Single Transferable Mope

I picked up this Prospect blogpost, via the magazine’s twitter feed, where it carried a headline that falls into the Kamm/Rentoul category of “Great Historical Questions To Which The Answer Is ‘No’.“:

“Is Afghanistan Obama’s Vietnam?”

The article itself doesn’t bother with the question mark, but is a classic of the “another Vietnam” genre, once so popular in commentary about allied intervention in Afghanistan (until it became comical to anyone who could read), and then popular in commentary about allied intervention in Iraq (until it became comical to anyone who could read).

Several of the usual clichés are in place: “bodybags”, “fierce” native fighters [imagine the cries of “RACISM!1!!” if someone tried that kind of thing in another context], “exit strategy”, “neocons”, and a collection of “far-away country between people of whom we know nothing” boilerplate minimizing the region’s strategic significance.

Thanks to its generic nature, I don’t have to write a fisking of the piece. I’ll just point you at one I made earlier and invite you to add Streithorst’s clumsy attempt at drawing a historical parallel to my old collection.

[It might also seem from the piece I link to that Streithorst doesn’t know how to spell “elusive”, but if we assume that he really did mean “illusive”, then it’s fair to say that “elusive” would have made more sense in the context in which he deploys it.]

Evans, Dear Boy, Evans

Via Paulie’s “Shared Items” feed at Never Trust a Hippy, I read on the Democratic Society Blog one of the best “Did Magna Carta die in vain?” comments ever [see foot of the post I link to] and, on Tory Troll, an account of yet another FAIL by frontline interviewers.

Here’s a tip for the meedja and the senior members of the Labour Party: everyone else didn’t go to Oxbridge; everyone else is bored of the Bullingdon Club. I was in the same place at more-or-less the same time, and I am bored of the Bullingdon Club. I admit, my being interested in policies is not typical of the general population, but at least if you work for the BBC and ask politicians about their policies then you can claim that you are doing your job and people will be less likely to wonder if you deserve your undisclosed salary.

UPDATE: Sadie offers another eyewitness account, and Simon Dyda has video.

Aussie Supporters As Gracious As Ever

One cool thing about twitter is the ability to search for a particular subject and see what people around the World are saying about it right now. This morning, as England’s tail-enders were putting on some cheeky runs, I searched for “Ashes”—which, as you’d expect, has recently become one of the most common words appearing in tweets—and this was the most recent hit:

disappointed Aussie wants to punch English people in face

disappointed Aussie wants to punch English people in face

The Smell Of Home

I’ve been known to be uncomplimentary here about Tamworth, the town where I grew up. Back in the 80s, an Australian barman once told a friend of mine that, travelling around England, it was the place where he had been beaten up most frequently for being Australian. And he was white.

Thanks to Paulie for drawing my attention to this lovely letter which ties together two of my most recent PooterGeek posts. It appeared on the Daily Mail Website in response to the latest comments from Bernie Ecclestone:

He’s not wrong. Hitler did get things done. Not what should have been done perhaps—and not in the way people might have wanted them done—but get things done Hitler certainly did. So did Ghengis Khan for that matter! As for Max Moseley leading Britain, could he be any worse thatn Brown or Blair, or that leader-in-waiting, Cameron-de-Pinko? Anyway—Mr Ecclestone is a billionaire—he can say what he likes, and damn what the media thinks. On balance, free speech like that is a good thing.

— Cllr Chris Cooke, Tamworth, UK, 4/7/2009

[Councillor Cooke is an Independent, who “supports” the BNP.]

Making The Cars Run On Time

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief, said yesterday that he preferred totalitarian regimes to democracies and praised Adolf Hitler for his ability to “get things done”.

Mr Ecclestone endorsed the concept of a government based on tyranny.

“Politicians are too worried about elections,” he said. “We did a terrible thing when we supported the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He was the only one who could control that country. It was the same [with the Taleban]. We move into countries and we have no idea of the culture. The Americans probably thought Bosnia was a town in Miami. There are people starving in Africa and we sit back and do nothing but we get involved in things we should leave alone.”

Son Of English Teacher Resists Using Name Of Austrian Modernist Writer In Blog Post About Interminable Bureaucratic Torment

For the past four years, I have been involved in a dispute with a utility company over a sum that ultimately amounted to several thousand pounds. The company will remain nameless here because, today, thanks to the intervention of the relevant government watchdog, we finally settled without having to go to court. It is a classic Damian Counsell life-disaster story: because of his scrupulous chopping-off-his-nose-to-spite-his-face honesty, the Geek sentenced himself to half-a-decade of consumer hell.

The first of many bizarre facts about this dispute was that it resulted from my trying to pay the bill for my own use of their product, rather than the much lower use of another, non-resident, consumer at my premises, and from Nameless Utility Co doing its damnedest to stop me from doing so.

The last bizarre fact was that, last month, when, after all these years, an amicable agreement finally seemed to have been reached, and all that remained was for me to sign the relevant documentation authorizing payment, Nameless Utility’s representative in the negotiations (and apparently one of the few competent people in its employ)—let us call her “K”, for that was indeed her first initial—suffered an acute life-threatening viral infection that put her in a coma for a week. Nameless Utility’s replacement negotiator reviewed the relevant documents, declared that their representative had acted without proper authority, and ripped up the deal. It’s both depressing and funny that her colleagues at Nameless Utility were puzzled by my behaviour when I began my telephone calls to them by asking about her well-being.

I had to threaten legal action to get them to negotiate this new position. They returned to the table—and confirmed the original settlement. I am merely worse off now, but a hell of a lot less badly off than if I hadn’t fought my corner. K isn’t fully recovered yet, but better, thank goodness. Still, I’m not counting on this tale having reached a final resolution until I’m escorted to a quarry for execution.

The Spirit Of Lord Rothermere Lives On

Every single “serious” newspaper in the UK led with Iran this morning. But The Daily Mail devoted its entire front page to an attack on Gordon Brown and the Iraq Inquiry, and The Express (alongside a photograph of a Euro Lotto winner cradling a giant cabbage) to asylum seekers, the largest group of whom before the war came from Iraq. The Mail’s inside coverage of Iran is headlined:


What those restive Iranians need is some “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine“.

People Of Colour

I love tie-and-dye, and used to carry books around in tie-and-dye bags that my mum made for me. It was some time before I became aware (to my discomfort) that people in the west associated it with hippies. Here’s a BBC slideshow about makers of tie-and-dye fabrics in Mali.

“Bringing this agenda towards fruition”

The resignation of Hazel Blears reminded me again that this nation’s government now has a “Department for Communities”. Letting that phrase pass my lips without implied quotation marks would be like vomiting into my mouth without washing it out.

Thanks to Kevin Harris’s “neighbourhoods” blog, I can sample a little of that department’s output, a review document called “Empowering communities to influence local decision making“. Brace yourself:

Local practitioners are a crucially important resource in developing this agenda [PDF, 571KB] and bringing it towards fruition.

It is important that government clarify the objectives of empowerment and give a sustained commitment to an agenda that may take a while to deliver notable successes.

These simple messages imply the need for developing accessible, inclusive and facilitated strategies for empowerment. The community and voluntary sector and specifically community development techniques have an important role to play here.

What in the name of Orwell is a “a facilitated strategy for empowerment”?

I’d resign too, rather than sign off on prose like that.

[UPDATE: via Andreas’ Blog, Gordon thanks Hazel for “driving forward the community empowerment agenda”.]

“It’s always a good time to invest in litigation”

Slashdot links to a report in the New York Times about a project to combine genetic material from lawyering and fund management and create the highest hourly fee known to man.

Richard W. Fields says he has come up with a win-win financial strategy for the downturn. He is investing in lawsuits.

Not in trip-and-fall cases, mind you, but in disputes that are far larger, more costly and potentially more lucrative, often pitting major corporations against each other.

Mr. Fields is chief executive of Juridica Capital Management. which runs a fund that invests in one side of a lawsuit in exchange for a share of any winnings.

It’s like Alien vs Predator: “Whoever wins, we lose.”

When It Hurts To Ask

Actually, it does hurt. It does hurt to ask the wrong way, to ask without preparation, to ask without permission. It hurts because you never get another chance to ask right.

If you run into Elton John at the diner and say, “Hey Elton, will you sing at my daughter’s wedding?” it hurts any chance you have to get on Elton John’s radar. You’ve just trained him to say no, you’ve taught him you’re both selfish and unrealistic.

The ChipOx Club Acquires Another Member

I hated Oxford and didn’t speak to anyone the whole first term, she says.I hated the way students used big words when plain English would do, how they laughed at things that weren’t funny, and how they spent the day in the library, then lied that they’d done no work. I also thought they’d reject me. I was a homeless kid who’d hung out with a knife-wielding gang just months before.

Position Statement

Tom Freeman doesn’t see the sense in The Times capitalizing the words “Left”, “Right”, and “Centre” when its writers use them to describe political leanings. I think the newspaper is right to do so.

Language is a communication channel, and shouldn’t be a fashion accessory or status symbol; however, in this country, more than many others, it often is. Being the classless geek that I am, I find one good way to think clearly about English usage is to put aside appeals to tradition or authority—not that Tom has made any—and be functional. The question I ask myself when I have to make a choice about a matter like this is:

“Will there be times when my making this distinction helps others to understand what I mean?”

For example, it’s worth insisting that “different” always takes “from”, so that sentences like

“Bob looked different to Alice.”

remain unambiguous in their meaning.

In this case, the “Left/left”, “Right/right”, “Centre/centre” distinctions pass the test. It’s trivially easy to come up with examples:

“Gordon Brown always positioned himself on the left of Tony Blair at full meetings of Cabinet.”

“Nick Clegg was at the centre of a row between two long-opposed factions within the LibDems yesterday evening.”

“When David Cameron confronted last week’s meeting of the No Turning Back group with this apparent contradiction, many observers wondered if he was addressing his question to the right wing of the party.”

Where Are They Now?—Taff Trot / Brummie Schoolboy Edition

Back in the 80s, I used to be in a band with a guy called Martyn Hope—indeed, we went to school together. Back in the 90s, having read that, surreally, Elvis revivalist Shakin’ Stevens was a closet Red1, I went searching online to find out if he was a member of a late 70s cohort of Communist pop stars hailing from Wales. (Green “Scritti Politti” Gartside certainly was one.)

During my search, I was gobsmacked to discover that Martyn was now making a living as Shaky’s lead guitarist. It wasn’t that Martyn in any way lacked the talent for the job; it was just that this was even more surreal a scenario from my point-of-view than Shaky being a revolutionary. I still have a distinct memory as a kid of waking up on a schoolday to Shakin’ Stevens’s Green Door on Mike Read’s BBC Radio 1 breakfast show. Stevens is one of those people—like Celine Dion or Cliff Richard or almost anyone millions of Brits linedance to—who, despite being (because he is?) ignored/despised by hipsters and the mainstream media, sells shedloads of records. Apparently he played Glastonbury last year, though I’m not sure whether that means Shaky is cool now or Glasto is not; as regulars know, I don’t do “cool”, least of all the Glastonbury version of it.

A few weeks ago, Martyn and I got in touch via mutual friends on Facebook. He is a professional musician now and gigs with several bands as well as running an agency for them. Via his profile page, here’s a video to his playing on a track from the quiffmeister’s most recent Polish album [released December 2008]. Martyn is on the right, playing the nice Gibson, and takes a brief solo at about 2’11”. His picking throughout the song is rather more precise than the editing of the video. Martyn himself pointed out that, at the beginning, the drummer’s cymbal moves before he hits it.

  1. I’d like to make clear that I still haven’t found trustworthy independent confirmation of this rumour, and it might well be as true as the synthetic urban myth that Bob Holness plays sax on Baker Street—or indeed that His Holness was the man who put off Elvis himself during the notorious laughing version of Are You Lonesome Tonight?. []

Typical Bloody Scousers

You park the team bus outside Anfield on a Sunday and within minutes the wheels are off.

(Now that our improbable “breakthrough” season has officially gone down the tubes, can Villa just return to mid-table mediocrity again, please? I can’t be doing with the misplaced hope.)

Bat Into Hell

[A] bat, seen clinging to the external fuel tank of the Space Shuttle Discovery before its launch on Sunday, apparently clung for dear life to the side of the tank as the spaceship lifted off.

The shuttle accelerates to an orbital velocity of 17,500 milers per hour, which is 25 times faster than the speed of sound, in just over eight minutes. That’s zero to 100 mph in 10 seconds.

Did it make it into space? No one knows yet. But photos of Discovery as it cleared the launch tower showed a tiny speck on the side of the tank. When those photos were blown up, it became apparent that the speck was a bat.

Unfortunately, “Brian” is almost certainly an ex-bat.

[via Slashdot]

An Eight-Year-Old Watches Man U Versus Liverpool

From The Motley Fool:

My 8-year old daughter enters the room.

Millie: Aww, football?! Football is such rubbish.

As the daughter of a life-long Saints supporter she has a point.

Me: That’s true, but it’s not on for long.

A lump of sulk flops down next to me. I try to remember why other teams seem to pass the round white thing on the flat green stuff. I can’t remember. Suddenly the lump of sulk sits bolt upright.

Millie: Daddy, who’s the team playing in silver?

Me: Silver?! Oh, that’s Liverpool.

Millie: They’ve got a girl playing for them!

For a moment I feel like I’ve been transported back to St Mary’s but then I realise it’s not meant as an insult.

Me: A girl? What?

Millie: Look, there, she’s got blonde hair and she’s wearing an alice band!

Me: That’s not a girl, sweetie.

Millie: Men don’t wear alice bands!

Me: Well, actually…

Torres scores – 1-1.

Millie: Look! All the men are trying to cuddle her now, eeewwwww.

Me: No, that’s cos she, I mean HE, just scored a goal.

Millie: They’re cuddling each other because she scored a goal? Oh yuck, that one just kissed her!

Me: She’s not a girl, she’s a bloke!

Millie: Why don’t they just shake hands or something then?

Me: Well, I, errr… I don’t know, they prefer to cuddle, I mean hug… you know what I mean!

Millie: Daddy?

Me: Yes sweetie?

Millie: Do you cuddle people in your team at work when you do something good?

Me: No!


Millie: I bet you’d cuddle her if she was in your team.

Me: She is a he! Her name, HIS name, is Fernando Torres.

Millie: Fernando?! Is he the one ABBA sing about?

Me: No, I don’t think ABBA sing any songs about football…

Millie: Pffff, football is such rubbish.

My 8-year old daughter leaves the room.

Diversity Training

The other day, I was (as one so often is) on the door at the latter stages of a central Brighton soul and Motown event with a mixed-race lesbian bouncer. She leerily told me tales of her days running sapphic club nights, and how the punters only really started to pile in when she imported a couple of London-based girl-on-girl dancers whose speciality was a floorshow involving lit candles. Our conversation was interrupted at one point by her own girlfriend ringing her on her mobile and her answering, to my stifled amusement, with the classic: “I’ve told you about calling me at work.”
[I think this counted as another one of those situations designed to make a Guardian reader’s brain explode.]

Some time before closing time (1:00 am), the now tired-and-emotional attendees started trickling out. One forty/fiftysomething man and his partner (female) walked past us. He turned back, put his arm around my shoulders, and began:
“Tell me something, right? I don’t like black music, right?”
[bouncer and Pooter exchange glances] then continued:
“But [pointing at his missus] she made me come to this. And it was bloody good. Bloody brilliant. It was like Blues Brothers music. I thought it was going to be all, like, Barry White. Is there any more of this stuff I should listen to?”

The Mother Of All Funk Chords

Brothers and sisters, watch and listen as the universal language of music meets the multimedia multi-ethnic mega-mashup that is teh Interwebz and a groove is born [YouTube video].

Kutiman, a 26-year-old citizen of [sarcasm]the Evil Zionist Entity, isn’t too busy baking the blood of Palestinian babies into matzos[/sarcasm] to do a reggae one, with a ginga Rasta sharing lead vocals, and a cool hip-hop-jazz-funk-classical one, and a banging Mediterranean-Middle-Eastern one, and a 60s-lounge-meets-home-keyboard one [all links to YouTube videos]. I love the background household details in this one, and this is sweet.

Here’s Kutiman’s ThruYOU project homepage and his explanation of his work.

[via Tim Almond]

The Squeaky Wheelchair

Paul Evans worked for a company that built Websites for political organizations long before the current crop of johnny-come-latelys started twittering about “digital engagement” and “campaigning 2.0”. This post of his about the kinds of people who use the Net to harass politicians and the kind of people politicians should listen to—two groups that, in Paul’s imagination, could well be more closely related in real life than they are in their attitudes—is excellent.

Noblesse blancmange

For some lucky and rich people who describe themselves as Left-wing, one of the worst things about free markets is that they have given the oiks the freedom to enjoy the pleasures that were previously restricted to their betters. A real “socialist” state would provide the lower orders with more suitable goods: perhaps they would be allowed to see People Like Us with nice vowels do Shakespeare—only matinees, mind; wouldn’t want the unwashed sitting too close by in the evenings.

This piece by the legendary Liz Jones—is she a creation of Craig Brown? we should be told—exemplifies that attitude perfectly. Under the headline “IF ONLY WE’D HAD GREEN CUSTARD WHEN I MARCHED WITH THE MINERS”, ex-Communist Jones praises Leila Deen, the eco-warrior who slimed the Business Secretary Peter Mandelson. I reproduce the best bit of the article here, so you don’t have to visit the Daily Maily Website:

I was about to board a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to LA a couple of weeks ago.

I asked the woman at the check-in desk how full the plane was. “Rammed.” How many children are near me? “Ooh, quite a few infants.”

As I only had a seat in economy, and didn’t want to spend 11 hours being made more deaf than I already am, I asked if I could pay to sit in premium economy.

“It’s full,” she said. Upper class?

“No, that’s full as well.” But I’d have thought that, what with the recession and the weaker pound and global warming, the plane would be almost empty?

“No, it’s business as usual,” she said, smiling sweetly. Bugger.

I had hoped the dire straits in which the world now finds itself would have at least guaranteed a spare seat next to me on the plane. And I had consoled myself—while briefly thinking about my carbon footprint—with the thought that the plane would take off whether I was on board or not, so what did it matter?

This is the problem. Each of us feels so ignored, so disenfranchised, we no longer believe individual actions can make a difference.

So, well done indeed to a determined young woman called Leila Deen, who on Friday decided to get up early, make some custard and dye it green (rather than spend two hours deciding which ridiculous pair of shoes to wear, which is what most women of her generation seem to do these days), plonk herself outside the Royal Society and fling the custard in Peter Mandelson’s smarmy face.

It’s not April yet, but surely this is a parody?

Not Dead

Thank you very much to the PooterGeeker who sent me a Minolta SLR camera, lenses and other exciting goodies. You are star. I feel guilty writing so little lately when my readers are so nice to me.

The person who sent me that amazing gift is someone I have never met in my life, which brings me to my second point, a point that also links my two previous posts here. The photo of me and Thatch shows her presenting me with a scholarship at and on behalf of (the Association for Science Education and) the Royal Institution, where Susan Greenfield is currently a full professor and director—and responsible for rubbish like this. Greenfield’s an embarrassment to science. Normally it’s non-scientific academics who flit from medium to medium under the amusing banner of “public intellectual” making fashionable, unsubstantiated claims and demanding action. We expect that sort of thing from them and, usually, our elected representatives are sensible enough to ignore them.

I have attacked gibberish from Greenfield in the past on PooterGeek. Watch this YouTube video in which Ben Goldacre (who provided the link in my previous post) does the same on BBC’s Newsnight.

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