Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dark Energy Sucks. America Rocks.

There is over twice as much "Dark Energy" in the Universe as all the other stuff in the Universe put together. We can't see it, smell it, touch it, or sell it on Ebay - but it's either there, or else Einstein was a cotton-headed ninny-muggins.

The problem is that space should be expanding at an accelerating rate, but we observe that it isn't - so something weird ("X") must be sucking it together. Let X be "Dark Energy".

NASA are launching a set of probes to get to the bottom of the issue. Or maybe just to expose the next misleading layer. There's nothing a British blogger working his way through a Chinese takeaway can contribute to the debate - but boy am I glad that the American government is far-sighted enough to spend a few million taxpayers' dollar on such a worthwhile endeavour.

Like Josh says of America in "The West Wing" :-
"Everyone hates us ... We're the most dominant nation on earth. But too often the face of our economic superiority is a corporate imperialism, our technological dominance shown by Smart bombs and Predator drones. We could do something else. Something generous and uplifting for all humankind."
Thank you America.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Start The Weak

If anything gets me angry, it's powerful people throwing their weight around against powerless people.

Take the American Judge who tried to get $54m compensation when a small Korean-run dry-cleaners lost his trousers for a couple of days.

On a larger scale we have the French mirage jets bombing starving, persecuted tribesmen in the Central African Republic.

And of course the Caroline Dunsmore case . Not Caroline Dunsmore herself, who was abused hereself and mentally retarded - I consider her to be a victim. My anger is with her bullying husband Billy King and the gang of sleaze-bags who took advantage of the girls.

Within those stories is a clue to why I am a socialist. "The Market", much beloved of conservatives, would not have prevented any of the above situations.

You need a muscular government with (among others) :-

* Legal Aid so that the rich don't always win in court
* Generous Foreign Aid programmes
* Social Services - yes, it's unfashionable, but the Dunsmore case isn't the only no-brainer where a visit from any social worker with a pulse would have saved so much suffering.

The ideal would be for the weak to gang together and beat the juice out of the strong. Well, this was the basis of the Trade Union movement and the origin of the barely-recognisable Labour party currently abusing its power in Iraq and at home.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"I woke up this morning/with a Frappuccino in my hands".

Starbucks’ “Banana Java Chip Frappachino” is just wrong.

Wrong ! - the banana puree does contain some fruit (one of your 5-a-day ?) but mostly sugar

Wrong ! – the coffee contains caffeine : a known drug !

Wrong ! – Chocolate chips – need I say more

Wrong ! – the whole package packs about 500 belly-bulging empty calories

Wrong ! – Starbucks is helping our town centres become totally blah, is an icon of globalisation and is not quite yet playing fair with third-world farmers.

I had one today. It was blooming marvellous.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dead Unfunny

50 years ago forty white men chasing a black man was the Ku Klux Klan...Nowadays it's the US Open ...
Bernard Manning was a reminder of when we were all racists. I used to love "The Comedians" when I was a kid in the 1970s, and as it was the one of the biggest shows on TV, I suspect I wasn't alone.

In my defence I got better, and nowadays it's rare for me to enjoy humour directed at people who have enough problems without being the butt of jokes.

I wonder if his sort of comedy will ever return. Does comedy have fashions that come round on infinite loop, or is it evolving into something that is victimless (or at least chooses more legitimate targets)?

Here's a fitting reminder of the late Mr Manning's razor-sharp intellect and insight. It sums up why the fat, thick old bigot will be so little missed.
"Hitler was good for Germany at that time. There were 8 million unemployed in Germany when he took over and he put them on their feet. That's not to say he didn't go the wrong way and went a bit potty at the end."

Monday, June 18, 2007

New blood required

We need more immigrants. Not just a few more, we need as many as can get their butts to a Channel port or an airport.

We need them to come over here and take our jobs, because (haven’t you noticed) we aren’t doing them very well ourselves. We have crops rotting in the field, we have hospital waiting lists, and we have big queues in shops.

Also, on a personal note, I’m tired of Chinese and Indian food – once I’ve worked my way through the Thai menu I’m going to need something new.

I love Covent Garden – two hundred types of restaurant within an area you could throw a Blackberry across. One day I want every medium-sized town in Britain to be like that – rather than being overstocked with mediocre pseudo-French up-themselves brasseries.

Also two hundred languages and as many religions. I want my country to be diverse – who says the answers to our problems will come from European philosophy. Maybe the Latinate languages don’t have a word for everything we need.

We can’t offer much to the first-generation of immigrants – they’ll probably have to do some really crummy jobs, the welfare state is likely not to support them, and there will be some unpleasant people who don’t want them around. But even this will be paradise for some, with the extra incentive that their grandchildren will likely be hospital consultants and IT managers if the Indians are anything to go by.

We also need them to join the army and the police – if Islamic terrorism is ever to be beaten it is likely to be beaten with the assistance of Islamic men and women of principle.

I’m not saying we allow everyone in – but let’s set the bar way down low so that all but the dregs can clamber over.

Am I worried about being put out of a job by an immigrant ? Worried about my daughter marrying one ?

Not in the least – I’m not much of a man if I needed my government to handicap my “competitors”. Also I’d be somewhat inadequate if I had a preconception of what kind of man my daughter is likely to fall in love with.

Immigration is required to keep our country moving along. Can you imagine what this country would be like without the Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, Asian and other immigration of the last century ?

Scary thought.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Watching the final of The Apprentice reinforced my view that I wouldn't work for Alan Sugar, for any money.

I don't respect him, I don't respect his products, I don't respect his behaviour. I even think he chose the wrong winner of the contest(again).

Simon Ambrose won, despite absolutely alienating every member of his team. Morale dropped so low that he ended up bribing them all with the prospect of a trip to Barcelona. Is that really the only way he knows how to motivate people ?

I've worked with some great managers and they never once attempted to buy my commitment - they expected it, they told me what needed doing and they expected it to be done.

Alan Sugar's wealth derives mostly from property speculation rather than anything people-based. He had some success in the computer industry a generation ago, but everything else in last quarter century has gone the way of the Amstrad E-3 e-m@iler i.e out of production and available on Ebay for pennies.

It was rather pathetic to see these contestants beg for the privilege of making a rich man yet more money. Personally, if I had skills, I would rather make my own money. Or work for someone I respected, someone from whom I could learn, someone who would add value to what I had to offer.

In this respect, Alan Sugar is a lightweight, and he wouldn't even make it to interview at Stan Industries Inc. And Simon Ambrose wouldn't get much further.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Niggards With Attitude

nig·gard /ˈnɪgərd/
–noun 1. an excessively parsimonious, miserly, or stingy person.
–adjective 2. niggardly; miserly; stingy.

[Origin: 1325–75; ME nyggard, equiv. to nig niggard (<>
As part of the coverage of the use of the "N-word" on Big Brother, I've stumbled across a marvellous piece of Political Correctness.

It seems the word "niggardly" can get you into a ton of trouble, even though it has absolutely no racial meaning , detrimental or otherwise.

Now I have long ago decided that I will use other words for "happy" if "gay" is going to cause offence. I have plenty of ways of describing the colour brown without resorting to one beginning with N. I have no need for "faggots" while lighting a fire. I will gladly forego metaphors involving Woodpiles.

But I will not, never ever give up using a word just because the first four letters are offensive. Otherwise I'm going to have to give up Shittake mushrooms and playing Craps.

Surely we can agree that there are words and contexts that are offensive. The Big Brother incident was one of those. But the case is lessened when there is a witch-hunt mentality, where the innocent can be punished with the guilty.

I'm reminded of the paediatrician who had trouble with the same sort of people who only have the brain cells to take in the first four letters of a word. They inevitably thought she was a paedophile.

A big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff

I mentioned before my sky-high expectations for the episode of Doctor Who to be written by Steven Moffat.

As it turned out Blink did not in any way disappoint. A beginning that gripped you, a middle that explored a number of mind-bending ideas and an ending that was as as unexpected as it was completely satisfying.

Science Fiction at its absolute best - funny and clever, non-linear and stylish. Scariest episode I can remember - I have bruises on my arm where Stanetta was holding on.

Friday, June 08, 2007

So-So Day-Glo Logo is a No-No

The 2012 Olympics Logo is generating some heat, but very little light.

People are actually signing petitions to stop this thing - really, are there no issues more deserving of a grass-roots movement at the moment ? Anyone ?

Unjust wars (pick one at random ... ooo, how about Iraq) ? Crooked government ? Global Warming ? Saudi bribes ? House Prices ? Fuel Prices ? Unemployment ? Destruction of Green-Belt ? The Middle East ? English Cricket ? Genetic Engineering ? Police Stop & Search ? African Famine and War ? Zimbabwe ? The NHS ? Grammar Schools ? Collapsed Pensions Schemes ? Abortion ? Press Freedom ? Fathers' Rights ? Women's rights ? Rampaging Supermarkets ? Globalisation ? Elder Abuse ? Child Abuse ? Drinking Laws ? Smoking Laws ? Mother-in-Laws ?

It's a logo - it's fine, maybe it'll grow on us, and everyone will forget it the minute the last London 2012 souvenir t-shirt fades in the wash.

So, could anyone engaged in this ridiculous campaign please desist, take a breath, and do something useful with their indignation.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You are only seven men

One of my favorite musicians is Nick Harper, son of Roy. I once broadcasted a live gig over my cell-phone to Da Missus in Illinois because she adores him. Afterwards he chatted with my step-daughter on the phone and then wrote the sweetest note to her on an autographed CD cover -- it went along the lines of "don't ever change".

The song that features the line "you are only seven men" is now inaccurate because at some point, while I was probably watching CSI, it became eight. As in the G8. The lines go "you are only seven men, we are nations."

I don't advocate any kind of violence but I can understand the poor uprising. Actually, not just the poor, but those with a conscience of any kind. From what I have seen of the meeting of the G8 in Germany, it's a shed-load of political show-boating.

Greenhouse this and nuclear that. Tony Blair with the "End world poverty" banner quite frankly made me puke.

I say "get over yourselves" and start thinking about what you can actually do rather than sit eating banquets discussing it for the benefit of your own political (and financial) gain.

The last summit, there was an almighty momentum to relieve poverty. Commitments were made by various countries to contribute millions of greenbacks to the cause. How much has been fulfilled? I'll let you guess.

It is disgraceful that 8 PMs, Presidents, Finance Ministers or whatever you want call them can be so disingenuous. If you're set an objective at work and commit to it, you do your damndest to hit that, and people expect you to. Why does this not apply to the G8?

You are only seven men. We are nations.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Brand, Not Bland

"Russell Brand's Brit jokes escape censure". I bet he's absolutely livid - getting rapped by Ofcom would've been the best news he's had since West Ham cheated (in all senses of the word) their fate.

ITV described the Brit Awards as being "edgy". Now THAT'S funny. The Brits are as edgy as Eurovision - witness the edgy acts that won in 2006 (James Blunt x 2, Coldplay x2, Jack Johnson...).

Russell Brand's material was good given the occasion and he delivered it with some style, despite obviously holding back. I wouldn't have done the friendly-fire gag, but I'm glad he did.

Holding back ? Well, yes. The man knows how to tailor his material to his audience. He's learnt a lot since he was sacked for going to work on September 12th 2001 dressed as Osama bin Laden.

Who are these 260 people who tuned in and were shocked that he was shocking ?

I'm hoping this event will encourage comedians to err on the side of riskiness in future. Comedians (and public speakers in general) should not be judged by bureaucrats. It could be sinister and it definitely spoils my fun.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Big Blue

There was an incredible Obituary in the Guardian this week on Loic Leferme, the recently deceased freediver.

To freedive, you wear no breathing equipment. You take a VERY deep breath and ride down on a "sled" to a depth of over 170 metres. This takes just over two breathless minutes, so you are in no shape for sightseeing. You activate an air balloon that drags you the heck to the surface. "The Bends" is not an issue as you are not submerged long enough, so maximum speed is what you are looking for.

Most mere mortals battle Gravity; freedivers battle Boyle's Law. This states that at constant temperature, the volume of a gas decreases in proportion to pressure. Double the pressure of the air in your lungs, halve the volume of your lungs.

Imagine breathing out until you physically can't breathe out any more. Now measure the size of your lungs. This is the Residual Volume and as recently as 30 years ago it was assumed that no-one could survive a dive beyond the point that their lungs were crushed to Residual Volume.

They reckoned without a wonderful mammalian survival technique known as Bradycardia.

Literally it means low (brady) heart beat (cardia). As soon as the brain detects that certain reflexes are immersed in water, it slows the heart rate. As the heart is made of muscular tissue, this reduction in heart rate in turn results in a reduction in the amount of oxygen required by the body, which means that you can go deeper than Boyle's Law would seem to suggest.

Additionally there is a "blood shift" mechanism where blood starts to "shift" from other parts of the bodies and begins to flood the lungs to equalize the outside water pressure.

If this isn't a clue that humans have evolved from something that was comfortable in a hundred metres of water, I don't know what is. There is no reason for an Intelligent Designer to build this feature for a land-based biped.

At 170 metres, your lungs are compressed to the size of an orange and your heart-rate slows to 20 beats per minute. Your lungs are filling with blood, your sinuses full of water and you are being crushed from all sides. Normal atmospheric pressure is 1 bar, car tyres have 2 bars of pressure in them - at 170 metres you have more then 18 bars pressure on your body.

I've experienced Bronchopneumonia and this sounds to have the same kind of entertainment value. I can honestly say that I have never had an inclination to push myself to any kind of physical limit. I'm delighted that there are others in the world who are less sane and less boring by far, otherwise we'd never learn anything about where the limits actually are - not just where science thinks they are.