Back to front

June 29th, 2013

Women use compact mirrors in packed crowd to catch sight of the queen in London, June 1966. I love the range of expressions at play across the faces of the women as they peer and squint at their mirror.

Presumably the modern equivalent would involve their hoisting a mobile phone above the crowd.1

[Via swissmiss]

  1. Of course, it's inherently less challenging to capture an image in those circumstances when using a smartphone, what with your getting to face forward while you're doing it. Not to mention getting to record the whole thing for review and editing later.

Comments Off on Back to front

Are we having fun yet?

June 26th, 2013

John Lanchester has written yet another piece on the ongoing banking crisis, this time on The Biggest Scandal of All. The essay is mostly about the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance and what that scandal reveals about how the big banks think of their customers, but along the way Lanchester reminds us of just how badly the banking sector has behaved recently:

[…] The first of the big British banks to be publicly busted was Standard Chartered […] In August 2012, the New York State Department of Financial Services […] accused the bank of running a scheme to deal, illegally under US law, with the Iranian government. The regulator said that the bank had been operating the scheme/scam for a decade and had used it to hide more than $250 billion in deals. The bank's response was unequivocal: 'Standard Chartered strongly rejects the position and portrayal of facts made by the New York State Department of Financial Services.' It turned out that, once translated out of bank-speak, this meant 'we did it.' In September the bank paid $340 million to the DFS in settlement, then in December another $227 million to the DoJ and $100 million to the US Federal Reserve, and accepted a 'deferred prosecution arrangement' in which the authorities said they wouldn't prosecute the bank if it abided by the conditions made in the settlement agreements.

Standard Chartered had odd body language through all this. Rather than looking guilty, they behaved as if they were severely pissed off. 'The settlements,' they said, 'are the product of an extensive internal investigation that led the bank voluntarily to report its findings concerning past sanctions compliance to these US authorities, and nearly three years of intensive co-operation with regulators and prosecutors.' They also said that the US Treasury had found that only $133 million in deals between 2001 and 2007 were in violation of sanctions. But if they only did $133 million in deals, how come they were willing to pay $667 million, two-thirds of a billion dollars, in fines? Was there a subtext here, a notion that these were American laws, expressing an American preoccupation with the Axis of Evil, and that for a British bank to have violated them was, how to put it, not quite so serious as all that? On 5 March this year, the chairman of the bank, Sir John Peace, said the following clunky thing: 'We had no wilful act to avoid sanctions; you know, mistakes are made – clerical errors – and we talked about, last year, a number of transactions which clearly were clerical errors or mistakes that were made.' This made the regulators furious, and in Sir John's next statement on the subject, 16 days later, he said that he and the bank retracted 'the comment I made as both legally and factually incorrect. To be clear, Standard Chartered unequivocally acknowledges and accepts responsibility, on behalf of the bank and its employees, for past knowing and wilful criminal conduct in violating US economic sanctions, laws and regulations.' This was described in the FT as 'the most abject apology that City pundits can remember hearing from a banker in recent times', and their story reporting it contained a link to the Clash playing 'I fought the law.' The DoJ made it clear that without the retraction, the bank would have been prosecuted. Standard Chartered's behaviour reminded me of the defining moment from the great sitcom Arrested Development, where the family patriarch, played by Jeffrey Tambor, explains to his son why he is facing prison: 'There's a good chance that I may have committed some [pause] light [pause] treason.'

The entire essay is, as you may have gathered, well worth a read.

(A couple of generations from now historians are going to be writing books wondering why the streets of the western world weren't lined with the corpses of bank executives hanging from lamp posts. With any luck the answer will be that they were too busy serving long jail sentences. I'm not going to hold my breath.)

Comments Off on Are we having fun yet?


June 16th, 2013

Alex Hern reckons that #guardiancoffee is the future:

Journalism is dead. Come on, we all know it. The only problem is that it's also kinda useful.

[Via Martin Belam]

Comments Off on #guardiancoffee

Intensifying the contradictions

June 1st, 2013

Agent Gideon Goes Rogue:

Nikolai strolled into the stuffy office where the older man stood waiting behind a desk which had stood in the same spot back in Stalin's day. The older man – Colonel Rakhmetov – gestured him brusquely to a seat in front of him, sat down himself, looked up and said "Sit".

The Colonel glared at him. "The plan for Agent Gideon began under Brezhnev. Do you have any idea of the resources required to place a mole at the heart of the British establishment, trained from birth to further the cause of Communism? So can you tell me what, precisely, is happening in that miserable backwater right now?" […]

[Via The Browser]

Comments Off on Intensifying the contradictions

We Are Amused

April 30th, 2013

James Fallows caught the Times being very naughty in captioning a news photo earlier today.

Comments Off on We Are Amused

Ding and indeed Dong

April 11th, 2013

Martin Belam, QFT:

Just a thought. I reckon anybody writing a comment piece about whether the BBC should play Judy Garland and "Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead" as part of the chart run-down at the weekend should be forced to name the current #1 single before they are allowed to hit publish…

Comments Off on Ding and indeed Dong

With apologies to the Grauniad's sub… >

March 26th, 2013

The Guardian Truncation Team highlights the occasional unfortunate consequences of the paper's mobile app truncating all headlines at the two line mark:

Loyalist protestors urged to end Belfast...

[Via Martin Belam]

Comments Off on With apologies to the Grauniad's sub… >

Infinite loop

March 19th, 2013

A slice of prime early 1980s computing nostalgia, served up for British computer geeks of a certain age by The Register:

They would, Clive Sinclair claimed on 23 April 1982, revolutionise home computer storage. Significantly cheaper than the established 5.25-inch and emerging 3.5-inch floppy drives of the time – though not as capacious or as fast to serve up files – 'Uncle' Clive's new toy would "change the face of personal computing", Sinclair Research's advertising puffed.

Yet this "remarkable breakthrough at a remarkable price" would take more than 18 months more to come to market. In the meantime, it would become a byword for delays and disappointment – and this in an era when almost every promised product arrived late.

Sinclair's revolutionary product was the ZX Microdrive. This is its story. […]

It was a pity that Sinclair botched the ZX Microdrive so badly: it was a tragedy that the QL relied upon Microdrives.1 I tell you, with floppy disk drives, a decent keyboard and a finished operating system, the QL could've been a contender.

  1. And an inadequate keyboard. And firmware that required more space on the built-in ROM than could fit on that ROM, leaving early users with no choice but to to plug in an external ROM card holding the remainder of their computer's operating system.

Comments Off on Infinite loop

Welsh words for rain

February 11th, 2013

From Joe Moran: Welsh words for rain. Something of an epic, including…

bwrw – to rain
glawio – raining
dafnu – spotting
brasfrwrw – big spaced drops
sgrympian – short sharp shower
Mae hi'n brwr hen wragedd a ffyn – It's raining old women and sticks


22 years

February 10th, 2013

Why My Bloody Valentine's 'mbv' Has Come Too Late To Stop The End Of The World:

Thanks Kevin. Thanks a fucking bunch for taking 22 years to make a record that could have saved the world. All you had to do was make a bunch of songs that sound like being hit on the head with a shovel after doing poppers while listening to a melancholy whale sighing. But you couldn't be bothered and now we're all going to die in planet wide nuclear annihilation.

[Via The Null Device]

Comments Off on 22 years

That same day, will record a sudden surge in popularity for Elvis Costello's 'Tramp the Dirt Down'

January 14th, 2013

@currybet:"What Twitter will look like on the day that Thatcher dies:

Link to original image - What Twitter will look like on the day that Thatcher dies

[Via Slacktivist]

Comments Off on That same day, will record a sudden surge in popularity for Elvis Costello's 'Tramp the Dirt Down'

'Truckload of mimes just pulled up and they ain't talking.'

December 18th, 2012

A nice little Xmas present from the schedulers at ITV: the second and final season of Bryan Fuller's glorious quirkfest Pushing Daisies has just started a repeat run on ITV1.1

Although I enjoyed the first season quite a bit, for some reason I never caught up with season 2 the first time round, so it was lovely to get reacquainted with the show's highly stylised world. It shouldn't work, but somehow it just does. Having a particularly able (and adorable) cast2 all of whom can keep it all just the right side of too sweet for words probably helps quite a bit.

Is it escapist, romantic fluff? Yes, in the best possible way.

As I did when I first saw the show, I can but endorse Gary Farber's thoughts after he'd seen the first episode:

IJWTS that Pushing Daisies is very strange, very different, and not particularly like any other American tv show ever done.

If I compared it to, say, Twin Peaks, you'd be misled into thinking it was different in a way similar to David Lynch, which it isn't; the only similarity is in that each was fairly different from any other American dramatic network tv fare.

As such, it's definitely not for everyone, and maybe not for you, but you might want to check it out.


There's a faint hint of Addams Family, as filtered through the Coens and Tim Burton, with a touch of Robert Altman's version of Raymond Chandler, and a dash of Princess Bride. Or something.

If you're in the UK, set your DVR and give it a try.

  1. In the wee small hours of the morning, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This week's episodes have been starting at 3am, whereas next week's start shortly before 2am. That's what DVRs were invented for.
  2. Led by Lee Pace, Anna Friel and Chi McBride, with Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz in support, plus Jim Dale as the narrator of the story.

Comments Off on 'Truckload of mimes just pulled up and they ain't talking.'

It shouldn't be allowed

November 23rd, 2012

I think my favourite part of the newspaper report about a Pervert caught pleasuring himself in slurry for third time (From This is The West Country)

A man found naked in a field amongst cow dung and mud had been sexually pleasuring himself, a court has heard.

It was the same farm he had returned to over a period of seven years.


When police officers arrived soon after, they found him covered in a large amount of slurry and mud, in a quagmire, surrounded by tissues.

This is the third time that he has appeared in court for this kind of behaviour. […]

… is that the first comment on the article is from a reader objecting to the fact that the newspaper's web site filed this story under 'Devon'1 when the incident took place in Cornwall and the offender was from Cornwall. After all:

Readers unfamiliar with the geography of Britain may inappropriately be led to believe that this sort of thing could possibly be allowed to happen in Devon.

[Via Blood & Treasure]

  1. I don't currently have a cornwall tag on the site: I suppose in the circumstances I should create one.

Comments Off on It shouldn't be allowed

Mad. Not Mad.

November 23rd, 2012

Roy Greenslade has fond memories of time spent at London's Speakers' Corner:

By far the most memorable of the speakers was Donald Soper, the Methodist preacher, because he didn't rant and he dealt so equably with the hecklers. Even those who disagreed with his message seemed to respect him.

Some time later I heard him tell an anecdote about the time a heckler defeated him.

A gesticulating, anxious man kept screaming: "You're mad". After a dozen such interruptions, Soper finally addressed him: "Look friend, this is getting you nowhere. It seems to me as if you might be mad yourself."

The man replied: "No I'm not, and I can prove it." He ran forward to the soap box and, with a cackling laugh, handed Soper a piece of paper.

After reading it, Soper smilingly handed it back and told the crowd: "I can confirm that this man is not mad. That letter, dated yesterday, is his official discharge from a mental institution."

Comments Off on Mad. Not Mad.

Turning the map pink

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]

Comments Off on Turning the map pink

London's Overthrow

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.

Comments Off on London's Overthrow

Like a leaf on the breeze

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.

[Via MetaFilter]

Comments Off on Like a leaf on the breeze

Fat and ill

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.

Comments Off on Fat and ill


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.


Stop opt-out 'Adult' filtering

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.1

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.

  1. As this is a consultation by a government department individual MPs aren't involved in the process yet – their time will come if this all ends in legislation being put forward to implement whatever proposals follow this consultation exercise – but it does no harm for them to know that some of their constituents have views on this topic.

Comments Off on Stop opt-out 'Adult' filtering

Page 2 of 1512345...10...Last »