Tuesday, February 28, 2006

This weeks nostalgic confectionary product is...

Flying Saucers

There was always a kid who claimed that his brother could poke a hole in the side of one, fly it across the room like a frisbee and then chase it, catching the trail of sherbert in his mouth. This was clearly nonsense, but a nice idea. I never understood why the glutinous melty delights of rice paper isn't more popular in adult cuisine.

Today: The Gardening Gene Theory

Nobody has ever done any research on it that I can find but I am almost certain that there is a gardening gene. It's influence tends to emerge as people head towards middle age. Suddenly, gardening phone-in shows become mildly interesting, your windowsills begin sporting propagators and you accrue an ever increasing selection of gardening 'stuff'.

I am sure, for some, this is merely functional. People tend to get houses and gardens and therefore have to address them, and their gardens become another outlet for decorating. It's like ironing. You grow up, get a responsible job, work out the codes of dressing nicely and somehow it all creeps up on you. Putting on a suit and a crisply ironed shirt when appropriate becomes second nature and feels good, even though for most people, the ironing of said shirt and the pressing of said suit is still a chore.

But I am sure there are people who enjoy ironing for ironing's sake.

My own theory of the gardening gene germinated (sorry, I almost reisted the gardening metaphor then, but it was too easy) when one day, my friend Eleanor told me that she often fantasised giving up her inner city teaching job and working in the field of horticulture. I don't think she was even 30 at the time. But her thoughts correlated with mine, and those of several other people I know. We have all, seemingly out of nowhere, developed a fondness for plants and a wish to develop green thumbs.

I have something in common with Eleanor and all the others which I think counts towards my theory. That thing is stationery. To us, Staples is some kind of a cathedral. When Ellie and I worked together and car-shared, we regularly found ourselves stopping off in stationery shops, using our teacher status to justify huge and unnecessary amounts of spending.

We also owned up to a fondness for hardware of pretty much every kind. I believe that predisposition to liking hardware and stationery shops is an early sign of the gardening gene. Some people will pick up a paring knife, can opener and milk pan at the supermarket. Others will visit a proper, dedicated, kitchen supply shop and pore over the multitude of options: weighing shiny knives in their hands, miming the creation of a bedtime cocoa, testing the feel of the gadgets.

And those same people cannot resist a well made precision set of screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, reels of twine and a bag of brass nails, all bought 'just in case'.

Eventually, they will develop the tell-tale signs of a particularly selfish and headstrong gardening gene.

So here I am. With my seed trays, my lovely trowel and fork, broken sticks, compost and twine. This year I am going for a sheer riot of colour. Poppies of all hues and nationalities - California, Vietnamese, Icelandic, a couple of dozen giant Sunflowers, rich blue Lobelia, African Marigolds and Love Lies Bleeding.

It's a genetic imperitive. The fact that I don't actually have a garden is a trifling inconvenience.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

This weeks old footballer is....

Mickey Quinn

Today : The world turns upside down



Yikes! The world must have gone mad. Never in my life would I find that I agree with GW Bush and disagree with Neil Kinnock, given that the former pretty much stands for everything I despise, and the latter is one of my heroes.

But, it happened. Luckily, only on single issues.

Bush, of course, is right to treat the proposed legislation banning a UAE company from taking over P&O (a British company) and therefore running a few American ports as silly. The members of Congress who have thought this up are at best hypocrites (given that they don't have any problems with Exxon owning, for example, Nigeria) and political chancers and at worst stupid racists.

Secondly, Neil's call for Britain to go completely and irrevocably metric is also silly. Speaking in both Metric and Imperial is the only area where people in Britain are in any way bilingual. We can easily handle both systems side by side, which is more than can be said for other stuff, like French. And there are things that just aren't the same if you buy them in metric; like a pint of beer or a pint of prawns.

I think that Kinnock is a hugely underated political figure of the last 50 years and the last great political orator that I can remember, but on this one he is being a little over-enthusiastic.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Today : "da mihi elimo sinam propter amorem dei"

Whenever I talk or write about my disability, I face two problems. The first is that I am slightly embarrassed by it. Nobody really wants to hear anyone carping on about their horrid life. It's lead to whole genre of 'My Struggle' stories in which disabled people overcome their physical or developmental shortcomings through resourcefulness and bravery and emerge greatly admired, but not any less disabled, or any more likely to get laid anytime soon.

The other problem I encounter is that my disability is just unfashionable. I have club feet (talipes is its medical name), and although it affects one in a thousand babies, it is often quite effectively treated in early childhood and many sufferers go on to have few major problems in their adult lives. However, they might continue to have minor issues and, as they get older, their feet are the first thing to give them problems.

But there's not a lot of info around about the condition. There aren't many websites around, for example. If you Google 'Club Feet' there are 33,900 entries. More fashionable disabilties have many more web-pages. For AHDH there are 5 million or more and for Asbergers there are almost 4 million. This happens, I think for three reasons. The first is that we live in a hugely child-centred world. Most parents are desperate for their children to do well, and disabilities that can impair educational achievement are top of the agenda. There's also a worthy coolness to developmental disabilities. If you look like everyone else then you can always been portrayed as some kind of edgy, misunderstood outsider. It's the disability equivalent of rock musicians claiming they were expelled from school. We love a rebel and if you fit in too much then it's just boring. Of course, the reality of mental disability is much more dreary, but it's easier to deal with than the sheer revulsion people feel towards deformity. Mind shock is much easier for most people to deal with than body shock.

A poster boy or girl is always a good idea. Parkinson's disease (18,000,000 Google entries) has Michael J Fox. Paralysis has Christopher Reeve, Autism has Nick Hornby's son (as well as loads of people from Darryll Hannah to Woody Allen who are reputed to be Autistic), deafness has Marlee Martlin, blindness has Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder (wearing cool shades), RRMS has President Bartlett. The Prez is an example of the third reason. Some diseases and disabilties are fashionable because they have been protrayed in fiction.

Googling 'Famous People With Disabilities' gets 2,350,000 entries. The first ten pages all mention the same few people as I have noted above, including many compiled lists. Google 'Famous People with Deformities' and the number goes down 254,000. The seventh entry on the list is an article about Jusepe de Ribera's 1642 painting Portrait of a Clubfooted Boy. Page two of Google's answers has entries about Gout and Richard III. For 'Famous People with Club Feet' The entry-count is 522. Entry #9 is a Daily Mirror columnist laughing at a doll of Princess Diana because it looks like she has two club feet. After that, the words are pretty randomly scattered. I tried going to page 39 and almost every entry used the words Club Feet as a casual pejorative.

As well as a poster person, it's useful to have a novel or a film about your disability. It seems that, after The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Asperger's is understood by plenty of people and is pretty high up on the awareness agenda. Even if the protrayals are unsatisfactory, as in Rain Man (although even today some people seem to think that every Autisic person is a mathematical genius), the awareness level goes up. Talipes is, admittedly, a pretty humdrum kind of thing. Medical shows on TV tend to stick with the obscure, shocking and entertaining diseases and afflictions. For example, this weeks Greys Anatomy featured two genuine medical problems in Craniodiaphyseal Dysplasia (lionitis - or the disease the kid had in Mask) and a woman who was having spontaneous orgasms. Very entertaining and moving all round. But not real.

So, it looks like if I want to have a fashionable disability, I'll just have to write a novel and turn it into a major film. So, coming to a Borders or a multiplex near you soon: 'Saltydog - My Struggle'

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Today : It's a pear shaped world

I've been lucky over the years to visit some of the world's top tourist destinations and seen some of the iconic places that our wonderful and diverse world has to offer. The Bridge of Sighs, The Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon, Brandenburg Gate, Anne Frank's House, Edinburgh Castle, Big Ben, The Golden Gate, La Sagrada Familia, The Vienna Opera and Bourbon Street, to name but a few. But the other day I went to Oswaldtwistle Mills, in Oswaldtwistle near Accrington, Lancashire.

It's the home of Stockley's sweet manufacturers and, amongst the many shops offering crafty supplies and things designed only for pensioners there is Stockley's factory tour and gift shop (all the sweets you could ever want at wholesale prices!). I went there specifically to buy a large jar of sweets for a brithday gift but was drawn in by the sheer thrill of it all.

One thing, above all made me stop, rendering me speechless with amazement and delight. You can stand on level three of the Eiffel Tower, surveying Haussman's glorious boulevards as they stretch into the hazy distance to La defense, L'arc de triomphe and up to Monmartre. You can look down on the Rive Gauche and only imagine all the romance, intrigue and poetry that has happened there over the years, hoping somehow that later that evening you might run into Julie Delpy in a musty bookshop and fall into an amour fou. You can watch the sunset over the Grand Canyon and feel your mind short-circuiting as you try to imagine the aeons of erosion, the sheer majesty of the colours and the fact that, in the face of the universe you are but a speck of dust blowing unnoticed across the surface of an insignificant planet. You can drive across the Golden Gate, looking down on a blanket of fog that seemingly swept in from the pacific making you feel like you are bridging the very sky itself, you can walk along Bourbon Street at night and hear the ghost of Buddy Bolden and the stories of Storyville whispering in the night.

But nothing can prepare you for...the biggest Pear Drop in the World. Inside the Stockley's Sweet factory is where it resides. Surely a sight to attract previously jaded thrill-seekers from all four corners of the globe. A Pear Drop so big that it unsuckably outsizes, by quite some distance, any other Pear Drop ever created. If, by some strange twist, I choked to death on a normal size Pear Drop (or a Spearmint Pip, seeing as I don't really like Pear Drops much) I could now do so, safe in the knowledge that I have seen the Biggest Pear Drop in The World.

And it was pear shaped.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Today: Some Midweek Nepotism

My sister is the talented one in our family. Here is a picture of one of her splendid hand made ceramic vases. If you want to visit her blog where you can feast your eyes on more of her excellent ceramic sculpture, then her link - Al Dent Ceramics - is in my links section.

this weeks nostalgic confectionary product is...

Caramac. Mysteriously, it was presented as if it was chocolate, except it wasn't chocolate. Neither was it toffee or caramel, although it did have a caramelly flavour. It was literally neither one thing or another (although it was up to 3p cheaper than chocolate, probably due to the 0% chocolate content).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Today: The Further Adventures of BADGEMAN.

During his days patrolling around the car parks of the nation, challenging the unbadged for using, nay STEALING, the parking spaces of the badged, Badgeman encounters great danger. But more than that he encounters greater stupidity.

Coincidentally we were both invited to a cocktail reception the other day and I managed, during the course of this event, to speak to him for a short time. The conversation, of course, turned to parking. That very evening I had encountered problems traversing an icy car-park, due to the sheer weight of Prestige Marques that were parked in both badged spaces and obstructive positions. Being privileged to know this innocuous, balding man's secret alter-ego, I found his comments both interesting and enlightening. Basically he repeated, in order of foolishness and self-importance, the top ten excuses the unbadged had given him upon his challenge, and his subtextual analysis of said excuses. In ascending order of outrageous moronicness, I report them below.

10. I am just nipping in for a minute. (i.e. I can justify my inconsiderate behaviour because I don't do it much.)

9. I didn't see the sign. ( I am a liar)

8. (adopting a limp) I left my badge at home. [I am a brazen liar and deserve a punch in the face]

7. Who the hell are you? You can't tell me what to do! [I believe I can bully and threaten my way out of any situation. Supernanny didn't exist when I was a child. I also deserve a punch in the face.]

6. (from a young person) I didn't realise. [I am young, therefore immortal, and cannot connect my own existence to the concept of disability. There was a crippled kid at our school but we never spoke to him. I deserve to have my car vandalised, causing my already huge insurance bill to rise even further.]

5 Sorry, followed by walking away. [I believe that it IS what you say and not what you do that counts. I am totally superficial and arrogant enough to think that you, Badgeman, are stupid. I deserve to come back to find my car has 'accidentally' caught fire]

4. It's night. [Cripples do not go out after dark. Night time is the reserve of 'normal' people. I deserve an ASBO banning me from going out at night, or during the day, for that matter.]

3. I work for the company. [strangely heard twice from different people, one working for Asda - part of the Walmart Family and one working for TESCO. The assumption here is 'I own the car-park and that allows me to suspend all notions of civility. I could use my power to have you banned from my shop. I am completely unaware that I risk prosecution, dismissal from my job, losing everything and becoming destitute if you decided to pursue the matter of my incivility and ignorance.]

2. I can't fit my 4x4 in the narrow spaces [The world would simply have been a better place had I not been born]

1. I have a deaf aunt.[I am prepared to leave you speechless]

With that, The Badged One left us with our Absolut Martinis and prawn vol-au-vents and disappeared into the crowd.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Today: You want the truth son? You can't handle the truth.

I first became aware of Guantanamo Bay in the film 'A Few Good Men'. It won me a pub quiz once, the fact that Jack Nicholson's scenery devouring General (you could say that Nicholson's performance was an extraordinary rendition of the script) was in charge of the place.

The attitude of machismo displayed by him, that in order to protect freedom the forces of protection must be allowed to act outside the law, is pretty familiar. In the past week, this is the basic argument that I've heard put forward by various spokesmen, when asked whether the UN are right to suggest that Camp Xray be closed.

Major Jessep, of course was both fictional and a marine. Perhaps he has an argument. After all, we send soldiers out to kill and maim people on our behalf. We don't like to think it, but we ask them to lose their humanity for us.

But the Guantanamo situation in real life is different. All the while various Pentagon people and Senators are out in the world justifying the detention without trial of 'suspects', they are undermining the very freedom that they wish to defend. It doesn't play well in the rest of the world that The U.S. is seen to blatantly disregard human rights, and more importantly, what appears to be right.

They can play all the linguistic tricks they like, but not putting the detainees on trial sends a clear message that U.S. policy makers are willing to mirror the behaviour of the very people they seek to destroy. Justice is paramount if you are going to win moral arguments. The Guantanamo prisoners are the fly in the ointment of every argument that places western democracy as more desirable than religious theocracy. Those who are looking for an excuse to hate America keep getting handed their reasons on a plate.

It appears to me that the policy just wasn't thought out very well. I can understand the desperation of the administration to appear to be strong after 9/11, but they messed up. They didn't think it through. In fact this seems to be the overarching modus operandi of the current US government. They appear blithely and childishly unaware of the long game. They went into Iraq without a clear exit strategy, leaked the name of Valerie Plame for no real reason and a lot of payback, slashed taxes and ballooned the deficit and set up wiretaps. This was all done in haste, believing that they were immune to the consequences. As for Fema. Well what did they think would happen if they put a pony club administrator in charge?

Guantanamo is such a mistake. My overiding impression is that noboby really thought five years ahead. The prisoners may well be horrid terrorists and evil people who deserve to be locked away. But without trials we will never know. It is about time the White House showed some leadership and ordered the remaining men tried. Not only is it currently a simple tap-in for America's opponents throughout the world, but keeping them there is the classic behaviour of a bully, mistaking weakness of purpose and action for strength.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Today: A Cheap Shot - The Cheney Mix-tape

You Give Love a Bad Name - Bon Jovi
John Wayne is Big Leggy - Haysi Fantaysee

Hunting High and Low - Aha

Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) - The Icicle Works

Hit me With Your Best Shot - Pat Benatar

Long Shot, Kick de Bucket - The Pioneers (or The Specials)

Shotgun Blues - Guns N Roses

Now I'm Gonna Wetcha - Ice Cube

Gimme a Bullet & Shoot to Thrill - ACDC

Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down Nancy Sinatra

Shoot High Aim Low - Yes
Trigger Hippie - Morcheeba

Miss You - The Rolling Stones

Accidents Will Happen Elvis Costello

16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six Tom Waits

My Favourite Mistake Cheryl Crow

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bang Bang, My Cheney Shot Me Down


Although it is hilarious that 'Lon' Cheney shot his friend in the face, it is more worrying that he is in on blowing $7 billion out of the pockets of "ordinary hard-working Americans" and into the Swiss bank accounts of his oil chums.

Perhaps it is an over-simplistic analysis, but it appears that transferring huge amounts of cash in this way is the main focus of the Bush jr administration. If it isn't the main priority then it is certainly up there with taking two month long holidays in Texas when you are supposed to be running the country whilst everyone else gets two weeks, and mispronouncing up to 100% of modern vocabulary.

I don't want to poop on anyone's party but this is the story that the press and the citizens of Blogshire should be focussing on.

After all, it's not like Cheney's mate can't afford decent healthcare.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Today : Smoke gets in your eyes, but not for much longer

In the late 1970s my parents used to take us on family camping holidays. They were the best holidays of all. The Yorkshire Dales countryside felt like a world away from home, despite only being about 45 minutes drive from our house.

My favourite memories are of Appletreewick, a picturesque village in the Yorkshire Dales. Apart from being the destination for our family's holiday, Appletreewick was a place famous for one other thing. The landlord of the local pub, as a reaction to the death of his barmaid from cancer, banned smoking in his pub. It seemed bizarre and caused a minor stir of controversy. The local news would despatch a camera crew and we'd see the landlord being interviewed. He was, of course, a lone poineer.

I imagine he is long dead, which is a shame. Because today he could have switched on the TV and watched the British parliament voting on whether to pass laws that ban smoking in public enclosed spaces.

The total shift in attitudes towards smoking in the past few decades is remarkable. I smoke far more than is good for me yet can't quite believe that we have allowed it to go on so long. It just seems illogical to allow people to inflict their smoke on others. Smoking is becoming more and more marginalised. I predict that in another decade it will seem old-fashioned and strange, like those photos you see of 1950s chrome laden American cars on the streets of Havana.

There are definite civil rights issues to face for smokers. The main area, I think, is health. I am already hearing people condemn smokers to the back of the health queue, which shouldn't be allowed any more than condemning any other other drug addicts to the back of the queue. But for now, lets admit that a public smoking ban is a move forward.

http://smokingsides.com/ is a fascinating site which, amongst other things, has a list of celebrity smokers, including the shocking revelation that Courtney Love likes the odd ciggy.

Today: The Adventures of Badgeman

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? no, it's Badgeman! He prowls the streets and car parks of the nation, confronting the selfish and doling out justice (well, cutting comments). His true identity is a closely guarded secret. He is in no way an alter ego of the author of this piece, and if you push me on that question my denials will only grow firmer and more hysterical.

It might seem linguistically illogical, but it is not a national law in this country that the disabled have a right to park in disabled spaces. Locally, there are plenty of laws. But in lots of cases the badged parking space is a mere courtesy. Which is a problem, given that rather a lot of people only practice courtesy intermittently, if at all. Some people are huge fans of courtesy, but only when it is done to them (for example, those people whom, when you kindly hold a door for an elderly lady or harrassed new father with a triplet buggy, walk through in droves, as if being a doorman is your job. Except, if being a doorman actually was your job, at least some of them might acknowledge you or even hand over a tip).

Badgeman has a very similar disability to myself. This is purely a coincidence. Some time ago, upon noticing that many people were disrespecting the badge, he set out on a mission to challenge them, and sometimes harangue and insult them until they cried.

So, if you are 'just nipping in for a paper', or you 'didn't see the sign' (tip: the disabled spaces are the ones right outside the door of the supermarket. That's where they need to be so that's where they are. It'd be no use if they were half a mile away in parking zone Y) then watch out. That unassuming person with an old-fashioned walking stick might not be as unassuming as you think (That's if you even spot him, given that your eyesight is so poor that you can't see a great big bloody yellow badge sign on the floor, or you are so desperate to buy your daily Mail that you are heading for the paper section with blinkered, laser guided efficiency). He could well be Badgeman, and will stop at little to make your life a misery. He spends his time in a world of pain, and may invite you to join him.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Todays Topic : Smash Hits - Sniiiiip!

I almost bought the last ever issue of Smash Hits magazine today. In the end I didn't, but am sad at its passing. The first issue of Smash Hits I bought was in about 1981 - when it still had the enticing first verse of lyrics (I can't remember which but it was something like The Belle Stars remake of Iko Iko) on its front page as a selling point. It was 25 years ago, so I guess it's okay to feel like it was another era. After all, it was only 25 years before that that Elvis cut his first sessions at Sun. Imagine the transribed lyrics of pop songs being a reason to buy a magazine. These days you need the promise of four or five semi-naked photo shoots of Rachel Stevens and at least one free CD just to browse it in WH Smiths.

Throughout much of the 1980s Smash Hits was delivered to my house. For those who think that I wasn't cool, I also got the NME, in the days when it was anti-Thatcher radical and the original indie-kids' bible, and The Face, which was the touchstone of Metropolitan style.

What I loved about Smash Hits was its playfulness. The magazine unashamedly celebrated POP music, without having to hide its enthusiasm underneath layers of intellectual analysis and pseudo-coolness. Okay, so the Belle Stars or The Joboxers were crap, but they were what was happening that week. SH was Top of The Pops on paper, beholden to whatever was popular and treating every act with the same importance and affectionate irreverence. I look at something like Q and they worship at the feet of U2, Colplay and Radiohead, creating and promoting a canon of 'important' music and intellectualising it in order to appear serious. Smash Hits never did this. During its heyday from about 1984-89, it made me laugh out loud and developed a silly but clever writing style that still hangs around in the London written media today - which is not surprising since so many SH alumni are now big-shot magazine editors or write for the Sundays.

Smash Hits was never snobby. I remember feeling great pride in 1986 when my little known local Indie Goth band (I knew someone who knew someone who was the bass player and they were 'our' band) The Rose of Avalanche were given single of the week ahead of Papa Don't Preach. The indie papers only started taking Madonna seriously in return several years later when she started courting controversy and it became clear that she wasn't going away. Even then they examineded her from afar, as a case study.

Smash Hits reflected what was great about POP. The transience, the energy, the bizarre yet totally logical mix of deeply serious and deeply superficial. Yet it was never naive. Nor was it cynical and mean-spirited like much of todays popular media. It archly celebrated its subject with more depth than a million reflexive, linguistically clever Paul Morley essays. After all, celebration is probably the only legitimate response that you can have to POP. What can you really say about great pop music? It defies analysis. You can't say anything - it's not On the Genealogy of Morals.
Just get up and dance.

As a magazine it has been in decline for a while. POP consumers got younger and the bands they are fed are , I think, more formulaic and interchangeable. Nobody wears silly hats anymore. In its time Smash Hits was unique, but it got overtaken by TRL, Cat Deely, the internet and crucially, its own influence in breaking down the barriers between 'serious' and 'frivolous' music.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Todays topic : Ouch!

I am not in any way an agony aunt, nor do I consider that I am particularly placed to give anyone advice, especially on medical or emotional matters. But, I do have one tip that I think might benefit everyone:

If you can possibly help it, try not to hurl yourself downstairs head first.

Which is something I inadvertantly did last night. It was purely an accident and not, I might add, a Diana-esque cry for help (if you remember she once tried to kill herself by falling down some stairs. She also reputedly tried self-annihalation by throwing herself into a bookcase. Perhaps she should have taken the opportunity of proximity to read some of the books).

I don't balance well on my useless feet and sometimes just spontaneously fall over. This is usually of little consequence, and often quite comical, as spontaneous falling over is. But when it happens at the top of the stairs it can lead you to both injury and pointless philosophical thinking. The question that spun through my mind, as I executed a technically rather difficult flailing arm dive with half-twist was, "Why didn't this happen at the bottom of the stairs, or as I was walking next to a soft mattress?": a question that is on the same plane as "Why does the toast always fall marmalade side down?"

Because I landed ribs first on the edge of a step, I spent the whole of today in the kind of pain that you cannot escape. One of those pains that hurts only when you breathe. For some other, unknown reason, I also developed a cough. Considering the amount I smoke and the fact that it is the middle of Winter, maybe I already had a bit of a cough before, but as of this morning it became very noticeable.

I am used to pain. Chronic pain in my feet and ankles is the major symptom of my disability. Like most people with some kind of chronic pain, I take a pill and try and do as much as I can with it. Some days are worse than others and, compared to some ideal non-pain environment it's a drag. But compared to real life, it's not usually a big deal.

However, today with usual pain and my bashed up ribs I felt like Kurt Cobain.

It got me thinking about pain itself. So I googled the question "What is pain?" to learn more. But it turns out that pain is a very underdefined thing. Asking "What is pain?" will elicit as many vague answers as asking "What is love?". Although to my knowledge the fluffy haired 80s vegan pop maestro Howard Jones never recorded a song called What is Pain?.

Turns out that something so everyday, that is THE overwhelmingly major cause of suffering in the world is, even in the century of science, relatively little known about. The best pain relief we have is still opium, and that's been around for ever. You'd think that someone might have set out to really crack the problem and made some real progress on it. But it seems that they haven't. We still rely on eating extract of flowers.

Which begs another question. Who discovered that munching on poppies was so efficacious? I just imagine someone aeons ago saying. "Ouch, I sprained my wrist skinning a buffalo, I think I will eat some poppies. Wow, it's a miracle, my wrist doesn't hurt anymore!"

A happy accident, methinks. Less a case of intelligent design than accidental gastronomy. And one which, if it hadn't happened, might have had quite an impact on the fate of Kurt Cobain.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Today's Topic : Porky Piars and the Porky Pies That They Tell

Y'know what. I'm inclined not to believe that there was a foiled attack on L.A. in 1992. It might have happened but I can't be sure. And what does that say about the governments that rule us?

I'm not a conspiracy nut. In fact I'm like a big dumb floppy labrador, willing to trust pretty much anyone until they prove they aren't worthy anyway.

But the lies and 'explanations' stack up. It's obvious that Bush's announcement of this attack on the nonexistent 'Liberty Tower' in LA is another branch of the campaign to turn the wiretapping story around. Oops - it appears the mayor of L.A. knew nothing of it in the 3 years since it happened. Nobody released Plame's details, except it was -oops Scooter. Mr Bush has never met Jack Abramoff, except -oops, those ten or twelve times. One of Bush's guys appointed to NASA resigns because-oops, he lied on his CV.

And that's just the last couple of days.

WMD's (has there ever been a more stupid abbreviation than this? An initialism that cuts an awfully unwieldy phrase by two syllables. I really think people would have paid more attention if they had come up with a snappier phrase) didn't exist. Oops - the intelligence was not actually intelligent (which often happens when you pay people loads of money to provide it for you. They tend to keep giving you what you want in return for your unmarked bills). The 2000 election debacle was -Oops, too complicated to sort out - let's just move on and forgeddaboudit. Oops - we kind of forgot to get clearance to wiretap. The head of privacy software at the DHS is-Oops, a bit vague on the ADVISE system, even though it's costing £50 million.

There are others.
Don't even get me started on this http://www.flight93crash.com/index.html
Of all conspiracies this is the one I find hard to dismiss as implausible and illogical

Perhaps there is a wider point here. I guess governments have always lied to us, except we live in a time where journalists crawl over the globe like ants. There are endless 24 hour news sources to feed. We have Wonkette and her ilk. Underground news isn't just inky duplicates found on Berkeley campus but instantly accesible worldwide by pretty much anyone, even if they don't have sandals or a beard. The news crews were in New Orleans before the government were even out of the shower.

Even 'small' Governments are big unwieldy slow moving creatures. Their lies didn't used to catch up with them so quickly, and by the time people realised that lies had been told it was often years later and the liars had been voted out in a natural political cycle. This is no longer the case. Porky Pies don't come back to haunt the bakers of them eventually any more, they exact their revenge by bouncing back immediately.

The only responsible response to this change in the way information is available is to NOT BLOODY LIE IN THE FIRST PLACE. Instead the tangled web becomes more and more tangled as the pace of 'spin' increases. Did these people not learn anything as children? A lie begets a lie begets a lie. Didn't anyone tell them in school or church that this was wrong?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Todays topic : Hurry Up Pete, we're getting bored

I do wish that Pete Doherty would either hurry up and either get over drugs or die from them. It sounds harsh, but I am so bored with hearing about his every misdemeanour. I am also heartily sick of listening to his denials and declarations, promises and piffle.

The problem Pete has is that the tabloids would love him to die. It is almost as if he has had his narrative written already. There are many examples of this in the past. The press wanted Torville and Dean to fall in love and get married - turns out that they more or less hated each other. They then hooked onto McCarthy and Morrell. She, of course, campaigned for years whilst he was kidnapped in Beirut. After he was released the press wanted the wedding shot. Terry Waite conducting the ceremony and everyone living happily ever after. In reality, they'd been dating for only a few months before he was kidnapped and their relationship didn't survive. Awwwwww.

Michael Barrymore said recently that the press would only be satisfied when he committed suicide. He was right. The papers like nothing more than an easy stereotype. I don't think they actually wish him dead, but want the story to play itself out. And Barrymore's story can only end in three ways. Tragedy, Redemption or he goes to live in New Zealand and fades out of view. The third option is boring and just not newsworthy and the second cannot be allowed. They will never let a family entertainer forget that, whilst hosting kids karaoke on TV, he was holding a drugs and fisting party at his house, and someone ended up dead.

Pete is in the same position. He's been overfeted as a genius, when in reality he is quite talented. The Libertines first album showed promise, the second one showed little progress and his Babyshambles project has swung wildly between flashes of inspiration and, well, shambles. It could be that he turns out to be a very important artist. But just as easily he could turn out to be another overhyped but naked emperor. Again, there are only three outcomes available to him. My preferred option - that he cleans up and then has a middling career as a fairly interesting singer/songwriter, is not newsworthy enough. The hysteria is already at such a level that the story seems to demand a sensational ending of death or redemption.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Todays topic is: Graduate Opportunities

A survey by business today reveals the shock conclusion that most graduates are quite young. A spokesperson expressed the business community's concerns:
"We are extremely worried that the young people of today don't have as much experience as older people. Our survey has shown that a graduate employee aged 22 has up to 20 years less experience at working than an equivalent person aged 42.

"More and more graduates are coming out of University with good degrees and we are convinced that they are getting their excellent and improving results by being great big cheats, and having easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy exams that are all mutliple choice anyway, and everyone knows they could be passed by a moronic chimp. It isn't like the old days, when I was pointed out as one of the most elite people in the world and therefore got where I am today by just being better than everybody else. Also, there innadiquate at spelling and don't know nothing about grammar too as well."

The survey made several further conclusions. The main points are that new graduates are:
  • 98% less likely to have a combover than their boss.
  • 100% more likely to look cool in sports clothing.
  • 72% of female graduates don't cut the labels out of their clothing and then lie about being a size ten.
  • 92% less likely to be embittered by a messy divorce.
  • and only 4% percent are prone to whining on about their early life struggles and how it was much tougher in the good old days and how people today don't know they're born, what with their texting, computers, gnocci, mutliple TV channels, budget air travel and frappucinos.

Sir Piers Old-Etonian, chairman of the NIFWIMUSBBB (The National Institute for Whingeing Inadequately Framed and Researched Made-Up Surveys by British Industry) said: "It's about time all young people were given a clip round the ear, after all, it never did me any harm."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Todays topic is : How to really stick it to Denmark

Of course, if you're going to protest against something then burning flags, effigies and embassies and marching around with your face covered waving an extremely threatening placard is a bit old hat. I, for one, watch the news these days am just bored with more endless flag burning and marching with placards and start to look forward to the sign off story, y'know the one about a guy in Topeka who has broken the world record for wrapping his own head in string. Burning stuff also tends to rile your opponents and is almost guaranteed to make The Neocons rub their hands because it gives them an excuse to continue painting you as pre-civilised and therefore the prime target for either detention without trial in a secret Polish facility or maybe an invasion.

So, if anyone wants to protest against Denmark I recommend a peaceful boycott of Danish stuff. In the spirit of protest that was fostered by Ghandi and continued by students in the 1980s, I urge all offended peoples of the world to do the following.

1. Never again listen to Barbie Girl by Aqua.
2. Do not buy 70s porn magazines.
3. If you are going to eat Danish Blue Cheese, refer to it as Shariah Blue Cheese.
4. Same with Danish pastries. Either that or switch to Biscottis.
5. Buy your bacon elsewhere. If you are a Muslim, continue to not eat bacon.
6. Avoid watching Bille August movies. Especially the really crap ones he made when he went to Hollywood.
7. If you must watch Dogme movies, don't pay for them. Use Bittorrent. In fact, forget that, just don't watch them.
8. At dinner parties, weddings and other social gatherings, try to steer away from discussions about Kirkegaard.
9. If you are telling fairy tales to your kids, avoid Hans Christian Anderson and stick to the Grimms. Also, do not buy the limited edition DVD of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
10. Never take up handball as a leisure activity.
11. Give your copy of Miss Smilla's Sense of Snow to a charity bookshop.

That'll learn 'em.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Todays topic is : How to offend people

http://michellemalkin.com/archives/images/toles.jpg http://media.michellemalkin.com/wapoletter.pdf

For some odd reason I have posted this about three times in the past couple of days. The system would not accept the picture and the text just kept on disappearing. Was this censorship I wonder, or simply a technical coincidence?

I don't really want to link to Michelle Malkin but here is the 'totally offensive' cartoon that appeared in the Washington Post that was described as 'beyond tasteless' and reprehensible by the Joint Chiefs in their letter. I am referencing this because there is a lot of talk around about freedom of speech and offence at the moment and much of it is absurd. The British press are dithering over printing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, some of the European press are printing them as some kind of act of free speech solidarity and lots of people are getting hot under the collar.

The Prophet cartoons issue is simply down to the refusal of the secular liberal establishment to acknowledge other peoples' opinions. In fact, in their free speech protests it looks to me like they are deliberately and wilfully failing to understand Islam.I would not go so far as saying they are racist, but are set on a default setting where attacking religion is not only okay, but sometimes a badge of honour.

I am a strong believer in the fact that attacking religion is okay. In some ways that is what it is there for. For believers of all religions, the questioning of faith (and the tenets of faith) is a comonplace, often essential act. However, I sense in the responses of, for example, comedians to Religious Hatred legislation, the arts community to the Sikh response to the play 'Bezhti' and the press in general to the offense people took to 'Jerry Springer : The Opera', a smugness which is disingenous at best and pretty arrogant at worst. 'I am prepared to offend you but I am in turn offended by the fact that you are offended' is a dunderheaded non-argument. At the very least, if you are going to offend others - especially if that's what you set out to do - then you should be prepared to accept their response. It's not good enough to simply refuse to cry foul when someone comes back at you, or to try and control the limits of other peoples' offendedness. In the case of Bezhti, violent protests closed the play and lots of artsy types wrote a strongly worded joint letter to the Guardian. None of those people, whose conviction and defence of free speech was so strong and all-consuming, travelled to Birmingham to counterprotest and keep the play open at all costs. When a press conference for Jerry Springer was hijacked by protestors, it was ended early and the protagonists were later found bleating in the press. Did they not face the protestors down and battle on? Of course not.

People (I am really talking about the Press and politicians here, because they operate from the position of having a powerful voice) invoke the freedom of speech argument too often as a defence against causing offence. The fact is that freedom of speech is not the absolute the press often claim it is when they are acting in their own defence. The easy answer is most often to heap ridicule on those who are offended. For example, I know several moderate, broad-minded Christians who were pretty offended by some of the content of Jerry Springer : The Opera. None of them were 'Right Wing Fundamentalists' ( one of them said to me "The God I know might be a bit pissed off at it, but I doubt he'll lose much sleep, so neither will I"). Yet in defending the show, critics and columnists did not approach them, or examine their position. They were simply folded into the many dismissals of The Right Wing Nutters, and portrayed as absurd and foolish. The same is happening with the cartoons. We don't see pictures of moderate Muslims debating their profound discomfort and concern, we see clips of protesting Palestinians waving AK47s or Pakistani students burning effigies. This is not a considered defense of free speech. This is lazy stereotyping by religion.

You'll probably never hear me say this again, but Jack Straw's response is on the nose with this one. He recognises that it is an issue of respect and sensitivity above all.

Free speech is crucial, but the fact that it theoretically means you have the absolute right to say anything about anyone, doesn't mean that you are impelled to. In many cases free speech is a duty. Speak out against real injustice, argue your sincere point of view. But too many people use free speech to name call, to lord it over others and to make themselves feel better.

Todays Topic is: A Special Colourised Collectors Edition Post

Don't ask me how but whilst shopping today I accidentally ended up with two copies of the Radio Times. It's still the best TV listings magazine, bascially because it lists TV shows and doesn't endlessly go on about Soaps, which I never watch. I get it every week. Furthermore, I am not averse to buying the odd magazine. I'll usually pick up a copy of Q - the music magazine for people like me who want to read reviews of old albums rereleased on CD, and Empire - the film magazine.

Empire especially has a habit which the Radio Times has now replicated. They print it with several different covers. My two Radio Timeses have different covers. One has a graphic of a skier, the other a graphic of a bobsleigh (and I read on both that there are actually two that I missed). When Empire and now the RT does this they call i
t a collector's edition.

I am assuming that you are supposed to buy them all, because you need 4 copies of a magazine where all the contents are the same but each copy has a different Star Wars characters on the front, or more absurdly, you need all four Winter Olympics themed graphics. What?
If I actually did buy all four Star Wars themed magazines I would spend nearly 13 quid. Are there people who actually do this?

It is the ultimate in desperate marketing. Forcing us all to be fan-boy nerds.
You can buy limited edition chocolate bars. Today in the supermarket I even saw a limited edition can of SPAM (with added black pepper). It's bloody SPAM! Like you're going to keep it in mint condition and put it up on Ebay in 2015.

Of course the biggest of these scams is the DVD market. You can buy the vanilla disc, the special edition, the limited edition in a box with a postcard (which, by the way, doesn't fit on your DVD shelf), the director's cut and the ultimate edition box set. There's an Alien trilogy thing I saw that has nine discs. Its a trilogy. Who has the time to even load these into the DVD player? Empire Magazine raves about these various editions. They even give a star rating to 'extras'. Like anyone watched the extras more than once when they're bored and it's raining outside. The central part of the package - the film itself- hardly changes. Give or take the odd director's cut that actually is a definitive version (two I can think of are the Lord Of the Rings Box Sets and Cameron Crowe's 'Untitled' version of Almost Famous), what you are a paying for is the most obvious rip off available. I know how people do special effects - they generally use computers/and/or some rather traditional tricks. Why do a need a doclet about it? I frankly don't care about how the costumes were designed. Presumably someone designed them, they were made and then used in the film. I don't really want to experience a bunch of perfunctory junket interviews spliced together and called 'The Making of...'. If your film is good, this stuff doesn't make it better. If your film is crap then don't even release it in the first place.

And don't get me started on commentaries, which are usually witless, ill-prepared and often performed by people who by definition can't generally speak unless someone else has written their lines.

How is this different from from crap plastic toys in boxes of cereal? It isn't, of course. Yet it must work, or they wouldn't do it. Does anyone know anyone who falls for this stuff? Does anyone know someone who has bought all four Radio Timeses?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Today's Topic is : Seperated at birth?

Today's Topic is : Anticipation

The season starts on Friday. Okay, it's a pre-season challenge match, but the routine kicks in. Kicking back on Friday with a decent curry to watch the game.

Carly Simon summed it all up pretty stupidly. Anticipation....is keeping me waiting. It makes as much sense as Alanis Morisette's definitions of irony. Surely anticipation is the result of waiting? Whatever.

Anyway, the season starts on Friday. It's arguably the best time of all. You studied the transfers, listened to the gossip and imagined what will happen. On match-day 1 all that will be over. You will be on the winning or the losing side, staring at the stars or into the abyss and the reality of it all will begin to hit home.

That's why the week before the season starts is so cool. It is a week of dreaming, nervousness, expectation, speculation and delicious delight. It's like the moment you bring a flame towards your cigarette, the soup on the spoon, an unopened, interestingly shaped gift. You can taste it and smell it but yet it is all still only in your mind.

You check the fixture list, mentally noting dates where you want to be free. You check the TV listings, meatlly booking yourself in front of the tellybox for evenings to come.

The week before the season starts is like getting ready before a first date. Will the evening end with a kiss or a kiss-off?

It's the moment between the polls closing and the pollsters declaring.

Please god, let my team win something this year. We deserve it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Today's Topic is : Fantasy Royal Family, The Game

Okay, here are the rules of the game. You have to decide on a Fantasy Royal Family. You replace all the Royals with people you would either wish them to be or, whoever would make a more interesting job of it.

Here are my suggestions:

The Queen - Judi Dench

Prince Philip - Ballard Berkeley

Princess Margaret - Polly pretending to by Sybil in 'The Anniversary'
The Queen Mother - Roy Barraclough as Ada

Prince Andrew - Seb Coe

Fergie - Geri Halliwell

Prince Edward and Sophie - Hugo and Alice out of the Vicar of Dibley

Prince William - Orlando Bloom

Prince Harry - McAuley Culkin

Princess Diana - Gwyneth Paltrow

Prince Charles - Hugh Laurie

Camilla Parker Bowles - Jilly Cooper

As you can see the characters can be real or, like Gwyneth Paltrow, fictional. Other people to try: The Government.

Today's Topic is : How to be dull and influence people

I stayed up to listen to George Bush's state of the union speech last night. It was homework. I am okay listening to people I hate or disagree with, as long as the experience is okay.

Why are polticians so dull? Because that's what really bothers me. Bush is dull. We know he has loads of speechwriters and advisors drafting this stuff for him and what these great minds create is just dull dull dull. There is no crafted use of rhetoric, nothing you can nod in surprise agreement with, no turns of phrase that are admirable or delightful and nothing that raises your ire and has you shouting at the radio in fury.

In fact, his speech was not a speech, but reading out. I listened again and imagined that I was marking this speech as if it was GCSE English speaking task. Overall it was barely a C grade.

And, of course this is a strategy. To portray him as a regular dullard who can't really talk in elegant sentences or even pronounce words (nuke-ular) correctly makes him the perfect candidate. The secret is not to put anyone in charge who actually looks like they deserve it. People want a Prez who makes them feel better. They want a Prez who is like the woman in the supermarket dressed in a washed out sickly beige uniform who, even if the customers are in an egg-stained worn out velour track suit, makes them feel a little superior.

The second thing to do is to lower the expectations of what is actually said. Make your speech stoopid and easy to understand for people who can neither read nor listen beyond grade 7. Declare that in a unique, challenging and original moral twist that obviously reverses centuries of wisdom and thought, you won't give in to evil. Let's ban mad scientists making Spiderman. Yeah, that covers the complex, ever-evolving and morally ambiguous questions that arise with the speed and breadth of genetic research. Lets not make Hedgehog-Boys or Penguin-Girls. Hurrah. I agree with that! Hail to the chief!

I think people in general are threatened by culture, cleverness and learning. It makes them feel inferior. What I personally want is wise and clever people in charge of making complex and crucial decisions such as sending my children off to die by the side of a road in a dusty broken down country far away, or whether I can still have a job tomorrow, but it seems that Americans can't handle that.

Bush's White House fosters and supports this notion by making their man appear as dumb as possible and making the topics of debate as simple and boring as possible. Their aim is to deliberately turn the public off political thinking. They want it to feel like the homework that you can't face doing because American Idol is on the other side.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Todays' topic is : It's the Oscarz...zzzzzzzzzz

It's now a day or so later and I don't even know who's nominated for the Oscars. That is, I have made no effort to look up the list and decide my favourites. Thing is, I know. Because the Oscars is the perfect example of a consensus of opinion formed by an elite abiding by strict social rules. The same films are trotted out year after year, the same actors. Okay, they don't have the same names but they are just as interchangeable as Animal House is with Porky's, or Jean Claude Van Damme is with Steven Seagal.

Oscar winning films are a genre just as much as any other genre. So, let me guess. Judi Dench has a nomination, Felicity Huffman has one, Phillip Seymour Hoffman has one as does Heath Ledger and David Strathairn. Brokeback Mountain will win several. Steven Speilberg will leave empty handed. My point is that the Oscars are pretty boring, and apart from some broad social and political drifts (for example, the past few years have seen the Academy bare its liberal teeth by awarding a few more slightly political and anti-Bush films. Brokeback is an example of this. Yeah, it's a gay movie, but it's not so Queer). But even that's always been the case. People in the arts tend to be a little more open minded. But they are also elitist and simplistic. Dame Judi is a great actress, but I think many people in the Academy (and many people throughout Britain and America) mistake her for the Queen, and she only has to briefly consider getting out of bed to get a nomination. Films about issues tend to get lots of noms and awards, but rarely do films which deal with difficult and complex issues in a difficult and complex way ever get the nod. Therefore, for example, Traffic was an Oscar Film whereas Requiem for Dream was not. The Godfather was laden with awards but Goodfellas won one. ONE! Actors like DeNiro hardly ever win, because his characters (at least in the time when he acted rather than pulled faces) possess ambiguity.

It's a cliche that you only have to play impaired or disabled to get a nomination. Well, it's true. One the one hand, every actor you ever hear about says that playing light comedy is the most difficult thing of all, yet light comedians never win. There seems to be a belief that sitting in a wheelchair and gurning is great acting. It doesn't seem that Sandra Bullock has to live with ditzy lawyers for a month in order to produce a better performance, yet hanging out with cripples and in mental hospitals seems to be derigeur for Oscar winners. Perhaps a more accurate definition of what they do is copying and not acting. In fact they should include a New Category "Best Impersonation of a Mental Case or Cripple".

The Oscars is yet another example of how perceived wisdom can take hold of even the most independent minded people. It spreads like a virus and nobody wants to break ranks and be seen as different. Goodfella is a great example of how perceived wisdom can just be wrong. How was it not the best film ahead of Dances with Wolves? How did Ray Liotta not even get nominated? How did it lose in Directing, adaptation, editing, art direction? In the same year how did Cyrano de Bergerac - the definitive screen version of the play - lose out to Reise der Hoffnung, which was a pretty good film itself but nowhere near CdB?

Don't get me wrong, I will be watching the Oscars. But it will be a bit like always watching the Cup Final even though it is most often a cagy 0-0.

Today's topic is : Being nice to the cuddly vultures

Because my feet are a mess of deformity and calcification, and I have a tendency to stand up and walk around much of the time, I take a lot of painkillers. They are pretty cool. Taking them means that I can walk much more than I could if I didn't.I have even been considering acupuncture. Friends tell me that it works, and last week I read that even scientists now say that it works.

But I am now concerned at the damage I might do to wildlife. Y'see, I had this idea that when I kark it I want to be disposed of as naturally as possible. In fact my ideal post-death experience would be to be placed on the towers of silence, a place which I learned of by reading Rohinton Mistry novels. It's the ultimate act of recycling. Yet it seems that, like cows, I might have a knock on effect on wildlife.

Little did I know until I heard and read it today (http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,,1698682,00.html) that cattle take one of the same painkillers as I do. I don't know if they wash it down with a swig of San Pellegrino out of the bottle like I do, but they take it all the same. Diclofenac. In Britain it's called Voltarol (which sounds like a Harry Potter character if you ask me) and is an anti-inflamatory.

It turns out that in India it is being fed to cows (although I don't know if it is to treat their sprained ankles and other sports injuries). When the cows die they are dumped and then eaten by wild and feral dogs. Diclofenac is poisonous to dogs (which is useful to know if you have problem dogs who dig up your lawn and what-not. I have a problem cat that lives on my street and roams through the night jumping on cars and setting their alarms off - 12 times it happened last night) But diclofenac is also poisonous to vultures, and when the dogs die the vultures eat them and then they in turn get poisoned. So if you visit India watch out. You really don't want a vulture with sudden kidney failure landing on you from a great height.

But it's more serious than that. The towers of silence aren't working because so may vultures have been poisoned that there simply aren't enough left to pick at the carcasses, and the ones that are left are probably so fat that they can't fly up to the towers any more.

So I am worried. I don't want to find that I am like poisonous to any cuddly wild animals, or even non-cuddly ones. It would be pretty ironic if when I become extinct I accidentally help make another entire species head the same way.