28 December 2006

Joyeux Noel... NOT

I bumped into bloody Noel Edmonds on the TV tonight. He is presenting a 2-hour retrospective on his old Saturday morning kids' TV show, Swap Shop, on BBC2 as I write.

Back in 2001 or so life was not completely wonderful, but there were nonetheless a few things we could rely on. One was that the Tories would never choose a leader who was actually capable of winning an election. The other was that after the disastrous fizzling out of Noel's House Party at the end of the 90s, Noel Edmonds had been banished to the outer darkness of TV programming, never to return. The jury is still out on the first of these certainties, but the second has been turned on its head thanks to Deal Or No Deal.

I was unfortunate enough to capsize on the daytime TV iceberg which is Deal Or No Deal and I can honestly say it is the biggest turkey I have ever seen. It makes Noel's House Party look like I, Claudius. The outcome - in terms of which sum of money the contestant can pick up at the end, when all the other boxes are opened - is completely random, and yet it is treated like some kind of surgical operation. At least in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire there is some element of skill involved. The only redeeming feature of Deal or No Deal was when Noel had to have the design of the phone changed because he was suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury from answering the phone when the 'banker' rang.

Looking at the clips of Swap Shop tonight, it is obvious that Noel Edmond's TV career has been a steady downward curveball, from "cheesy fun for kids" through to "absolutely fucking awful". There was an upward blip in 1997 when he appeared on Chris Morris's BrassEye, explaining how the killer drug from Prague, "cake", affected the area of the brain known as "Shatner's Bassoon", controlling the perception of time... "a second feels like a month. So the schoolkid in Prague who was mown down by a bus... he thought he had a month to cross the street." But this was disowned rapidly. A mate of mine who runs the BHappY website defends some of Edmonds's output on the grounds that it is, despite everything, "well-structured television". He also sent me a Noel's House Party board game for my birthday, and I've asked various family and friends to play this game to test its structure. They've refused.

Another friend of mine has said that one of the things that makes him most happy in life is the fact that he will outlive Noel Edmonds; that he will see Noel's obituary in print. But given Noel's ability to bounce back from the dead previously, he could be out of luck. Still, maybe Chris Morris has another trick up his sleeve...

24 December 2006

Very late Christmas Present idea

Seth gives some gift tips...

If you have only 3 shopping hours left and are feeling incrasingly desperate...

This won't help you!

But if you are looking for a present for someone for next year, I can thoroughly recommend Martial Law 9/11: The Rise of the Police State, from the Infowars site.

It's largely based around footage of Infowars supremo Alex Jones talking to demonstrators, cops and members of the public and getting arrested for doing nothing whatsoever at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. The bit where he has an argument with two revolutionary communists is absolutely brilliant - even if you don't like the politics (of either side?) you'll dig it as sitcom.

Alex Jones's more recent DVD, Terrorstorm, is almost as good, although he comes a bit unstuck when he visits London to investigate the 7/7 bombings and the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting - this part of the DVD is replete with basic factual errors which could have been sorted in 10 minutes if Infowars had had assistance from a native London resident. The American part of the DVD is in general much better.

There is also an interesting documentary on Boxing Day on five at 11pm called "Was David Icke right all along"? or something like that, which looks at Icke's recent career and asks: visionary or fruitcake? Hopefully this will update Jon Ronson's classic 2001 Ickeumentary "The Secret Rulers of the World", available in print as Them: Adventures With Extremists and also featuring Alex Jones (but sadly not Aled Jones, of 'Walking in The Air' fame. But maybe he's a conspiracy theorist as well?)

Anyway have a great Xmas and I will try to get a couple of posts in before new year - no excuses really as I'm not at work and will probably just be drinking heavily and falling about.

22 December 2006

Hal's Friday Evening Blog Review #12 - The Snob Log

I was worried for a little while today that I wouldn't actually be able to find a blog to comment on using the trusty 'blogs recently posted to' link on Blogger that wasn't a corporate advertising front, or similar piece of crap. I guess many people have something better to do on the last Friday before Christmas than post to their blog. But finally I was lucky enough to find The Snob Log. This is the (copious) thoughts of a guy from Kentucky who "presently works for a large midwest utility" as "is not too fond of hurricanes". Well that really narrows it down. I was impressed by the very latest post - 'The Carpet Crawlers'. An obvious Genesis reference for those in the know, and indeed the accompanying picture is from the sleeve of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. If I was my mate Benny Voller, I'd say that was one of the great rock double albums. F*** it, I'm not Benny, but I'll say it anyway. The actual post is a rather involved tale of a bungled carpet installation, but better this kind of fussy detail than the platitudes you get in the kind of blogs that say, "Hi I'm Wayne and this is a picture of my fiancee and this is a picture of my dog and this is when we went on holiday to Niagara falls..." we've all read that kind of shite, and at least Snob Blog is a bit more quirky than that.

This guy obviously likes Genesis a lot - there is a picture of bassist Mike Rutherford with the double neck bass and lead guitar combo he used on tour in the seventies here. The other main obsession of this blog is bad smells in the workplace. One of the weirdest comments I've seen in a while is:

work for a company with a large, diversified work force. What that means is we hire people who eat the weirdest shit I have ever seen in a Tupperware container.Co-workers have left Tupperware lying around the break room and kitchenette filled with what resembles a one day old babies' first bowel movement. If that is not bad enough, they will then put it in the microwave uncovered, and nuke it on high for 45 minutes! When they are done, they remove the container and leave a thin layer of this bubonic concoction all over the inside of the microwave.

Which makes me wonder what this guy eats. Tuna sandwich every day maybe? Seriously, 'in your nose' food in the workplace can be a problem - at my previous place of work there was a guy who used to microwave whole bulbs of garlic and put them in his salad. The kitchen really used to reek after lunch but the guy looked about 15 years younger than he actually was, so it must have done the trick in some way. If they had enforced it as some kind of office policy for everyone then I reckon no-one would have noticed the smell - at least, within the office. Garlic's like that.

I have some sympathy for the chap's anti-Mac stance, though:

CDuring my years as a tech writer I was forced to use a Mac and it proved to be a real pain in the ass. I also hate their condescending commercials... I have declared our house a "no pod" zone.

Right on, kid! F*** Apple, f*** ITunes and f*** DRM. (Reminds me a bit of a great story in a biography of the rock band The Cure I read years and years ago: The Cure were on stage just before Robert Palmer at some rock festival in Europe in 1980 or thereabouts. They had overrun their time and the Robert Palmer roadcrew were motioning in increasingly agitated fashion that they should get off the goddamn stage. Anyway, bassist Simon Gallup went up to the mike and said, "F*** Robert Palmer! F*** Rock'n'Roll!" and they then went into a slow version of 'A Forest' that lasted about 20 minutes. It must have been an all time highpoint in postpunk. Of course the joke is that within about 4 years of doing that, The Cure then mutated into the same kind of "rock'n'roll" they had told to f*** off, but that's money vs principles for ya. Would be nice if a young up-and-coming group playing before The Cure at a festival next summer could shout "F*** The Cure! F*** Rock'n'Roll!" and then play a 20 minute version of "World War", "Meathook" or one of the other early songs. But it seems unlikely. )

Anyway there is plenty more on this blog I could tell you about, but it's probably more exciting if you discover the rest for yourself, and I found my Cure story more entertaining anyway. So on that topic, I will leave you (possibly for the last time before Xmas? Dunno yet) with a searching question:

Whatever did happen to Laurence Tolhurst?

BAA ain't got the foggiest... Merry Xmas, travellers

My full sympathies go out to the poor bastards stranded at Heathrow and many other British airports, or forced on to coaches due to the persistent fog. It's come as a bit of a surprise to me as my assumption was that the pilot's naked eye played no role whatsoever in flying a commercial aircraft nowadays as it was all done by computer - a bit like the Docklands Light Railway or something. But it turns out that BAA are only able to run the airports at full capacity if visiability is good enough for pilots to be able to see that they're not actually going to hit another plane. Also, fog slows down aircraft taxiing, which has to be done visually. Well, I never claimed to be an aviation expert - fortunately.

For the hardbitten air traveller this has been a hell of a year, though. The clear thing that comes across from the hand luggage restrictions fiasco in the summer and now these delays due to fog is that the mass cattle-processing operation that is London air travel is such a tight-margin operation, running at so close to full capacity, that any slight hiccup throws the whole system into disarray. Moreover, the contingency plans for coping with any major disruption are at best completely ineffectual, and at worst, non-existent. Maybe that's the price we pay for being able to fly to anywhere in Europe for less than the price of a meal for two, but it makes any flight from Heathrow or any of the other airports a real gamble; you just never know when the next wave of major disruption will kick in. Forget about liquid explosives smuggled in through drinks bottles; all the terrorists need now is a dry ice machine. Or the ability to impersonate John Reid as he briefs the newspapers about yet another 'major terrorist threat'.

Anyway, none of this will affect me very much as following an unbelievably turbulent flight back from India in March, I'm off the air for the time being - figuratively speaking. I know the statistics say its very safe but the statistics don't have to sit in that bloody tin box with their insides contorting as the damn thing is buffeted about by the massed forces of nature. It feels like I'm taking my life in my hands every time I get on a plane at the moment and I just can't be doing with it. Just thinking about it now is making me feel a bit odd. Or maybe I just feel like that all the time?

19 December 2006

Hal's festive tip to Premiership managers: don't let a cheap punk wind you up

Not really a burning world issue this, but it's near Christmas, I've got some time on my hands and I'm always wound up by the ludicrous, so let's get on with it.

David Moyes became the latest Premiership manager to be riled by Jose "the mouth" Mourihno after Everton's 3-2 loss to Chelsea. Most managers have a whine and a bitch about the referee, the opposition, or the supporters when they lose, or sometimes, when they draw. Mourinho is unusual in that he has a moan even when Chelsea win. This time, he accused Everton striker Andrew Johnson of being an "intelligent" player (the context in which it was said made it clear that the implication was that Johnson was a cheat and a diver.) Everton and David Moyes have submitted a formal complaint to the FA. Fat lot of good that'll do then. But the wider problem with this kind of knee-jerk response to Mourinho is that it just feeds his persecution complex and his ego, which makes it all the more likely that he'll do it again to the next hapless manager his team plays against. Instead, Moyes, and all the managers of the teams who play Chelsea, should issue the following generic press release after the game:

Jose Mourinho is a cheap punk with a very expensive team. The only reason he has been able to win more than a handful of games since taking over in 2004 is because he has had an unlimited sum of money to spend on players. His team is bankrolled by a criminal Russian oligarch who has stolen his wealth from the citizens of Russia. If you measure Jose Mourinho's real success by divide the number of points Chelsea have accumulated in the premiership this year by the amount their team cost, you will find that Chelsea are the least successful premiership team in history. We express our sympathies to Mr Mourinho's family and players for his incompetence, arrogance and poor sense of humour and look forward to dealing with a similar torrent of simple-minded and inaccurate abuse from him at our next meeting.

A straight-bat response like this, across the board, would deflate a lot of the Mourinho bubble. It won't of course deal with the crisis in football caused by the fact that how rich your club's backers are is now much more important than the skills of the players or managers, or the commitment of the fans, but that is a much tougher nut to crack... and would require the frankly unlikely scenario of a general strike by the fans to sort out. But that is perhaps a post for next week, after the general pre-Christmas rush has died down. Keep your hair on, Jose...

15 December 2006

Hal's Friday Evening Blog #11 - Bible News

As Christmas, and the attending flashing lights of the... paramedics, lie in wait, Hal bows to the superior intellect and culture of The Daily Mail by returning, after many weeks, to a Christian theme...

Bible News sounded initially like an oxymoron to me. Wasn't the text meant to be finalised by the 4th century CE or thereabouts, bar the odd bit of fiddling about by the Catholic Church? But of course it's not the text itself but the dissemination formats that are the news. For a start there's this little guy, who looks like the ROM cartridges you used to get for 80s home computers or synthesisers:

It is in fact a "100 song contemporary Christian music chip for 'LDSL2100, LDSL3000 and LDSL3700'" - whatever they may be. Looks like the ideal stocking filler for many of us.

Other fascinating products include the 6 DVD Bible Collection, reviewed as

the most important story from the Bible, and the production is more than excelent [sic]. I can say that accuracy is 80% from the Bible [so what is the other 20% I wonder?]

and the intriguing Jewish Activity Bag. One has to wade through a lot of Bible verses to get to this stuff, but there you go.

Returning to the 'Christian blog' theme reminds me that it's time to take a look at what's been happening over at the very first blog review, Ethics and Morals for America's Future. The guy has now expanded his first post, dated 14 Sep 06, into an incredible 7,597 words. Could this be the longest single blog post ever? (Probably not.) Will this guy ever learn to use the blog "properly"? (Probably not.) He has been lucky enough to attract one comment, from a "dave r":

Very interesting website. I am writing a book called "In God We Still Trust". It is about the overwhelming documentation that this nation was founded as a Christian Nation.

Unfortunately, the ACLU is trying to destroy history.

I had a look at the ACLU website and couldn't find much evidence of this. But maybe they had got there before me and destroyed it? The link on 'not just pizza' is particularly interesting.

12 December 2006

After the initial euphoria, more on Pinochet...

As promised a couple of days earlier, a more considered analysis of the legacy of General Pinochet. For the most part the media response has been quite heartening. There was of course Thatcher's "great sadness", which the charitable would put down to dementia, except that it was entirely consist with her previous actions in government, which were unremittingly pro-Chile. And that's consistent with her philosophy, which is that any inhuman monster is worthy of praise provided they stand up for British interests. As Alan Partridge once said (not about her, but it fits), "scum. Subhuman scum."

Others on the right have been more reasonable - for example, Daniel Finkelstein on The Times's Comment Central blog wrote as good a piece as anything I've seen. Conversely, for a supposedly 'centre-left' politician, Margaret Beckett's comments were a pathetic cop-out and insulting to the thousands of Chileans who died during the Pinochet dictatorship. What's the matter, Margaret? Worried that Baroness Thatcher won't vote Labour next time?

But the main lesson for the left to learn from the 1973 Pinochet coup which overthrew Salvador Allende's democratically elected government is that control of the military is essential to implement a radical programme - by which I mean, anything to the left of Blair/Brown/Cameron (BBC!) style centrism. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela understands this well, which is why he has put so much effort into keeping the military onside. (Incidentally, Johann Hari in The Independent wrote a very good article on Chavez a couple of days back.) Whiilst the spate of documentaries that ran earlier this year marking the 30th anniversary of Harold Wilson's resignation suggested that the rumours of a military coup in the UK in the mid-70s were never that serious, the military is a much tighter operation now than it was in those days and the modern Chinese model - high growth and rampant corporate power at the expense of democracy - is probably an attractive alternative our rather decrepit democratic system, to high-ranking armed forces personnel and business movers and shakers alike. Brown and Blair are neo-liberal enough not to worry anybody outside the most reactionary elements of the system, but if, for example, the Green Party were ever to get into government on anything like a radical environmentalist programme, they wouldn't last very long unless they had infiltrated the military. Incidentally the latest Populus poll in The Times puts the Greens on 4 per cent, which is still not very much, but is a damn sight more than they were getting even a few months ago. Fallout from the Stern Report perhaps?

10 December 2006

Friedman's mate has just died too!

General Pinochet has kicked the bucket... and we've got a large bottle of champagne under the stairs. Woo-hoo. I was saving it for Maggie Thatcher but sometimes you just have to take the nearest fascist you can lay your hands on.

More on this in a couple of days, but it's late and I need to find a glass.

08 December 2006

Hal's Friday Evening Blog Review #10: Shakespeare Quest

Not in the best of moods tonight, but then you'd expect it from a man who's just spent half an hour using Blogger to find a random blog to review, only to be greeted by a selection of corporate advertising, porn, and irrelevant drivel... sometimes all in the same blog.

Finally I stumbled on something half worth looking at with Shakespeare Quest. It is early days indeed for this blog, with only two posts so far, both dated today. However as me old mate Lao Tzu said the other millennium, "a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step", and who is to say that a few years from now, this won't be one of the web's foremost hotbeds of Shakespearean research and discussion? Admittedly, from the grammatical structure of the opening announcement, there's a long way to go:

This is a site to learn the language of Shakespeare and the works of his. It is an strange language that will interest anyone who is courious [sic] and wishes to learn more of the works and ways of the Elizabethan ways.

but then, Shakespearean English looks a bit odd to the modern reader, too. It is not, as the website admits further down, "everyday grammer [sic]". At the moment, the blog concludes with a couple of pictures of an 'Italian doublet' and 'typical German gown'. I guess if the Shakespeare thing fails to take off they can always relaunch it as a medieval fashion blog.

On an irrelevant but amusing note (and because there isn't much more to say about this blog at present), I found out today about a distribution of Linux called Ichthux which has pre-installed tools for Christians such as "Christian emoticons" and Bible study software. I haven't managed to find a Linux distro with the complete works of Shakespeare embedded, but I feel it could help the person who runs Shakespeare Quest if there were such a concoction. If you have an even weirder Linux distro than Ichthux please do leave a link in the comments page...

07 December 2006

Aliens On My Youtube!

After getting rather excited about a software emulation of the EMS "Synthi AKS" suitcase synthesiser last week, I've found that somebody has actually posted some footage of the synth in action to Youtube. "Synthi AKS in action - part 1" can be viewed below:

synthi aks in action part 1

Peace and f***ing believe. There are at least 6 more excerpts of this particular synthi on Youtube, getting progressively more whacked out each time. There's also a test transmission by another synthi owner where the guy is wearing rubber gloves - that really does take it into 1960s lab assistant territory. I couldn't find any Youtube footage of Peter Namlook, though...

06 December 2006

'one' hell of a commute

Seth is a queasy rider...

This one is a bit of a rant, so if you like to be cheered up, look elsewhere.

Greetings to any of you punters who have to use a private train operator to get to work, and particularly anyone unfortunate enough to be using the daftly titled 'one' Railway from Essex into Liverpool Street. This line has never been quite right since the Hatfield Rail Crash of autumn 2000 led to the imposition of a vast number of speed restrictions on the rail network, some of which are still in place. Nonetheless, over the last 5 years there has been some general improvement in punctuality. However, over the last 6 weeks or so, this process has gone into reverse - sometimes literally.

A typical example: my favourite train, which is meant to arrive at my home station at 7.59, is almost always late arriving, and usually becomes yet later as it heads towards Liverpool Street. Yesterday, it arrived 45 minutes late due to the combination of 'slippery rails' (???) and 'a points failure outside Liverpool Street.' At least this time they bothered to come up with an excuse. Most of the time you don't even get one. The on-board train announcer (pre-recorded) sounds like Jonathan Ross on downers and the platform announcer (again pre-recorded) sounds like Patricia Hewitt. The train company shows a complete failure to acknowledge that there is even a problem, and have not even bothered to reply to two emails from the head of the local rail users' group asking for an explanation for the delays. And why should they? They are raking it in running a completely unaccountable privatised monopoly service. Last month it was announced that fares will rise again this year by 4.3%, but the rail operator will easily increase the number of tickets they sell nonetheless as the Essex population is expanding at a steady rate with no extra increase in transport capacity. Last week's Eddington Review recommended investment to clear 'pinch points' and bottlenecks and that's fair enough, as there are many of those, but in the long run large-scale investment in extra track capacity will be needed to avoid the situation some lines are already at (e.g. SWT into Waterloo) where commuters are jammed in like some kind of battery animal.

There's not enough space in one blog post to go into the intricate details of what needs to be done but I will return to it in future. In the meantime, any frustrated fellow commuters should have a look at the Traindelays website, which gives details of delays that have occured - which operator, start and destination stations, and the length of delay. If you're a season ticket holder you can use this information to make a compensation claim. If you're feeling particularly wicked you can of course make claims for journeys you haven't even been on - for example, if you were working at home that day, or travelling on a different time train. The operator aren't gonna know that, are they? You could always give that extra money to charity - or donate it to a party which might build a better transport system. None of the main parties has a clue, so it's gonna take a f***ing revolution to sort this one out, and at least this is an issue that really gets people going.

Last week's edition of the Essex Chronicle (not the best newspaper ever but better than the gauntlet of freesheets I have to run every time I walk to Liverpool Street in the evenings... but that's tomorrow's post, probably) mentioned that commuters were planning a "fare strike", which sounds great until you realise that most of these people are season ticket holders who have paid their fares in advance. Hello, people? The monopoly capitalist scum have seen you coming and they have already cleared your pockets out. Come back when you've got a truckload of AK47s and we'll discuss 'one''s terms for surrender. You don't need to actually fire the goddamn thing, just look like you mean business when you stroll into the 'one' offices in Oliver's Yard, EC1, threaten the director a bit and I think you'll find those trains will start to improve. Much more effective than trying to assault the station staff who don't have any control over the train company anyway, and are under pressure themselves... I also found this blog for the inside view from the ticket collectors.

Anyway that's enough railing for now.

05 December 2006

'Survivors' - or 'Life After H5N1' as the remake will no doubt be called

Barney may be the only one still alive...

Sorry for the rather reduced posting frequency in the last few weeks... I'm doing an impression of the Royal Mail.

But seriously... it's actually because work seems to be extending to about 12 hours a day at the moment and when I get home the last thing I want to do is power up the laptop and go right back into my Repetitive Strain Injury Development class.

I was inspired tonight though by BBC4's documentary on Survivors, the mid-1970s BBC sci-fi series about what happens after a mystery virus from China wipes out a huge proportion of the world's population. I've never seen Survivors, but from the excerpts shown on the documentary, it looks like an absolute classic. If the recurring annual panic over bird flu (which also seems to have originated in China, as far as I know?) proves to be well-founded, we could be looking at a real life 'Survivors' scenario. Which is a bit worrying, although at least we wouldn't have to worry about traffic congestion, or getting on the housing ladder. I think blogs would be OK too (provided that we could keep the electricity supply operational), as the internet was meant to be "a computer network that could withstand a nuclear war" (as the Rand Corporation once said to the US Defense Department) so a simple virus shouldn't be too much bother.

Anyway, I shouldn't be surprised if we see a remake of Survivors, or something along those lines, pretty soon. ITV already had a go with I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, which would be similar to Survivors if retitled I'm a Celebrity and So Are You 'Cos We're The Only People Still Alive. Meanwhile, round my neck of the woods we don't have to imagine what the UK would be like if the transport system had broken down completely; the ludicrously titled 'one' railway are showing us already, on a daily basis. But that's the subject for Seth's next post, which I'm reliably informed will be tomorrow... meanwhile I'm going all self-sufficient down the allotment.

01 December 2006

Hal's Friday Evening Blog Review #9 - JunkPower

What a difference a week makes! From one of the net's realest turkeys in FEBR#8 to a bona fide classic piece of US political agitation, JunkPower. Not, as you might first have expected from the name, a site for the political mobilisation of heroin addicts, but rather an "ex-Corporate and Southwesterner, sometimes anarcho-syndicalist transitionist." This guy is f***ing pissed off about what the people Hunter Thompson called "these cheap, greedy killers who speak for America today" - Dubya Bush plus support. And he ain't gonna give up until they kindly leave the stage.

If there was merely quart after quart of vitriol here, expressed in posts like 2,868 Soldiers Died So That This Asshole Could Provide the Best Evidence Against Intelligent Design, it would be great reading. But there's brilliant humour, too, in posts like Hooked on Gay Phonics Kung-Fu Cocktacular, Come Back With Your Shield, Or On It, Missisippi Kicked Out of Union? Trent Lott to Lose Citizenship? Wishful Thinking, or my personal favourite, Jesus Loves My SUV: This I Know, Because the Billboards Tell Me So, where Mr JunkPower analyses the merits of car stickers which state, "[insert name of American soldier] Died So I Can Drive This SUV." I might start to manufacture some UK versions. "Tragically under-pensioned octagenarians fought the Battle of Britain so I could intimidate them as the poor buggers stumble across the zebra crossing on zimmer frames while I'm doing the school run in my 4x4", anyone? A bit wordy but I'm sure it would sell well.

Anyway, putting this site all together you've got a superb radical political entertainment. Of course it does trade heavily on the "Bush is a Dumbass" line, whereas the truth is probably a bit more complex - a complete imbecile couldn't have got that far, even in America, and the meticulous chronicling of his early career in Molly Ivins's excellent Shrub (for example) shows a first rate political campaigner and slugger. But nonetheless, running for office with skill is very different from filling that office with skill, and from the moment he stepped in the White House door it was obvious that GWB was way out of his depth. Given that simple fact, you'll rarely see a site that kicks a man when he's down (but not out for another 2 years sadly) more gleefully than JunkPower. Great stuff!