Friday, December 10, 2010

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance

The Stan household have spent the last week stomping around the house, periodically climbing onto soap boxes and railing at each other against the despicable coalition's raid on the higher education budget. Join the demonstrators at the barricades? Not a chance - it's cold out there and I'm allergic to being beaten about the face and neck by police batons.

Here's an idea for some alternative cuts that can be made :-

* Trident (£16.8m per missile)
* Royal Family (£38.2m per year)
* Magistrates' Biscuits (£198.6m per year - excluding bourbons)

There are much saner ways of saving £200m than castrating the higher education budget. The diverse problems we are going to face over the next few decades are going to need a diverse bunch of educated people to solve them.  Not just one or two rich kids.

I really hope that I don't have to talk to any politicians in the next month or so - I'm just so angry with them all right now. I'm afraid that one of the LiConDem politicians is going to show up on my doorstep selling a message of progressive big society and I'm going to attempt to beat them to death with their own smug-gittiness.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A house carrying a ukulele

I'm indebted to the Guardian for tipping me off about Israel Kamakawiwoʻole - who for obvious reasons will be referred to as "Iz" in the rest of this piece.

It's an amazing story - told best here at the Honolulu Advertiser - of a recording engineering in Honolulu being called at 02:30 by a polite traditional Hawaiian musician with a burning desire to do some recording that night.

Iz turns up with his ukulele - the recording engineer gets him a chair strong enough to support his massive frame - and in an half a hour he has laid down a set of songs, including a version of "Over the Rainbow" that will make you wonder whether Judy Garland really knew what she was doing.

That's "Over the Rainbow" ! Voted song of the 20th century by everyone who matters - it's the defining soundtrack for infinitely painful longing to be in a better place you can almost taste at a time of suffering. I'm sure at any given moment since 1939,  someone somewhere on Earth was singing that song. And yet this giant decided that he had something new to add that couldn't wait for morning.

It's a far from polished performance, with liberties taken with the tune and pronunciation, but what extraordinary intensity! Hear it here  - it could be the highlight of your week.

Unfortunately Iz died from weight-related respiratory problems at a tragically young age so we're robbed of getting to know him better. I'm convinced that it's impossible to sing like that and not be a totally wonderful person. It would be a twisted world if you could fake that degree of humanity.

Oh, and it's been number one in Germany since October - wouldn't it be a better Christmas Number One here in Britain instead of the usual plastic R'n'B X-Factor android? Hint, hint.

Monday, December 06, 2010


"I'm a real nightmare with administration - I get into SUCH a mess (nervous giggle)"

The defendant was trying to explain why she hadn't responded to a request to identify who was driving her car when it was photographed jumping a red light.

The chairman was being infinitely patient - but he was being tested by her habit of cutting him off before he had managed half a sentence. She was obviously nervous in court, but this was obviously pretty typical behaviour for her.

"I got two of these through in the same week and I responded to the speeding one so I thought they would take the same details for the red light one"

"But you got a reminder - didn't you realise something ... ?"

"No - I don't really read it properly - I know I should have -  like I say, I'm a NIGHTMARE (really nervous giggle)"

"I'm afraid 'being a nightmare' isn't an adequate defence. Your problem now is that the 6 points we have to impose for this offence will take you to 12 ..."

"No - I've only got 3 points so far ... haven't I ?"

"I regret that DVLA records show you have 6 point so far - 3 for defective tyres and 3 for speeding."

"Oh - I just thought there was a fine and not any points - I think .... I didn't really ..."

(completing the sentence in my head) ... didn't really read the fines notices properly because I'm a nightmare

"I'm afraid that we will have to arrange another session to discuss the ban - it is possible that you can claim 'Exceptional Hardship' - I'm assuming you need your car for work ?"

"Oh yes, I'm a nurse"

Yeek ! She doesn't read forms and she's rotten at administration and she gives powerful drugs to sick people.

Now, that's what I call a nightmare.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Father and Son

The man in the dock did not look capable of all the assaults he had admitted to. He was short and skinny and his hair was greying and receding. He was quite a successful tradesman and lived in one of the better parts of one of the bigger towns in my patch.

But there hadn't been a mistake. Here was a man whose default reaction to stress or perceived slight seems to be to beat someone up. In the case of his wife his assaults included considerable mental cruelty in addition to actual violence. He also terrorised the children by telling them that he was "going to kill grandpa" or "throw mummy through the window". Reading between the lines of the CAVA reports, his abuse of the children was not only mental, but this wasn't part of the charge against him.

We declined jurisdiction and passed the case up the Crown Court where a more suitable sentence could be handed down. He had been behaving himself on highly conditional bail so far, so we were inclined to grant it again.

Not surprisingly the conditions on his bail included non-contact with his wife and the children.  The defence lawyer, however, made an attempt to convince us, now that he had pleaded guilty and that they were no longer witnesses, to allow him to see his kids. One of his little boys had given evidence against him on video link and was reportedly feeling guilt because his evidence was putting daddy in prison.

Please, Your Worships, would you please let a father see his seven year old son so that he can reassure the boy that he did the right thing and that daddy still loves him? Heartbreaking stuff.

There was no confirmation from the mother that she was fine with this, so we really couldn't take the accused's word on the situation - for all we knew he would use this order from the court as yet another weapon against his wife. And could we trust that his intentions to the son were as honourable and pure as his lawyer suggested ?

So, no - we didn't allow this. There's always a tension between the criminal's human rights and protection of their victims, but in this case I think we did good. Some days in court you are faced with the most hopeless situations where no decision you make will make things better. You just need to do what feels like the right thing and hope that it turns out to have the least bad result.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Canard Défoncé

I love the story of  the French farmer who, when nicked for posession of 5kg of wacky-backy, basically claimed it was for personal use - just him and his ducks. Excellent for worming them he says. Probably means they don't have problems with cataracts as well. You would hope they don't get the symptoms of bad short-term memory loss and paranoia - although I would pay good money to see an absent-minded paranoid duck.

Haven't seen a lot of marijuana possession charges in court recently - I suspect the police are taking care of this particular business, rather than it having gone out of fashion.

It all takes me back to my interview to become a magistrate - I was asked to rank the following offences in order of seriousness and give my reasoning :-

(a) assault police officer (one punch in the face while being arrested)
(b) domestic violence (some bruising)
(c) driving without tax and insurance
(d) shoplifting (frozen chicken)
(e) driving recklessly near a school
(f) student possessing a single cannabis joint

Try it yourself and then try answering the question "So you chose (x) as the least serious - why don't you think it's a serious matter ?"

I'll not tell you my ordering, but I did put (d) last. I can understand why someone would put (f) last. But to me, someone who support the illegal drugs industry is much more dangerous than someone desperate enough to steal a frozen chicken.

And guess which category of villain most often ends up getting a custodial sentence ?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stan is in London

No, I do not want your free newspaper.

Thank you for sharing your infantile music and body odour with me.

I'm not invisible - I'm a human, very much like yourself. So step off my *%&£ing foot.

How much ?!!

Does anyone here speak English ?
Again, no, I do not want your free newspaper.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There are no foolish questions, only foolish silence

I love the many and varied ways that search engines bring people to my patch. During the last few weeks I've seen the following on my web log :-
  • "marks and spencer gay"
  • "stan wors"  
  • "stanbang"
  • "miles davis wife beater"
  • "difford & tilbrook simple words"
  • "douglas adams free brest radio"
  • "radio. animation"
  • "england 500 pounds"
  • "parallel parking fire engine"
If you're the person looking for "radio.animation", please get in touch - there are issues we should discuss.

The person looking for "stanbang" will be very, very disappointed.

Missile Defence

I've heard about Rory Delap's throw-ins for some time, but on Saturday I got to see a few close up, and they were amazing.

I always wondered why they caused so much havoc - Ok, so he does long throws?! Big deal - I've seen some of the Bolton lads do that.

No, no, no - it's not that Delap's throws are long - it's more that the ball fizzes flat and fast, almost directly at the goal like a Smart Bomb. The ball starts at an altitude of seven feet and it stays there for about 40 yards just begging for a deflection or a knockdown. The pace is a real shock - as fast as a sweetly struck corner.

The really clever bit is that you can't be offside from a throw-in, so Stoke City can pack the penalty area with all their big lads (and they are all big lads), so absolute mayhem is absolutely guaranteed.

Some managers say that these throws should not be allowed, usually after they have been on the receiving end.  I don't see how you could phrase a rule to stop it without going to the extreme suggested by Arsene Wenger - replace all "throws ins" with "kick ins".

Nope, Delap's throws are as much a part of the beautiful game as Ronaldo's dribbling, Drogba's marksmanship and Rooney's excuses. Delap is a unique athlete and it was a joy to watch him work. An even bigger joy though was that Bolton won - with the deciding goal coming from a Bolton long-throw ...  

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Prejudice is ...

Prejudice is natural and unavoidable, or so we were told at the Magistrate training. There is absolutely no way that a Magistrate can be without prejudice - the trick then is to make sure that prejudice stays in your head and you do not ever act upon it. Discrimination is the bad thing and this happens when an imperfect, human, normally-prejudiced Magistrate starts treating people differently on account of the very little information they know about them and their crime.

It's not just race, sex and religion they're talking about. I admit to an internal sigh whenever I see that the defendent has the  postcode of our biggest council estate. I've seen some real wrong 'uns from round there and it's a natural instinct to jump to conclusions. And because I'm aware that this is my prejudice talking, I can make a special effort to be awake to the possibility that I'm not treating this person fairly.

On the flipside of this I'm favourably prejudiced towards soldiers and ex-soldiers. Partly it's because of my brother, Sgt Major Stan, but mostly it's down to them risking their lives and health to do an important job that I'm so grateful someone is doing. Military service shouldn't be a part of the decision-making when there's a choice between giving someone a break and not giving them a break, and I do try to keep it that way.

When it comes to the crime, domestic violence is one where it's easy to take an instant dislike to the Accused. However, you need to keep in mind the person is innocent until proven guilty and that situations are never as straightforward as your first emotional response to the phrase "Domestic Violence" might suggest. After two years in the job I'm getting much better at this ... but ...

The other day I had to deal with a child pornographer. He wasn't accused of being just some casual surfer of the material, he had allegedly abused the children himself. The pictures were of varying levels of seriousness but went right up to Level 5, which is as bad as it gets.

There was a persistent screaming in my head the whole time he was in the dock. The very fact that he was breathing was abhorent to me. I could feel the damage he had done and deep down in my modern, liberal mind there was pure unnuanced hatred for this ordinary-looking man. No dirty raincoats or horns and forked tails and a whiff of sulphur, by the way.

Fortunately, all we had to do was to hear his bail application before committing him to the Crown Court, where a judge will have to battle with his inner caveman to deal with him fairly and dispassionately.

I admit it now, I don't think I could manage that.

My male colleague was even more steamed up than I was when we retired. The female Chair was just relieved that we didn't have to look at the photos - on a previous case the Prosecution had insisted that the Magistrates see the photos involved and it had made her sick. Not nauseous - actually sick. And those were "only" Level 4 pictures.

Even now, writing this, I still feel ill-will towards him. I hope that the years he spends in prison for his crimes (if proven) will be punishing. But I can say this - in court, we three choked down our personal feelings and treated him just like any of the thousands of unconvicted people who pass through our courts every year. It's the way you would want it if you were ever wrongly accused of such a crime, right ?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

If, by Stella ...

If, by Stella, you mean the evil liquid that gives courage to burglars, fuels wife-beaters and encourages rotten drivers to give it the beans, then it is a canker on society and deserves to be consigned to the darkest pit of hell, from whence it certainly originated.

However, if by Stella you mean that perfect complement to a night of chilling-out for the weary Magistrate after a hard day in court,  that thirst-quenching fruit of the Belgian brewer's art, that golden chilled draught that calms the mind and relaxes the body, then I am wholeheartedly in favour.


I'm not the first person to hold several mutually contradictory opinions on alcohol. The classic source is the 1952 speech by Noah S "Soggy" Sweat Jr. , a young Mississippi lawmaker who held forth on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit alcoholic beverages. This is the so-called "If-By-Whiskey" agreeing-and-not-agreeing response:-
My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be.
You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

My last Magistrate session was an object lesson in the evils of alcohol. Businesswoman driving drunk, banned teenager fancied a trip down the pub, homeless alcoholic set fire to a bin that he didn't like much and a   habitual burglar decided to smash a window six days after doing eighteen months for several similar.

In all of the cases, the booze seemed to give them the illusion of superhuman powers and a cloak of invisiblity.

But it's no good blaming the alcohol. Ban it and they'd find some other way to get off their heads and all you would do is to upset the large number of responsible drinkers (including me).

Strikes me that there's a medical answer here somewhere, but that's not the business I'm in. We make our honest attempt to provide punishment, rehabilitation and protection of the public and just because we aren't perfect doesn't make it a bad system (i.e the "Nirvana Fallacy")

Anyone got any better ideas ?

(In the spirit of full disclosure, this blog posting was typed under the influence of one bottle of Stella.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

All Souls time again

The Guardian recently challenged some of the greatest minds of our age to answer the 2009 All Souls' General Paper. OK, the greatest minds they could get for the money and who happened not to be doing anything more useful at the time. If you can read Will Self's pretentious attempt at answering the question "Is there something inherently coarsening about sport?" without vomiting and yelling then you are a better person that I.

The All Souls paper is something I've blogged about before  - basically you get three hours to write three essays on subjects that deserve about a decade of intensive study each.

The question that grabbed my attention was "Does it matter whether there is life elsewhere in the universe?"

Here, in full, is my attempt :-

Does it matter ?? Does it flipping matter ??! Are you serious ? No, really - are you so thick and unimaginative and soulless that you would even ask this question ? Really ? Because if so, you should come over here and say that, but I should warn you that even though I am a pacifist, I really will have to slap you.

As you can tell from the above paragraph, it matters to me quite a bit. Here is one of the major philosophical questions and it's possible we can answer it once and for all. We're probably never going to see our souls under an electron microsope and we probably aren't going to get God's address and phone number. But it is possible that a faint stream of zeros and ones might one day reach our radio telescopes and prove absolutely that we are not alone in the universe.

Imagine - what Art will they have ? Fantastical inventions ? Philosophical Answers ? How about Religion ? In fact, you could work your way through the Dewey Decimal System and find that there would be not one area of human thought that would remain unaffected by contact with an alien intelligence.

And if that doesn't tempt you into caring, imagine this - one of these green dudes landing their saucer in Regents Park and walking/crawling/sliding down the ramp with a picnic basket full of the best things to eat from the Andromeda galaxy. Mmmm.

Of course, it's possible that they'd find humans quite tasty. And this is probably the most compelling reason of all to care about whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Complete Logical Disconnect

The Pope, he say :

 "Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live."
"As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny." 

Er ...

(a) Is he calling me and my atheists friends Nazis ?

(b) What exactly is "atheist extremism" ? People really not believing in God even harder than normal atheists?
(c) Wasn't Hitler a Catholic who believed in God and hated atheists ?
(d) Before working out he was a fruit-loop, the Cathoilic Church in Germany supported Hitler's party in their fight against atheist Communism and when he came to power, they signed a Concordant agreeing to not speak out politically as long as their rights were respected.
(e) Aren't most of our current problems caused by religious extremists and religious people being beastly to differently religious people?
(f) Does he really believe that Dawkins in a bigger threat than Bin Laden ?

Twenty Second Century Blues

I was in a pub chatting with some of my colleagues, all of whom know and consume a diverse bunch of music and plenty of it.

The question came up "What music from today will survive a hundred years?"

Drmmer Dave reckoned folk music, having already survived several centuries, was good for a few more. What else ?

Stanetta has a 73 year old song "They Can't Take That Away From Me" on her Spotify playlist. Not sure if the lesson here is that the Gershwins' songs or Sinatra's singing has lasting merit.  She also has the 45 year old "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone, so there's two songs already likely to outlive me.

Here's my guesses - if you're reading this in 2110, feel free to laugh if the only music from our age that you're still listening to is Rick Astley "Never Gonna Give You Up"and "The Macarena":-

(1) Religious music, whether gospel or that new-fangled Christian Rock. I can't abide it, but I suspect that they'll still be singing "Amazing Grace" in various styles right up to the heat-death of the Universe.

(2) Instrument-related Music - people buying guitars will always play "Stairway to Heaven" in the shop. Pianists will always play "The Entertainer". As long as these instruments survive, the copyright
on these pieces will be infringed for millenia.

(3) Karaoke Favourites- if you fancy yourself a singer, you will want to measure yourself against Ella/Nina/Frank/Tom (delete as applicable). In this category I nominate "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley. Although sad, creepy, overweight, middle-aged guys in open-necked shirts will definitely still insist on singing "Delilah".

(4) Roots - Rock music is just a creole of Blues, Jazz, Gospel with a bit of Folk and Country. Modern musicians of any age have phases where they check out the origins of their style of music. I have no doubt that 22nd century musicians will look back and find Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" and think "Oh. This Works. Why would we want to make it more complicated than this ?!"

(5) Dance music - the dances will change, but would anyone bet against "Dancing Queen" being played at weddings 100 years from now ?

And finally, whatever bands are playing in 2110, I'll bet the roadies play "So What" by Miles Davis while they're setting up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

London !

Welcome from the capital of "a third world country " where "new and aggressive atheism is rife" (copyright 2010 Cardinal Kasper - hope the gout gets better).

I've been enjoying London's theatre scene, where it's possible to attend the bonkers "Earthquakes in London", the sublime "War Horse" and the impenetrable "A Disappearing Number" in three nights and all  for the price of a cheap seat and a pie at Stamford Bridge. I also managed to fit in some data warehouse consultancy, but that's not really worth typing about.

I've been staying at the halls of residence of the London School of Economics to keep costs down - if you're not too proud to live like a student, this is an excellent way to live cheaply in London during the summer. Not nearly as much fun as Drummer Dave's narrow boat, but on bright side you get to rub shoulders with future billionaires and world-leaders. Seeing teenagers getting up early to eat fruit for breakfast is a bit of a shock though.

I nearly typed "Long Boat" instead of "Narrow Boat" - a Viking Long Boat on the Thames ... now there's an excellent idea.

I've really tried hard to hate London over the years. As a Northerner, it goes against the grain to find anything good about it.

But the Theatre ! The Thames ! The Boris Bikes ! 24 Hour Sushi !

Don't spread it around, but I'm starting to like it. Maybe one day I'll come to love it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not Just a Ball Game

The half-time show was from the World Freestyle Football champion, John Farnworth. This guy can do just about anything he wants with a football, keeping it up on his head while skipping with a rope was my favourite. Some good footage available on YouTube here.

If controlling the ball was all you needed for success in football, then this guy would have it made. However, the match that bracketed his performance was a demonstration that football is far more than a game of keepie-uppie.

Bolton started with a worrying lack of care and it wasn't a surprise when Birmingham scored. It was much more of a surprise when our goalie got sent off for dishing out what I imagine he thought was a well-disguised smack in the mouth.

Then Birmingham scored again and all seemed lost.


Bolton clawed their way back into it with guts and low cunning.

First, Kevin Davies bullied his way into the box and drew a foul for about the millionth time in his 250 league games for Bolton. 2-1.

Then something really surprising. Robbie Blake, who I thought was a washed-up makeweight, knocked in a blinding freekick for the equaliser. Fact : I'm officially the worst judge of footballing talent in the world. Check out my fantasy football team if you don't believe me.

Amazing fightback and it was a pleasure to hear the players applauded off the field. Shame about the treatment of the referee, who got most decisions right, but I wasn't about to point that out to the mob.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dubious Means

All of the fines that Magistrates can impose are calculated as a multiple of the miscreant's "relevant weekly income" - which is the figure they've scrawled on their means form.

You'd expect that these figures are checked ? No, they are not.

Spot checked - maybe one percent of them ? Nope.

We have to take the offender's word as to how much they earn, and without wanting to be rude, some of these people have been repeatedly proven to be unreliable in other matters, so it's entirely possible they would lie here.

As a result, the fines imposed I suspect are often grossly under-calculated, except in the cases where the offender has been helpful enough to tell the truth.

So, here's an opportunity to increase government revenue and remove a penalty for honesty. Spot-check the forms when Magistrates have suspicions that the income is understated and check a small percentage of the rest.

I'll give you an example:-

A part-time security guard, who also ran a business trading cars, was caught driving his girlfriend's car which he claimed to be taking for an extended test drive of over three days with a view to buying it. When stopped by police, he protested that his motor trader's insurance covered him to drive any car for any length of time as long as he was thinking of buying it. To cut a long-ish story short, we decided that this wasn't on and found him guilty of driving without insurance.

When he filled in his means form, he disclosed his income as a security guard, but nothing relating to his income from motor trading. His solicitor had told us that his motor trader's policy was costing him over £1,000 per month, so presumably he was earning at least as much to make it worthwhile.

We had no alternative but to fine him a multiple of the extremely low earnings he had disclosed, despite knowing damn fine that he had other sources of income.

I don't think that's right.

Vote Stan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bang the bell, Jack; I’m on the bus

Jimmy Reid, the Glasgow union leader, has died. 

I used to work on Clydeside - in fact at the same yard where he had. In his day they built ships for Cunard - in mine we finished off gas turbines and sold them to the Middle East.  Today ? Nothing happens there.

His idea of a "work-in" in 1971 to protest the withdrawal of government subsidy was pure genius. A strike would have been an uplifting act of vandalism that would have hastened the end of the yards by scaring business away. Instead, they stayed and without pay (and even "without bevvying") they completed the ships they were working on.

You've got to wonder whether this would have been a better strategy for the miners in 1984. Sure, the miners had a genuine grievance - unfortunately Arthur Scargill was no Jimmy Reid.

Take a look at the speech he made on the subject of "Alienation" as Rector of  Glasgow University the year following the work-in. Even flat on the page his words have impact. He was acclaimed as one of the best orators of his time, so I can imagine that in person he would have been yet more impressive.

Can't resist including my favourite bit of the speech at the bottom. It's an analysis of society that is as relevant and as poignant today as it ever was then.

At a time when we desperately need more Jimmy Reids, today we've found ourselves with one fewer.

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problems in Britain today.  People feel alienated by society.  

Today it is more widespread, more pervasive, than ever before.  Let me at the outset define what I mean by alienation.  It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. 

It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making.  The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel, with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop-outs, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics.

Society and prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially dehumanises some people, making them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings self-centred and grasping. 

The irony is they are often considered normal and well adjusted.  It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else.

Monday, August 09, 2010


I really, really wanted to like this film. A well-funded, original, science-fiction script - these don't come up that often, so what's not to like?

Well, as it turns out, there's quite a lot not to like.

For a start, Leonardo DiCaprio cannot act. Well, OK he can, in the same way that Roger Moore "acted" in the Bond films. And the sad thing is that he's actually the best drawn character in the film. The others don't even count as one-dimensional. Nothing against the actors - they just didn't get a thing to work with.

And then there's the plot. The thing about science fiction is that everything is possible. Everything. The very best science fiction is tautly written, with detailed internal consistency. It creates a world unlike this world, but one where, over time, you develop an understanding of the way it works. Read Larry Niven's "Ringworld" for the best example I can think of.

"Inception" is the opposite of this - there's no development - just every once in a while a new plot device falls from nowhere. It wouldn't have been a surprise if the next time the plot ran into trouble, the writer would have some breakdancing antelopes surf in on a bed of luncheon meat and eat the problem. In science fiction you don't have to use the laws of the real world, but you damn sure need to have some kind of rules.

Without too much in the way of Spoilers, the bit that really annoyed me was that Edith Piaf played in a dreamer's ear was perfectly audible even though the dreamer who was living a much slower pace than reality. Surely the music would be slowed to the point of inaudibility ?

And the final third of the film was like being tied up in zero gravity and pushed slowly along a hotel corridor. Really slow and totally pointless.

Don't get me wrong, it's a perfect accompaniment to popcorn on a day off - it just felt like an opportunity lost to explore the weirdness of dreams.

For example, I was once chased though a bowl of muesli by a wooden mosquito - someone ought to make a movie about that. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Bad Character" is not a town in Austria

Johnny Boy (not his real name) is in trouble - he is charged with assaulting Jimmy Victim, an act witnessed by an unconnected third party - Jacqui Witness. Sounds like a fair cop ... but ...

Does it sound like an even easier decision if you know that Johnny Boy has a dozen previous convictions for violence ? He's done it before ... surely he's more likely than a regular Joe to do it again, right ?

How about if Jimmy Victim has his own previous record that marks him out as a small-time gangster ? Hmmm ... could be Johnny Boy was acting in self-defence and isn't it now possible that Don Jimmy is not telling the truth, the whole truth etc?

How about if Jacqui Witness has numerous alcohol-related convictions and until she was caught recently, she subsidised her income with benefits fraud? Not a reliable witness maybe.

Now put all three pieces of information together - basically a villain hit a villain and we should believe it because an alcoholic convicted fraudstress told us so.

This is where Bad Character applications come in. Before the main hearing, a bench of Magistrates can decide which of these pieces of information about the chequered history of the parties involved can be used in court.

In this particular case here, we allowed the previous violence of the defendant to be mentioned and only the violent previous offences of the victim (actual assaults but not money laundering, threats of violence, fraud and lots of etceteras)

After some debate we didn't allow Jacqui Witness' previous fraud to be mentioned and we didn't have any hesitation in denying the application in regards her alcohol convictions.

Goes against my basic instincts to restrict information in this way though. Surely we can trust the Magistrates trying the case to use the previous history where it seems relevant and to disregard it where it doesn't, rather than having a pre-trial trial with one bench of Magistrates pre-chewing the evidence for another bench ?

Also saves money - hint, hint.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mercury Prize Time Again

I've mentioned before that I like the Mercury Prize, even when I fundamentally disagree with the judges (Spreech Debelle - was that supposed to be funny ??).

I use it as an alarm clock to remind me mid-year that I don't want to turn into one of those clueless middle-aged men who thinks The Smiths might still be making albums, so I'd better check that I've listened to a shed-load of new music.

But it's a pretty poor line-up this year :-
  • Paul Weller and  Corinne Bailey Rae have made better albums
  • Dizzee Rascal is over-rated, over-exposed and under-good.
  • Two lots of insipid folky Irish bollox.
  • Laura Marling is very good, but Ellie Goulding is much, much better and she didn't get a nomination
  • The xx, Foals, I am Kloot, Biffy Clyro are the kind of bands supported by "students with too many posters of Betty Blue, The Blues Brothers, Big Blue and Blue Velvet on their blue bloody walls!" (ref: Spaced), so I'm never likely to approve.
I liked the token jazz entry (as usual), but it's never going to win and is hardly revolutionary.

In addition to the Ellie Goulding snub, there's another absentee I can't understand - Gorillaz's "Plastic Beach".

This is exactly the kind of album I expect the Mercury Prize to tip me off about - what's not to like about an album with tracks featuring collaborations between Mos Def and Bobby Womack, and between Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (my favourite bass guitarist - "Guns of Brixton" - goosebumps) ?

Oh well, there's always next year.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

“The torments of martyrdom are probably most keenly felt by the bystanders.”

The best known Magistrate Blogger, Bystander, has been getting some lip from the Provisional Wing of the Magistrates Association.

I'm referring here to the half dozen or so people who settle scores on the Association's rather creaky and very private members bulletin boards.

In summary, their problem with Bystander is that he says stuff they don't agree with and that he should stop moaning and get behind them and help them achieve their worthy purposes.

Last time I fell foul of this cabal, I was told to stop moaning and to get behind them and help them achieve their worthy purposes.

I'm detecting a pattern - you have to applaud their consistency at least.

I'm not going to write a full-on diatribe. This is mostly because I'm really quite stupid and not much of a writer. Instead I'll rely on a quotation from a properly smart writer, Mark Twain:-

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”                                                           

I support the worthy purposes of the lay Magistracy unconditionally and I have put a tenth of my household income and most of my free time on the line for it. The Magistrates Association, however, only gets my support when it deserves it.

Hope that's OK with everyone. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Quick - must post something ... Oh, this'll do

I haven't run out of things to say on the blog - it's just that every day brings some new horror/wonder and my grasshopper mind skips off into the undergrowth.

Some highlights :-

(a) Government fiscal policy - the dictum of "if it hurts, it must be doing you good" can be disproved  by putting your head in a drawer, and closing it repeatedly until you realise your mistake or you get to the point where the whole process has done you so much good that you need to go to hospital now.

I'm in all favour of trimming fat, but these sadists seem to want the muscle and bone and lots of screaming too.

(b)  I have no sympathy for Raoul Moat. I do have sympathy with people who have complete mental breakdowns, but only the ones who dissolve into tears and get help. This guy was just a thug who lost his sense of proportion.

(c) I have no problems with Christians, Muslims or Jedis, but only one of these groups is imposing their toilet design on me.

(d) I don't know what happened to England in the World Cup either, but I'm reminded of the following piece of racing advice "Always bet on the best horse with the best rider". If you ever thought this was England, try the trick with the drawer described in (a) above.

Friday, July 09, 2010


I was watching a man in the dock clutching a paper bag. He was in extreme danger of vomitting and was shaking like a leaf.

The problem was that he had been detained overnight in a police cell and hadn't been able to take his methodone prescription. He was on a dose of around 100mg, so he must have been a recent serious heroin addict.

On top of this, he had learning disabilities and didn't seem too clear why he was there. To make matters even worse, it was one of the hottest days of the year and it must have been stifling behind the plexiglass.

And his alleged crime ?

"Animal cruelty"

Sometimes the criminal justice system really doesn't get it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Even sitting in the garden one can still get stung

My attitude to gardening is similar to my attitude to rap music - I don't like it at all, but that's OK because I'm pretty sure it's not really aimed at people like me.

I'm rich enough to have a fairly significant garden but unfortunately I'm way too poor to just pay someone with talent to do something with it. The result is that after four years of relative neglect, the garden is ugly. I had a look out the other day and couldn't find one thing I liked about it. After a short discussion with Mrs Stan we came to the conclusion that everything should go.

And for the last week or so I've been demolishing anything woody with saw, crowbar and fork. Actually quite satisfying - tackling a large tree root is like solving a cryptic crossword - it takes you an age to work out how the root connects to the trunk, which other roots are supporting it and whether to use the saw or to bash it to pulp with the business-end of the crowbar. Nice feeling when you finally rip it out with your hands. Terrible feeling when you've spent hours cutting every visible side root and the thing still won't move.

Now we've got a big empty garden. Next-door are freaked out that we can see across the fence now and are building a trellis similar to the one Israel are building round the West Bank. I'm putting grass seed down everywhere until we can work out what we actual want.

And that's the last you'll hear from me about gardening for a while.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Nothing Like a Dame - No, really, nothing at all like one

In my interview to become a Magistrate, I was asked whether an assault by a man on a woman should be sentenced differently to an assault by a woman on a man. Instead of coming out with the answer I suspected they wanted, I actually said what I believed at the time.

Suspected Model Answer

"Heaven forbid ! An assault is an assault and all should be treated alike"

Actual Answer

"An attack by a strong person on a weak person is an abuse of power and the weaker person deserves some extra protection from the law".

I didn't say this was always the case with man-on-woman violence (could be big woman - little guy) and I pointed out that some relationships are same-sex and that I would have the same opinion if a big guy was knocking lumps out of his smaller male partner.

I did end up passing the interview, but knowing what I know now - what an idiotic argument. Just because someone is physically bigger, does the law give them an extra responsibility ?

I blame my upbringing - it really didn't prepare me for some of the women I've seen from the bench recently :-

Ms A - is longterm unemployed in her 30s, but looks more like 55. Alcohol and Class A drug history, with some thieving and prostitution to pay the bills. New boyfriend is a perfect match for her, except that sometimes she thinks he's stealing her drugs and she beats him, sometimes with the crutch he got the last time he "fell down the stairs".

Ms B - is a scientist in her 50s. She had an almost cartoonishly bad divorce last year from her ex, who is a respected doctor. She hates him. To the point where she closed the front door on his head and kicked him in the babymakers when he came round to talk about custody arrangements.

Ms C - is 20 and pregnant by a man twice her age and half her IQ. He's a big bloke, but with not a bit of violence in him. She likes to drink and when she does she falls out with him and attacks. I've seen the pictures of bruises and the marks made by her nails. He took this for years and stayed quiet until eventually his mother made a complaint to the police.

I'm not sure what the moral of this tale is. Mostly that anyone who makes simplistic statements about domestic violence is an idiot. Or a Daily Mail journalist. Most likely both.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Radio 4 - Sometimes Really Quite Good

Radio 4 gets it so terribly wrong a lot of the time. Atrocious sit-coms; history of the world in ten million bits of fluff; The Garlic, Olive Oil and Aga show. And as for that Agricultural Soap Opera - Grrr!

However it does excel often enough that I keep on coming back.

Take tonight's edition of "Front Row", their regular Arts programme. It would have been an interesting enough companion to chopping carrots for Sweet and Sour Chicken even with just the articles about Highgate Cemetery and the new Doctor Who online game. But it was the musical items that made it really special.

First off was a report on Derry's attempt to become Britain's next city of culture. Cue music from The Undertones, the most joyous and ballsy music there ever was. Guaranteed to make you smile, except it reminds me that the world has been without John Peel for nearly six years now, and that's a crying shame.

Second was a piece on how Rhianna's "Umbu-reller-reller-hay-hay" has become a modern classic that is being covered by an insane variety of bands from punk to indie to light jazz and onto (my favourite) Rockabilly. Listen to The Baseballs' version and I challenge you to have no emotion about it. Made me smile, made Stanetta stomp off in disgust. That's no mean trick.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A hand bag ??!!

"The Guardian" published a general paper from the All Souls, Oxford fellowship exam. It's a gruelling test that Keith Joseph passed and Hilaire Belloc failed, so it's not a perfect gauge of a person's worth.

You write an essay on three from a list of 34 topics. Here's my attempt, which probably shows I'm more suited to be a fellow at Ar Souls, rather than All Souls.

Q1 : "Is it immoral to buy a £10,000 handbag ?"

No. Not at all. As long as it's your ten grand, this is as close to a win-win situation as you will find in economics. The purchaser gets something that will impress other rich, selfish idiots and the seller gets £10,000. Selfish and stupid, but not actively immoral.

By the way, I love the choice of a handbag as an example here. Is it possible that most fellowship candidates will be male and unlikely to understand the utility of spending anything on a handbag ? And will they see that spending several billion on Trident and several tens of millions on a football player are much worthier subject for criticism ?

Wonder how many expensive paintings All Souls has on the walls, and yet they can only afford to sponsor two fellowships per year? Hmmm.

Q30 : Is string theory science ?

Yes - it's what scientist do, so it's science. Repeatable experiments are for wimps.

But I do think their time would be better spent working on a beetle that eats everything in a suburban garden that doesn't taste good in a pie.

Q29 : Why "hug a hoodie"?

(1) So his whole posse will laugh at him and call him a batty boy, innit.
(2) For warmth

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'm not drunk occifer, I've only had ti martwonis.

It has been illegal since 1925 in the UK to drive a vehicle while drunk. It wasn't until 1967 however that anyone bothered to say exactly how drunk.

The Road Safety Act of that year introduced the first legal maximum blood alcohol drink driving limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and there was some good science to suggest that, in the absence of something extraordinary, this equated to 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

The breathalysers available in 1967 were pretty basic and involved crystals changing colour (see below), so they didn't provide an acceptable quality of evidence. There was also a lot of discussion of civil liberties and the pub landlords went ballistic. To cut a long story short, it wasn't until 1983 and the introduction of the Lion Intoximeter that we ended up with the procedure we know and love today.

As a sop to those who distrusted the breath tests, the Act of 1981 introduced an option that anyone who blew under 50 could ask for an allegedly more accurate blood or urine test. The police choose the method - either get a police doctor to come and take blood or measure the alcohol content of the second of two urine samples given within one hour.

All this is fine - but after a quarter century, surely we trust the breath technology enough by now to dispense with this ?

Can you guess what happens if the doctor can't find a vein and the accused can't wee twice in an hour ?

Let's just say that lawyers get rich and Magistrates lose the will to live and the accused still gets their ban.

Scientific Footnote

1967 breath test - Orange-yellow crystals of a mixture of sulphuric acid and potassium dichromate in a tube turn to blue-green chromium sulphate and colourless potassium sulphate when the mixture reacts with alcohol breath. Check the colour by eye - if blue then naughty; if very blue then very naughty.

Modern breath test - the breathalyser has a platinum anode which acts as a catalyst to cause the alcohol in the person's breath to oxidise into acetic acid. In the process, the alcohol molecules lose electrons, producing an electric current, which is proportional to the amount of alcohol in the breath.

An accurate ammeter will give you a more accurate reading than checking crystals against a colour chart.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Florence + The Machine @ Blackpool

I went to an awesome gig at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. It was 1982, I was 16 and Ultravox blew the walls down.

I went to an awesome gig at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. It was yesterday, I was 43 and Florence + The Machine blew the walls down, set fire to the roof and stomped up and down on the ruins.

Her voice is miraculous, her stagecraft is compelling and her backing band really know what they're about. The live version of "Girl With One Eye" was Edgar Allen Poe scary and the singing, whooping and bouncing rendition of "Rabbit Heart" had the energy of a military coup.

Totally faultless and I can't see how she can possibly improve, but by jingo I'm looking forward to watching her try.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

All Governments are Coalition Governments

The title pretty well says all I want to say. There seems to be so much fear that a Lib-Con or Lib-Lab-Green-SDLP-SNP-Acronym alliance will be in some way inferior to single-party rule.

Think about it though - the Labour party is composed of many feuding groups and contains characters like Frank Field and Dennis Skinner whose views bear little or no resemblance to Peter Mandelson's. On the Tory side, anyone who spots a similarity between David Davis and Zak Goldsmith deserves a prize.

The point is that they put their differences aside when they have to and co-operate where they can. Sounds very much like a coalition government to me.

Vote Stan.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Chaos

I did say I wanted all the political parties to lose, and blow me if that wasn't the way things worked out. Cameron missed an open goal, Brown took a kicking and Clegg did some step-overs but didn't do much of anything with the ball. A three-way nil-nil-nil no-score-draw, and now it's time for extra time and penalties, with the potential for a replay.

Stanetta wanted to watch my "The West Wing" box-sets now that she's old enough, and we've just finished watching all seven series together. I like to compare the deadlocked Democratic convention in series six with the current Lib-Lab-Con fatal embrace. Somebody is going to have to talk to somebody and work it out.

Vote Stan.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Overthrowing the Government

Yes, I'm the kind of geek who will sit up all night watching the election results come in. This year I'm not particularly struck by any of the parties involved and I've ended up voting for the one I feel the least contempt for. It's like watching Manchester United vs Chelsea - you desperately want them all to lose.

The Conservative candidate in my constituency has been MP for the last 8 years and is likely to remain so for the next 40 years if he so desires. Despite this, his leaflets try to make out out that he is the "Change" candidate. If he wants change so much, maybe I should give him 50p and tell him to clear off.

Vote Stan.

Some random points to bulk this out

  • The yellow "Vote LibDem" signs look too much like speed cameras
  • I had Bakewell pudding and custard for breakfast this morning
  • Saw this amazing Anne Stevenson poem on the Tube - love the way that no word can sensibly be swapped and that no punctuation is optional.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Attention Music Buffs

I think Usher's "OMG" is ripping off the bass line from Savage Garden's "To the Moon & Back", but I'm not enough of a musicologist to make it stand up in court.

Anyone else suspicious, or do they just share one of the limited number of tonic-dominant bass lines available ?

Knicker Crime

I got a nice letter from the chairman of the magistrates' Training and Development Committee basically confirming that my recent appraisal hadn't shown up any signs of open bigotry or senility and that it wasn't yet time to cart me off to the Rest Home for Befuddled Former Magistrates. Not for another three years anyway.

In other magistrate news, there was an outbreak of sanity in Bedford when the District Judge decided that it was not in the public interest to prosecute someone for having trousers so low that you could see their pants. The Telegraph, fairly typically, doesn't pass up an opportunity to snipe at the Human Rights Act - I'd like to think the DJ decided that it was just no part of his job to be Fashion Police.

I have however sat with not a few reactionary magistrates who might have nodded along with this, and then would have attempted to impose an additional haircut and National Service requirement.

Personally, I'm in favour of this gentlemen having low slung trousers - it'll slow him down next time he has to run away from the police.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Lost - The Plot

Oi ! You ! The script writers on "Lost" - I'm coming to get you.

Yes, I know you've finished writing it and the final series is airing on Sky just now. But this gizmo on a my head is a hydrogen bomb rigged to explode on impact so I'm hoping to break the time-barrier and make you change some stuff when I come down there and head-butt you.

Do I have your attention ? Good - I only have a few perfectly reasonable issues.

Firstly, quit putting in new twists before you've resolved some of the old ones. After a while there's no drama - you just shrug and think "Oh that bowl of mushroom soup hasn't been explained. I'll bet we won't hear a word about it for twenty episodes and then it'll fall on someone's mother's bodyguard's sister's head for no good reason."

Secondly, characters. If you will insist on gratuitously introducing new ones, you dilute even the comic-book paper-thin characters we almost care about. Best to work on the basis of one-in, one-out. And when you kill one off, make sure they damn well stay dead.

And thirdly, totally ignore me. I'm just a guy with a nuclear bomb on his head. What you do is totally marvellous - do you really have to stop after series 6 ?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Kathleen Eckelt is a forensic nurse in the Baltimore area, and I am grateful to her blog for this stone-cold round-up of domestic violence injuries.

Those of you too lazy to click on the link should at least learn the following information about a choke-hold:-

It takes only 11lbs. of pressure, held bilaterally for 10 seconds, to cause the victim to become unconscious.

If applied to a person under stress during a struggle, a strangle may make the person unconscious almost immediately, while it may take several seconds for a calm person to pass out.

If released, consciousness returns in about 10-20 seconds.
If held for 50 seconds, damage is usually irreversible.
Death occurs at 1-2 minutes.

Policemen are no longer allowed to use this type of restraint against a strong, violent male prisoner due to the deaths that have occurred as a result of the compression on the airway.

It takes only 4 lbs. of pressure to obstruct the jugular veins.

To make a comparison:

It takes 6 lbs. of pressure to pull the trigger of a gun.

It takes 20lbs. of pressure to pull the tab on a soda can.

Can't help thinking this Magistrate is going to take a particularly dim view of people who mistreat their partners in this dangerous manner.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Rare Good Song

I was in a café the other day and they played "I Can't Dance" by Genesis followed by "Losing My Religion" by REM. It occurred to me that these two are examples of songs that I love from people who haven't produced a single other song that I like.

Further examples include :-

"Shelter From The Storm" - Bob Dylan
"Could It Be Magic" - Barry Manilow
"Can't Speak French" - Girls Aloud
"Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps" - Olivier Messiaen

I'm not talking about "One Hit Wonders" - there are plenty enough of those. What fascinates me is that someone can produce one thing that works for me amongst a considerable mountain of stuff that doesn't.

Any further nominations gratefully received.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Among the 1.6 billion pieces of legislation brought in by the government in the last decade (a rough estimate, I admit) there have been some good ones.

Take "Sections 12 and 13 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004" for example.

Before this law came in, a victim of domestic violence would have had to :-
(a) Wait for the criminal case to result in a guilty verdict
(b) Apply to the civil courts for a restraining order
After this came in :-
(a) Magistrates issue a restraining order at the end of the criminal trial, whether proven or not, if the court considers it necessary to protect a person from harassment.
Imagine you're in an abusive relationship - doesn't that sound like an improvement to you?

Even though this act was passed in 2004, for reasons passing all understanding it only came into force last September, and so I only came across it for the first time the other day.

In that case the Defence lawyer contended that even though his client had just been convicted of something that might have killed his soon-be-be-ex wife, this was a one-off and he had no previous violence conviction. Probation had rated him as a low risk of re-offending and the only thing the Restraining Order would achieve would be to make it difficult for him to maintain his relationship with his teenage son. It would be "a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

After a fascinating discussion in the retiring room with two particularly experienced colleagues, we decided that some nuts do need a sledgehammer and granted the restraining order.

Maybe we've just spoiled the relationship between a father and a son, but more likely we've given a man another reason not to hurt a woman.

I'm sleeping fine.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Letts Get Stuck In

The only thing I have in common with Quentin Letts is that neither of us can write quite as well as we think we can.

It seems he's the type who keeps a list of people who have irritated him in some way. The result is his book "50 People Who Buggered Up Britain" which is 277-pages of sheer sneering whine.

His prose style is bizarre - like a collaboration between a petulant adolescent and a dyspeptic retired judge. But that's not the real problem with the book.

HIs choice of targets is bewildering enough - some of these people were doing their job or the right thing or both. Heath sacked Enoch Powell - and that was a bad thing ??? Callaghan started us on the long road to decimalisation ???

Some of the blows are particularly low and lazy. Why criticise Ed Balls for having a silly name and goggly eyes when his handling as Education secretary of the Baby P case is so much more worthy of invective?

The main gripe I have though is that Britain plainly isn't "Buggered Up". Heck it stand to improve, but this country is one the best things about an imperfect world. It works as least as well as it always did and in some ways it's getting better and better. Just ask the stream of people who stow away in boxes and take very shallow breaths to get here.

And it's not individuals who do the damage. All of the issues that annoy Letts are the result of large complicated (but dull) social forces. For example, it's simplistic (but oh so human) to pretend that John McEnroe was responsible for our lack of respect for referees because he so publicly lost the page with one in 1981. How much easier to blame a person.

So in short: wrong-headed, plain wrong and not that well written.

Quite a bit like reading "The Daily Mail" .

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Douglas Adams, Ulysees and The Wire

In hospital I read two and a half out of four books of a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" compilation. I was reading it right up to the point where I had to put on my dressing gown, grab a pillow and walk down to the operating theatre. Made me feel very Arthur Dent.

I did consider taking Ulysees, which is my favourite book ever - but I figured I would need something a bit less demanding and the decision was a good one. Haven't read these incredible books since I was half my current age and they have aged a lot better than I have. Except for the stuff about digital watches.

Coming round from the anaesthetic, I came up with the theory that "Hitchhiker's Guide" and "Ulysses" are fundamentally the same book:-

Arthur Dent = Leopold Bloom
Ford Prefect = Stephen Daedalus
Zaphod = Blazes Boyland
Trillian = Molly Bloom
The Universe = Dublin
Milliways = the brothel where Stephen and Leopold meet.

Plus, both books start with a shave.

Recovering at home, I'm working through the complete box-sets of "The Wire" that Mrs Stan gave me for Christmas.

Must - resist - temptation .... must - not - rave - incoherently - about - its brilliance.

You do lose yourself in the world of street-level Baltimore and it must be difficult to follow without a dictionary. I hope the following is useful:-

"The hopper's carrying a burner" - the frog has a barbecue

"re-up" - concerning up

"G packs" - what you keep g-strings in

"The civilian's carrying weight" - big fat non-soldier

"The Game" - cricket, I think

"He's not a fiend, he's slinging" - a morally good, but incompetent darts player

"The sh*& is tight" - I'm constipated

"McNulty" - A device for turning alcohol into outrage

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Plumbing on the mend

Just a quick note to say I'm back. In fact I've been out of hospital since Wednesday morning, taking it easy at home.

Message to anyone contemplating the Bladder Neck Incision (BNI) - it will be uncomfortable for a few weeks but never actually terribly painful. Takes a hell of long time to heal, but it will. Definitely worth it - the difference is really quite startling. Worst part is the way being in hospital and the anaesthetic and the catheter play havoc with your digestion system. Funny how there's never any flatulence in hospital dramas when there's so much in real hospitals.

My recovery is actually faster than I expected - less than a week after being discharged I'm daring to venture out to see Bolton vs Man United at the Reebok. I suspect it'll be worth it, if only to watch Rooney have some fun with our slightly dodgy defence.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Low Water Pressure

There are bloggers who delight in shouting every tiny detail of their lives at the internet. I'm not one of those bloggers.

Tomorrow I'm going into hospital for a bladder operation - if you're so-minded and not at all squeamish you can google on "Bladder Neck Incision" to get way too much information about the procedure. YouTube even have a video of the operation, which I warn you does look like a cross between the end of "2001 - A Space Odyssey" and a slasher movie.

I didn't tell you about all the delightful preliminaries and probes and investigation over the last few months, but I didn't particularly want to say and I'm pretty certain you didn't really want to know.

I'm likely to be in hospital for a couple of nights and then at home straying no far from the toilet for a couple of weeks.

The upshot of this for you is that I'll either be strangely quiet or blogging every hour on the hour for the next few weeks.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chief Whip

The best way to annoy someone who claims to support the BNP is to ask them for five BNP policies that aren't about immigration. If they can't come up with five they're just a straightforward racist. If they do come up with five then they are a well-informed racist.

If you do the research (and I did, as a service to my readers) you quickly see that the non-immigration policies seem to have been hastily cut-and-pasted from the "Have Your Say" section of the Daily Mail online. I skipped past a lot of the blah blah - but it was one of their policies on my beloved Law 'n' Order that woke me up with a bump :-

We support the re-introduction of corporal punishment for petty criminals and vandals,

Can you imagine a Magistrates' Court under a BNP government?

"Mister Lifter, you have admitted the offence of theft. We have therefore sentenced you to twelve medium-level strokes of the Number 3 cane across your bare bottom in the town square. Because of your not guilty plea, we'll go easy with the last three."

Magistrates have sworn to implement the letter of the law of the day, no matter how deranged and deluded the government of the day might be. Makes me wonder whether I would actually continue under those circumstances.

Oh, and has anyone noticed that the BNP hates Sharia Law for being brutal and then wants to introduce beatings for shoplifters ?

I guess fascists don't do irony.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Satyagraha@ English National Opera

Da da da da dad dad dad
Da Da
Dadadadadadadadadadad ... dadadadadadaaa

Doodle-a-coodle-a-toodle-a-loodle-a-doodle-a-poodle ...


Philip Glass' opera "Satyagraha" is wonderful music to have on when you're studying. I can testify that three hours of repeated arpeggi over what might as well be random pieces of Sanskrit is the perfect way to soothe your subconscious while your forebrain is trying to make sense of such wonders as the Jordan curve theorem.

Quarter of a century later, I've forgotten everything I know about abstract algebra, but at the performance of Satyagraha by the ENO in London I saw this week, I was shocked at how I had near note-perfect recall of the music.

I should have brought an algebra book though, because unfortunately there's not enough happening on the stage to keep your forebrain occupied.

It's meant to be about how Tolstoy, Tagore, Gandhi and Martin Luther King are stages on the road to "Satyagraha" ("Truth Power"). What that actually involves on stage is men on stilts doing huge origami, giant puppets, and (about 90% of the time) people walking in exaggerated slo-mo across the stage ...

.. left
... to ... right

and then

right ...
to ... left

and then ...

(repeat until brain death - and then a couple more times for luck)

I nearly had a giggle-fit during one of the big metaphorical half-hour paper-folding sessions. It was solemn and serious and probably as allegorical as all get-out, but without warning, my mind conjured up the image of Rolf Harris sitting next to me and whispering in my ear :-
"Can you guess what it is yet ?"
That said, there were many positive points to the evening. The vocalists were incredible, the score is inventive and well worth hearing and the concert orchestra were patient and disciplined.

But bring a book. Or some ironing. Or Rolf Harris.

Friday, March 12, 2010

No Trouble, No Trouble

Thanks to "Soul Music" on Radio 4, I am not going to moan about the BBC for a whole year. They can continue to spend my licence fee money on utter garbage like Graham Norton, Total Wipeout and four-hour amateur dance phone-in shows for every one of those twelve months and they won't hear a peep out of me.

"Soul Music" has a simple premise - that there are pieces of music that have had a huge impact on the lives of a sufficiently interesting range of people. It is currently into its 9th series, and it's amazing to me that they've taken this long to get round to "Dido's Lament" by Purcell.

It's a song of very few notes that has an effect similar to pepper spray on anyone with a soul. Or maybe just me. Anyway, there have been amazing recordings over the years, from Janet Baker to Hayley Westenra and I would have loved just to listen to all of the performances back-to-back. Instead, the programme looked a little deeper.

Firstly it tried to explain note by note just how Purcell managed to ratchet up the emotion. Pretty elementary stuff for any musician I'm sure, but quite a revelation for a civilian like me.

Then, as well as covering the more famous recordings, it spent some time looking at some of the more unorthodox attempts. Alison Moyet didn't quite do it justice in a smoky jazz style, but mostly they looked at Jeff Buckley's performance at the 1995 Meltdown Festival.

I love Jeff Buckley's work and this is one of the best songs of all time. You might expect the combination of the two could not possibly live up to my expectations.

Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The cellist at the recording was interviewed and he described how Jeff Buckley arrived with the lyrics written out on paper, with the high notes written high up and the low notes low down. He obviously thought to himself "typical blooming rock star" ... right up to the moment when he started to sing.

Jeff Buckley's voice is a freakish four octave-wide gift from the gods. It's crammed full of raw emotion and undiluted musicality. He took that song from fifteen generations ago that has been performed by thousands of the best singers of all time and made you think about it in a new light. It certainly blew away the cellist who said that the performance made him realise he knew nothing about music. He knew the theory, he could play the notes, but he just wasn't anywhere near to Jeff Buckley in terms of feeling it.

I've said enough - Jeff Buckley's recording is on YouTube and the episode of "Soul Music" is still available on the BBC website for a few days only.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I have never seen anyone more in of help than Steve. You couldn't watch him for too long without his constant shaking giving you motion sickness, and he just about managed to stay standing when the charges were put to him.

He was picked up in the toilets of a local supermarket with a bottle of vodka that he had tried to take through the security barrier. The alarm went off, he ran to the toilets and had managed to chug 1/3 of the bottle before the security guards yanked the cubicle door open. He had been in custody overnight, so that was the last drink he had had and he was well into withdrawal when we saw him the next morning.

If it seems a bit harsh to lock someone up overnight for stealing a few gulps of cheap vodka, Steve's problem was that last month he had already been up before the Magistrates for stealing vodka from supermarkets. This previous bench had asked Probation for reports and had sent him for a detox at the hospital. All he had to do was speak to probation, save his own life by attending the detox appointment, come back to court to be sentenced and meanwhile stay out of trouble

Steve, however, was so far into the bottle that he managed 0/4 of these tasks. His defence lawyer said that he didn't attend detox out of fear. I can't begin to imagine just how daunting that must be. Probation's attitude seemed to be that they are already fully occupied with people who want help to be wasting time on those who don't attend appointments. Under these circumstances, Steve was definitely going to prison.

Prison is the wrong place for Steve. He'll dry out sure, but all the problems in his life that led him to drink will be there and then some when he gets out. He also won't be in prison for anything like long enough for the prison service to do any work on him.

So Steve's going to be away for a few weeks. I truly hope he hits bottom there and comes out fighting, but I'm experienced enough now to realise that that 's unlikely. I'm pretty sure I'll see him in court again.

But at least I've helped make the world safe for the big supermarkets to continue to make a profit from selling gut-rot vodka to addicts.

Whoopee ...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Great Week for Music

Good music seems to have followed me around this week :-

-> Abbey Road studios is in danger of closing - cue lots of Beatles tracks and a reminder that George Harrison was the most talented of the Beatles. "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" are a class above the rest of the Abbey Road album. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is the best Beatles track bar none. Don't argue with me.

-> Ice Dance from the Winter Olympics - yes a strange way for a straight man to spend his time, but watching Virtue and Moir skate to Mahler's gorgeous 5th as though gravity was optional - I've got goosebumps just typing this. Not as good as Brazilian football, but what is? Is it nearly World Cup time yet ?

-> "Nurse Jackie" ended with "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" by Creedence Clearwater Revival - about the only band in the world absolutely guaranteed to make me burst into song. Can't help myself.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Suspended Animation

If you have a crash on the driving test, I was told, no matter how much it wasn't your fault, you will be failed. Even if a drunk disqualified driver steals a fire-engine and clips your bumper while you're parallel parking - the only safe decision is to fail you.

The Magistrate appraisal system seems to be similar. You could be unlucky enough to get a highly emotional case and some highly annoying colleagues on assessment day. Under those circumstances, even the saintliest of Mags could be provoked into a reaction that causes the appraiser to flunk them. And it's unfair because many other appraisees would have had a perfectly straight-forward day.

This was in my mind before my recent appraisal : "Please don't make it complicated. Bit of traffic, bit of drink-related shoplifting and home for lunch".

Atheists are rotten at praying, so of course something complicated came up.

The case concerned a rather sad older man, who was making a honest but incompetent attempt to kick his drink habit. He had countless previous for petty crime, but his most recent transgression was a year ago when he received a prison sentence suspended for two years for domestic violence.

He was in court now for getting drunk and starting a fight in a bus station.

Had it been a first offence it would probably be a matter of a fine and some unpaid work, but he had committed this offence when this suspended sentence was hanging over his head. This could make it a much more serious matter - we could decide to activate the custodial sentence he got last time and send him to prison.

Well, my opinion was that his "last chance" was one year ago and that yes, he should go to prison now. My appraiser and the chairman took the opposing view that it would be better for him to continue on his various drink/violence programs and to give him some unpaid work for this latest offence.

It did cross my mind that maybe I shouldn't be awkward during an appraisal and just nod along, but happily I took no notice of those voices and made a polite, assertive, utterly doomed attempt to get my point of view across. To the credit of my colleagues they behaved in a totally professional manner and after a short debate, I conceded that in this chap's case, we could construct a non-custodial punishment. The debate was constructive and friendly and even though my opinion didn't prevail, I didn't feel that I had "lost".

My general opinion though is that violating a suspended sentence order should lead to immediate custody in the majority of cases. Otherwise, what's the point ? I understand that immediate custody would not have been the best thing for the offender, but what about the victim of the original domestic violence and the people he assaulted more recently ?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Judging the Judges

It's been a while since I've had anything to say about being a Magistrate, and rather untypically for a blogger, I decided against waffling on about nothing.

Administration keep cancelling my sittings and I haven't been able to get any replacements, so I've started getting letters from Management subtly implying that I'm deficient and need to pull my finger out. Quite frustrating - none of the cancellations have been my idea - if they need me to do more sessions, they should list me for more. Or stop blooming well cancelling me.

No wonder retired people are over-represented on the bench - the reality of being a Magistrate is that your sessions will be cancelled and you will have to take replacement sessions at short notice to make your quota. This is likely to hack off even the most saint-like of employers.

Anyway, enough whingeing, today was a day worth blogging, because it was my first performance appraisal.

The way it works is that after your first year as a Magistrate (and every three years after that) , you will be observed by an experienced Magistrate who will look for evidence that you are competent.

There's a detailed list of points they are looking for, but the overall thrust is to check you are following the process, don't have any undesirable personality traits and that you have a plan to become a better Magistrate.

It was quite painless - the business of the day takes precedence, so you just do what you usually do and I almost forgot that one of my colleagues was ticking boxes. The hard part for me was the "plan to become a better Magistrate" - not because I think I'm already perfect, but because I don't yet have a clear idea what I suck at.

The sample development plan includes such things as "I will read the section in my Bench Book on community penalties". I really have a problem with that - who would actually put that as a development objective rather than just, you know, reading the section?

In my case, I haven't yet been able to take part in any multi-day complex trials, so that's what I'm committing to doing next year. Hopefully this will help me get to 26 sessions next year without hassle.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who'll be my role model now that my role model is gone ?

I walked into the room while Stanetta was watching "American Idol" right about the time that a wide eyed adolescent male contender was saying "I hope one day to become a role-model."

This blew my mind. A role model is usually defined as a "person who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by others". Is this really what he had in mind ? And can you actually set out to be a role model - surely you just do what you do "with clean hands and composure" and almost accidentally become one.

The John Terry saga illustrates for me that the "role" part of "role model" has been forgotten. If you're looking for a great example of a muscular, thuggish centre-back, then John Terry is a great choice. Since when was he supposed to be a model father or model husband ?

I think Ron Greenwood sums it up in his assessment of a previous generation's role model:-
"Ask me to talk about Bobby Moore the footballer and I will talk for days. Ask me about the man and I will dry up in a minute."

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

An Open Letter to a Young Football Hater

Yes my love, I do see exactly why you might think football is a worthless game and with moral garbage on legs like John Terry, I can understand why you might think football players worthless.

But look what happened tonight. Crystal Palace are in administration. They were so skint that they couldn't play their star striker at weekend because the administrator wouldn't take the risk of him being injured before they sold him off.

They were so lacking in resources for tonight's cup game that they had to play a defender in attack - someone who had almost accidentally scored a handful of goals in over 200 games.

They were playing Wolves, who are in the Premier League - they're not a great team but they should have easily been able to have seen off this shower.

What happened ? Well, the stand-in striker scored a hat-trick in one amazing seven minutes of football that Roy of the Rovers would have struggled to match.

It wasn't just the goals - it was watching the contrasting emotions that made the experience special. And this wasn't manufactured fictional emotion like you'd see in a good production of Macbeth - this was real human feelings of the type you never see anywhere else.

Take a look at the Palace fans - team up for sale and in real risk of relegation - they turn out for a cup game and sing their hearts out and, blow me, something magical and improbable happens - a miracle beyond their wildest dreams.

Look at Danny Butterfield, who is so obscure that I've just had to google to get his first name. Yesterday he was a honest hard-working footballer playing for a team on the skids. Today he's got thousands of people chanting "Butterfield for England!" His reaction of puzzled incomprehension wasn't one that any gifted actor could have matched.

Look at Mick McCarthy's face. He's the Wolves manager and he cares about doing a good job. Really cares. And his expensively-collected team have just let an unremarkable defender put three goals past them. He's not just crying - he's crying what looks like blood out of his bloodshot eye and it looks like his head is about to explode. King Lear never felt quite this bad.

Football is drama, Stanetta - it's just that it's in a language you need to learn. Come over to the Reebok and let me give you some lessons ?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One Cheer for the Economy ... Hip Hip !

The UK economy grew at 0.1% in the final quarter of 2009. Wow - anyone feeling giddy ? Scream if you want to go faster...

The media (and the government) seem to think it's a big deal, but let's get a sense of proportion.

If I were to grow at 0.1% in the next 3 months, this would equate to a gain in height of less than 2mm and a weight gain of 100g. In other words, the difference between having a number 1 haircut and a number 2 haircut and the weight of half a cup of sugar.

And anyway, unless the economy grows faster than the population then we're not actually any better off. And according to the World Bank, UK population grew by 0.65% over 2008, which suggests a quarterly population growth of 0.16%

Whoops. We've all got a slightly smaller slice of a not-much-bigger pie.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Orange makes Stan see Red

My mobile phone company wrote to me recently :-

"Dear Stan,

We've been asking Orange customers what they want from a credit card.
The feedback was loud and clear."
Here's what my loud and clear feedback would have been if they'd bothered asking me :-

"What the flippy heck are you doing asking us about credit cards?? If you've got some time on your hands you should be improving your rotten customer care and billing systems or your slightly iffy network coverage in Stanshire.

No, I do not want an Orange credit card - for the same reason that I don't want a Bradford & Bingley mobile phone.

Now get back to work, and the next time you contact me the message had better be about mobile phones, preferably containing the words 'free' and 'upgrade' '"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We Meet Again, Mr Coyle

The duty of the underdog is to fight. An underdog that doesn't fight is a sheep, placidly waiting for the bolt-gun. Even though the situation seems hopeless, you've got to find some way to compensate for your lack of numbers or unpromising location.

If nothing else, if you're going to take a beating it's some consolation to know that you had them worried for a while there.

History (and mythology) is full of cases where the outsider makes a fight of it and sometimes even wins :-
  • Spartans vs Persians, Thermopylae, 480 B.C.
  • David 1 Goliath 0, Valley of Elah, 1067 B.C.
  • Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 0, Wembley, 1988 A.D.
In fact let's stop the list there - most of the other examples I can think of are football-related and this is the point I'm taking so long to get to.

A mathematician using Utility Theory would say that a 10% chance of a win is only half as desirable as a 60% chance of a draw, and that a defeat has absolutely no value at all.

To a fan of an unfashionable football team (Bolton Wanderers, say), this kind of arithmetic doesn't work at all. They demand that their team fight for that win and if they've tried and failed gloriously, then there's even some pleasure to be had in defeat.

This wasn't the way Gary Megson saw it. The not-lamented former Bolton manager never had the fans' taste for giving it a go and so ultimately he had to go. I personally was almost physically sick in his last game when he took off our star striker and brought on a so-called Utility Midfielder. As in "as much utility as a chocolate ashtray".

I even enjoyed watching the slightly new Bolton lose 2-0 on Sunday. Cesc Fabregas was freakishly excellent and there were ten others nearly as good and just as expensive in the Arsenal team. But Bolton played with an untypical lack of restraint and might just have fluked it. And the fans responded to this and made more positive noise than I've heard at the Reebok in some years.

Interesting that Owen Coyle has taken over as manager. When I lived in Glasgow and was a season ticker holder at the ultimate underdog Partick Thistle in the early 1990's, Owen Coyle, whether playing for Airdieonians or Dundee United, always seemed to be there to knock us down and out.

In fact, he was the reason I almost dropped Stanetta when she was one month old in 1996, walking around our bedroom in the dark listening to the relegation play-off final against Dundee United on the radio. When Owen Coyle scored the winner in extra time, I just about managed to hang onto my baby's ankle, although I think my inhuman moan of despair may have woken her up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Better the Doofus you Know

The hero of Stephen Fry's book "Making History" sends a male contraceptive pill back in time and makes Adolf Hitler's dad infertile. The theory was that by making sure Adolf Hitler never existed, millions of people would be spared the mayhem of war and holocaust that he caused.

What then happened though was that a different, less mad, more able man led the Nazis to victory in Europe in the 1940's and on to a lasting world domination that changed our hero's past and present very much for the worse.

I was reminded of this when I read about the government banning the organisation Islam4UK.

I actually wish they hadn't done this - Islam4UK's actions and opinions are monstrous, but they are almost comically incompetent and impotent. They have zero PR ability and are led by a failed medical student who supports his family on State Benefits. The man is so dim that he fails to see the contradiction involved in taking money from a State that he doesn't want anything to do with.

Can you imagine a situation where instead of this bunch of stroppy mammy's boys, an extreme Islamic organisation was formed that was led by someone of more substance. Imagine a man (not a woman, infidel) who was filled with something more than just lazy hatred and ambition. Imagine someone capable of building an organisation that was intelligent, well-funded, coherent and media-savvy.


Society's best defence is actually the incompetence of its enemies. For example, Glasgow Airport was only saved because the car bomber didn't realise his jeep was too big to ever fit through the door. And the BNP will never prosper with a voter-repellent like Nick Griffin in charge.

Organisations like Islam4UK are never going to change anything and we shouldn't indulge Mr Choudary's ego by banning it.Being a member of a banned organisation is actually a little bit cool and there's a danger of making it more attractive to disaffected youth.

Better instead to charge them whenever they break the law (which they did) and to take any spare opportunity to look them in the eye, point at them and laugh.

Ha ha. Silly name "Islam4UK" anyway. Don't they realise there isn't anything more decadent and Western that using textspeak.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

We Don't Need No ...

Some children skip school and their parents are committing a criminal offence if they encourage it, allow it or don't seem to be trying terribly hard to stop it.

Middle-class parents taking exotic holidays in term-time definitely wouldn't agree, but they are every bit as guilty of this as the poor parents with chaotic lives who can't or won't stop their offspring bunking off.

In this Information Age, if the kid is AWOL once, the school will telephone, write, email, twitter, poke and/or text the parents to make sure they are aware.

If the truanting continues, the school's pastoral staff of teachers and civilians will get into the act and if necessary would work with the family to resolve any of the billion possible underlying reasons.

Eventually a face-to-face will be set up to discuss needs and responsibilities and agree a way forward. If that doesn't work out and the child keeps absenting themselves, the Local Education Authority can issue a Fixed Penalty Notice - almost identical to the one you would get for littering. They've tried the Carrot of social work and now it's time for the Stick of costing real money.

Guess where the parents who don't pay the fixed penalty end up?

Not a very pleasant experience for anyone involved. Not for the skint single mum who just wanted everyone to leave her alone. Not for the teachers called as witnesses. And certainly not for this Magistrate who suspected inadequacy rather than malice here and would much rather spend his time dealing with genuinely bad people rather than acting as some kind of school prefect.

But hey, there has to be a final sanction or else the system is toothless and this wonderful compulsory education system becomes optional and kids run around unsupervised. This lady's already meagre benefits will now be short by £5 for the next couple of years and I don't feel great about that, but she did have dozens of opportunities to sort this and she passed up every one.

I know my first instinct was that this was a waste of Magistrate time, but actually this couldn't be more crucial. After all, what are the best three ways of reducing crime ?

Education. Education. And Education.