November 5th, 2012
A new study reveals that the British have invaded all but 22 of the world's countries:
Every schoolboy used to know that at the height of the empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink, showing the extent of British rule.
But that oft recited fact dramatically understates the remarkable global reach achieved by this country.
A new study has found that at various times the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe.
The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British. [...]
That figure turns out to be a bit of a fudge, judging by the article linked to above. It was only reached by including any sort of armed incursion – however brief – and by including attacks by pirates and armed explorers if they were operating with British governmental approval. Surely the term 'invasion' demands a little more than a bunch of pirates shelling a port somewhere in the Caribbean before coming ashore to pillage and rape and burn and what have you.
(This being a Daily Telegraph article, and the subject matter being what it is, it'd be much better for your mental health if you left the resulting comment thread to your imagination.)
[Via The Morning News]
November 3rd, 2012
China Miéville contemplates London's Overthrow:
This is an era of CGI end-times porn, but London's destructions, dreamed-up and real, started a long time ago. It's been drowned, ruined by war, overgrown, burned up, split in two, filled with hungry dead. Endlessly emptied.
In the Regency lines of Pimlico is Victorian apocalypse. Where a great prison once was, Tate Britain shows vast, awesome vulgarities, the infernoward-tumbling cities of John Martin, hybrid visionary and spiv. But tucked amid his kitsch 19th Century brilliance are stranger imaginings. His older brother Jonathan's dissident visions were unmediated by John's showmanship or formal expertise. In 1829, obeying the Godly edict he could hear clearly, Jonathan set York Minster alight and watched it burn. From Bedlam – he did not hang – he saw out his life drawing work after astonishing work of warning and catastrophe. His greatest is here. Another diagnostic snapshot.
'London's Overthrow'. Scrappy, chaotic, inexpert, astounding. Pen-and-ink scrawl of the city shattered under a fusillade from Heaven, rampaged through by armies, mobs, strange vengeance. Watching, looming in the burning sky, a lion. It is traumatized and hurt.
The lion is an emblem too
that England stands upon one foot.
With the urgency of the touched, Martin explains his own metaphors.
and that has lost one Toe
Therefore long it cannot stand
The lion looks out from its apocalypse at the scrag-end of 2011. London, buffeted by economic catastrophe, vastly reconfigured by a sporting jamboree of militarised corporate banality, jostling with social unrest, still reeling from riots. Apocalypse is less a cliché than a truism. This place is pre-something.
October 26th, 2012
London Heathrow Approach Time-Lapse.
I love the oddly jittery motion as the airliners bob around in the crosswind, lining up their final approach. It's strangely soothing.
October 15th, 2012
Jarvis Cocker, reviewing The John Lennon Letters, gets to the crux of the matter:
I am so the target-audience for this book that it hurts – but something feels wrong.
Britpop (I can scarcely believe that I typed that word of my own free will) perhaps comes in useful for once at this point. People of my generation felt this obscure pang – this feeling that we'd somehow missed out on something amazing. So we tried to make it happen again – but exactly the same. You cannot do a karaoke version of a social revolution (good fun trying though). What changed in the interim? Why was Br**pop doomed to failure? Too many factors to go into here, but one was: too much information. Too much reverence. Wearing the same clothes and taking the same drugs will not make us into Beatles. It will make us fat and ill. And books like this (along with many others, I admit) are what make that mistake possible. The Beatles didn't know they were the Beatles. The Beatles didn't have a plan or a blueprint to follow.
October 7th, 2012
Paul Owen looks forward to a couple of the events at this week's Conservative party conference:
Probably the most blue in tooth and claw is tomorrow at 9am, and is baldly called: "Why the public should want hospitals to close." For sheer mad brio "We can't afford roads!" (Tuesday, 5.30pm, their exclamation mark) runs it close.
September 5th, 2012
(I meant to post about this days ago, but because I'm an idiot I've kept putting off writing about it.)
The UK government is running a consultation on the introduction of a system of requiring Internet Service Providers to block 'Adult' content by default. This is a horrible idea for all sorts of reasons:
- As anyone who was ever used a network with a content filtering system in place knows, they're hopelessly unreliable. They either block far too much, or they block so selectively that they're ineffective. So, in short, they don't achieve their stated aim, and they cause all sorts of collateral damage along the way.
- If parents want to block their kids' internet access, there's been software available for years to let them do this. It tends not to work very well (see 1 above), or to be hard to install without the help of their tech-savvy kids – hence the request that governments force ISPs to do the job for them. None of which implies that the standards of the most censorious of parents should be applied to everyone: any such system should be offered on an opt-in basis, not as the default.
- Even if you completely trust the intentions of the current government and of the people who like this idea, putting a system like this in place gives a future government the tools to block whatever content they like. This is a (small) step towards our one day having the Great Firewall of the United Kingdom.
The consultation can be found here. There's a response form you can download and complete, or you could use the online response system produced by the Open Rights Group which copies your response to your MP.
The consultation closes on 6 September 2012 (yes, tomorrow), so if you're in the UK and you care about this get thee to one of the links above and let the Department for Education know what you think.
August 24th, 2012
West Midlands police have had a few problems with a system designed to pinpoint firearms as they're being used:
Police have admitted that gunfire sensors put up in parts of Birmingham have not been as accurate as hoped.
The Shotspotter Gunshot Location System was introduced where there was a high number of firearm incidents in 2010.
Police said of the 1,618 alerts from the system since November, only two were confirmed gunfire incidents. It also missed four confirmed shootings.
At the time they were put up, West Midlands Police said the devices had about an 85% accuracy rate and could detect a gunshot within 25m (82ft).
The best part is why the system performed so poorly:
Ch Supt Burgess said the system learnt to detect the sound of gunfire after installation.
Part of the reason Shotspotter had "struggled to work", unlike in the US, was due to the small number of gunshots being fired, he added.
So, not all bad news then.
[Via The Yorkshire Ranter]
August 19th, 2012
David Hepworth on why the Olympic experience probably won't improve the national character:
I came across this extract from a speech made in the House of Lords by the late Lord Longford:
I asked Sir William Beveridge to come to lunch. I was meeting with Evelyn Waugh, an old friend and famous writer. They did not get on at all well. Evelyn Waugh said to him at the end, "How do you get your main pleasure in life, Sir William?" He paused and said, "I get mine trying to leave the world a better place than I found it". Evelyn Waugh said, "I get mine spreading alarm and despondency" – this was in the height of the war – "and I get more satisfaction than you do".
Beveridge invented the welfare state. Waugh wrote some great books. I like to think of Longford sitting there listening to the pair of them, admiring the mischief of the latter almost as much as nobility of the former. That's the national character. And if it isn't, it ought to be.
August 16th, 2012
Why Sexy A-Levels must die:
2) We're all fabulously important people now. Seriously you guys. we're like the 1% these days and this shit does not look good on golf club applications. Or we're just busy.
[Via flashboy dot org]
July 18th, 2012
Martin Belam predicts the tenor of Olympic media coverage by the British media over the next few weeks:
DAY FIVE: After a couple of failed drugs tests, and a fracas in one of the men's hockey matches, nearly all newspapers feature an online poll: "Is the spirit of the Olympics dead?". Except the Daily Express which features a poll "Would Diana have enjoyed the London Olympics?"
THE DAY AFTER: The general consensus is "Wow, that was great. What can we bid for next?"
Three months later: George Osborne cites the Olympics as a "special factor" in worse than expected economic results as the UK hits a triple-dip recession
July 14th, 2012
Olympic Mascots Wenlock Policeman Figurine: Amazon.co.uk: Toys & Games:
- Hello, I'm Wenlock! Don't I look smart in my police officer's uniform?
- I have the important job of protecting you on your journey to the London 2012 Games.
- Take this figurine on a journey to the London 2012 Olympic Games – we can have lots of fun together! [...]
The customer reviews are all you'd expect and more…
[Via Charlie Stross, commenting at Making Light]
July 12th, 2012
July 4th, 2012
In the wake of what's turned out to be an … interesting … week for the UK banking industry, a reminder from Yes, Prime Minister that this is by no means a 21st century phenomenon:
SIR DESMOND GLAZEBROOK
They've broken the rules.
What, you mean the insider trading regulations?
SIR DESMOND GLAZEBROOK
Oh. Well, that's one relief.
SIR DESMOND GLAZEBROOK
I mean of course they've broken those, but they've broken the basic, the basic rule of the City.
I didn't know there were any.
SIR DESMOND GLAZEBROOK
Just the one. If you're incompetent you have to be honest, and if you're crooked you have to be clever. See, if you're honest, then when you make a pig's breakfast of things the chaps rally round and help you out.
If you're crooked?
SIR DESMOND GLAZEBROOK
Well, if you're making good profits for them, chaps don't start asking questions; they're not stupid. Well, not that stupid.
So the ideal is a firm which is honest and clever.
SIR DESMOND GLAZEBROOK
Yes. Let me know if you ever come across one, won't you.
[Via Flip Chart Fairy Tales]
June 30th, 2012
June 6th, 2012
The Yorkshire Ranter has plotted a map showing which local council areas authorised the most Jubilee street parties per head of population.
It turns out my home borough of North Tyneside is a little island of monarchism. Who knew?
[Via Blood & Treasure]
April 24th, 2012
Towards the end of a posting at the Wellcome Library weblog commemorating the 80th anniversary of the mass trespass that led, in time, to the creation of Britain's first National Parks and the establishment of the Right to Roam, the subject turns to libraries:
One of the inspirational presentations [at a symposium in London last year] came from information professionals in the Swedish city of Gävle, describing an initiative that promoted the city's libraries, archives and museums together under the slogan "Kulturell Allemansrät" – the cultural right to roam. A library gives its users the same freedom that the Manchester Rambler needed: access to the whole world of knowledge, without restrictions (except for a few on behaviour that harms other people's rights: [...]), without the concept of trespassing. The world of knowledge is laid out: and readers have the right to roam.
April 17th, 2012
This Past Imperfect post about Closing the Pigeon Gap is a fascinating look at how 19th century continental powers made use of networks of carrier pigeons in wartime, and how the British responded to the perceived threat of a Pigeon Gap developing. All good stuff.
And then there's this one passage that reads like a scene from a discarded Blackadder Goes Forth script, recounting a description by Lieutenant Alan Goring of a sticky moment during the Passchendaele offensive of 1917:
[...] I was left with just a handful of men, all that was left out of those three platoons…. We had two pigeons in a basket, but the trouble was that the wretched birds had got soaked when the platoon floundered into the flooded ground. We tried to dry one of them off as best we could, and I wrote a message, attached it to its leg, and sent it off.
To our absolute horror, the bird was so wet that it just flapped into the air and then came straight down again, and started actually walking towards the German line. Well, if that message had got into the Germans' hands, they would have known that we were on our own and we'd have been in real trouble. So we had to try to shoot the pigeon before he got there. A revolver was no good. We had to use rifles, and there we were, all of us, rifles trained over the edge of this muddy breastwork trying to shoot this bird scrambling about in the mud. It hardly presented a target at all.