Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dead English Poet

Cryptic crosswords are random indexes to the world of ideas.

Today's Guardian crossword showed me that I could not even pronounce PHTHALEIN, never mind guess at what it might be.

It also pointed me to a little-known poet - James Elroy Flecker who died young in 1915.

Thanks to Project Gutenberg, you don't even need to spend money to enjoy his work - just click here. Or if that's even too strenuous for you, just let your eyes follow down the page a few lines.

As for "PHTHALEIN" - it's pronounced just the way it's spelled ...


I who am dead a thousand years,
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above?

How shall we conquer? Like a wind
That falls at eve our fancies blow,
And old Moeonides the blind
Said it three thousand years ago.

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

That's So Not The Way to Do It

Imagine if just after Teletubbies, the BBC were to show a film about a deformed, child-murdering, wife-beating psychopath who commits appalling acts of violence and cruelty upon his wife, his baby and a policeman and escapes scot-free.

I'm not usually on the same wavelength as the "PC Brigade", but send me the membership forms if they are against Punch and Judy shows.

I went to Llandudno with Mrs. Stan. It's a nice enough place, but there was nowhere we could escape the ear-splitting amplified satanic noise of the sad old Punch and Judy guy. Call me odd, but the sound of spousal abuse and child cruelty isn't my idea of the perfect accompaniment to a seaside walk.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My First Cryptic Crossword

I'm laid up with a horrible wet cold/flu thingy so I have been desperately looking around for some amusement. Today's Guardian crossword was a push-over, no fun at all, although it did inspire me to write one of my own.

Do let me know what you think - it was fun being the setter of traps for once.

6 What a lady in uniform could do to a man in bed to entertain (5)
7 Where you find traditional manners. Not at all the place that Dvorak wrote about ? (3 5)
10 Metal rotter refusing to speak when I intervene (7)
11 Amount charged by record company in the Middle East ? (7)
12 Mount caused severe strain. Well, partially. (7)
13 Rank 1 out of 14 on the Via Doloroso (7)
14 Nation's diet in a mess - the end of the road ? (11)
19 Sounds like judge has given suspended sentence to a horse (7)
21 Information hidden between ancient city and county borders requiring speedy action (7)
23 Porn star loses time round leather pouch (7)
25 Tested only half the fielders checked fit (5 2)
26 A nobody. Cleaned out. We take her in. No preference as to 14. (8)
27 Northern chav dropped around for girl (5)

1 Fan of Garcia is a dullard (8)
2 Dress beside the car ? (6)
3 Arrangement of information suggests how you can use raffia (10)
4 Advantage found on skates and in a Cockney's garden (4)
5 White chalk alight has basic properties (6)
6 Slip made by a conductor or a traffic warden (6)
8 Japanese folds backwards statement to the effect that they are something that can swapped for cash at a post office (7)
9 Lady begins jumping each night near York (5)
13 Oscars disturb taut testes (10)
15 Raw pros get the bird (7)
16 Juvenile creates an untold mess (8)
17 Trash Sam's back to a certain extent. A well-executed hit. (5)
18 An Olympic venue where Sally, Dawn and Emmy get the stuffing knocked out. (6)
20 Rangers invest borrowed money in Kent (6)
22 Old opposition wins first title (6)
24 Drop the foreign holiday ? (4)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stan(d) In

I've been a big fan of the cryptic crossword blog, Fifteen Squared for some time. Their solvers tend to be able to complete Britain's hardest daily crossword in the time it takes them to tube between Leicester Square and Covent Garden.

Due to the usual holiday absenteeism, their usual big brains are away sunning themselves - no doubt doing the cryptic crosswords in El Pais for fun.

Which is why I'm their solver-du-jour today.

My first introduction to cryptic crosswords was at St. Andrews University. A bunch of us in the Maths/Physics building would hack away at the Independent crossword at lunchtime with more enthusiasm than talent while our "bridies" congealed in our stomachs.

Looking back, the ones who had ability at crosswords ended up having nothing to do with Maths or Physics. I guess you have to have a monomaniacal brain to succeed in Maths, and cryptic crossword ability is a sign of multi-manias.

Yes, John Feetenby, I'm talking about you - what're you up to these days ? Will bet good money you haven't used calculus these last twenty years.

Anyway, maybe this will spur me to improve my skills - maybe I'll even get round to compiling a crossword. I'm not sure though - you need to be something a poet to be a compiler, and I find prose hard enough.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Subprime For Dummies

Imagine I have £200,000 and I wanted to set myself as a lender to people who can't get credit elsewhere.

A friend of a friend wants to buy a house - at the absolute outside they can afford to spend £180,000.

Another friend of mine is an estate agent has a house on his books that is worth £160,000. He knows a crooked mortgage valuer who is willing to value it at £200,000.

The estate agent convinces my friend to buy the house at £200,000 - I convince the buyer to tell some little fibs about his income to justify my lending him £200,000 over 10 years.

The situation to date therefore is as follows :-

Me : Pockets a nice fee for setting up the loan. I know the borrower is likely to struggle with the repayments and may need to remortgage later - meaning another nice fat fee in the future.

Estate Agent : Shifted a house and received a bigger commission on the inflated price

Valuer : Took a kick-back from the estate agent

Buyer : Owes £200,000 on a house currently worth £160,000. This is not a big deal as long as prices keep rising.

Now things get complex.

The borrower will pay a total of £325,000 over the 10 years of the mortage. To put a value on this loan there's a complex formula involving Net Present Value, Probability of Defaulting on the loan etc. etc. I could care less about this, because I'm a man in a hurry. I sell the loan to TotallyMadeUp Bank for £250,000.

TotallyMadeUpBank then package my loan in with a bunch of others, and sells them on in the form of a bond to ToutaFaitExceptionelle MegaBank and similar large banks at a healthy profit.

Situation now is :-

Me : Made a quick £50k profit. I now have £250k to invest, and go looking for new needy people. As time goes on, I need to work harder and harder to find new takers for my services, contemplating worse and worse credit risks and cutting corners more often than not.

TotallyMadeUp Bank : Made a quick profit, just by slicing and dicing the debt and selling it on. Decides to create a whole Cayman Islands-based subsidiary to deal with this profitable business.

ToutaFaitExceptionelle MegaBank : Holds a bond that looks cheap compared to government and commercial debt. In fact, some of these bonds are rated as "AAA" by the debt rating agencies - as safe as General Electric or the US Government.

Now imagine the housing market tanks and so does the job market. My borrower loses his job, and is unable to pay the mortgage. The house is now valued at £140,000. The borrower has no option but to abandon the house. A number of other mortgagees become ex-home owners at the same time.

Suddenly :-

Me - I owe TotallyMadeUp Bank a ton of money - I have to sell the abandoned houses in a huge hurry, further depressing the market. I go bust.

TotallyMadeUp Bank - The Cayman Islands subsidiary goes bust as a result of the bankrupcies of smaller lenders like myself.

ToutaFaitExceptionelle MegaBank - The bonds they own are next to worthless. Fortunately they are "too big to fail", so the government (tax-payers) bail them out.

So, let's look at the final position :-

Borrower - homeless, deep in debt, possibly personally bankrupt.

Me - Bankrupt

TotallyMadeUp Bank - Out of pocket

ToutaFaitExceptionelle MegaBank - Some bad publicity, but otherwise unharmed

Taxpayers - Out of Pocket

So -who's to blame and how do we stop it happening again?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


From the department of dumb ideas that will probably do very well, comes the idea of Flexpetz.

The idea is that should you need canine company, you can pick up a hound of your choice complete with food, drinking bowls and a leash. Keep the mutt, throw some frisbees, run on the beach and then hand it back.

The market they are aiming at is people who have :-

(a) restrictive pet ownership rules where they live

(b) regular business travel involving days away from home

(c) a busy family schedule
Personally I would tell such people :-

(a) You chose the lifestyle - live with it

(b) You chose the lifestyle - live with it


(c) You chose the lifestyle - live with it
The cliche is "having your cake and eating it".

I'm probably the wrong person to comment, as I am allergic to pet hair and find the idea of keeping animals as pets about as sane as the idea of keeping people as pets.

That said, the idea isn't damaging anyone and I doubt it's anything but good news for the dogs in the pet library. It does seem to say something about the priorities we have.

If you need me, I'll be picking up a Staffordshire Bull Terrier for the day so I can scare the heck out of next-door's cats.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tesla Stan

I went for an MRI scan on Friday. I had to put on an unflattering backless gown, and sat on a baggage belt that trundled a few inches and stopped, leaving me stuck in the belly of a machine.

I am slightly claustrophobic, so had to do some eye closing and deep breathing. A fair bit of sweating too. Then when the machine started making loud repetitive sounds. I figured this must be exactly what a Daft Punk gig must be like.

I was pretty disappointed by how little of the machine you can see - it took me a while even to spot that it was open at the head-side as well as the leg-side. Now I've got a two week wait for the scan to get to my GP so we can work out which bit of my spine has exploded.

To anyone who's at all worried by the idea - I really wouldn't be. If your claustrophobia is severe, they can sedate you. Otherwise you get a reassuring panic button.

There were no ill effects afterwards - fridge magnets did NOT stick to me, and I probably get more electromagnetic radiation from my home wi-fi and the IT data centres I visit.

Although, I suspect the bout of flatulence I experienced after eating chilli chicken that night was down to the effect of the magnetic field. Anyone else similarly affected, let me know and we'll sue.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Series, Interrupted

So what's wrong with "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" ?

It's intelligent, funny, well-acted and outstandingly well-written. It's got Matt Perry even.

Above all, Aaron Sorkin is the best writer to come out of America since Mark Twain - and from the episodes I've seen so far, the quality is well up to the high standards of "The West Wing" and "A Few Good Men".

So why does this series get canned with its ratings in a tail-spin while much lighter fare marches on, cluttering up the DVD Box Sets section at Blockbuster ?

For example, Boston Legal, to which Mrs Stan and I are quite attached. It's an inoffensive piece of fluff that amuses. It is well-enough written and well acted by an eclectic cast. James Spader is true talent, William Shatner pops up at the end to drink brandy and steal the show. A wonderfully diverse range of guest stars drift in and out. Where else could you see Michael J Fox, Adam Arkin and Tom Selleck in one place ?

To answer my own question, I think Studio 60 fails because it fails to impose a structure and its just so darned difficult to follow. It's like "Blank Verse". Repays the effort, but who has that kind of time these days ? Not enough people to pay the bills apparently.

By contrast, Boston Legal is a Limerick. There's a regular pulse, a pleasing flow and a punch-line at the end. Maybe something like this :-

"The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

I feel cheated that Studio 60 only got one season. But on the bright side, Sorkin has to go do something different. I hope he gets funding now that he's had a "flop". Can't help thinking the guy belongs in Britain. Wish I could start a rumour about him doing a project with the BBC, but that's just wishful thinking on my part.

Anyone at the BBC reads this - give the man a call.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Get Out of the Way if you can't Lend a Hand

Still can't get over the Catholic Church's policy in Darfur. As reported previously their bone-headedness has inspired me to join Amnesty and help fund their work. I do hope I'm not the only one to be so inspired.

Maybe I should kick up a fuss that some of the groups helping raped, battered children in Darfur are not carbon-neutral ?! Or not equal-opportunity employers ?

Sometimes you just need to get the job done.

And anyway, the Catholic Church has actually through history been unafraid to work with people who do not share their ideals to get the job done.

For example: Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon.

They were also particularly "versatile" in Yugoslavia.

I wish they could harness that kind of can-do attitude to help (or at least fail to undermine) the work done by Amnesty in Darfur.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

11 men in search of a clue

I left the Bolton vs Newcastle game at half-time, with Bolton 3-0 down and half the players showing no discernable pulse. It was a nice sunny day, Mrs Stan and Stanetta were shopping nearby. I figured that the team couldn't be bothered to work up a sweat, then I wasn't going to waste my time watching them flounder.

I've left ten minutes early before now - but I've never written off a team at half-time. And I used to follow Partick Thistle - who are a by-word for frustrating unreliability.

I want my money back.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sudan Death

I've a largish pile of stuff I've been meaning to get round to. In hot weather, my motivation slumbers and only the essentials get grudgingly done, and everything else goes into the pile.

Thanks to the Catholic Church's despicable posturing, the urgent Amnesty Darfur Appeal leaflet has now been rescued from this limbo.

Regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you) will know of my attachment to the Darfur situation. I know Iraq is a bigger humanitarian disaster, but Darfur is a no-brainer - there are bad guys and victims and we need to help the victims while going after the bad guys.

The Catholic Church (the ultimate "no-brainer" if ever I saw one), however, say that the victims need to be further victimised by having their right to abortion removed, even in cases of sexual violence or where the life of the mother or her health is very seriously threatened.

As a man, I find it difficult to imagine just how shattering a rape is for a woman, even in a developed country with hospitals, enough food, social services and a protecting police force. The concept of being a undernourished, traumatised, powerless, pregnant victim of a rape in a famine-hit kill-zone must be yet a stage further beyond comprehension.

What right do well-fed old white men have to restrict the kinds of people qualified to help the world's most pained people ? And this is a well-fed old white man saying it.

Amnesty suggest a number of ways that we can help. None of them seem controversial or unscriptural to me. But then I'm not a sanctimonious woman-hating hypocrite who would let my prejudices get in the way of doing the right thing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

See You In Court

I went to a Magistrates Court today, and my mind is still somewhat reeling. It seems I've been living really quite a sheltered life.

The theory is that I am going to apply to become a Magistrate.

I've been on the look-out for some time for something voluntary and worthy that will provide a bit of a relief from doing-stuff-to-pay-the-mortgage. The thing is, I'm egotistical enough to think that doing a shift on the till at Oxfam would be a waste of my talents - I am looking for something that is a challenge, useful and damn-all to do with IT.

Before applying, they suggest you actually attend a court session.

Further bulletins when my head settles down a bit. The thing about being a goodie-goodie middle-class professional is that you're not used to seeing petty thieves, drug addicts, men in handcuffs, people with over 100 previous convictions, wife-beaters, people who claim to have "found" knives before a fight, drunk-drivers, people who don't have any addresses to be bailed to etc. etc.

Sudden exposure to the hidden horrors in our society can cause dizzyness and nausea. But I'll get over it, and I'm doubly convinced now that I want to be a part of this yucky thing we call "Justice".

If I can't be a magistrate there's always scope to go around righting wrongs with my underpants on over my trousers. Is it a Bird ? Is it Plane ? No, it's Stan Man !