Saturday, October 18, 2003

Right On, Commander

The Guardian Weekend magazine has an article on David Braben and Ian Bell, the creators of the legendary computer game Elite. It's interesting to see how it all came together, and to be reminded just how relatively primitive computing was back in the early 80s.

I can remember getting Elite for the Commodore 64 as a birthday present in either 1984 or 1985 (whichever of those years it came out in for the C64). Simply, it was completely unlike any other game available back then and there was the sense that there was a whole universe out there to be explored in the game. The whole idea of a game using vector graphics to show other ships, space stations, planets and the like was a revelation and so far beyond the likes of Manic Miner or Monty Mole.

Of course, the problem was that back then I wasn't very good at Elite and my parents didn't like the idea of me playing the computer obsessively until I did get good at it. However, I'm an adult now, so I can download a copy of PC Elite Plus and play it to my heart's content. So, now I am finally one of the Elite...

My imaginary friend is bigger than your imaginary friend

OK, I'm scared now:
The general leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein has publicly declared that the Christian God is "bigger" than Allah, who is a false "idol", and believes the war on terrorism is a fight with Satan, it emerged yesterday.
Because it's always good to have someone who's borderline delusional in charge of heavy weaponry, isn't it? Let's just hope that no one lets him near the nukes when he's been reading Revelation.
Gen Boykin has repeatedly told Christian groups and prayer meetings that President George W Bush was chosen by God to lead the global fight against Satan.

He told one gathering: "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."
Why this almighty and all-powerful 'God' he refers to couldn't come down and persuade a few hundred Floridians (and half a million other Americans) to vote for Bush, just to make the result clear, isn't explained. Once you've allowed yourself to say 'God put him there' or 'God did X' you really need a good explanation for why 'God' didn't do A, B, C and Z as well.
In January, he told Baptists in Florida about a victory over a Muslim warlord in Somalia, who had boasted that Allah would protect him from American capture. "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real god and his was an idol," Gen Boykin said.
My God can beat up your God. Was it Bill Hicks who said a religous war is just a fight to see who had the biggest imaginary friend? There are sometimes when you don't want the comedy to be the reality.
He also emerged from the conflict with a photograph of the Somalian capital Mogadishu bearing a strange dark mark. He has said this showed "the principalities of darkness. . . a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy".
You know, I've had photographs with strange dark marks on them, but I don't then accuse Snappy Snaps of being a 'demonic presence'. But then, I'm not stark raving batshit crazy, so that might explain it.
On the Middle East, Gen Boykin told an Oregon church in June that America could not ignore its Judaeo-Christian roots. "Our religion came from Judaism and therefore [Islamic] radicals will hate us forever."
Can someone get this man a history book? And if he won't read it, please beat him round the head with it, repeatedly.
In the same month, Gen Boykin told an Oklahoma congregation that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were not the enemy.

"Our enemy is a spiritual enemy because we are a nation of believers. . . His name is Satan."
Nope, your enemies are your own ignorance, stupidity, gullibility and general primitiveness. You've already lost that battle, several times over.

Friday, October 17, 2003


One of the strangest things I've seen is the comments mysteriously appearing on entries from the last couple of days with people telling of the most beautiful thing they've ever seen. Any explanations?

Update: Ah. That explains it. Should have guessed, really.

Secret Agent Cough

Suddenly, it's all become clear to me. I was thinking about the 'IDS as secret Labour agent' theory I outlined below and I've cracked it! The famous cough, the strange intonations, the changes in tone - they're all signals to his controllers in Old Queen Street to pass on information about his activities and those of other agents within the Party. Anyone who's read Vonnegut's Mother Night will recognise the pattern of behaviour shown by IDS.

Coming soon: Billy Hague has become unstuck in time. 'See the Tory? See the Party?' and, of course, Toryquake: a group of people doomed to live through a period of time all over again unable to make any changes to what happened.

Stranger than fiction

Yesterday, I made a joke in the comments of the Save Iain Duncan Smith blog about how IDS is secretly a deep-cover Labour Party agent, trying to bring down the Tories from within. And then today, there's this little snippet in the Guardian Diary:
Perhaps it's inevitable, but touching all the same, to find Tory MPs seeking to raise morale by revisiting the past. One group of nameless members is even doing some painstaking historical research, searching high and low for a videotape of a Michael Cockerell documentary, Westminster's Secret Service, about the work of the government whips office during the Major years. This, they believe, features a clip of IDS slinking out of the Labour whips' office, having just briefed them about what the Europhobe Barmy Army planned to do to the Maastricht bill. If they could unearth a copy, they feel this would show his current deployment of whips to save himself in a most refreshing light. As the only twig on any branch of media not involved in Tory intriguing, the Diary is keen to get some action. So if one of these heroic big game hunters could call, we'll be pleased to procure you a tape.
They think he was briefing the Labour whips, but was it really just a low-ranking agent receiving instructions from Control?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Part 2 of 3

I've just finished reading Ken Macleod's Engine City and, as it's the third part of Engines of Light, it got me thinking about trilogies. I think it was because I enjoyed it more than Dark Light that I got to thinking about why it is that the second part of a trilogy is often, but not always, the weakest part of the series especially when you look back on it as a whole.

Mainly, it's because the middle part is where things get developed, rather than initiated or resolved. While this is common to any story (classic three act structure: get them up into a tree - throw rocks at them - get them down from the tree) it becomes a specific problem within the trilogy in that it has to pick up an ongoing story at the start and then hand it on at the end. Sub-plots and the like can get resolved, but the main plot that's driving the overall story obviously has to remian unresolved which means the middle is without a fixed beginning or end, just flowing from one into the other. While it might seem vital and important at the time it's experienced, when the story is completed, it can seem like quite a saggy bit in the middle where the author is just moving characters around, setting everything up for the final part.

Anyway, I thought I'd open this up for suggestions - what trilogies can you think of where the second part is as good as, if not better than the other two parts? I can think of two off the top of my head, and there are no doubt others, but I think The Subtle Knife is the equal of the other two parts of His Dark Materials and The Empire Strikes Back probably the best of the original Star Wars trilogy. The Subtle Knife does it by not just deepening and widening the story, but by going off from a new start and giving us Will's story, which counterpoints Lyra's story in Northern Lights, while Empire does it both by having the best action sequences in the trilogy and having one of the classic second act reversals with 'I am your father' putting everything from the first two films into a new light, and setting up the conclusion. Plus, it doesn't have any bloody Ewoks.

The Quiet Man has a defender

Matthew Turner has created a Save Iain Duncan Smith blog, 'dedicated to rescueing the political career of Iain Duncan Smith through lauding his achievements, denigrating his oppenents and refuting allegations that he paid his wife out of taxpayers' money for more work than she actually did'.

Whenever I hear about a 'Save X' campaign, my mind always goes back to that old Viz 'Save The Whales' cartoon - a picture of a man standing in front of the rotting carcass of a whale with the caption 'I've been saving whales for some time now - as you can see, this one's got a bit smelly.' Not sure why that comes to mind right now, though...

A vague sense of foreboding...

Why do I get the feeling that this is going to feature in creationist propaganda at some point in the future?

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


A shop down the road from me has a great use of the Greengrocer's Apostrophe. Apparently, among the many lunchtime products they offer are sandwiche's.

Update: Just to clarify from what Paul Richards (or should that be Richard's?) has said, I don't find this a laughing matter. However, as a fully paid up Wooly Liberal (First Class) I cannot join his Apostrophe Action Front, but I will be taking action that may include, but will not be limited to, both petitions and locally delivered leaflets featuring at least one local councillor pointing at the misused apostrophe.

How times change

Mark McGhee used to walk out on clubs when someone came calling with a better job. Now he just gets sacked. Another trend started by Wolves!

Update: Two great rumours on Five Live - McGhee to Spurs, and Hoddle to Millwall. If either of them come true, it'll be fun, but if both do I might not stop laughing for a week or two. Given that McGhee selected Steve Claridge over Robbie Keane for an FA Cup Semi-Final when he was at Wolves, the prospect of him unleashing his managerial talents on Spurs should be a wonder to behold. As for Hoddle at Millwall, one wonders what sort of sins an individual would have had to commit in a previous life to come back as a Millwall fan?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


The Global Rich List says I'm the 602,949,548th richest person in the world - just outside the top 10%.


I've got an application form for the Channel 4 show I mentioned yesterday, and it would appear to be real, and not just another Lapdance Island. The show's going to be called Exhausted and it's not going to be about just staying up for a week without any sleep at all. The application describes the show as follows:
A group of people who may never have met before will live together for a week in a specially constructed studio. Cameras will watch them all the time, and viewers can watch events on television. The participants will only be allowed very limited sleep, and each night a challenge will be set to test how well they are coping with the effects of sleep deprivation. The participant(s) who come(s) last in each challenge will be eliminated until there is one winner, who will have the chance to win a cash prize.
Having once got a job despite not having slept for only 24 hours before the interview, I think I could do quite well on it.

Waiting for Michael

Martin Kettle has an interesting piece in today's Guardian about Michael Portillo, describing him as 'the (Tory) leader Labour most fears'. It looks at whether he has give up on his ambitions of leadership and found 'something else to do' as he talked about after his 2001 defeat or whether he is biding his time, waiting for the party to come to him. Portillo's problem, of course, is that the party may not ever come to him, but Kettle does outline the possibilities, however remote, that could lead to a Portillo leadership.
In his favour, though, is a great truth. The modern Tory party can be led only by a candidate from the right who is strong enough to lead the party towards the centre - by a better Duncan Smith. Portillo fits that specification precisely, in a way that none of his rivals can match.

Today he seems to be playing a longer, more speculative game. Or perhaps he is a dilettante now. There are only two ways Portillo can become leader while the Tories remain in opposition. The first is if MPs choose him unanimously - thus precluding a membership vote; this is as near inconceivable in current circumstances as anything can be. The other scenario is the Churchill strategy, in which a poleaxed party turns to him after 2005 as its last best chance. For that to happen, Portillo may have to work his passage back into the party's favour by taking on a big job again

Is he up for that? He needs to decide. And not just for his party's sake. It is important for the good of British politics that the answer is yes. Too many politicians are chucking it in too soon. Portillo is still only 50 - just three weeks younger than Blair. He has gas in the tank. It is hard to accept that a man of his abilities has climbed as high as he is ever going to climb.
I actually got round to watching 'The Deal' the other night, and talking about it with a friend afterwards, we were wondering what might have happened if John Smith had lived. The general conclusion was that Labour would have won the 1997 election, but with a smaller majority, and that would likely have led to Portillo remaining as MP for Enfield Southgate and probably becoming Tory leader. It would have been interesting...

Monday, October 13, 2003

Do as I say...

I really can't beat Sarah's headline for this story: American ambassador tries to tell New Zealanders what to do. Natives fall down laughing.

You know, if it wasn't so far away, I'd probably move to New Zealand tomorrow. Oh right, that's the point, isn't it?

Local news for local people

My local paper, the East Anglian Daily Times, are getting quite excited about the alleged attack on a gay-rghts activist in London, mainly because one of those accused is a local Conservative councillor in Colchester (but not my councillor, though his ward begins a couple of hundred metres north of me). And, to show the Tories are tough on homophobia:
Neil Stock, the Colchester Conservative Association chairman, said the Tories would never tolerate homophobia and added it went without saying if Mr Eaton were convicted of a homophobic attack, he would not be selected for re-election in Colchester.
Obviously, 'and he'll be thrown out of the Conservative Party and never allowed near any decent political party for the rest of his natural life' did go without saying.

The question has to be asked, though - what is it about Colchester councillors and allegations of assault? I'd say all it needs is a Lib Dem to be charged to complete the set, but with the bewildering array of independents we have on the Council, I doubt it'd be even half of them.


Via Matthew Turner, I've discovered that British Pathe have put their archive of newsreel footage on the web, with free access to still images. Just having a quick look at the site now, and it seems like the sort of thing that could easily swallow you up for a few hours (or days!) as you look through all the history they've got there.


You know, it's probably just a sign of approaching insanity, but I am very tempted to apply for this. I'd ask for advice from you, my readers, on whether or not to apply, but I know there's far too many of you who'd say 'yes, you should' just because you want to see what happens when someone blogs while suffering from hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation.


There've been some changes to the Liberal Democrat frontbench team. Replacing Matthew Taylor with Vincent Cable ought to make Oliver Kamm happy, anyway.

Update: Interesting article on this move from Tim Hames in The Times. (thanks to Simon from the comments for pointing this out)

Sunday, October 12, 2003


Harry's Place has signed on Johann Hari as a contributor. Wonder what Mr Turner makes of that?