaining that Boondocks was turning into Bloom County.

Identity crisis?

Chris Lightfoot has an interesting look at a Telegraph poll on ID cards:
Concentrate on `health tourism', meaning `eeeevil foreigners getting treatment in the NHS'. Ignoring for the moment that this isn't a significant cost to the NHS, that most of those branded `health tourists' are perfectly entitled to treatment, and that the `health tourism' issue is just another bit of production-line tabloid xenophobia whipped up by crank pressure groups like Health Watch UK, we should look at how ID cards would be used to tackle this `problem'.

Obviously the idea is that in order to obtain health care you must have an ID card, and must be carrying it when you go to hospital. No ID card: no treatment. (Ignore for the moment the practical and ethical obstacles to this, and try not to imagine being in a car crash where the emergency services aren't able to rescue your ID card along with you....) Approximately 80% of people believe that using the ID card in this way will cut down on `health tourism'. But only half that number believe that the ID cards should be carried at all times. Isn't that strange?

You are free to do as we tell you!

From Ted 'no relation' Barlow (now assimilated into the Crooked Timber collective) comes a parallel between Donald Rumsfeld and Peter Pan. Time to clap louder...

More blogging in the papers

James Graham gets quoted in the Mirror, but proving just how far ahead I am of the regular media, I quoted it here last week. And don't be jealous of James' media plug...they forgot to mention his website address!

Monday, September 08, 2003

How do they do it?

Ryan (he who likes to make salads out of Beatniks) appears to be hosting one of the more interesting comments sections in British blogging at the moment. There are sections of it that really need to have the Smallweedean 'a pedant writes' prefix added to them.

Engines of Talking Points?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden notes a strange convergence between Ken Macleod and Josh Marshall. And now I'm imagining The Star Fraction rewritten by Marshall - I think it's called 'The Future'.

Why the transfer window is a bad idea...

When Roman Abramovich can't buy players from other teams, he just buys up the rest of their staff instead. Coming soon - Chelsea swoop for the 19 other remiership tea ladies. Deprived of a nice cup of tea in the mornings, managers go to pieces, their sides fall apart and Chelsea swoop to conquer. Meanwhile, Dave Jones, relieved of the pressure of having to drink the 'worst tea in the Premiership' leads Wolves to second place and Champions League football!

The really confused even put him on the grassy knoll

I doubt we'll ever know the truth about what happened to Lord Lucan unless he is discovered alive or an identifiable body turns up (one of the bonuses to the new Jungly Barry theory is that his body was cremated after death, leaving no DNA to test) and even trying to find out what may have happened is complicatd by the fact that key figures alleged to have assisted his escape (should he actually have made one and not just jumped off a cliff) like James Goldsmith Graham Hill and John Aspinall have since died, taking any secrets with them. Yes, there is a similarity between Lucan and 'Barry', but then there's also a similarity between Lucan and this man.

But, if you want to discuss it further there's always - and if you can't find him there, I'm sure someone will be able to tell you which chip shop Elvis is working in at the moment.

Update: Channel 4 News appears to have discovered proof that Barry Halpin was not Lord Lucan, unless Lucan spent large parts of the sixties establishing a secret identity for himself as a folk musician from Liverpool.

Doubling up

After England's superb victory today, conversation turned to who we've got next. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before Christmas, then next year we've got New Zealand making up the filling in a West Indies sandwich. I've heard of other teams (mainly those on the subcontinent) trading home and away series in such a short time before, but it's got to be the first time England have played the same side home and away within six months.

Non-shock news

Doonesbury makes reference to masturbation; World keeps turning, sky doesn't fall.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Cricket thought

Watching the cricket this morning, a thought struck me - isn't there a better way to measure the effectiveness of tail-end batsmen than their batting average? For instance, Steve Harmison was in for over an hour this morning, doing a valuable job of holding up one end while Flintoff bashed the South Africans all round the Oval from the other, but his personal statistics will only show that he scored 6 not out, boosting his average slightly. What would be interesting, I think, would be some kind of average based on the total score made while they're at the crease as it would help to show which tailenders stay in and let others get the runs (a valuable skill, as shown this morning) and which are the real 'rabbits' who can just about get bat to ball on occasion (Malcolm and Tufnell are the best recent English examples I can think of) but don't hang around for long? I don't know how useful the figures (a partnership average?) would be, but it'd be another cricket statistic that could bebated for hours - it might even keep the Test Match Special team occupied for a few minutes between slices of cake.