September 16th, 2014
Karl reMarks: We Give the Scottish Independence Referendum the Middle East Expert Treatment.
The English and the Scottish had a long-running rivalry throughout history, which partially explains the current animosity. The two nations often went to war against each other, but the rivalry came to an end with the Acts of Union 1707. (So called because it was signed at seven minutes past five in the afternoon.) Despite being part of the United Kingdom for hundreds of years, many Scots never felt comfortable and always wanted to seek independence so that they can enjoy their simple way of life in the mountains, drinking whisky and eating the local delicacy known as ‘fried Mars bars’.
The English however are intent on depriving the Scots from achieving this goal, not least because it would mean re-designing the flag and changing all the letterheads. (The English are pragmatic down-to-earth people, but they are notorious for their aversion to change, particularly when stationery is involved.) The English would also like to keep their hands on Scottish oil and gas reserves, because clearly as Middle East experts we feel obliged to stress the importance of oil regardless of context.
[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]
August 4th, 2014
Chris Brooke has been reading The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark's book on the outbreak of the First World War.
[What…] I was repeatedly struck by were the sheer number of quite extraordinarily belligerent actors that I encountered along the way, and I ended up a bit surprised that continental war didn't break out much earlier than 1914. […]
[French diplomat…] Paul Cambon takes the prize:
Underpinning Cambon's exalted sense of self was the belief – shared by many of the senior ambassadors – that one did not merely represent France, one personified it. Though he was ambassador in London from 1898 until 1920, Cambon spoke not a word of English. During his meetings with [Foreign Secretary] Edward Grey (who spoke no French), he insisted every utterance be translated into French, including easily recognized words such as 'yes'. He firmly believed – like many members of the French elite – that French was the only language capable of articulating rational thought and he objected to the foundation of French schools in Britain on the eccentric grounds that French people raised in Britain tended to end up mentally retarded.
June 30th, 2014
A quick note for UK-based readers: BBC4 are starting a repeat run for Edge of Darkness later tonight at 10pm 11pm. Not the Mel Gibson remake: the original miniseries with Bob Peck (never better), lashings of paranoia, a bit of fringe environmentalism, and more than a dash of of sheer weirdness. Quite possibly the best miniseries produced by British television in the 1980s, rivalled only by Boys from the Blackstuff and The Beiderbecke Affair (if you don't disqualify the latter from the category of miniseries for having two followup series.)
I haven't seen Edge of Darkness since the original broadcast, and I'm curious as to how it'll look almost 30 years on. I have a horrible feeling that the answer will be "prescient."
[Via The Guardian]
June 29th, 2014
DataShine: Census provides a simple, map-based view of the UK's 2011 census data. I could browse this thing for hours….
The DataShine mapping platform is an output from an ESRC Future Research Leaders Project entitled "Big Open Data: Mining and Synthesis". The overall project seeks promote and develop the use of large and open datasets amongst the social science community. A key part of this initiative is the visualisation of these data in new and informative ways to inspire new uses and generate insights. Phase one has been to create the mapping platform with data from the 2011 Census. The next phases will work on important issues such as representing the uncertainty inherent in many population datasets and also developing tools that will enable the synthesis of data across multiple sources.
[Via Flowing Data]
June 28th, 2014
Experience the thrill of Bounce Below at Llechwedd Slate Caverns:
Bounce Below is the first facility of its kind, a set of three enormous nets within the Llechwedd caverns in Wales – bringing trampolines to whole new terrain…literally. Bounce Below is an underground playground for both adults and children, set deep inside an old mining cavern that is twice the size of St. Paul's Cathedral. [...] a cavern that is lit up by an incredible display of lights and to a collection of 3 trampolines that have been interconnected by stairways and slides – the biggest of which is a 60 foot slide that just adds to the already awesome experience.
I have no head for heights so I don't think this is for me, but it does look pretty amazing.
May 14th, 2014
15 weird things that 9% of Britons say they believe:
If Labour are having a tough time in the polls, the Lib Dems are facing a European wipe out.
The latest YouGov figures on how people are intending to vote in the European Elections put Lib Dem support at 9%. Our friends at UsVsTh3m noticed this was significantly lower than the number of people who would be prepared to have sex with an android.
We wondered what other things more than 9% of the British public believe, would be prepared to do, or have done…
10. Eat testicles
Not just the preserve of Bushtucker Trials in I'm A Celeb, 9% of people in the UK said they would be prepared to eat animal testicles. Remember, that's the same amount of people who say they'll vote Lib Dem.
Gloating? Perhaps. But it's a welcome distraction from contemplating UKIP's polling numbers.
May 5th, 2014
19 feet down and 9 feet to the west of the original site:
Like the Pentagon, its better-known counterpart in the United States, Britain's Ministry of Defence building is a fairly mundane, if gigantic, office block camouflaging a much more exciting subterranean realm of secret tunnels, bunkers, and – at least in the MoD's case – a perfectly preserved Tudor wine cellar. […]
May 5th, 2014
February 22nd, 2014
I'm indebted to Stu for reminding me of this perfect epilogue to Spaced, which I believe can be found on the DVD boxset:
[Via feeling listless]
February 12th, 2014
From the [pen|keyboard] of The Yorkshire Ranter: Dave from PR in the French Revolution…
Being a Salmagundi from the Talking-Pointes of the late Sieur Davide du Camerone, Gentleman of the Privy and Counsellier upon the Fourth Estate to his most Catholic Majesty, the late King Louis XVI
An unexpectedly large forecast error in the Budget leads Finance Minister Necker to call an emergency Estates-General:
We’re all in this together. Only a balanced parliament reflecting the national consensus to deal with the debt can keep us from ending up like Spain. M. Colbert didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining, but His Majesty is determined to get our finances in surplus by 1792. That’s on a rolling five-year cash basis excluding interventions in North America and royal mistresses.
February 7th, 2014
The 28 Poshest Things That Have Ever Happened.
Assuming that it's not a Photoshop job, they left the worst until last:
28. And this velvet-covered Porsche
Why would you do that to a poor, defenceless car? Why?!?
January 9th, 2014
James Bridle on How Britain exported next-generation surveillance. Good, but depressing.
As is often the case when it comes to governments and surveillance technologies, the problem isn't so much the technology itself as it is a reluctance on the part of officials to explain how the data gathered is being used, beyond a bland assertion that all relevant laws and guidelines are being followed. Plus, of course, mission creep on every possible front.
January 6th, 2014
Today's Guardian commemorated the passing of their parliamentary sketch writer Simon Hoggart by reprinting some of his finer moments. I always liked Hoggart best when he turned his attention to some of the less consequential figures From the back benches:
"Does Sir Peter Tapsell actually exist? I ask the question following his own question – nay, speech – on Wednesday, which was magnificent. It could have been a pastiche of the perfect Tapsell address.
I imagined his words being carved into tablets of polished black basalt, mounted in the British Museum, etched dee
p so that even the partially sighted can feel their way to his eternal wisdom.
Possibly Sir Peter is a mass thought form, created by Tory MPs, for whom he recalls their party as it used to be, and Labour MPs, who wish that it still was. Certainly it is true that the whole House looks forward keenly, yearningly, to his every word.
When the Father of the House arose in the middle of prime minister's questions, a great throb of excitement ran along all benches, rather like the moment in a Victorian seance when the eerie manifestation of a dead Red Indian appeared above the fireplace. This moment of glee was followed, as it always is, by a hushed and expectant silence."
- 14 September 2011
December 31st, 2013
August 21st, 2013
Novelist and former MP Louise Mensch, demonstrating her deep understanding of how digital technology works:
She probably thinks the Guardian no longer has access to the files on that laptop too.
Actually, cancel that. I'm sure she's perfectly well aware that digital data can be – and in this case, was – backed up. To my mind, she's just doing her bit to help the government to deflect the focus of the discussion away from the Guardian's story and the doings of the surveillance state and on to the government's preferred law-and-order/keeping-us-safe-from-terrorists/nothing-to-hide, nothing-to-fear agenda.
[Via Charlie's Diary]
August 10th, 2013
Adam Curtis on the awful truth about spies:
The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they – and all the reactions to them – had one enormous assumption at their heart.
That the spies know what they are doing.
It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.
It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.
But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. [...]
August 4th, 2013
Stiff Records' press release about the first week sales performance of Johnny Borrell's solo album is putting a brave face on things:
Stiff Records is proud to announce first week sales figures for its latest album – Johnny Borrell's 'Borrell 1' – of 594.
'Borrell 1' is the début solo LP from the former Razorlight vocalist and is the first new album on the highly prolific Stiff Records since 2007.
That last album was the multi million-selling two-volume set, '30 Years Of Stiff Records' (although admittedly that was a free cover-mount with 'The Independent on Sunday').
"First week sales of 594 makes 'Borrell 1' the 15,678th best selling album of the year to date," comments a Stiff spokesperson. "So far we've achieved 0.00015% sales of Adele's '21' – and 0.03% sales of this week's No. 1 album from Jahmene Douglas – so we feel like it's all to play for as we move into the all-important week two."
"We might even break the Top 100."
Or possibly taking the piss. Hard to tell.
[Via No Rock And Roll Fun]
July 29th, 2013
One for readers in the UK: the Open Rights Group invites you to sign their petition telling David Cameron to Stop Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship.
Dear David Cameron,
Everyone agrees that we should try to protect children from harmful content. But asking everyone to sleepwalk into censorship does more harm than good.
Filters won't stop children seeing adult content and risks giving parents a false sense of security. It will stop people finding advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships. This isn't just about pornography. Filters will block any site deemed unsuitable for under 18s.
Please drop these plans immediately.
July 13th, 2013
Marina Hyde probably isn't going to get an OBE any time soon…
In the movies, all royal births, marriages, and deaths are announced from a balcony, to a sea of lowly subjects in a courtyard below. How and why these ready-to-whoop peasants are so conveniently on hand is never made clear: perhaps they have nothing better to do than wait around on the off-chance of news. Possibly they have been kettled there by the Ruritanian equivalent of the Met.
Against such fictions, Clarence House's plans for the announcement of the birth of the royal baby have the whiff of bathos. "We wanted to retain some of the theatre of the notice," a spokesman – who has obviously never seen The Princess Bride – recently revealed. Thus, when the baby is born, a piece of Buckingham Palace writing paper will be signed by those who have assisted the Duchess of Cambridge in her obstetric endeavour, and this piece of paper will be driven to Buckingham Palace, where it will be displayed on an easel in the palace forecourt, like the end credits of a By Royal Appointment episode of One Born Every Minute. One Born Every Generation, if you will. [...]
Hilary Mantel wuz right.
July 7th, 2013
Statistic of the day:
Parachuting for charity: is it worth the money? A 5-year audit of parachute injuries in Tayside and the cost to the NHS.
Authors Lee CT, et al.
Injury. 1999 May;30(4):283-7.
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Perth Royal Infirmary, Scotland, UK.
All parachute injuries from two local parachute centres over a 5-year period were analysed. Of 174 patients with injuries of varying severity, 94% were first-time charity-parachutists. The injury rate in charity-parachutists was 11% at an average cost of 3751 Pounds per casualty. Sixty-three percent of casualties who were charity-parachutists required hospital admission, representing a serious injury rate of 7%, at an average cost of 5781 Pounds per patient. The amount raised per person for charity was 30 Pounds. Each pound raised for charity cost the NHS 13.75 Pounds in return. Parachuting for charity costs more money than it raises, carries a high risk of serious personal injury and places a significant burden on health resources.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]