Friday, 31 December 2010

'Happy' New Year

I have never understood people's excitement about New Year, I've always considered it something of a depressing time to be honest. Christmas is over, the holiday period is drawing to a close, work or school beckons. Yet people want to celebrate the arrival of January? Why?

Yes, yes, I know. It's the start of a new year, a new chapter in everyone's lives, etc. I understand the symbolism, I just can't get that worked up about it. Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, for what it's worth, I hope the last 365 days have been good to anyone reading this and I also, in the spirit of the times, extend my hope that the next 365 days are also, on the whole, good ones.

I'm off to have a drink (assuming my son finally goes down to sleep) and to watch Harry Hill's TV Burp Gold 3 on DVD with Mrs Sane. Expect I'll be in bed by about 10.30. Ooh, the decadence.

See you in 2011.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Let there be cake

It's been a traumatic 24 hours, with Mrs Sane spending the night at St. Thomas' Hospital after what we hoped would be a routine check of the baby. Thankfully there is nothing wrong, spending the night was just a precaution, but this is not the sort of thing you want happening when your wife is 25 weeks pregnant. Suffice to say we are both extremely tired.

We are now off to retire to the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and a slice of Christmas cake, where we will watch Charlie Brooker's 2010 Wipe recorded the other night. Then bed. So long.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Facebook: neither saviour nor Satan

I signed up to Facebook in 2007 (under my real name, not my blogging pseudonym) along with virtually everyone else I know. I go through periods of despising the damn thing, yet I still check in most days to see what people are up to. It is useful for staying in touch with friends and relatives, especially if they live far away or you just don't see them very often. For the most part my list of 'friends' is just that: people I genuinely know or am related to. My privacy settings are set to a level that ensures I cannot be found by anyone I don't want to find me - in particular I would not want to be accessible to work colleagues, for example. I cannot understand how some people have over 500 'friends': they are either spectacularly popular social butterflies or request the friendship of random people they meet in the street.

So in short, I'm a casual user who frequently finds it irritating but occasionally useful. I don't love it, but nor do I follow the line that it's doing the work of Satan. Ultimately it is a free-to-use application and people should be wary of how they use it and who they use it with. Just like anything else in this life.

Time magazine made Facebook founder and ├╝bergeek Mark Zuckerburg their 'Person Of The Year' for 2010 which was kind of ridiculous as, if he was ever to have been considered eligible for this award, it should have been a couple of years ago when Facebook was at the peak of its cultural significance. Nowadays I think most people are really rather indifferent to it. It's not going to go the same way as Friends Reunited (remember that?), but it's now a mundane part of the internet furniture. A coffee table, say. It's just there, doing what it does. No more, no less.

Twitter, on the other hand, is far more interesting.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink

I love my son more than I ever thought possible, but he has a dreadful tendency to wake in the night for no discernible reason. Last night was a case in point: around midnight he just woke up for seemingly no reason whatsoever. It's like he'd just had a couple of espressos and wanted to engage with things. In particular, he wanted to open and close his wardrobe door repeatedly.

Consequently there is much tiredness in the Sane household today. I am falling asleep now as I type this. Sleep beckons like a huge beckoning thing. Good night. Wish us luck.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Up the Arse

I remember when Arsenal beating Chelsea was habitual, more or less guaranteed. This was more than half a decade ago of course, before they became a super disciplined winning machine honed by that enormous arrogant cock Jose Mourinho. So it was hugely satisfying to see Arsenal win 3-1 tonight, like a glorious flashback to a happier footballing age. A time before the petro-dollars of Roman Abramovich lifted Chelsea from the verge of bankruptcy and perpetual non-achievement to formidable automatons grinding out victory at the expense of entertainment.

Chelsea represent everything about the modern game that is loathsome. The sugar daddy providing funds far and above their status, buying their way to success, playing really dull football in the process. A team packed with some of the biggest arseholes the game has ever seen: John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, ASHLEY COLE. Jesus wept. A soulless club with no history instantly propelled to the upper echelons and kept there by oil money. At least Man United have years of success and a huge fan base, ditto Liverpool. Bad enough as it is when you lose to them, at least they are big clubs by virtue of their history and past glories. Chelsea are the Dubai of football.

Safe to say: not a fan.

P.S. Manchester City are arguably even worse, but until they are actually organised enough to win anything they're not quite in the same category. In the meantime, let's enjoy Chelsea's decline and hope it is inexorable.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Rod Liddle on Julian Assange

I'm never sure whether I should like Rod Liddle or not. He has had some, shall we say, 'unfortunate' outbursts, with a tendency to come across as a broadsheet version of Richard Littlejohn. However, he tempers this by frequently writing articles that I largely agree with. He's at his coruscating best when prodding the complacent and self-satisfied moral reasoning of the liberal leftists that largely reside at The Guardian (where he used to write a weekly column, of course). It's something he's very good at, too.

He's bang on target in today's Sunday Times article (subscription only, thanks to Murdoch's firewall) about the left's attitude to the allegations against Julian Assange.
The British left is in a wonderfully entertaining dilemma over Julian. There he is, a hero of the bien pensant liberals for having embarrassed America with his various WikiLeaks — but at the same time someone who is accused of having sexually assaulted and even raping a woman. That’s an incredibly non-left-wing thing to have done, if he did it. And don’t forget that in normal circumstances, when a woman complains that she has been raped or sexually assaulted, and the accused man somehow avoids prosecution, the liberal left becomes incandescent with rage and demands redress.
Ah, but this is different of course, because the allegations have obviously been fabricated by unconfirmed powers desperate to sully his good name and to put a stop to the brave work that hs organisation does. Although if this is the case they're not doing a very good job at it because the allegations are fuzzy to say the least. You'd have thought that the all powerful forces would have come up with something a bit better really. Something, I don't know, more convincing. How disappointing for the conspiracy theorists, then, to be confronted with the mundane reality that the all-powerful shadowy entity that they are fighting against would appear to be somewhat ineffective and underwhelming. How...unexciting.

I listened to Assange being interviewed by John Humphrys on the Today Programme the other morning and it was fascinating. Assange's answers were just as guarded, equivocal and carefully worded as any politician you can care to name. This buccaneer for truth and transparency was as slippery as anyone else operating within the 'machine'. Perhaps the most bizarre response he gave was describing the women who raised the allegations against him as getting themselves into a "tizzy". Back to Liddle:
In a tizzy. Can you imagine in any case, ever, where rape or sexual assault had been alleged by a woman, any man on earth, except for Julian Assange, could get away with claiming that their accusations were the consequences of them being "in a tizzy"? They’re just being a bit silly, these women — ha, let's forget it.
And so it is that the left, doctrinaire and immovable, has decided that Assange is innocent. Like a game of Top Trumps — his work for WikiLeaks slightly outscores the allegation of rape. And, therefore, in this mindset, he is innocent.
100% correct of course. There is a significant portion of the left prepared to overlook any transgression as long as the person in question is suitably anti-western enough.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

In praise of... The iPad

Mrs Sane, already officially The Best Wife In The WorldTM, surpassed herself this year by getting me an iPad for Christmas. As an Apple acolyte I had long coveted one of these beauties but couldn't justify the cost. Now, having had this dilemma taken away from me, I can just get on with using it in a guilt-free fashion. It is, I can confirm, a joy to look at, hold and use - as you would expect from an Apple product.

So here I am, on Christmas night, in a warm bed, after a really rather lovely day, fulfilling my daily blogging commitment using the BlogPress app for iPad. Nifty.

Off to the folks's place tomorrow for more meat, beer, wine and shenanigans. I could get used to this.

Friday, 24 December 2010

In praise of... Christmas Eve

I loved Christmas Eve as a kid. The anticipation, the build-up, the sheer excitement of the big day to come. Arguably better than Christmas Day itself, in fact. It's not quite the same when you are 36, however, but it's still all good, even for a confirmed atheist like myself (as if Christmas is a 'religious' festival anymore). I'm convinced that there used to be better things on the TV than the rubbish they've put on today though. Really, what a load of old crap (hurray for the Peep Show night on Channel 4 otherwise we'd be doomed).

A slightly surreal day for me too in that it is my last day in my current job. I start a new role on Tuesday 4th January which, for the first time in nearly 14 years of working, will not be in the City. Interesting times. Ten days off ahead now..... Hmmmm, days off.

Anyway, if you're reading, enjoy Christmas Eve and, indeed, Christmas Day.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Mock The Weak

Tsk, that Frankie Boyle eh? He's a card innee? Ha ha! LOL! ROFL! Oh, he's so controversial. Oh, he's so shocking.

You probably heard about the routine that got him into hot water a couple of weeks ago, where he fearlessly joked about the disabled son of Katie Price. Such bravery. At last a comedian unafraid to take on the really big subjects that matter. Did you hear the joke itself?
Jordan and Peter Andre are still fighting each other over custody of Harvey - eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him... I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage fighter - she needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from fucking her...
Wow. Incest jokes about a child with physical disabilities and extreme learning difficulties. He's just.... so out there. LOL!

Just to be clear, I have absolutely no interest in, or affection for, Katie Price. As far as I'm concerned she is a vapid tit-stick lacking any discernible talent. I despise the deification of third rate celebrities and the publishing industry that continues to suck blood from these non-entities, and she is the fairy at the top of their rotting Christmas tree. We shouldn't even know who she is, let alone her son. But Boyle's 'joke' was still repulsive.

I'm not going all Daily Mail, I don't think he should be banned. He's perfectly entitled to say whatever he likes on his shit television show (seriously - have you seen it?) and I'm perfectly entitled not to watch it. This is a right I continue to exercise. Not on the grounds of being 'outraged' - really, comedians who can only shock their audience into laughter without actually making them think are extremely tedious - but purely on the basis that it isn't funny. The man is a twat and if you think he's funny then you're most likely a twat too.

There's more, of course. Here he is on the conflict in Afghanistan:
During the programme, and referring to the war in Afghanistan, Boyle said: "Basically, we are murdering a load of shepherds. What gets me is our callousness as a society when we read out our dead on the news first, because our lives are more important. Other people's aren't worth as much."
He then adopted a newsreader's tone, saying: "A bomb went off in Kandahar today, killing two British servicemen, three UN relief workers and a whole bunch of Pakis."
The comic said later: "The Ministry of Defence? At least in the old days we were honest, it was the Ministry of War. 'Hello Ministry of War, department of nigger bombing, how can I help?'"
I'm not going to get drawn into the whole "is he racist?" debate that these comments have triggered. It's very unlikely that he is; his choice of words is contextual to his material. Unfortunately - crucial point, this - his material is shit. He's trying to make a serious point, but it doesn't work because there is very little truth in his original observation. Therefore the joke fails.

Channel 4 have come out fighting in defence of their man. Let's face it, someone has to.
The Channel 4 head of comedy commissioning, Shane Allen, this morning said that he "strongly refutes" claims that the broadcaster is "endorsing or condoning racist language". He said Boyle's "cutting edge" comedy highlighted the "unacceptable nature" of this language.
(Somebody should explain to Mr Allen that if you 'refute' something you prove that the allegation is false. You cannot refute something without the demonstration of evidence for your case. I believe the word he is struggling for is 'denies'. But I digress.)

Boyle's material isn't 'cutting edge', it's just angry, hate-filled ranting of the lowest common denominator variety. Other subjects in his repertoire include: people with Down's Syndrome, rape, paedophilia, Elisabeth Fritzl and Madeline McCann. He's the belligerent drunk in the pub, shouting at the world. That's not comedy. He's not funny. Oh, and while we're on the subject: Mock The Week - the show where he came to prominence before being forced to leave - wasn't (and isn't) funny either. It's just a witless poor relation to Have I Got News For You.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Cable vs Satellite (Reprise)

Not that I disagree with Vince Cable's sentiments about Rupert Murdoch, you understand. While I think that the left exaggerate the threat he represents, there is no doubting that he is a pernicious influence and we should welcome further concentration of media power in his hands like we would welcome a nest of live snakes in the middle of a birthday cake.

Murdoch's companies already own The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and The News Of The World in addition to their 39% stake in BSkyB and a 7.5% stake (reduced from 17.9% earlier this year) in ITV. I think that's more than enough. That's just in the UK of course, he also has numerous other media interests in the USA, Australia and elsewhere.

Because of Cable's flapping trap the ultimate decision will now fall to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has made pro-Murdoch noises in the past. News International must be ecstatic with how this has turned out and, bizarrely, it's all thanks to the Daily Telegraph.

Ofcom delivers its verdict on December 31st. I hope they advise against it in the strongest possible language.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Cable vs Satellite

I have long thought that, for all his down-with-the-people appeal, Vince Cable was something of an arse, a populist gadfly. I hadn't figured that he was this much of an arse.

The initial revelations in the Daily Telegraph were embarrassing enough. First he overstates his importance by claiming he could use the "nuclear option" and walk out on the government, bringing down the coalition, should he ever feel it necessary. More damaging still were the later comments (not even mentioned by the Telegraph and, it would seem, purposefully not reported) that he was "at war" with Rupert Murdoch. Pretty damning coming from the Business Secretary, someone who will have a quasi-judicial role in determining whether or not News International's proposed takeover of BSkyB should be permitted or not. Sounds like he's already made his mind up about it. In private conversations, at least.

Or not so private, given that he was talking to reporters from the Daily Telegraph and not members of his constituency as he thought. Terrible error of judgement from such an experienced politician. He's paid the price now, being partially stripped of responsibilities but still a member of the cabinet. It's been pointed out by several observers that Cameron would have come down a lot harder if one of his own had been so careless, which perhaps lends credence after all to Cable's bold claims to be pivotal to the coalition hanging together. To strip him of all ministerial responsibility would have caused deep divisions within the Lib Dems.

I commented earlier in the year (although perhaps not on this blog because I cannot find it anywhere) that there are things in my fridge with a longer shelf-life than this coalition. So far that hasn't shown to be correct, but it's certainly being tested at the moment. If Cable's comments about the conflicts that go on behind closed doors are true (and let's face it, they probably are) then I think it will be nothing short of a miracle if it manages to last for five years.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Looking back

My son is a year old today. It's certainly true that time moves faster once you have children because the memories of the weekend he was born are still so fresh in my mind it just doesn't seem possible that it was that long ago.

Pretty much anyone who has had a child has their own war stories to tell about the birth. It's almost like a secret society: but you have to go through the initiation ceremony to gain access. Few people talk about the reality of giving birth to a baby for the simple reason that nobody wants to hear the truth about it and you only really understand once you've been through it yourself.

Our son was born at 7.31am on Sunday 20th December 2009, the culmination of a very long process that actually began on Thursday 17th. Along the way we (not that I personally had to endure this - how lucky we men are) took in a sweep, hormone gel, having the waters broken, a hormone drip, a botched epidural, an accelerated drip, another (successful) epidural, 12 hours of labour yielding nothing and then, finally, an emergency Caesarean. There were many other grisly details that I won't go into here but when our son was pulled out and I heard his first cries I was a blubbering, shaking wreck. Mrs Sane, on the other hand, was out of her head on drugs and sleep deprivation. It was the most traumatic, worrying, bizarre, memorable and amazing weekend I have ever had and that was only the beginning of the hard work to come.

Fools that we are, we will have to put ourselves through the birth process again in April when our daughter is due. This time we know in advance that it will be by Caesarean so it should hopefully be much less traumatic.

But I remain astounded that something as commonplace as childbirth can be so complicated, dangerous and brutal. Surely it shouldn't be this difficult?

All worth it of course.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Don't ask, don't tell, don't be ridiculous

Good to see the repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell', the almost comical rule that tolerated gay personnel in the US military as long as they never openly admitted it. Common sense at last prevails, although not without a chorus of disapproval from the usual sort of voices. One of the most prominent opponents was Senator John McCain who said "I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage.... Today is a very sad day." The Family Research Council, some hideous carbuncle on the backside of the body politic, shaped its response in terms that can only be described as hysterical:
Today is a tragic day for our armed forces. The American military exists for only one purpose - to fight and win wars. Yet it has now been hijacked and turned into a tool for imposing on the country a radical social agenda. This may advance the cause of reshaping social attitudes regarding human sexuality, but it will only do harm to the military's ability to fulfill its mission.
Yeah. Or, alternatively, it is merely legitimising the many thousands of gay people that must already be serving in the military who could, in theory, be ejected merely on the basis of what they choose to do with their genitals. Utterly preposterous that it should have taken so long (DADT was enacted in 1993) to ensure full equality for gays in the armed forces. Objection to it is based purely on homophobia and ignorance.

It's impossible for me to talk about this issue without thinking about the following routine by Bill Hicks. I don't share his belief that the US military is nothing more than a thuggish agent of genocide but his key point is spot-on: the idea that personnel could be launching assaults, killing people (occasionally innocent people and bystanders) but would find gay people "offensive" and "bad for their morale" is nothing short of absurd.


Saturday, 18 December 2010

In praise of... The Whisky Mac

The weather outside is frightful, but the central heating is so delightful. Since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it....

Actually no, I hate snow. It's a massive pain in the backside. It's cold white excrement. Me, I'm dreaming of a grey Christmas. It's particularly annoying as we are expecting approximately 40 people tomorrow to celebrate the first birthday of our son (although his birthday is actually Monday). As is stands the snow threatens to drastically and dramatically reduce those numbers. We will just have to see what happens.

After a day of frantically tidying the house to ready it for tomorrow, what better way to unwind than with a couple of Whisky Macs? A generous shot of whisky, topped up with an equal amount of Stone's ginger wine, mixed with lots of ice. That's the way I have it anyway. It's a fine drink and a perfect antidote to this weather.

Almost enough to make winter enjoyable.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Stranger in Assange land

I am growing mightily weary of the Julian Assange show. I am tired of this self-important egotist and his deluded flag-wavers and look forward to him being dispatched to Sweden to face the charges against him. Is he innocent? Is he guilty? I don't care either way. Please just get this over with.

I am also tired of the conflation of charges against him by his fanbase: he's wanted for sexual offences in Sweden, he hasn't been charged with anything to do with the information leaks, stop making out this is some enormous underhand conspiracy. Yes, there is a chance that the US will try to have him extradited but this would be a lot easier to do if he is still in the UK, so stop implying that the plan is to get him shipped to Sweden so they can hand him over to America. That is illogical. The US would much rather he stay here where they can request extradition without the need to present supporting evidence. They would not have that luxury if he is returned to Sweden. In fact, it would seem that US lawyers are doubtful that they have a strong case in either location.

In another life I suspect Assange would have been a cult leader. He has the look and character, the messianic qualities. Equally he has also been embraced by all kinds of cranks and custard-brains as a 'hero'. He's not a hero or anything even close to it. As I have said before, his organisation leaks almost exclusively against Western governments who are the easiest targets of all. He leaks against the system that allows him to exist. If our political system were run along the same lines as China he would have been imprisoned a long time ago and would probably never be released. Russia? He'd probably be dead. Iran? Belarus? Burma? I think we can all guess.

He'd be closer to a hero if WikiLeaks went after targets like these, rather than pissing inside the tent. I look forward to him being acquitted of the sexual charges (there doesn't seem to be much in the way of evidence) and subsequently not being extradited. Perhaps then everyone will cease claiming he is the victim of a globally orchestrated conspiracy. I think if this happens both he and his supporters will actually be terribly disappointed.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

2 Minutes To Midnight

Eeek! Only two minutes to blog something today!

Phew!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Terrible Comment is Free articles, number 94

Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, might not be considered such a suitable candidate for the award were people to know what opinions he has really expressed in the past. So says an article on Comment Is Free today by Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong. Upon reading the opening paragraph I was intrigued. Then I read further.
If Liu's politics were well-known, most people would not favour him for a prize, because he is a champion of war, not peace. He has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he applauded the Vietnam and Korean wars retrospectively in a 2001 essay. All these conflicts have entailed massive violations of human rights.
Well, goodness. Take the award back immediately then. Supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban clearly makes him a "champion of war". Case closed. He is obviously a wretched neo-con hellbent on waging war at every opportunity.

This is a typical act of reasoning on the part of many who did not support (or actively opposed) the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan. The conclusion is drawn that nobody who argued the case for either could possibly be driven by anything other than a bloodthirsty desire to inflict destruction. Never mind the moral case for either war, never mind the many and varied arguments. No. There is no grey area here: only those who opposed have any moral authority. Xiaobo is therefore disqualified for contention for the Nobel Peace Prize on this basis and this basis alone. How dare he dissent from the 'anti-war' orthodoxy.

Alternatively, maybe his support for these conflicts is based on a desire to reduce the amount of totalitarian or theocratic fascist states on the planet. Strikes me as being a good stance to take as opposed to the lame acquiescence to vile regimes espoused by many in the 'anti-war' movement.

Further on it says:
Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel's stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as "often the provocateurs".
Liu has also advocated the total westernisation of China. In a 1988 interview he stated that "to choose westernisation is to choose to be human". He also faulted a television documentary, He Shang, or River Elegy, for not thoroughly criticising Chinese culture and not advocating westernisation enthusiastically enough: "If I were to make this I would show just how wimpy, spineless and fucked-up [weisuo, ruanruo, caodan] the Chinese really are".
Good grief. So as well as not considering any military action by the US and the west to be doing the work of Satan he also sides with Israel. Call the thought police! How dare he suggest that Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, isn't the de facto aggressor in every instance of any confrontation with the enemies on its borders. Enemies that refuse to even acknowledge its right to exist, enemies that have stated their intention to wipe them off the map given the opportunity. Not satisfied with that, he also argues that China - a repressive gerontocracy that forbids freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and most freedoms you could think of - would benefit from being 'westernised'.

Of course China would benefit from being 'westernised'. If, by 'westernised', you mean to accept the fundamental notions of individual liberty, to cease censorship, to operate as a liberal democracy. I would say that would be pretty beneficial to the people that lived there actually. One of those people, of course, is Liu Xiaobo himself, who is currently serving a 25 year prison sentence for being a co-author of Charter 08, a call for China to grant its citizens fundamental freedoms.

Xiaobo is clearly a perfectly legitimate recipient of such an award. The Cuddly Chinese Communist Party went to great lengths to dissuade the committee from awarding it to him. When he did win, of course, any mention of it was vigorously censored within its borders. A routine action in all non-westernised states.

Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong have authored one of the most wretched articles I have ever read on Comment is Free. As anyone familiar with the site will attest: this is up against some extraordinarily stiff competition.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

This will just have to do for today

Making a commitment to blog every day is all well and good. But what about days when you are really busy or feeling unwell? Or both, like today?

Through the miracle of a blogging app on my iPhone, I am able to write this from the comfort of my very warm bed. Sleep beckons, so I will be brief.

If I'd had the time or the energy tonight I would have liked to have commented on Assange, or maybe Berlusconi or perhaps that enormous cock Richard Littlejohn but forces conspire against me. Tomorrow is another day... For now, I sleep and hope that my son (currently suffering with conjunctivitis) does the same.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The top ten creationist 'arguments': a recap

I enjoyed this, picked up from The Guardian today: a quick rebuttal from The Thinking Atheist to the top ten creationist 'arguments', encompassing: carbon dating, proving evolution, monkeys, the human eye, atheism = religion, scientists who believe, god and the USA, thermodynamics and Hitler.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Pastor la vista

Do you remember the pastor Terry Jones? You know, the leader of a small church in Florida who became international news back in September when he threatened to burn a copy of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11? Remember him?

No, of course not. I'd forgotten all about him too. He's back in the news, however, as he has been invited to attend an English Defence League rally in February.

Now home secretary Teresa May is considering whether or not to use powers available to her to forbid him from entering the UK if it is considered that his visit is either not conducive to the public good or threatens national security. Well, it certainly ticks the first box - we need another ignorant demagogue like we need anthrax in the water supply. As for threatening national security, if the media had just ignored him in the first place he would never have even been heard of beyond his congregation of fifty - yes, fifty - people. He is not a threat of any kind, he is merely an idiot whose views have been given publicity.

Why was he ever elevated to international news in the first place? If I rang up the national news agencies and said I was going to perform such a stunt I would be rightly ignored. Yet some irrelevant hick calls himself a pastor, threatens to burn the Koran and he gets TV crews camping outside his house. Who was taking him seriously and why?

The same logic should be applied here. We cannot - unfortunately - deny people access to our country simply on the basis that they are stupid and ignorant. Nor can we deport people for this reason. Which is a pity because the English Defence League would be near the top of the list if we could. Teresa May should just be informed that an idiot from America wants to come to the UK and talk to a small crowd of other idiots. She should sigh, then get on with some real work. No further action necessary. Indeed, banning him from coming here will make the story global and be seized as a victory ("look - now a Christian cannot even go to the UK and talk").

Unfortunately we are now guaranteed that this will be a huge story in February granting Mr Jones and The English Defence league an enormous amount of entirely unwarranted publicity.

Other protest groups are already getting prepared to take action thus further ensuring that a small rally of idiots gets international coverage rather than universal indifference. Here's Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism:
Terry Jones is coming here to whip up Islamophobia and racism. We intend on calling a mass demonstration where everyone can oppose the growth of racism and fascism in this country.
He won't be able to 'whip up' anything if we all just do the sensible thing and ignore him. Instead of calling a mass demonstration, why don't you and all your members do something useful like, oh I don't know, go to work? By the way, neither racism nor 'fascism' is on the rise in this country, even though it is in your interests to make people think it is. This kind of piffle doesn't help either.

This 'rally' should go ahead in the way it deserves - in a news vacuum. Idiot from USA talks to idiots in UK should not be a news story.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The normblog Q&A

Below are the answers to the thirty questions put to me by the Normblog profile yesterday:

The normblog profile 376: Citizen Sane

Citizen Sane was born in Sidcup, Kent, in 1974. He graduated from the University of Manchester in 1996, where he studied Philosophy and Politics. Soon after, he accidentally fell into a career in the City, despite always being vehemently opposed to the idea. It pays the bills but it corrodes his soul. He lives with his wife and one-year-old son (with another baby due in April) in Bromley, Kent. Citizen Sane blogs at Mind Trumpet and can also be found lurking on Twitter: @citizen_sane.

Why do you blog? > Out of necessity. Sometimes I feel like I will combust if I don't get something - anything - written down. I don't do it enough, though.

What has been your best blogging experience? > I wrote something disparaging about George Galloway on my old blog, Liberal Elite, that got linked to by Andrew Sullivan. That was pretty good - suddenly got 3,000 visitors in one day. They didn't stick around though. But, actually, being asked to do a normblog profile has topped that.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > Not having the time or inclination to write anything for months at a stretch.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > The obvious stuff: be original, be regular and engage with your readers should you be lucky enough to pick some up. Acquiring and keeping an audience is very difficult but it's a great thing.

What are your favourite blogs? > normblog. Andrew Sullivan. Oliver Kamm (though, alas, he's pretty sporadic since they put that paywall up).

Who are your intellectual heroes? > Christopher Hitchens. George Orwell. John Stuart Mill.

What are you reading at the moment? > Hitch-22 by the aforementioned Christopher Hitchens and Voodoo Histories by David Aaronovitch.

Who are your cultural heroes? > The Beatles. Radiohead. R.E.M. The Smiths. The creators of The Sopranos / The Wire / The Simpsons / Frasier. Monty Python. Larry David. Chris Morris. Bill Hicks. To name just a few of many.

What is the best novel you've ever read? > 1984 by George Orwell.

What is your favourite movie? > The Godfather.

Who is your favourite composer? > Lennon/McCartney.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I no longer consider anyone who is 'conservative' to be, by definition, an 'enemy'. As you get older, more reflective, more tolerant of other viewpoints, it becomes easier to recognize shared values with people rather than being entrenched in ideological differences. I no longer consider myself to be ideological at all – there is good on both the left and the right, there is nonsense on both the left and the right. In fact, I try not to think at all in left/right terms. It's no longer relevant.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Liberalism. Not the American definition, not the woolly nonsense of the Lib-Dems, pure unadulterated liberalism.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Religious fundamentalism, particularly of the Islamic kind.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > A written constitution and a Bill of Rights.

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose? > I think Oliver Kamm would do a good job.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Climate change.

What do you consider the most important personal quality? > A good sense of humour.

What personal fault do you most dislike? > Self-importance. I come up against a lot of that in my line of work.

What, if anything, do you worry about? > The well-being of my wife, child (soon to be children) and family.

Who would play you in the movie about your life? > Apparently I look like a young David Hemmings. So him.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Would once have been New York but I think, all things considered, at the age I'm at now, it would have to be Brighton.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > I have a son who will be a year old on 20 December, so I don't have much spare time these days. I used to enjoy regular blogging, reading, going to the pub with friends, video games and watching DVD boxed sets with Mrs Sane.

What is your most treasured possession? > It would have to be the hard drive that holds all our photographs. Everything else can be replaced.

What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Journalist / columnist.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Bill Hicks.

Which English Premiership football team do you support? > Arsenal.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > I would like to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money.

How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I would quit my job immediately, buy a family home in Brighton, make my family and loved ones financially comfortable and live happily ever after.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Hitch. Peter Cook. P.J. O'Rourke.

Friday, 10 December 2010

In profile

Every Friday the venerable normblog puts up the normblog Profile, where each week a different blogger answers 30 questions to reveal a little bit about themselves.

I am proud to say that the blogger in profile this week is
none other than me. Please have a look and, if you don't already, make normblog one of your regular reads, it's one of the best blogs out there.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Conspiracy peddlers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but the argument.

The strange case of Julian Assange has regrettably - but inevitably - brought out the deluded legions of conspiracy obsessed half-thinkers. They are everywhere, spreading their message, polluting the internet with illogical theories. Crudely put, there is a widely-held belief that the rape charges brought against Assange in Sweden are bogus. That the Swedish government have (through pressure from - you guessed it - the United States) manufactured a criminal charge as a flimsy pretext to "bring him in". The charges are politically motivated and "convenient". Nudge, nudge, etc.

Absurd, of course. There is a great column by David Aaronovitch in The Times today (subscription required, unfortunately) which shreds the conspiracy "arguments" like a fork through a crispy aromatic duck. David deploys some old fashioned techniques: reason and logic. Of course the message won't get across to those that need to hear it - they've already made up their minds. Don't trouble them any further with anything ridiculous like facts.

Choice quote:
I had the same conversation half a dozen times yesterday in different forms and on different media. Wasn’t there something strangely "convenient" about the legal process under way to investigate sexual allegations against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks?
What this must mean, if anything, is this: is there some kind of plot whereby Mr Assange’s enemies have somehow procured these charges to silence him? In other words the Yanks have secretly (ha!) leant on the Swedes, the Swedes have silently manipulated two women, and there we are, halfway to the fourth Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl with the Badly Constructed Condom.
That clunk noise you hear is the sound of the head of a nail being firmly hit. The contradiction that lies at the epicentre of the conspiracist version of events is this: we are expected to believe that the United States government can pull levers to manufacture criminal allegations against the citizen of another sovereign government without encountering a single problem. Yet at the same time we already know that this all powerful and manipulative behemoth is unable to properly secure its own sensitive information. It is all powerful and controlling.... except for those times when it isn't.

This is what makes all conspiracy theories so ridiculous, be they concerned with the Kennedy assassination, the moon landings, 9/11, etc: they ask us to imagine a world where shady governments pull strings to deceive us poor deluded simpletons, that they are able to keep everyone complicit to remain forever silent, to leave no trail, no clues, no evidence. However, what the Cablegate leaks have demonstrated to us very clearly - as if we even needed reminding - is that governments are fallible, careless, clumsy and unorganised. Just like the people that run them, in fact.

Julian Assange is being celebrated by people who should know better as a hero, a warrior for truth. Yet his targets are nearly always the more open societies of the west. If WikiLeaks were serious about exposing the malevolent practices of governments they would be targeting China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Burma, North Korea. I suspect that wouldn't appeal to someone like Assange, who seems to prefer soft targets. Leaking against truly sinister governments probably wouldn't interest him.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

No more for you, you've had enough!

I committed to a blog a day until the end of the year. I didn't account for work Christmas drinks scuppering my plans. But here I am, extraordinarily drunk, blogging on my iPhone.

This morning my wife and I went for the twenty week scan for our pregnancy: I am pleased to report that everything is just fine and that we are going to have a little girl. Wonderful news. The family is complete: we have one of each. As soon as our daughter is delivered I am off to get myself fixed. Thanks.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Is Mossad training killer sharks?

This is the claim attributed to Mohamed Abdul Fadil Shousha, the governor of South Sinai, in response to the recent spate of shark attacks in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. He was quoted as saying:
What is being said about the Mossad throwing the deadly shark [in the sea] to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question, but it needs time to confirm.
Israeli officials dismissed the claims as "ludicrous".

Yeah, but they WOULD say that wouldn't they?

Monday, 6 December 2010

You just haven't earned it yet, David.

Johnny Marr, erstwhile guitarist in The Smiths (and many other projects) received some generous coverage last week for a comment he made on Twitter directed at David Cameron:
Stop saying you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it.
Cameron has long been on the record as saying he is a fan of Manchester's finest musical export. In fact this caused some consternation on my own part, as mentioned here on a post from nearly five years ago. It's disconcerting to discover that there is some overlap between your music tastes and those of the prime minister (and a Conservative prime minister at that).

I don't think (as many do) that this is something he's been told to say by one of his image consultants. It's not like the time Gordon Brown tried to pass himself off as a fan of the Arctic Monkeys. He patently wasn't and it was an excruciating "down with the kids" moment. I think Cameron genuinely does like The Smiths. Of course, in the 1980s, he wouldn't exactly have been representative of the band's stereotypical demographic: the foppish student or the bedsit-dwelling romantic on the dole. Sure, he was most likely wearing a top hat and eating a swan when he first listened to The Queen Is Dead, but that's not to say he enjoyed it any less.

Morrissey himself chipped in today, backing his former songwriting partner in a bizarre post on a fan site. According to Dame Moz, Cameron should be precluded from enjoying any of the albums he co-wrote with Marr on the basis that:
It is true that music is a universal language – the ONLY universal language, and belongs to all, one way or another. However, with fitting grimness I must report that David Cameron hunts and shoots and kills stags – apparently for pleasure. It was not for such people that either "Meat is Murder" or "The Queen is Dead" were recorded; in fact, they were made as a reaction against such violence.
A bizarre outburst, even by his standards. Does Cameron hunt, shoot and kill stags? I don't know. I can't imagine he gets much time for it these days. Didn't he live in Notting Hill before becoming PM? Can't imagine he killed many stags around there either.

The missive goes on, encompassing the Queen, Prince William, Bryan Ferry, Kate Middleton, David and Victoria Beckham - all complicit in the torture of animals, apparently. Go ahead and read it for yourself if you can be bothered.

Anyway, it's a strange situation for an artist to start dictating the conditions upon which someone is allowed to enjoy their work isn't it? Cameron, of course, is really unwanted as a fan because he's a Tory. This is a party political rebuff based purely on class angst. Morrissey and Marr probably still cling to their 80s working class mindset and Cameron, as a child of Thatcher, is a natural enemy.

Of course the irony of all this is that Morrissey is a classic small-c conservative with a firm streak of little-Englandism running through him. This has often been evident in his lyrical themes. Moreover, a quick perusal of his outbursts in recent years - in particular I'm thinking of the time when he practically said that England no longer exists because of all the foreigners - would mark him down as a UKIP supporter. Scratch the surface and you will soon see there is very little that is even remotely left wing about him.

So let Cameron be a Smiths fan if he wants. He appears to have better music taste than you might expect for a Tory. Ten years ago any senior Conservative would have been listening to Phil Collins or Chris de Burgh or something. At least this is progress.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Laying Cable - high farce in the coalition

I'm going to quickly summarise the issue of Vince Cable and tuition fees. Are you ready?

Vince Cable backs the increase in tuition fees - but possibly only in an official capacity as a co-designer of the policy. In a personal capacity he would seem to be less keen because until recently he was considering abstaining in solidarity with Liberal Democrat MPs who cannot stomach the policy. Which is fair enough, considering that every single one of them campaigned on a manifesto pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees. Even though they knew that probably wasn't going to be feasible. But that wasn't an issue for them as they never expected to find themselves in (sort of) government in an unholy alliance with the Tories. In any case, Vince would only have considered abstaining in the name of party unity. In actual fact, he thinks this is the right policy to pursue.

Is that clear? No? Oh.

Look. Vince Cable will back the increase in tuition fees because he helped formulate the policy. Even though he doesn't like it, he does think this is the right thing to do. So although he wants to abstain to extend an olive branch to his backbenchers, he won't. He can't. But either way he thinks the policy is the best solution.

This could not be clearer.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

In praise of... getting older

I was reflecting this evening on how much my life has changed in recent years. It's Saturday night. Ten years ago I would have been out with a group of friends in Clapham or maybe Angel or maybe even Brixton. We would have consumed vast quantities of alcohol, smoked many, many cigarettes, then gone back to someone's flat to carry on doing the same until the early hours. I would have spent the next day recovering - horizontally - on the sofa, vowing to never do it again. Until the next weekend that is.

But today, a week away from my 36th birthday, life is very different indeed. At about 6.45pm, after In The Night Garden on CBeebies, we gave our son (who will be a year old on 20th December) a bath and put him to bed. I then cooked a dinner of meatballs and spaghetti with a warmed baguette. Thereafter we watched Strictly Come Dancing (Mrs Sane has long been a fan of the show, while I had zero interest for six years. This time round I have - bafflingly - become something of a fan). Throughout I was drinking a very fine Cabernet Sauvignon, purchased from Waitrose this afternoon.

Comfort food, mainstream television and wine. The spirit of rock 'n roll debauchery is very much alive in this house as you can see. I'm like Keith Richards to the power of John Bonham with a light dusting of Jimi Hendrix.

I realise I have become very suburban and middle class. Let me tell you, I don't mind that one bit.

Friday, 3 December 2010

More shocking revelations from Cablegate

WikiLeaks continue to provide us with jaw-dropping revelations on a daily basis. The latest shocking tidbits from Cablegate:
  • Gordon Brown was an "abysmal" prime minister, who lurched from "political disaster to disaster", presiding over a "post-Blair rudderlessness".
  • Russia is little more than a kleptocracy and its government is in the pocket of gangsters.
  • The US fears that Mexico is losing its fight against drug cartels.
  • Silvio Berlusconi is "feckless, vain and ineffective" with a "penchant for partying hard".
Thank goodness for this data leak. Explosive secrets such as this should be in the public domain.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Hi-yo, Silver, away! Hitherto unknown depths of idiocy.

Finding stupid opinion pieces on Comment Is Free is like finding hay in a haystack or a needle in a massive pile of needles. Take this one, for example, by Max Keiser. Max is former options trader turned fillm-maker and broadcaster who has appeared on a number of different media outlets but is best known for presenting shows on Press TV (the news channel owned by Iran. Yes, that's right: Iran), RT (formerly known as Russia Today, another news channel of dubious editorial policy) and Al Jazeera English (no introduction necessary).

Max has a dream, you see. Max wants the whole world to buy as much silver as possible. Not in the form of futures or options, but the actual physical commodity. Max buys into the (non-confirmed) theory that the investment bank J.P. Morgan is trying to manipulate the value of silver by running a huge short position (i.e. they have sold something that they do not own in the hope that prices will drop, allowing them to cover their short position at a huge profit) which they hope will drive the cost down. Consequently, Max's idea is for the rest of the world to buy enough silver to push the price up, up, up resulting in J.P. Morgan being unable to cover its position and to go bankrupt.

So far, so hare-brained. The frightening thing is the amount of comments that follow the article expressing their support for this ludicrous scheme. I've been in there myself trying to argue with some of them but it's like a zombie movie: just as you beat off one brain-sucking denizen of the walking dead, another fifty wild eyed monsters turn up looking for a feast. Such is life in The Guardian's comment section.

I do understand why so many people are angry with the banks but I do think some restraint is needed. Given all that we have been through in the last couple of years I cannot understand why anyone would think that bankrupting an enormous financial institution would be anything other than catastrophic. Look what happened when Lehman Brothers went under. A bank like J.P. Morgan going under would be disastrous and, in any case, they would only be bailed out by the government anyway (it really is too big to fail), thus adding to the debt that is already the burden of the US taxpayer. The whole idea is preposterous, the hoped for outcome neither likely nor desirable and Kesier is clearly a crank.

Similar idiocy was proposed a couple of weeks ago by no less an intellectual giant than Eric Cantona who suggested that revolution should be instigated by everyone taking their money out of the banks. Somehow a new and fairer system would emerge from this - by magic, of course: he doesn't bore us with any details about what happens next. Sounds like a great idea. We can look forward to the disappearance of money, followed by the immediate disintegration of infrastructure and society. As long as we "punished" those banks.

As I said in the comments thread: Withdrawing all money to "punish" the banks would be like sticking a red hot poker up your bottom to punish your haemorrhoids.

I'm off now to head-butt myself into unconsciousness.

Simply dreadful

Mick Hucknall has issued an apology to approximately one thousand women that he estimates he "slept with" in the 1980s, attributing his behaviour to an addiction. All very well, Mick, and I'm glad you've atoned for some of your sins, but don't think you can stop there my ginger friend. You still need to apologise to the rest of the planet for infecting us with your godawful plastic soul-pop for oh so many years. For the hideous bland hybrid of easy listening/jazz/funk/lounge/muzak that was played endlessly on the radio from the late-80s to the mid-90s, polluting the airwaves, making dogs howl, babies cry and generally raising my blood pressure. I'm over it now, I've had time to recover, but I still want an apology.

Fifty million albums this fucker sold. FIFTY MILLION.

Further to yesterday's blog, add that to the the list of reasons that prove there is no god.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Home of the heroes and villains

It's December 1st. How we are back in December again so soon I have no idea, but here we are. To mark the occasion The Guardian is producing an interactive "Heroes and Villians" advent calendar where every day a different writer or personality presents the case for their hero and villain of the year. First up today is Richard Dawkins who nominates The Hitch:
Eloquent, witty, literate, intelligent, knowledgeable, brave, erudite, hard-working, honest (who could forget his clean-through skewering of Mother Teresa's hypocrisy?), arguably the most formidable debater alive today yet at the same time the most gentlemanly, Christopher Hitchens is a giant of the mind and a model of courage. A lesser man would have seized the excuse of a mortal illness to duck responsibility and take it easy. Not this soldier. He will not go gentle into that good night; but instead of a futile raging against the dying of the light he rages, with redoubled energy (and concentrated power in his vibrant, Richard Burton tones) against the same obscurantist, vicious or just plain silly targets as have long engaged him. But he never rants. His is a controlled, disciplined rage, and don't get on the wrong side of it.
I couldn't agree more. I am nearing the end of his memoirs, Hitch-22 , and it's a fabulous read. On every page there is some brilliant anecdote or witticism or insight. The odds of Hitch beating his cancer are very low - about 5% - so the sad fact is we may soon be living in a world without him being around to comment on it. It's a depressing thought, the prospect that we will be robbed of Hitchens, yet the likes of Richard Littlejohn or Glen Beck or Sean Hannity or any other number of buffoons will continue to be paid handsome sums for their pig ignorant views.

If ever you wanted a sound argument against the existence of a loving god, there's a good one.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

WikiLeaks and Cablegate

I've been a bit underwhelmed by Cablegate. I thought there were going to be revelations that would shake the US government to its core. Are people genuinely surprised that:
  • Iran is considered a menace to the region and the world?
  • Prince Andrew is an utter arse ?
  • There are fears about Pakistan's nuclear materials getting into the wrong hands?
  • China considers North Korea to be an embarrassing burden rather than a valued strategic partner?
There's more to come but so far I haven't read anything that has particularly amazed me. Of course these are the sort of conversations that take place in the diplomatic world - I'd be more amazed if they didn't. The really startling thing about the leak, the truly embarrassing aspect, is the leak itself. The leak itself is the story - how could such vast quantities of sensitive information be so easily exported and distributed?

I'm not convinced that WikiLeaks's motives are always so pure, either. There seems to be a persistent anti-American strain. First the Afghanistan war logs, then the Iraq files, now Cablegate. Their next big dump of data, due in early 2011, will apparently unleash "devastating" revelations against a "major American bank" (Goldman Sachs? It must be). There only ever seems to be one geographical target. As David Aaronovitch said on Twitter on Sunday:
Imagine that, for once, the #wikileaks treasure trove contained hundreds of thousands of Iranian, Chinese or even French documents.
Or Russian. Or Saudi Arabian. That would be very interesting. Then, I suspect, we really would see some murky information. But, like David, I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Fisking Galloway

And what better reason for coming out of the blogging cave than to froth and rant at an old foe: Mr George Galloway.

I was most surprised to read this piece by him in the Daily Record. Not for the content of the article you understand; I was just staggered that there is still a publication happy to publish his work and, presumably, pay him for it.

Galloway was writing about the debate that took place in Toronto last week between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair on the subject of faith. The motion was "Religion is a force for good in the world" and, by all accounts, Hitch (arguing against the motion, naturally) won. I would have loved to have seen it but will have to settle for the YouTube installments or, alternatively, catch it on BBC News on New Year's Day.

It's difficult to know where to begin with Galloway's comments so it'll have to be a good, old-fashioned Fisking of some of the most pertinent sections.

"I have no faith in this hellish twosome of Blair and Hitchens" roars the headline. Such erudition. Now, I know that this would have most likely have been written by a sub-editor rather than the author but you can easily picture Galloway's snarling face saying this with his customary bellicosity, self-important wind-bag that he is.
Tony was debating in Canada at the same time as me last week, with my old adversary Christopher Hitchens on the subject of God.
Might I suggest you replace "adversary" with intellectual superior?
Blair backs God, even though if there is a hell he's surely bound for the Blair inferno and Hitchens ridicules the very idea of God, despite the fact he is now stricken with cancer of the oesophagus with an extremely poor prognosis.
Despite the fact he is now stricken with cancer of the oesophagus with an extremely poor prognosis. This is amazing. The implication being that, despite a lifetime of principled, reasoned and intellectually vigorous anti-theism, because Hitch is now battling stage four cancer he should forget all about that and embrace "god". The very god that allows cancers to exist, or, to pursue this perverted logic, the very god that inflicted him with the illness in the first place. Galloway would not be the first "believer" to have speculated such a contemptible hypothesis, that this is somehow "god's revenge" for Hitch's "blasphemy".
And though I once denounced Hitchens as a bloated, drinksoaked former Trotskyist popinjay, I am religiously precluded from wishing him a premature death.
Again, a very telling choice of words. I am religiously precluded from wishing him a premature death. So it is only because your faith instructs you otherwise that you hold back from wishing him dead? If it wasn't for the fact that your religion forbids such a sentiment you would openly say it? Whereas, instead, you secretly wish it? This unwittingly demonstrates one of Hitch's most common examples in his arguments against faith: the idea that religious code makes people behave in a certain manner not from an inherent understanding of what is right or wrong but out of blind adherence to a mystical rule book.
My own debate with Hitchens - available on YouTube - five years ago in the Big Apple drew a considerably larger crowd than this latest double-apostasy. And a considerably more clear-cut result.
Indeed, it was a big event at the time and I enjoyed it. And you're right, George, it DID produce a considerably more clear-cut result: Hitch won in whichever way you choose to measure it. What you lacked in cogent argument you made up with characteristically bombastic chest-beating rhetoric. Don't mistake being the loudest with being the winner.
I hope Hitchens sticks around for a rematch. Which means I hope he pulls through. In fact, I shall pray for it.
Well, I can't disagree with you on that point. I, along with many others, hope he makes a full recovery. But as for the prayers... well, earlier in the article you did rather clearly hint that you wish him a premature death. So I hope for your sake that, when you are saying your prayers, god excuses your blatant hypocrisy. I wouldn't hold out much hope for a rematch though. In the event Hitch does recover I very much doubt he's going to want to spend valuable hours of his life in your company.

The challenge: a blog a day every day

So. A blog a day every day until the end of the year. This is quite an undertaking for someone who currently averages one post every couple of months at best but this is the challenge I have decided to set myself.

As for honouring the commitment, that's something else entirely. But damn it I'm going to try. It's not like there's any shortage of things to write about.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Who would be a student now?

Who would want to be a student in this day and age? Seems like you can get five A* grades and still not get into your place at Bogmouth University. Even if you do, you'll come out the other side with thousands of pounds of debt, competing for jobs with hundreds of thousands of other graduates because getting a degree is now about as special as wearing a T-shirt.

OK, that's probably an unfair assessment. I was lucky enough to go to university in mid-90s - before the introduction of tuition fees (which I don't necessarily disagree with, by the way) - when it was still possible to pretty much get into the university of your choice as long as you got the requisite grades. My university of choice - Manchester - wanted three Bs or equivalent to get onto the Philosophy & Politics course. Thankfully, I met this requirement and I was in. Great times. Not sure about now though. You probably need eight A* grades, an enormous bag of cash and an endorsement letter from the Pope to get through the door. Even then, over-subscription means there's a chance you still won't get a place this year.

That said, if you can live with the expense and actually get on a course, it's without doubt one of the best times of your life. While I don't envy the students who, on top of annual accusations of A Levels getting easier, have to contend with incredible competition for places and then for a job afterwards, already up to their eyes in debt, I do envy the amazing three years they can have in the meantime. I graduated in 1996 and have pretty much been in full-time employment ever since. I know which I prefer.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Thoughts on the "Ground Zero mosque"

The most frightening thing about this ridiculous "Ground Zero mosque" furore is how the opponents of it are so casually disregarding the very features of their country that - apparently - make them so proud to be American. The USA is a melting pot of cultures, nationalities and religions with a constitution that ensures the government cannot favour any one group over another. This is one of the undoubted strengths of the union and one of many reasons for its continued success at incorporating all peoples (not perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly better than most nations manage).

Newt Gingrich, the Republican former presidential candidate and speaker of the House of Representatives, drew a crass analogy:  "We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Centre". It's difficult to imagine what sort of "site" he could be thinking the Japanese could put there but, presumably, there are no indicators of Japan or Japanese culture allowed in Hawaii out of respect for the attacks of December 1941? No sushi restaurants, no Playstations, no Sony televisions allowed on or near the islands as an act of never-ending reverence.

Even worse comes from Elliott Maynard, Republican candidate for Congress in West Virginia: "Ground Zero is hallowed ground to Americans. Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or a Christian church to be built in Mecca?" he asks, missing the point completely. No, Elliott, they wouldn't. But then - and this is the crucial bit that you should really be focusing on, instead of ignorantly perpetuating your numb-skulled ignorance - that is what makes the USA a vastly superior country to a hideous theocracy like Saudi Arabia. Do you understand? The USA is a sophisticated democracy and Saudi Arabia is a theocratic authoritarian state. By even drawing a parallel between the two you are besmirching the very country that you profess to love.

It's not just Republicans whipping up this nonsense (although, of course, they do dominate the numbers - none more so than Fuckwit-in-Chief Sarah Palin who continues to chip in on the subject much like a parrot picks up pieces of dialogue and spits them out randomly). Democrat Harry Reid's office released a statement saying that he respects freedom of religion, but "thinks the mosque should be built someplace else". Right. Well, as long as you're consistent in your philosophy.

So the arguments just frothed and frothed and frothed until President Obama himself had to get involved in what should be, really, a planning dispute particular to residents of lower Manhattan. Obama, rightly, defended their right on constitutional terms. This has been taken as "endorsement" in many quarters, but it is no such thing - he is merely upholding their right and reiterating the facts. But then, nearly 1 in 5 Americans apparently believe that Barack Obama himself is a Muslim.

Now I'm no friend of Islam and have no interest in granting them any special privileges. Like any religion, it does not command my interest, admiration or respect. But US citizens who are Muslim clearly have the same rights and entitlements as those of any other faith (or those of no faith). Muslims died in the attacks of 9/11 too. By isolating this issue, taking it out of context and blowing it out of all proportion the message is being given that all Muslims are terrorists or sympathetic to terrorists. Which is exactly what Osama Bin Laden and company seek: they want all Muslims worldwide to believe that there is a religious war being waged against them all. The rage of opponents of the "Ground Zero mosque" (neither a mosque, nor located at Ground Zero by my understanding) is only serving to help this aim.

Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and all the rest of you, take a bow. You are doing the work of Bin Laden. Well done.

Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines

Don't you just hate it when three months piss by and you can't even account for them? I must have been doing something in that time. In fact I know that I was. But blogging wasn't one of them.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

How quickly things change in politics...

I just happened to stumble across Chris Huhne's website. Huhne, of course, is the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in this new, perverse, coalition government. As if to reinforce the duplicity, double standards and u-turns that were required to forge this unholy alliance, check this out from his (not edited since before the election) homepage:


A vote for Labour in Eastleigh could help David Cameron into government.
Indeed. And the Liberal Democrats really wouldn't want that, would they? Would they? Oh.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

So the Tories are back. Some initial thoughts.

So the Tory beast returns to power. Although this beast will be hamstrung, tethered and muzzled. I am indifferent to this particular turn of events given that I cannot see it as being anything other than short-lived. I'm prepared to be proved very wrong on this, but I think a coalition with the Lib Dems is destined to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Personally, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the theatre. It's certainly going to be very interesting to see how things turn out, especially when Cameron picks his Cabinet. Early indications point to Nick Clegg being made Deputy PM. Which sounds grander than it is, of course, given that it isn't even a real position. John Prescott did it for ten years for Christ's sake. You could draw a smiley face on an orange and give it that title.

Whoever came to power in this election was going to have to confront some rather harsh economic realities: a huge deficit and record levels of national debt. Any new government is going to have to take an axe to public spending - I'm happy for the Tories to play the role of pantomime villain, providing fresh impetus to regard them once more as the "nasty party". This was a general election worth losing.

Gordon left with dignity and - I suspect - enormous relief. Good luck to him. He wasn't cut out for the centre stage anyway. I expect we'll see David Miliband taking on Cameron at Prime Minister's Question Time in a few months, thus giving us the scenario where the Conservative's answer to Tony Blair goes head to head with Blair's true successor. (Here's a question: if Clegg does become Deputy PM, will he stand in at PMQs when Cameron is away?)

This is going to be the most fractured and ineffectual Conservative government since the last one. It's going to be very interesting....

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Everything's alright. Everything's alright. It's OK. It's fine.

Made in 1994 but still eerily prescient, The Day Today is one of the finest comedies ever made. This particular segment seems more appropriate right now than ever.

Don't worry. Everything's fine.

ConDemNation

On the face of it, the prospect of a working coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats seems about as likely as Stephen Hawking representing Britain in the 400m hurdles at the 2012 Olympics. But exceptional circumstances make for unusual bed partners. This was pre-ordained a couple of weeks ago when Nick Clegg stated that he would not be able to enter talks with a party that did not win the biggest share of the vote. He tried to backtrack on that in subsequent interviews but on pure point of principle he could not go straight into talks with a party and a Prime Minister who effectively lost their position of power.

So now he and his party are locked away, reading each other's manifestos and using highlighter pens to identify what, if anything, they can both agree on. So far I expect it's a very short list indeed.

If this unholy marriage is to go ahead then it has my blessing on the condition that Clegg stays true to his principles - he should settle for nothing less than an agreed referendum on electoral reform within the next year. First past the post creates strong governments in a two party system. It's pretty plain that we do not have a true two party system anymore - we need an electoral process that better reflects the views of the electorate at large. The chaos of the last few days again underlines the need for a more formal written constitution - another subject that is close to the Lib Dem's heart and not something they should compromise on.

Whatever settlement is reached, the union is probably doomed to fail and I would expect to see another election within a year. Conservatives and Liberals working together - it's like cats and dogs getting married. My ideal scenario is another election within the year, producing a progressive pact between Labour (minus Gordon of course) and the Lib Dems.

Anarchy for the UK?

Well, this isn't quite what I was hoping would happen, but it's very interesting all the same. A hung parliament always looked inevitable but the collapse of Liberal Democrat support was a surprise, pulling in even less seats than they did in 2005. I was expecting/hoping that they would win at least 70 but I expect that, as often happens, people had a late change of heart alone in the booth and reverted back to the main two parties. I know I was tempted. In my own constituency, the Tory candidate won by a mile (and actually with a majority of the votes) with the Lib Dems coming (a very far) second. So, like millions of other people, my vote did not count at all.

Now we have the Conservatives and the Lib Dems in frantic power talks hoping to put together some kind of coalition before the weekend is out. Good luck with that. I predicted a Con-Lib pact about six months ago (should have put some money on it). It seemed clear that the Conservatives were never going to get the swing needed to form a working majority and that Gordon Brown had about the same prospects of winning as Champion The Wonder Horse.

So now here we are, living in an anarchic state. Although observe how life simply carries on unabated for pretty much all of us. The markets are doing their whole "wooah, woooh, what's going ON?" thing, but with the Greek (and general European) debt crisis, they'd probably be doing that anyway. Who's in control now? The Civil Service I guess. So little change there then.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Some news about an old friend...

I'd like to take a moment to pause, reflect and remember an old friend and - alas - casualty of the 2010 election. It was with great sadness that I learnt that the hardest working politician in Westminster - Mr George Galloway - failed to win the seat of Poplar and Limehouse. Not only that but, it chokes me to say, his 'Respect' Party lost their only seat in Bethnal Green and Bow. Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, the 'Respect' Party now has no representation in the House of Commons.

It's a damn shame and no mistake. Why do bad things happen to good people?

I am further saddened to report that George's radio show "The Mother Of All Talkshows" on the inspirational TalkSport Radio station was also recently killed off. Such a shame that I never listened and now never will. But there is hope! Because George plans to start his own internet radio station - "Rebel Radio". I can't wait for that one.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Nick Clegg: some doubts

Mind you, it's not like I'll be voting Liberal Democrat without some reservations. Nick Clegg did well on the televised debates and made the most of the opportunity to sell himself to the general populace and muscle in on the usual two party domination. He's a good speaker and a convincing leader who comes across as far more "normal" than the other two. Not difficult to look normal next to Gordon of course. Cameron, meanwhile, has always carried a whiff of implausibility about him: like he was built to order by Conservative Party HQ under the instructions "give us a Blair". The best description I have ever read of David Cameron was by Caitlin Moran of The Times who declared him to be "like a C-3PO made of ham", a "slightly camp gammon robot". Absolutely spot on.

So Clegg has had a good campaign, but I still have issues with him and his party. I'm voting for them really for two reasons: 1) his party probably have the best opportunity of winning my constituency from the Tories and 2) I would like to see electoral reform and a hung Parliament with Clegg holding the balance of power is the best opportunity we have ever had to see this happen.

Serious doubts were raised in my mind about Clegg in the third and final debate when he touched upon the subject of the banking industry. Attacking the banks is such an obvious thing these days and I understand why politicians do it: it's an easy, populist target. But when he's banging on about how it's necessary to separate high street banking from investment "casino" banking to avoid another crisis like the one we have just witnessed you realise he can't understand what he is talking about. The consolidation of investment banks and retail banks had nothing to do with it, Nick. Lloyds TSB, HBOS and Northern Rock were all, exclusively, traditional lending banks. Meanwhile the major investment banks that went under, or nearly went under (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch) were all exclusively investment banks. Really the only bank (and, admittedly, a major player in the crisis) that combines both elements is RBS and there isn't really any convincing argument that breaking it up into smaller parts would be of any particular benefit to anyone.

Some thoughts on the general election

Hard to believe that it's been five years since the last general election. So much has happened in this time, much of which could not have even been imagined in 2005. I was just re-reading a couple of posts I wrote on my old blog Liberal Elite: one was a (lukewarm) endorsement of Labour, the other just some general observations. It makes for fascinating reading (for me, unlikely for anybody else).

The biggest contrast between 2005 and 2010, as far as I am concerned, is how little enthusiasm I am able to muster for the entire thing. I don't know if this is because the party leaders are so uninspiring or because I have become so old, jaded, cynical and tired that I can barely bring myself to care. It's probably both. At least in 2005 we still had a (just about) credible government led by a credible Prime Minister. Meanwhile the alternative was a spiteful Conservative Party obsessed with immigrants and Europhobia and led by Michael Howard who still makes me involuntarily scratch myself whenever I hear his name. The Liberal Democrats weren't fit for office. (I actually just had to check who was leading them back then as I honestly couldn't remember: was it Kennedy The Drunk or Ming The Elderly? It was the former.)

But in 2010? The current Labour Party is a shambles, led by a blundering, injured bear who has something of the Midas touch in reverse, given that everything he does or says turns to excrement. Gordon Brown has been an appalling Prime Minister. Admittedly he has had to oversee the most dire domestic and international economic situation since the 1930s - and to his credit, some of his actions were correct: e.g. the highly unpopular (but highly necessary) bail out of the British banking system, something that the Conservatives and Lib Dems actually opposed - but overall his leadership and people skills leave much to be desired. Those that doubted Brown's ability to take on the big job were spot on - he doesn't have the requisite skill set. His stiff demeanour resolutely fails to hit a nerve with the general public and, oh my, when he smiles for the camera! It's so forced, so unnatural. He looks like a ventriloquist's dummy having a prostate examination. His coffin was finally pinned closed this week with the disastrous events of Bigotgate - he is officially a dead man walking.

So who to vote for? 1997 was the first general election I was able to participate in. I voted Labour and have done in every general election since. But I will not be doing so in 2010. I tentatively nibbled at the Conservative offering and wracked my soul thinking about it. There is no question that the Tories are a very different party under David Cameron. He has shed a lot of their social conservatism, which is what I have always found most repellent about his party. I could never align myself with the Telegraph reading, flag waving, Proms attending, Queen respecting, Euro bashing, protect-the-pound-at-all-costs brigade. Cameron has alienated a lot of this contingent, forcing them to sit and fume quietly in the corner (or join the feeble, impotent and raging UKIP) while his leadership drags the party towards the liberal centre. Which is all well and good and Dave has gone some way to ticking some of the boxes on the wish list I wrote in October 2005 where I wondered out loud what could make me vote for the Tories. But then I see stories like this about how up-and-coming Tory MP Philippa Stroud helped to found a church that believed it could "cure" homosexuals by the power of prayer. You see, I read something like this and I just think "Oh, fuck off". This ridiculous woman apparently played a significant part in formulating Conservative social policy. Sorry Dave, while your party still gives shelter to deluded arsewits such as this, you will never get my vote.

So after much tribulation I have decided to vote Liberal Democrat in this election. Not without reservations: I have issues with many of their policies. Principally, this is a tactical vote. The constituency I live in is usually as blue as Papa Smurf's arse but the 2006 by-election saw the Lib Dems reduce the Conservative majority to only 633. The general uptick in Lib Dem support nationally may, just may, see them nick it this time round. Here's hoping.

Ideally I want to see a hung Parliament. National sentiment towards the main parties is so divided, not one of them deserves to form a government on its own. Ordinarily I would have liked to have seen a Lib-Lab pact but, as Nick Clegg pointed out, if Labour come third in terms of number of votes actually received, it would raise serious question marks over its legitimacy. I predicted a Con-Lib pact about six months ago. It seemed ridiculous but now it doesn't look entirely unlikely. It would certainly be... interesting. Whichever way it goes, the Lib Dems will make electoral reform a pre-requisite policy, something which is long overdue - this ridiculous system that distorts public opinion to perverse effect in the House of Commons needs to be addressed. Some form of proportional representation is required to give credibility to our electoral system and, depending on the outcome on Thursday, its time may - finally - have arrived.

The outcome of this election is going to be very interesting, even if the candidates we are voting for are not.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The great subscription firewall of Rupert Murdoch

Meanwhile, pursuing a very different business model, News International are pressing ahead with their stated intention of making the websites of The Times and The Sunday Times subscription only. While one can see the logic (apparently The Times alone makes a loss of £240,000 per day) I don't see how this is going to work out for them. The pricing is reasonable enough - £1 per day or £2 for a weekly subscription is very competitive considering the cost of the physical format itself - but it will fail for practical reasons, not financial. Quite frankly, I don't value the journalism of their papers so highly that, in the event that I want quick access to information via the internet, I'd be prepared to reach for my debit card and go through the PayPal process (or whatever method they opt for) to read their coverage. Breaking news? I'll go to the BBC, or The Guardian, thanks. Or Google News.

News International have admitted that, yes, obviously, they are going to lose millions of visitors to their sites, but are banking on a small, committed readership happy to pay for the online content. Good luck to them, but this is doomed to fail. Increasingly, our attention is drawn to news and features by the proliferation of hyperlinking: blogs, Twitter, Facebook and even old-fashioned email enable the easy embedding of links to share with other people. By building a subscription firewall, The Times and The Sunday Times are effectively removing themselves from the global conversation.

There is an argument (and a very strong one) that the future of quality journalism depends on newspapers being able to defend their revenue streams. Clearly the losses posted by The Times (and pretty much all papers) are not sustainable in the long term. We live in an age where people (particularly younger people) are so used to free, unrestrained access to news that the idea of paying for it is anathema to them. The future survival of our print media depends on finding a solution to this conundrum - but subscription firewalls aren't the answer I'm afraid.

Murdoch will soon be back to the drawing board on this one.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The death knell of the British newspaper industry?

I remember the launch of The Independent in 1986 - the same year that Eddy Shah launched his revolutionary (and now defunct) Today newspaper (Colour! Ooh! Print that doesn't come off on your hands! What witchcraft is this?). This was a tumultuous year for Fleet Street. In addition to the aforementioned new launches, it also saw Rupert Murdoch relocate his entire stable of papers to the notorious Wapping Fortress in a controversial move designed to destroy the power of the print unions.

The Independent was founded by a consortium of (mainly) ex-Daily Telegraph journalists who wanted to establish a new quality broadsheet untainted by party political affiliation intrusive proprietors. Launched with the slogan "It is. Are you?" it very quickly poached a lot of curious readers from The Guardian (whose centre-left stomping ground the Indy was trying to muscle in on), The Times and The Telegraph, reaching a peak of 400,000 copies sold daily. It's been in terminal decline ever since.

This week, after months of protracted negotiations, Independent News and Media sold both the daily and the Sunday Independent titles to Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev - the man who last year bought the London Evening Standard and immediately turned it into a freesheet, directly challenging the business model of daily newspapers head on.

The question now is: what's he going to do to the Indy? Slash the cover price to zero and give it out at train stations? Once that would have sounded utterly implausible but it could very well happen. What will this mean for the other broadsheets (and the tabloids for that matter), given that they are - almost without exception - losing readers and money in a downward spiral? Will they be forced to do the same in order to compete? What will this mean for quality journalism, which is already seen as an expensive luxury in the low-margin digital age? I can't help but worry that this is going to be very bad for British newspapers indeed. Anyone who picked up the free papers produced in London until last year (London Lite and The London Paper) could tell you how utterly awful they were. Ditto the staggeringly popular Metro given out all over the country every morning. It's a pitiful rag full of copy-and-paste reporting, feeble reviews and recycled celebrity photographs. Yet given the choice between that and actually paying for a newspaper, a very large number of commuters opt for the former. As a newspaper lover, I find it very sad that people are content to make do with this characterless, editorial-free, exercise in blandness. If The Independent takes the same route there's a danger it will be run along similar principles, taking all the other papers down with it in a race to the bottom. Sad times.

Monday, 22 March 2010

In praise of... Technology

Technology is a wonderful thing. I mean, sure, at some point in the not too distant future we are going to be enslaved by robots that turn against us and humanity will do battle with them forever more in a post-apocalyptic nightmare world. This is a given. Until then, we can enjoy the small pleasures that gadgets bring us.

My iPhone, for example, has long been an indispensable part of my life. A phone, an iPod, email, Twitter, Facebook, backgammon. I wouldn't be able to make it through the working day without it. I might do a lot more 'work', but where's the fun in that?

Anyway, this is all just a flimsy pretext to try out the new blogging application I've just downloaded (BlogPress). So here I am, in bed, writing this. Such a thing would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Marvellous.

Of course every small advancement in technology takes us ever closer to the scenario outlined above, but in the meantime let us not concern ourselves with such matters. For life is short and art is long... or something.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Reasons to hate the Catholic Church, part 4,678

It would be fair to say I have no time for religion. Actually, that's a massive understatement. It would be correct to say that I despise religion. For the lazy and child-like explanation of the world and the universe. For the slavish devotion to 'holy' texts written by people who could not possibly have had first hand experience of the events they are describing (events that almost certainly didn't happen in the first place). For the claims to have exclusive access to revealed truth. For the frequent rejection of scientific evidence and analysis. The list goes on and on. Mostly though, I hate religion (and I don't differentiate or discriminate here, they are all generally as irrelevant to me as one another, so I will continue to bundle them all up into a single word) for their claims to special status, their entitlement to 'respect' for their frequently absurd belief systems, for the reverence we should bestow upon their 'holy' leaders, no matter how undeserving of our respect they might be.

Take the pope, for example. The recent scandal surrounding the Catholic church and the covering up of the 'abuse' (a generic euphemism for what is, in fact, sexual assault and rape) of children by priests in Ireland has driven the Catholic church and the pope even further down in my estimations. Which is astonishing as I didn't know such depths even existed. The hand-wringing letter written by Pope Benedict is an execrable attempt to make amends for decades of systematic abuse and subsequent cover-up. Any claims to be 'shocked' and 'dismayed' by the revelations are empty rhetoric given that he personally oversaw the suppression of such information in a previous role. He knew about it then and he knew about it now - which makes him complicit in all of the crimes committed. God's representative on Earth aided and abetted serial abusers of children. And yet he has the temerity to state in his letter:
I can only share in the dismay and sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts.
The Catholic church was already discredited. These revelations (with more to come for sure, this is not just restricted to Ireland) detail an institution that is not just ethically bankrupt but pathologically addicted to covering up its own moral decay.