Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Like a D-D-D-Dude

The American evangelist Frederick Buechner once wrote :
"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."
On the long list of terrible things there's a former prime minister who still inspires hatred in even some of the best of us after death and there's whatever it is that drove somebody to blow up an 8-year old in Boston.

But then there's Lem Knights on the UK version of "The Voice" - link to YouTube here.

The guy's 18 and the biggest Jessie J fan in world (for reasons that beat the heck out of me) so you can imagine what it meant to him when she hit the button and selected him for her team.

And then this - she offers to sing a duet with him and they blow the walls down with what I honestly didn't think was that great a song.

There's a lot of false emotion on shows like this - you imagine them practicing OMGs and bursting into tears in front of a mirror - but there's no way you can fake the level of total overload you see in him after he's finished the duet. His brain has melted and he no longer has any coherent thought process and really he doesn't even know what to do with his hands.

So there's also a young lad with a great big Bobby Womack voice who's going to sing with his hero and get better and better. 

Sometimes we forget that beautiful things happen in the world.

They do, they really do - it's just hard sometimes to pick them out above the general background noise of people being horrible to each other.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Not Just A River In Egypt

She's a little old lady with grey hair in a bun. Think Miss Marples.

Very much the stereotype of an elderly spinster - pillar of the local community, lynchpin of her church and with decades of faithful service to the poor and needy.

The thing is, she's in my court and she's lying to me.

She took an oath on the Bible, which is a big deal for a devout Christian, but there is no mistaking the fact that she is lying. She's really not very good at it and her account would require the suspension of a couple of physical laws even if it were logically consistent (which it isn't).

So what's going on her mind ? Has she found a way to convince herself that the lies she's telling aren't really lies? Or has she just stopped caring ?

Her problem, it seems to me, is that in short order her mother died, she was forced to retire from her job and her husband went off with another woman. Into that void came alcohol and now she's just like every alcoholic - deep in denial.

Denial means that alcoholics lie. They lie to themselves and to others about the extent of their problem. Telling the truth in court ("I was staggering around drunk and then drove home after necking a bottle of vodka") would have meant admitting to themselves and to their community that they have an alcohol problem. So she would prefer to lie ("My heels were too high and I drank the vodka after I came home from the driving").

I knew that alcoholics lied, but this was a powerful demonstration of the sheer power of alcohol over  even the strongest among us. 

As they say in the First of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous :-

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable."
I had never fully appreciated the full impact of that phrase "powerless over alcohol" before this trial.

It has been a several months since this woman came into my court and it has been a rare week that I haven't wondered whether her conviction was the "bottom" she needed to hit in order to get better, or whether it hastened her decline.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Radiohead@Manchester MEN Arena

People who know no better think they know all about Radiohead fans. They're a bit too serious, male,  geeky and over forty, right ? A lot like Stan in fact.

I actually found reassuringly few like me at the MEN arena last night - lots of singing and insanely bad dancing among the mostly student-y audience. Although, I did spot one balding guy with a beard and a battered now-undersized "The Bends" t-shirt who could have made a living as a body double for The Comic Book guy in The Simpsons.

While I was out, Stanetta asked Mrs Stan when the heyday of Radiohead was. With most bands you could sensibly answer this question with a date and sometimes even a time. With Radiohead, even though their biggest selling album was released in 1997, you can't actually say that the last 15 years has been any kind of decline.

Because here they are - on a world tour, playing new material to packed out mega venues full of people who were probably being breast-fed in 1997.

It was a good mix of material - the best pieces from the most recent album,  a couple of classic goosebumps numbers and even "Planet Telex" from 1995 to keep The Comic Book Guy happy.

The show was professional, as warm and intimate as you get in a venue the size of the MEN arena (largest indoor arena in the European Union), and moved along at a fair lick. The technology on display was stunning and incorporated a couple of dozen large screens that gave you a variety of quirky close-ups of the band that were performing in the far distance.

One or two too many random B-sides though - I sneaked off for a toilet break during "These Are My Twisted Words" and found almost as many people outside the hall as inside it.   If you don't think it's good enough to make it onto an album, why bother with it in concert ?

That minor issue aside, I had a great time and if you've got tickets for the shows at the O2 next week you'll have a blast. The set list from the Manchester gig is here - I don't imagine they'll stray too far from that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


If you don't like the verdict you get in a Magistrates Court, you have the right to appeal to the Crown Court. There you will be able to put your case to a "proper" judge who sits with a couple of Magistrates from benches different to the one that so disappointed you last time.

The most recent figures I could find show that in 2010 there were 13,800 appeals against Magistrates’ decisions. This is really quite a small proportion, being less than half an appeal per magistrate per year. Some of these were appeals against the verdict and some about the severity of the sentence, but either way, appeals stand less than a 50:50 chance of succeeding.

You could say that the low proportion of appeals to Magistrates' decisions is down to the crippling legal costs and the average 9 week wait, but I like to think it's because Magistrates are generally pretty good at their jobs.

They don't generally invite new Magistrates to take part in these appeals so it was only recently I got to sit on my first one.

The feeling in court is quite different from that in a Magistrates Court. The judge doesn't have to go back and forth with the legal adviser, so he (yes, more than usually "he")  can move things on, interrupt and change the order in which evidence is presented. There's more of a "flow" and business gets dealt with very efficiently indeed.

The judge I sat with was far from the stereotype - keenly intelligent, funny and eager to hear the views of the two Magistrates. 

As to the nature of the workload, the whole day was taken up with appeals against confiscations of money under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which brings you into a world which (if true) has many strange features :-

 * You can be on Income Support and buy a £20,000 car for cash and still have £10,000 in cash on you later that day (without being involved in crime)

* Some people (again on Income Support) will carry £5,000 in cash with them on a night out. They may give the money to a friend to hold if the pockets on their trousers are too small. It is possible to have four friends in this situation, which is a perfectly acceptable reason for one person in a group to have £20,000 in cash in their jacket pockets when stopped by police.

*  Some men have girlfriends who give them bundles of used ten and twenty pounds notes as tokens of affection.

* You need £5,000 in cash to buy a suit for a wedding. When asked, it is perfectly acceptable not to be able to remember what day the wedding is or who is getting married. The best way to buy these £5,000 wedding suits is by driving around at 3a.m in a council estate with a well known drug problem.

* Some people sell their flats for cash and still haven't got round to putting the money in the bank a month later.

All in all it was kind of a shock when business was done to get into my 10 year old car and drive home, wondering if I had enough cash in my pocket to pay for petrol on the way back.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Internet - Not Pure Evil At All

There's no shortage of stories (mostly in the Daily Mail) about how the Internet is the Devil's Superhighway full of porn and general depravity.

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq mostly taught themselves to play their instruments by watching YouTube. They got a lot of their music online and auditioned online. I got to hear about them online and you can hear them play online. If there's any hope for that troubled country it's with the kids and the magical mechanism that got them together to play a symphony is probably the same magical mechanism that will help them organise to rebuild their shattered country and its culture.

Meanwhile the boot lock on my 10 year old Seat Toledo didn't lock. I found a posting online that described how it was probably water gunking up the solenoid and all you need is to remove the plastic cover and squirt WD-40 everywhere. I found another posting that described (with pictures) how to remove the plastic cover and I managed to fix a problem in ten minutes with a screwdiver and zero technical skill that had me seriously considering scrapping the car.

I love the way that the Law of Unintended Consequences continues to apply to the Internet. I love the way that people with skills give their time free of charge to post content for the rest of us to enjoy.

The Internet is a tool - very much like a hammer. You can use it to build a house or you can use it to smash someone's head in. Just because there are evil people in the world, it doesn't mean you should remove anything they might possibly misuse.