Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

If you've just enjoyed watching the (excellent) Dr Who episode entitled A Christmas Carol here's the 1910 film version of A Christmas Carol

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Future States

I was rather excited when I found the website for Future States - which explains itself as follows:

What will become of America in five, 25, or even 50 years from today? This series of 11 short films explores possible future scenarios through the prism of today’s global realities. Immerse yourself in the visions of these independent prognosticators as they inhabit a future of their own imagining.

The films aren't the best SF that I've seen - but certainly not the worst either. But have a look for yourself.

I've only watched two films so far - "Pia", about the interaction between a widow and an android, , and "Rise", about a change in the housing market.

Another one,  "Silver Sling", about surrogate mothers looks a bit too depressing for me at the moment.

You can watch "Rise" by clicking below:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Stuxnet Shock

Are we seeing the first real use of malware as a weapon in the physical world? And is it being used against Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant?

From the Christian Science Monitor:

So far, Stuxnet has infected at least 45,000 industrial control systems around the world, without blowing them up – although some victims in North America have experienced some serious computer problems, Eric Byres, a Canadian expert, told the Monitor. Most of the victim computers, however, are in Iran, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia. Some systems have been hit in Germany, Canada, and the US, too. Once a system is infected, Stuxnet simply sits and waits – checking every five seconds to see if its exact parameters are met on the system. When they are, Stuxnet is programmed to activate a sequence that will cause the industrial process to self-destruct, Langner says.

Langner's analysis also shows, step by step, what happens after Stuxnet finds its target. Once Stuxnet identifies the critical function running on a programmable logic controller, or PLC, made by Siemens, the giant industrial controls company, the malware takes control. One of the last codes Stuxnet sends is an enigmatic “DEADF007.” Then the fireworks begin, although the precise function being overridden is not known, Langner says. It may be that the maximum safety setting for RPMs on a turbine is overridden, or that lubrication is shut off, or some other vital function shut down. Whatever it is, Stuxnet overrides it, Langner’s analysis shows.

"After the original code [on the PLC] is no longer executed, we can expect that something will blow up soon," Langner writes in his analysis. "Something big."

Hat-Tip: Andrew Sullivan

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dawks And His Newsletter

You'd think that readers leaving comments at the bottom of newspaper articles only started in the early 2000s.

But it dates back to at least '96. That's 1696.

According to Slate,

In 1696, British publisher Ichabod Dawks left blank space in his pages for readers to supplement the words he printed. The first edition of Dawks's News Letter, dated Aug. 4, 1696, told readers, "This letter will be done upon good writing-paper, and blank spaces left that any gentleman may write his own private business."

And it spread to the colonies:

....the Boston News-Letter, first published in 1704. Its proprietor, John Campbell, deliberately left blank space in its pages so subscribers could annotate and otherwise append their ideas and "news" to the newspaper. These amendments weren't aimless jottings, either. Newspapers were routinely shared after purchase, and the notes readers added in the spaces and margins were designed to edify the friend or acquaintance the reader next forwarded his paper to.

Makes me wonder if this continued throughout the 18th century, and what impact it had on the American Revolution....

And makes me think that Ichabod needs to be a little better known, he's not even mentioned in wikipedia!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Ensemble Darkhorse

I've never seen the TV Tropes website mentioned on another blog. Which is strange, because it's a pretty massive, informal wiki-type site that looks at writing techniques, plot devices , characterisation and a whole lot more in TV, film, literature, anime etc.

I've tried to explain the site to people, when I speak about their eyes tend to glaze over.....

But anyway, for example, the "Badass Bookworm" character trope includes Indiana Jones, Hermione Granger and Siegfied Sassoon.

An example of a plotting trope is "It's a wonderful plot", typified by the film "It's a Wonderful Life" with other examples being the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", and a very dark episode of "Rugrats"....

But the site goes beyond fiction - and this is my reason for writing about it here - there's even an entry for Nick Clegg , who is categorised, amongst other things as an Ensemble Darkhorse, But Not Too Foreign and a Casanova....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Tetris History Of The USSR

Otchen horosho.

Hat-to: Hit and Run

What Do You Get For £1.2bn These Days?

I'm pleased to see Lib Dems like Roger Williams raising huge question marks over the government using Philip Green as an advisor:

Roger Williams, Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said that while Green was "very capable", the reports of his tax arrangements should be "looked at" by HMRC and the Treasury.

"We are very keen that artificial arrangements are minimised," he told the Guardian today.

The paper points out that:

Green, known for partying with model Kate Moss and X Factor svengali Simon Cowell, as well as his business acumen, banked the biggest pay cheque in corporate history in 2005 when his Arcadia fashion business, which owns Topshop, paid a £1.2bn dividend. The record-breaking payment was paid to his wife, Tina, who lives in Monaco and is the direct owner of Arcadia. As a result, no UK income tax was due.

£1.2bn? What does that buy nowadays? Looking around the Guardian website, I found something that nearly matched up:

Avastin prolongs life but drug is too expensive for NHS patients, says Nice

Campaigners last night criticised the health watchdog after it ruled that a drug was too expensive to be prescribed on the NHS – despite evidence that it can prolong life in bowel cancer patients.

Avastin (bevacizumab) can help patients with advanced bowel cancer which has spread to other organs, usually the liver and lungs.

It is the standard treatment for the illness in many countries around the world, and is currently being trialled for use in other cancers, including melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said it had considered the drug, including a risk-sharing scheme from the manufacturer Roche, but still considered the price too high for the extra benefit it gives patients.

Avastin costs almost £21,000 per patient and an estimated 6,500 people per year could be eligible for the drug.

The efficacy isn't fantastic - it only adds an average extra 6 weeks to life expectancy, but it can do better than that:

A teacher diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer today said she was extremely disappointed the health watchdog has turned down a "life-saving" drug for use on the NHS.

Barbara Moss, 55, (below) said she was "living proof" that Avastin works.

In November 2006, she was given three months to live after doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her liver. After two treatments of Avastin, her grapefruit-sized tumour shrank to half its size and she could have surgery. She has been in remission for 18 months.

I note that £20,800 x 6500 = £1.35 billion .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thanks Coalition, Thanks Lynne

I'm quite chuffed to see the announcement that wheel clamping on private land is going to be banned in England and Wales. In the past year or so I've heard of cases in Rayleigh where someone has been charged about 200 pounds extra, just for paying by card. And I've seen instances where the vehicle was apparently parked on the public highway, and still got clamped.

So well done - especially to Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem minister overseeing this.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Here's an artistic puzzle for you.

One of my favourite videos on the net is this cute one of a Mum showing her very young daughter how to dance - the music is Nouvelle Vague's version of "Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen In Love With". Apart from being fun to watch, it's a scene of a parent enjoying life with their child (two children, actually) in the security of their own home.

Now, if you go to that YouTube page, a couple of links will take you to the website of the artist Sophie Collier. (I don't know if she's the Mum in the video).

And there's a painting that's a puzzle. It's called "The Black Swan Problem and Ms Collier describes it as follows:

The Black Swan Problem references a theory put forth by 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume. In asking "how many swans does one need observe before inferring that all swans are white..." he points to our tendency to create general rules based purely upon what is factually observed, since we cannot easily or immediately see what is happening elsewhere.

At first glance, this painting depicts an imagined, seemingly inviting and safe refuge of a father and daughter watching the box in opulent and comfortable surroundings. But this is misleading: upon closer inspection there is a less predictable view to be teased out.

The painting has now been shortlisted for stage 2 of the John Moores Painting Prize for 2010

Here's a small image of it - for a bigger version click here.

So this is a scene that's superficially similar to that video - parent and daughter in the security of their own home - except we are told there are other things , perhaps more weird , to be found.

I'm trying to work it out - I've spotted a couple of things so far. Can anyone else see anything?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Guardian's Pledge Tracker

I'm sure I'm not the only Lib Dem blogger still trying to work out whether the coalition is going to be good, bad or ugly.

For now, I have my doubts, but I'm prepared to give it a chance to work. I shudder when I read about the possibility of nature reserves being sold off, but nod in agreement when I see that the Audit Commission is being abolished.

The Guardian has now come up with a little gadget that will aid my thinking on the subject - their "Coalition Election Pledge Tracker" It's worth a look...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First They Attacked Evolution. Now They Are Attacking Physics.

It's alarming how being a "Conservative" in America is starting to mean "Anti-Science". Hence "Conservapedia" which is a kind of right-wing creationist alternative to Wikipedia.

Now it's criticising relativity. Key quote:

The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.

The "Volokh Conspiracy" (which is basically a US intelligent,right-of-centre/ libertarian blog, concentrating on legal issues) has a very readable set of comments on the issue here.

Let's hope this kind of stuff is kept out of UK schools, eh?

You Must See The Dimly-Remembered Flip Side

I just thought I'd mention that one of the very bits of British SF ever is now uploaded onto YouTube.

It's the play "The Flip Side of Dominic Hyde" and part one has had only 2,523 hits - which is absurdly low.

Whether you are a fan of SF and watched ever minute of this season's Dr Who and "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel", or think you loathe science fiction and prefer Jane Austen, do yourself a favour and watch this.

Dominic lives in a clean, quiet minimalist hit-tech future that's perhaps a little too quiet. The word 'happy' seems to have disappeared from people's vocabularies and been replaced by the word 'complacent'....

Sunday, August 08, 2010

2053 Detonations

This thought-provoking and rather eerie animation shows every nuclear explosion from 1945 up to 1998.

It begins slowly, but there's a sort of flash flood of detonations in the 1950s.....

Before you watch it, see if you can answer this question - where did the first nuclear explosion take place in Africa? (that's not including the natural nuclear reactions that took place in what is now Gabon, 2 billion years ago).

Hat-Tip: Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Changing the Borders

A slightly sardonic video from the Economist changes Europe's borders.... not to mention coastlines!

Hat-Tip: Hit and Run

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Eastern SF

On the website, there's an interesting article about the return of politically charged Chinese SF. As an SF fan who had never even heard of any Chinese SF before reading this, I've been intrigued. The article centres on a new novel that was published last year in Hong Kong but is now circulating widely :

Chen Guanzhong's China 2013 presents a fairly Orwellian view of China's future. Although Chen has said he does not think his novel is like 1984, certain parallels between the two are pretty obvious. Key Orwellian concepts such as a "memory hole," "doublethink," and "newspeak" find echoes in Chen's novel, and the antagonist is a party official reminiscent of O'Brien, a character in 1984.

As the novel's plot unfolds, on the day that marks the beginning of an unprecedented world-wide economic crisis, the U.S. dollar falls by one-third. The same day, China officially enters what its leaders call "the prosperous time." Every Chinese person accepts this happy coincidence, except for two men and a woman. The three remember events differently: They believe that a month, somehow been lost from public memory, separates these two events. And they set out to recover memories of that lost month.

I don't know if it's translated into English yet...

Monday, August 02, 2010

More Evil-Looking Than Anything On Doctor Who

If you are looking for a website about animals that's a bit out of the ordinary, try Ugly Overload. Their strapline is:

"Giving ugly animals their day in the sun. We avoid the simply tragic, diseased, or maimed." That's where I found the above picture of a Kitefin Shark.

As the authors so ably put it:

Its creepy skin and having its eyes where its nostrils should be might be impressively ugly enough, if that weren't overshadowed by the fact that its eyes are totally the wrong size and in fact seem to come from some other animal entirely.

Ah well, ugliness is only skin deep.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Tide Is Turning

By the way, if you haven't heard it... this is "The Tide is Turning".

A sublime song about Live Aid.

We Don't Need No Thought Control

Pink Floyd were one of my favourite groups when I was younger. I thought "Dark Side Of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" were wonderful. And the Tide is Turning" is sublime. But I never liked "Another Brick In the Wall", especially the title track. Not even for one second.

"We don't need no education!"? Of course you do, you pillocks. If that track discouraged even one person from getting a good education and career , well that's one person too many. And teachers and schools seemed such an easy target. Writing a song that encouraged kids to study would have been a bit trickier, eh?

But as explained on Harry's Place , this version - with Roger Waters blessing - is rather more appropriate. It's fronted by two brothers of Iranian origin living in Canada.....

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sometimes Anger Is the Right Emotion To Display

Sometimes the best thing to do in a poltical arena is to show your anger and contempt.... this is Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner.

The Guardian tries to explain here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Say Something Nice About The Coalition? Our Tories Vote Against

On Rochford District Council we have a pretty oppressive form of the cabinet system - if you aren't one of the eight Tory cabinet members, you can never ever speak at a cabinet meeting , even if it affects your ward.

So the Lib Dems were pleased to see that the coalition are going to give councils the chance to go back to a committee system, and two of us put forward the following motion:

‘That this Council welcomes the statement by the Liberal Conservative Coalition Government that they will allow Councils to return to the committee system, should they wish to.’

This was treated by horror by the Conservative leadership. Clearly any hint from us that the cabinet system isn't perfect hit a extremely raw nerve. As a result they voted as a block against a motion praising their own national party.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I'm Chuffed To Bits About This Chinwag

I don't know if Cameron and Obama got on as well as this - but here's an entertaining game between High Lawrie and Ellen Degeneres as they try to guess the meaning of English and American slang.....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Third Place.....

Wheatley Ward on Rochford District Council is a real Conservative stronghold - when the seat was contested in May, only the Tories and English Democrats actually stood.

Following the sad death of Conservative ward councillor John Pullen, we've just had a by-election, in which the Lib Dems and Labour dipped their toe into the electoral waters here. However the result was, as expected , a Conservative hold:

Aron Priest Conservative 417 61.0% (down 7.8% since previous election)
John Hayter English Democrats 142 20.7% (down 10.4%)
Sid Cumberland Liberal Democrats 78 11.4% (up 11.4%)
David Bodimeade Labour 47 6.9% (up 6.9%)

Turn out this time was 21.3 %

Sunday, July 11, 2010

All Hail The All Whites!

Not a bad world cup for me personally , as I had Holland in the office sweepstake...

But the gane that riveted me most was New Zealand 1 Italy 1 - a defiant performace by the All Whites.

And am I the first person to point out that New Zealand were the only team to leave the World Cup Finals unbeaten?

Friday, June 04, 2010

If Gandhi Was A Palestinian?

I've just found an interesting piece from an Indian blogger, Ullas Sharma: that's worth reading:

It made me wonder how it would have been if the Mahatma were a Palestinian. He would have reveled in the opportunity; a just cause, and a just means to the end – a Palestinian state carved out of the philosophy of non-violence. How would he have gone about it? Well, for starters, he would have read the namaz five times a day, like any devout Muslim, and let the world know that he was a namazi. He would have worn a white tunic and carried his staff. He would have let the people know that although a Muslim, he respected all religions, including Judaism. He would have gone to the Mecca on the Hadj regularly. He would surely have traveled the length and breadth of the country talking not only to the Palestinian people but also to the Jews. He would have made friends with the Jews and put forth his point of view without ever raising his voice. He would have never hesitated to laugh, his childlike, toothless laugh that so disarmed his worst critics. And he would have propounded and lived his theory of non-violence with such vigor and conviction that any aberrance would have seen him going on a fast – for “atonement.” He would have been a fakir – a political fakir and would have amalgamated the two so judiciously that he could easily switch from one to the other.

He would have shunned the extremists like Hamas and Hezbollah. He would have totally rejected them and seen to it that their activities were to the minimum. Maybe he could not have stopped them completely – maybe he would not have wished them to stop completely, but he definitely would have discouraged them so that they would have been marginalized in the society. Gandhi would have demonstrated peacefully, again and again. He would have told the world how the Palestinians were being wronged. He would have asked his people to stage a dharna in front of the houses which were theirs a few decades back – where some of them spent their childhood. He would have exhorted his people not to work for the Israelis, in their shops and in their factories. He would have asked them not to buy anything made by them. A few would have heeded his appeal and left their jobs. They would have been hailed as champions and true patriots. The trickle would have then become an avalanche and there would be mass resignations from jobs and Jewish goods burnt in protest. Not because they hate the Jews, but as a mark of protest for what they believe is right. The Israeli economy would come to a grinding halt.

Gandhi would have harped on the importance of living a frugal life. He would have aimed at making the Palestinian people self-sufficient. He would have asked them to weave their own cloth, and tend their sheep and goat; thus creating an economically independent community. Gandhi would lead by example. He would have walked the streets of Jerusalem with a white flag calling out to all and sundry what he believed in. Inevitably, his demonstrations would have made the Israelis react and if a few of his people were killed he would have made the world know about the callousness of the Israeli security forces. He would never have verbally attacked the Jewish people, only their security forces for their highhandedness. He would still consider Jews as his friends and that would be such a media coup that TV channels and newspapers around the world would be vying to get his views on all and sundry. He would have thrown awry the Jewish game plan so ruthlessly and yet so gently that they would not have known what hit them. He would have been more potent than any atomic bomb. The likes of Ariel Sharon would be sidelined and completely outclassed – reduced to a statistic in the political arena.

He would have made a dent within the Jewish society and that schism would have found Jews calling out for the rights of the Palestinian people. The Knesset would then have passed a resolution for the creation of a Palestinian state. The Mahatma would have been called for discussions on the modalities of it all. He would have put forth his views, but also would have paid attention to the concerns of the other side. Gandhi would not call out for the annulment of the state of Israel, yet he would have carved a country for his people. He would have been magnanimous – something that is so difficult and so rare. For his magnanimity some hard-liner would have felt that he had bartered the country away. He would have been shot and would have died calling out the name of Allah – his mission complete – at one with the Almighty.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Exciting opportunities In North Korea"

Not a phrase you hear very often. But here's a job advert.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Closest Election EVER in Essex?

Lib Dem Brentwood Councillor Karen Chilvers has just written about what happened in her area on Thursday:

We knocked on a lot of doors yesterday telling you it would be close - but I had no idea how close it would be.
At 6am, after four recounts and with over 3,000 votes cast it finally came down to 1578 votes for Nigel and 1578 for the Tory candidate - dead heat.
The election was then decided by a drawing of lots and ....

Find out who won here.

News From A Blue Heartland

Down in deepest, bluest Rayleigh and Wickford , our Tory MP Mark Francois was swept back to Westminster with 57 percent of the vote and a majority of over 22000. And I wish him well - by the way, he doesn't seem to have the same right-wing reputation in Rayleigh that he seems to have outside the constituency.

It was really good to see Susan Gaszczak win 2nd place for us by a few hundred votes, pushing the affable Labour guy Mike Lesurf into third. Thanls, Susan....

The ten or twelve BNP supporters who came to the count left 90 minutes before the declaration, where they came sixth (behind the English Democrats and UKIP) and lost their deposit.

Incidentally, we have a very cosmopolitan set of names for candidates down here in Rayleigh - a Conservative with the middle name "Gino",Lib Dem with the surname "Gaszczak", Labour with the surname "LeSurf" and even a UKIP candidate with the first name "Tino". You could almost understand why the English Democrat candidate, Mr Hayter, thinks the way he does...

Next door in Castle Point, Brendan D'Cruz stood at very short notice and did a good job for us... he's definitely a guy to watch out for in the future. Spasibo Brendan!

Meanwhile in the Rochford district council elections we had to husband our resources carefully, so only put up 5 candidates.

But the results were gratifying - where we were challenging the Tories we improved our position and had three second places.

And the Tory attempts to take advantage of the general election high turn-out to wipe out the three defending non-Tories failed miserably.

Independent John Mason fought off a charmless Tory onslaught in Hawkwell West to win by over a hundred.

My Lib Dem colleague Chris Lumley, despite being ill during the campaign, won by 485.

And in Downhall and Rawreth - where Mark Francois is a resident - I won by 1846 to 770. With a turn-out of 71.4 percent, it seems that just over 50 percent of the ward electorate voted for me, which is a good mandate to take into the council chamber.

Finally, the Tories got punished in Hullbridge for poor performance on local issues, and having a candidate who lived in Hockley and is a parish councillor there. End result - the Greens get their first councillor on the District!

There's a lot to look forward to....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Unpopular" Policies That Are Actually Quite Popular

From the Telegraph:

Mr Clegg will be boosted, however, by higher-than-expected levels of support for some of his party's more controversial policies. Some 46 per cent of voters backed replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent with a cheaper weapons system, 55 per cent were in favour of amnesties for illegal immigrants who have been in the UK 10 years and 49 per cent backed replacing prison sentences of less than six months with community service

However, 74 per cent disagreed with scrapping the pound and joining the euro when conditions allow – another key Lib Dem policy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Andrew Sullivan More Lib Dem Than Tory !

One of my favourite US bloggers finds he supports Lib Dem policies fractionally more than Tory ones:

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have unveiled their manifesto. Check it out here. When I filled out this questionnaire on policy positions, it turned out that I was regarded as 45 percent Lib Dem and 44 percent Tory, with 37 percent Labour. I suspect that's my civil liberties bent and fiscal conservatism coming through.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Latest April Election News.

The Guardian has an exclusive look at Labour's election posters ... here.

There are also rumours this morning that Lord Ashcroft is moving his holdings from Belize to the Indian Ocean republic of San Serriffe.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Worrying Sign?

I've done a fair bit of canvassing in the past week. And I always like to talk and stroke cats when I'm canvassing.

But maybe I'm overdoing it. I mean, last night I dreamed that our cat Felix actually was Gordon Brown. And he jumped into a pond and I had to rescue the poor animal.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

One Of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Appears As A Dot On The Horizon....

Beware of Ug99 - it's a fungus that has the potential of creating a massive famine:

This distinct new race of P. graminis, dubbed Ug99 after its country of origin (Uganda) and year of christening (1999), is storming east, working its way through Africa and the Middle East and threatening India and China. More than a billion lives are at stake. “It’s an absolute game-changer,” says Brian Steffenson, a cereal-disease expert at the University of Minnesota who travels to Njoro regularly to observe the enemy in the wild. “The pathogen takes out pretty much everything we have.”

Hat-tip : Graeme Wood on the Andrew Sullivan blog

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lingerie Jihad

From Saudi Jeans:

While the Religious Police today launched their annual nationwide crackdown on stores selling items that are red or in any other way allude to the banned celebrations of Valentine’s Day, Reem Asaad and her fellow woman continue their lingerie jihad. Starting on the 13th of February and for two weeks, women are called to boycott all lingerie shops that employ men.

This is the second phase of the campaign that Asaad started a year ago, aiming to address one of the many bizarre contradictions in Saudi Arabia, where in this supposedly most conservative country on earth women have to divulge their underwear sizes and colors to strange men on regular basis. Check out this Facebook group to learn more about the campaign.

Ghazi al-Gosaibi, minister of labor, who is currently ill and being treated in the US, has issued a law in 2006 stating that “only females may be employed in women apparel and accessories stores.” However, the law has never been implemented due to the objection and resistance of different parties.


Red-colored or heart-shaped items are legal at other times of the year, but as Feb. 14 nears they become contraband in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom bans celebration of Western holidays such as Valentine's Day, named after a Christian saint said to have been martyred by the Romans in the 3rd Century.

Most shops in Riyadh's upscale neighborhoods have removed all red items from their shelves. A statement by the religious police, informally known as the muttawa, was published in Saudi newspapers, warning shop owners against any violations.

"Those who don't comply will be punished," the statement said, without spelling out what measures would befall the offenders.....

....The Egyptian capital, Cairo, is a sharp contrast to the Saudi restrictions, with shops and restaurants going overboard in red ribbon and heart decorations.

Dubai, a conservative Muslim city-state with a Western outlook, is every year taken over by a Valentine craze. Luxury hotels are draped in red, offering romantic dinner specials. Malls and cafes are decorated with giant hearts and flower shops offer promotional deals on roses and fancy bouquets.

Apparently prompted by the Saudi ban, a group in the Philippines advocating the welfare of Filipino overseas workers — a million of whom work in Saudi Arabia and another million elsewhere in the Middle East — cautioned its countrymen to celebrate Valentine's Day only in private and refrain from publicly greeting anyone with "Happy Valentine's" across the region.

The Medieval 21st Century

The blogger Andrew Sullivan has a very soberly written , but extremely angry post today about torture - particularly as seen from a Catholic viewpoint.

It's well worth reading in full. But here's a paragraph:

As Christians and as Catholics, we are required to follow Our Lord's impossible example and not just love our friends, but to love our enemies. This does not mean pacifism; and I have a long, long record of supporting what I believe were just wars. I mean understanding that war is always evil even when it is necessary, but that some things, like torture, abuse and dehumanizing of others under our total control, are never justified.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

What Sort Of People Ask A Question Like "Will the Antichrist be a homosexual?

I found a , um , provoking little article on the internet from May 2009.

The title was Will the Antichrist be a homosexual?.

The author, the pastor for an independent Baptist Church in a small US town, reckons it's likely:

...In effect, there is no greater sin against God than to reject how he made you, and no greater sin against women than to reject how God made them.

Having seen what the Bible says of sodomy, we have no further to look than the book of Daniel, chapter 11 to find our answer. It says, “Neither shall he [Antichrist] regard... the desire of women....” As I said at the onset, I am not the first to draw attention to this, but the verbiage is clear....

Now, you are asking yourselves, what kind of town has a Church like this? What sort of people live there? What sort of politicians do they elect?

Oddly enough, the place is Wasilla, Alaska, where Sarah Palin was mayor and where she still lives.

Friday, February 05, 2010

"That Huge Bust In The Marketplace Is Of Me"

It's never been easy ruling from Chelmsford, as this video demonstrates:

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Embrace Life

I'm really impressed by this....

Busted Springs

Fancy buying a helicopter? Or even two?

As the website of the Colorado Springs Police Department explains, the US city of Colorado Springs is selling off both of its police helicopters. This is due to 'financial constraints'

The city is short of money, doesn't want to increase taxes, and hence is heading into a crisis. The helicopter sale is just one of many cuts being made to the city budget, and probably one of the less significant ones. To quote the Denver Post:

This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero....

Perhaps this is a useful reminder of what happens when you demonise local government and cut the budgets too much....

Hat-tip : Obsidian Wings

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Help! I'm A Metaphor Falangist

Well. That'll teach me to leave comments on other people's blogs. I criticise someone for describing a Lib Dem as a "Measurement Fascist" and in return get described as being "frankly pathetic".

Ah well, it's a free country. And on reflection maybe I was being harsh. But I wish people wouldn't diminish just how evil Nazism, Stalinism and Fascism were by using such phrases as "Health Nazi".

Having watched the video of "Ukraine's Got Talent" where the inspired sand drawings depicting Ukraine's experience of WW2 have some of the audience in tears, I'm pretty sure they weren't wondering whether Third Reich social workers banned Ukrainian smokers from adopting war orphans. They were thinking about real Nazis.

And it's not as if there aren't alternatives. There's the word Draconian - as in ' Mr X is being too Draconian over this...' You could even describe someone as a "Health Draco", but this might be confused with the J K Rowling character. You could use General Franco's organisation as a metaphor and describe someone as a "Health Falangist". Likewise, you could think of the Franco's neighbouring dictator Salazar of Portugal and describe someone as a "Health Salazar" (although that might be confused with "Health Czar" or even "Salazar Slytherin" which takes us back to J K Rowling).

In all seriousness, if you want to describe someone as being dictatorial and possibly pompous without implying they are totally debased and devoted to evil, go back a further century and describe them as "Bonapartist". Or calling someone . for example, a "Health And Safety Napoleon" might be very effective without being offensive....

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bathtub IV

3 minutes 33 seconds of animation good enough so that you can almost sniff the salt air...

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

And there's more here, including my favourite short film of all time:

World Builder from BranitVFX on Vimeo.


This looks promising ...

Hat-tip : Volokh Conspiracy

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vile Fatwa In Bangladesh

A 16 year-old rape victim is punished with 100 lashes.

This 'gruesome brutality' and 'parallel system of justice that misuse the name of religion' is roundly condemned by the Bangladesh Daily Star here.

JUSTICE has been made a farce of once again. In a shocking repetition of misuse of fatwa, a rape victim was at the receiving end of a hundred and one lashes; the punishment was fixed through local arbitration participated by some village elders in a village in Kashba upazilla. And the rapist is roaming scot-free.

The incident is shocking not only for the gruesome brutality meted out to the 16 year old girl, but also because of the attitude of the law enforcing agency who did not act promptly enough to prevent the whipping or take cognisance of the incident later. It is very clear that the High Court directive to the police, issued in August 2009, to investigate all extrajudicial punishments, has not been fully implemented. Had that been the case the perpetrators would have been brought to justice and made examples of, and this would have acted as a deterrent to others.

The recent incident is disturbing on two counts. It demonstrates once again that helpless women, who are victims of rape and other forms of torture, not only cannot seek redress of law, they and their parents are further subjected to physical and mental torture including social ostracisation, as in the recent case in Kashba.

The other disturbing aspect is the role of the police. We cannot comprehend the statement the OC of Kashba PS that he would take appropriate action if the victim filed a case in this regard. He is in clear breach of the High Court directives in this regard. It is even more disturbing because three women have been victims of lashing as result of fatwa in this very district during the current month.

One cannot speak too strongly against this kind of aberrations that is being used to perpetrate violence against women. This practice must stop immediately. We join with the conscious segment of the society in calling upon the government to take steps to stop the parallel system of justice that misuse the name of religion. While the highest court has taken cognisance of the matter the police have not been quite up to the task earnestly as yet.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's Cat versus Bear !

Never underestimate a cat.....

Hat-tip : Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

West Ham Olympic

I love the suggestion of West Ham United moving to the Olympic Stadium and renaming themselves West Ham Olympic

Just think :

* The club doctor would be Doctor WHO
* Opposing fans could never chant "Who are ya?" again. Instead Irons fans could sing "We are WHO"
* The Doctor Who theme tune would be a great piece of music for the players to run out to...

Anyway, how did Marseille get the name "Olympique Marseille" when the Olympics has never been in the south of France?

What's Going On Here?

I'm really puzzled by this article on the Southend Echo website:

A CONSERVATIVE councillor says he is running as an independent in another ward this year as a “practice run”.

Jason Luty, who is currently a Conservative councillor for Eastwood Park ward, will be standing in the May elections as an independent candidate in Westborough.

He says this is a “dry run” in preparation to challenging independent group leader, Martin Terry, whose term as an independent councillor in the Westborough ward comes to an end in 2011.

Mr Luty expects Tory Mel Day to win May’s elections because of national support for the Conservatives, but will use this experience as a practice run....

Full article here

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Bitter Day for my Home Town

It's a bitter day for Rayleigh, with the announcement that all 600 or so jobs at Eon will be lost.

Cadbury's employees - be warned.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Couple Of Questions....

Does your local council's website have a link to the council leader's blog on it's home page?

Which council websites do you know of that do have a link to their leader's blog on the council home page?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A "Ghost" Story To Start The New Year

This is a true story about a former Essex MP - Major Sir Frederick Carne Rasch.

Rasch seemed to have had a pretty good life. He went to Eton and then Trinity College Cambridge, and did a lot of rowing there (that’s rowing boats , not rowing in arguments). He spent ten years in the Dragoon Guards, became a director of a couple of breweries, and then went into parliament as a Conservative, representing Essex South-East from 1886 until 1900, and then Chelmsford until 1908.

A magazine article on 1896 described him as “an Essex man and wholesome, bluff, genial fellow of strong opinions; who calls himself a Democratic Tory.” The very first question he asked in the House of Commons was about cavalry saddles, and you can imagine him in one of the Commons bars having a cigar and a few whiskies with his friends and talking about horses, rowing and country pursuits.

Rasch clearly had a social conscience, for example , speaking up several times in the House of Commons for poor farm labourers in Canewdon. But he definitely wasn’t a progressive- he was very much against giving the children of agricultural workers much of an education : “I know very well I am not an enthusiast, a crank, or a fanatic on the subject of education in the agricultural districts. To speak plainly, I detest it so far as I am concerned. I am here simply as an agricultural Member, principally to keep the rates down, and particularly the rates for education.”

So all in all he was a very down-to-earth chap. Not the kind of person you’d connect with any kind of paranormal events. And yet.....

It was the spring of 1905. The MP Sir Gilbert Parker described what happened as follows:

"I wished to take part in the debate in progress, but missed being called. As I swung round to resume my seat I was attracted first by seeing Sir Carne Rasch out of his place, and then by the position he occupied. I knew that he had been very ill, and in a cheery way nodded towards him and said, `Hope you are better.'
"But he made no sign and uttered no reply. This struck me as odd. My friend's position was his and yet not his. His face was remarkably pallid. His expression was steely. It was a altogether a stony presentment -- grim, almost resentful.
"I thought for a moment. Then I turned again toward Sir Carne Rasch, and he had disappeared. That puzzled me, and I at once went in search of him. I expected, in fact, to overtake him in the lobby. But Rasch was not there. No one had seen him. I tried both the Whips and the doorkeeper, equally without avail. No one had seen Sir Carne Rasch.
"I went round the House, inquiring in all the corridors and to the same end -- Sir Carne Rasch had not been seen. Going again to the lobby, I heard that Sir Henry Meysey-Thompson, who was at the lobby post office, had also been inquiring for the major, but without result.
"I joined Sir Henry, and we exchanged views."

Sir Gilbert was interested in psychic phenomena and wondered if Rasch had died and appeared as a ghost! Rasch was actually at home, ill with influenza, but he was neither dead nor dying. He seemed have been amused by the whole affair and couldn’t resist having a friendly dig at the Liberals:

"I was rather ill at the time, and had to keep my bed, and why I should have gone to the House of Commons that night I don't know. However, the Express of Friday says that I did. I am worth a good many dead ones yet, I hope. At any rate, I mean to go on a little longer.
"I feel, however, that I ought to apologize to the Liberal Party for not having died when I suppose I ought. Had I done so it would have saved them a good deal of trouble. If I have another chance perhaps I will endeavor to oblige them."

Rather unexpectedly, there was a response from the Liberals that confirmed this ghostly sighting. A letter from Colonel Sir Arthur Hayter, published in the Daily News said:

"Sir, On my way home to Southhill Park today I noticed in The Daily News that Sir Carne Rasch had been seen in the House of Commons by Sir Gilbert Parker when he was reported to be lying ill at home, and that further evidence in confirmation was required.
"I beg to say that I not only saw Sir Carne Rasch myself sitting below the gangway (not in his usual seat), but that I called the attention of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to whom I was talking on the Front Opposition Bench, saying that I wondered why all the papers inserted notices of Sir Carne Rasch's illness, while he was sitting opposite apparently quite well. Sir Henry replied that he hoped his illness was not catching. -- Yours, etc.”

Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman became Prime Minister the next year, so should certainly trusted as a witness....

The full story abou the incident in the Commons can be found here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The End Of Time

Thank you Doctor, a great final episode.
Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.

I write this blog in a private capacity , but just in case I mention any elections here is a Legal Statement for the purposes of complying with electoral law: This website is published and promoted by Ron Oatham, 8 Brixham Close , Rayleigh Essex on behalf of Liberal Democrat Candidates all at 8 Brixham Close.