What You Can Get Away With » Bizarre world

The Radio Times have discovered some shocking news about the Royal Family. In the Christmas issue during the interview with Miranda Hart, they casually drop this bombshell:
Text from Radio Times, including line 'where Clare Balding was head girl (and later, Kate Middleton)'
Yes, unbeknownst to all of us, Clare Balding’s career was even more remarkable than we imagined. On top of all her other work, she also manages to be Kate Middleton. Who knew?

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It’s a well-documented phenomenon in British politics that the Conservative Party Conference is where some of the oddest ideas in British politics go to get an airing. As Political Scrapbook points out, there are many made ideas getting out into the open this week, but I wanted to highlight a couple.

First up, we have Tony Baldry MP, who has clearly discovered the history of the National Liberals and seems to think it would be a good idea to resurrect them. And just as the National Liberals were eventually subsumed into the Tories, so would their new version – in exchange for Tory candidates standing down, they’d have to agree to support the Conservatives in Parliament. In other words, they’d be Tories under another banner, but this is a good idea for Baldry because he believes “The country has been trying to manage three Parties, in a House of Commons and an electoral system essentially designed for two.”

It’s nice that a Tory MP admits that our electoral system doesn’t work well when there are multiple parties competing, but his solution to that problem is somewhat odd. In effect, if the people have the temerity to have a wide range of views that need a wide range of parties to represent them, they should learn better and only expect to have two parties. If they dare to vote for multiple parties, well, those extraneous ones will have to be removed to stop people like Tony Baldry being confused. After all, how can you have an orderly Parliament when there are people there who don’t automatically vote with the Conservatives or Labour?

In other news, Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has been complaining about councillors, saying that they’re ‘mediocre people’. The fact that Ipswich was run by a Conservative-led coalition that lost seats and power to Labour may have something to do with his comments, but I wouldn’t want to ascribe all of his comments to that. No, when he starts advocating the return of the business vote and talking about the Corporation of London as a model for other local government, it’s clear that he’s motivated by other factors too, such as a contempt for democracy.

However, while it’s a silly comment being made a fringe meeting, I’ve seen other comments by Conservatives nationally decrying councils as somehow blocking prosperity – much of the thinking behind the National Planning Policy Framework is based on the principle, and Nick Boles was playing the mood music for it a couple of years ago. While the coalition has said there’ll be no local government rearrangement in this Parliament, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some form of local government reform being promised in the next Tory manifesto (probably alongside promises that it would ‘unleash growth’ and ‘promote efficiency’) with the intention being to gerrymander as much as possible into large shire county unitaries where the urban votes are drowned out by the rural ones. And if that doesn’t work, start giving people who are likely to vote Tory multiple votes and eliminate any of those pesky small parties who might confuse the issue.

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Because they have headlines like this in their local paper:

Former wife of lion tamer was running brothel

There’s a huge story there, but I’m not sure if it’s for a supporting character in the Fenland version of Northern Exposure, or the central character in a magic realist novel.

Here’s some movie news:

Atlanta Nights, by Travis Tea, has been optioned for a film. The book was created in 2004 as part of a sting operation by members of SFWA against the publisher PublishAmerica. After the book was accepted the the hoax revealed, PublishAmerica canceled the contract.

Well, you think, maybe they just got a good book and used it as part of the sting. Nothing wrong with that getting optioned. But there’s more…

Each chapter of the work was written by a different author with no regard for plot, continuity, spelling, or grammar.

I’m hearing that Michael Bay is going to direct it.

(OK, the option is actually for a documentary about what happened, but when do I resist the obvious joke?)

(via Paul McAuley on Twitter)

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From what I can tell, this is how it happened:

First, someone working at ITV News forgets that they’re logged into the work Twitter account, rather than their personal one, and tweets: “Nigella Lawson is nowhere near as attractive as she thinks she is”

This is spotted, and retweeted, by Andy Reeves. A short while after that, Andy finds that his Twitter account is suspended (and at the time of writing this post, it still is).

Any explanations?

(Via Jennie)

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Emperor Norton

Emperor Norton

“Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Hardly anybody understands Einstein. And nobody understands Emperor Norton.”
(Principia Discordia)

A conversation last weekend reminded me that not many people know the story of Emperor Norton, even though many of you will have seen him regularly as I use a picture of him (larger version to the right) as my avatar on Twitter and some other forums.

Joshua Norton was the first – and to my knowledge, only – Emperor of the United States of America (and Protector of Mexico). Now, you might quibble over that description, given that the Constitution of the USA doesn’t mention an Emperor amongst all its clauses and amendements and you’d be right. Unromantic, but definitely correct. You see, while other Emperors waited around for Popes and assemblies to crown them, Norton took a much more can-do attitude to life and simply declared himself Emperor one day. You would expect nothing less from an American Emperor, simply embodying the declarative pioneering spirit of his nation by going ahead and just doing it, then waiting for everyone to catch up.

The punchline, of course, is that eventually people did catch up. Norton’s reign lasted for over twenty years from his proclamation in 1859 to his death in 1880 and he received the sort of attention you’d expect a ‘genuine’ Emperor to get – free meals in San Francisco’s finest restaurants, his decrees and declarations published in all the city’s newspapers, police officers saluting when he passed them on the street and the respect and admiration of his fellow citizens/subjects. A tale is told of him preventing a mob from lynching Chinese workers by standing between the two groups and praying, with no one daring to cross the space he’d created.

As I argued in a post I wrote for The Sharpener a few years ago, Norton was a man who saw a gap in the market for a monarch and filled it. His is a story that reminds us that however often we might fantasise about power and the ways to achieve it, in the end it all comes down to consent – a man can only be your Emperor if you want him to, and if you do feel like having an Emperor, then there are many worse options than one who “shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country”.

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For us politics junkies, The Thick Of It is essential watching and one of the treats of this election campaign has been Jesse Armstrong’s Malcolm Tucker columns for the Guardian (warning: contains language liable to offend the offendable).

And while it’s amusing to imagine just how the real-life Malcolms are dealing with the election, it’s a bit disturbing to discover they’re thinking on the same lines as the rest of us. Rebecca Front (the actress who plays Nicola Murray in The Thick Of It) tweeted this morning:

A very nice man approached me in the st & asked if I wanted to be in a Labour party broadcast. They want Nicola Murray in a ppb? …

Followed by this response from Armando Ianucci, the creator and director of the series:

@RebeccaFront. Saatchis contacted me and asked if I wanted to shoot the Tory Hung Parliament ppb. Offal heads.

At this point, life is no longer imitating art, it’s given up, stuck itself in a frame and demanded to be painted over. How long till someone attempts to get Chris Morris to direct a broadcast for them?

UPDATE: Turns out that they also attempted to get Charlie Brooker to appear in the Tory election broadcast. Satire may not be dead, but there’s someone out there trying to slaughter it in the most horrible ways imaginable. (thanks to James Graham for pointing it out)

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This is real:

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, co-wrote an academic article entitled “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures,” in which he argued that the government should stealthily infiltrate groups that pose alternative theories on historical events via “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine” those groups

This is The Onion:

I’d introduce the two of you, but it seems you’ve already met.

(Original link via Stuart Sharpe)

I blame Ben Goldacre, quite frankly. He was telling people on Twitter about a bizarre flyer that had come through his door – though seemingly not targeted at him personally – and my love of reading about conspiracy theories came to the fore and forced me to go look at David Icke’s Swine Flu website.

(By the way, according to Icke, men doing building work turning up in unmarked white vans is suspicious and indicative of a global conspiracy at work on the Isle of Wight. Yes, it seems that Icke wants to elevate White Van Man alongside the Black Helicopter in conspiracy myth.)

I could go through the craziness, but that would spare you the fun of reading it yourself. But what got my attention was Icke claiming that:

Something very big is about to go down. I can’t say exactly when, but we are talking months, not years.

Scary stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Not that Icke himself appears to, given that the front page of his website, rather than urging people to prepare themselves to hide from the coming ‘Orwellian control-system’ is exhorting them to come hear him speak at the Brixton Academy in May 2010. Yes, because global totalitarian dictatorships ushered in at the behest of our secret lizard Illuminati masters turn out to be surprisingly tolerant of mass gatherings of the supporters of The One Man Who Saw The Truth.

(Of course, I’m saying this because I’m a member of the secret Illuminati conspiracy, and the Finance And Audit Scrutiny Committee meeting I’m going to tonight is merely cover for the real business of the New World Order that we’ll be discussing afterwards)

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Odd story of the day comes from Peter Black:

As testimony to an enduring but rather extreme fascination with Egyptology, the mummy worshippers – many wearing robes and head-dresses – STROLL into the display room containing Tem Hor’s bandaged body and involve themselves in “unusual practices”.

Exhibitions officer Roger Gale said: “They were quite a problem before we introduced the security cameras but now they appear to have come back.

“They occasionally come to the museum on weekends and just seem to want to be in the presence of Tem Hor.

“They tend to bow low in front of the mummy case and mumble what appear to be prayers or incantations.

“The problem is they can appear quite menacing because they tend to wear strange clothes, behave rather oddly and want to stay for a long time. The display room containing Tem Hor is not big and they put other people off.

“We usually manage to get them to leave and it’s something we are keeping an eye on.”

I do love the way they’ve chosen to capitalise the most innocuous word in the story – STROLL – as though it might be quite normal behaviour as long as they strode, sprinted or walked purposefully into the room. Strolling or ambling into the presence of ancient Egyptian artefacts, though, is clearly evidence of the decline of moral fibre in the 21st century.

The best part of the story comes at the end, though:

a woman chanted before a display case of dusty Egyptian death masks, explaining: “They’re possessed by trapped ancient spirits. I must release them.”

The female visitor ignored requests to be quiet and it was only when staff at the Egypt Centre explained these particular artefacts were the modern creations of local schoolchildren taking part in a competition that she made her excuses and left.

There’s an entire series of the League of Gentlemen in that story – a bedragged Gatiss prostrate before the artefacts, Shearsmith the bemused museum director pestered by random acts of Egyptology while Pemberton teaches a class of creepily well-behaved Welsh children how to create Egyptian tomb goods, oblivious to the way their eyes glow as they work…

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