Monday, October 31, 2005
(written on saturday evening)
Until about 6 weeks ago, the university-owned apartment block I am currently residing in, was served by a 2Mbit internet connection. I'm not really sure how that worked out, given that there are potentially 400 residents altogether in my building and the 3 surrounding it. As could have possibly been predicted, the internet was practically unusable from 4pm til midnight. So, 6 weeks ago the connection was apparently upgraded to a much more reasonable-sounding 80Mbits (although in reality the speed-up was perhaps 4x or 5x, not 40x). They achieved this by sticking a laser onto an apartment block roof, and pointing it at the place where our internet comes from, thus creating a "laser" connection.
As is often the case, though, when something looks too good, it usually is, and there was a horrible horrible catch with the new connection. What they didn't tell us was that pretty much anything can (and does) interfere with the fricking "laser". At first daily outages were explained by the fact that there are construction cranes in the way; then with the onset of colder and wetter weather, it became clear that fog and lasers don't mix. In fact, even as I'm typing these words, I am sitting in fog-induced off-line solitary confinement, cursing whoever's bright idea it was to install this bloody thing. The other day, we were told some more infuriating factoids: (since I'm guessing that the laser points east-west) the sunlight during sunset and sunrise also interfere with the link. Thinking about it, it's probably a miracle that we have access at all, considering that all 24 hours are affected by some sort of disruption (sunset and sunrise by the sun, the day by cranes, and the night by fog).
Germans, is this really the best you can organise for me? For shame.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I will never forget this journey. Why? Because I am going to die soon, so I do not have enough time to forget it. You see, we are on the ship ‘Star Nebula’, and we are being attacked by Bongos, the vilest, smelliest and, generally, the most repellent things to plague the Universe. They are so smelly, that they take pride in it. The stronger a Bongo’s smell, the more respected they are. You can’t really call a Bongo humanoid, more like a blob with arms and legs. They are green in colour, with rubbery skin. They are about eight feet tall.
Me and my crew, Jean (a human) and Bob (a robot who sees the world through rose tinted glasses, not literally). We were going on holidays to the man made planet of Carador, the very sunny planet, when we got attacked by the Bongos. There was no reason for that, they just like to harm people.
And now they have opened fire upon us from their blob of a ship. Jean comes running into my room and screams, “Sam, we are being attacked by a weird blob.” The power is cut out, the computer estimates three minutes till the ship is destroyed,” says Jean fretfully. “Come on,” I reply, “let me get some pants on first, I’m not going out in front of Bob in naught but my underwear.” “No time,” snaps Jean, and throws me forcefully into the control room. I take a look at the computer, and then gasp. “What is it?” asks Jean. I explain to her that the Bongos are trying to blow open our landing hatch and will then board our ship. “We don’t stand a chance,” she gasps.
Bob the robot suddenly switches himself on. “They are probably just trying to find knew friends,” says the robot happily. “I’ll go get us some tea and we’ll all have a nice chat at the dinner table.”
“What’s this smell,” I gasp. “They are here.” The door slides open, revealing the most repellent thing I’ve ever seen. A putrid stench fills the room (not so putrid for Bongos, as this Bongo is only a cadet and does not have a strong smell by Bongo standards). At that exact moment, Bob the robot enters from the kitchen holding a tray of tea. He notices the big ugly Bongo pointing a huge gun at him. “Hello, I’m Bob, what is your name?” says Bob pleasantly. “Errr?” replies the Bongo. Poor guy, I thought, he wasn’t trained for this. “Come and have some tea,” said Bob. The Bongo got confused and decided to shoot the robot with his laser. The tea tray shatters into a million pieces, the tea spraying everywhere.
Bongos, being allergic to all things pleasant (for example tea), die on contact with them. This is exactly what this one did, being only a recruit and not knowing any evasive action against pleasant stuff. Bob slumped in the corner, with no visible damage, but I know that his chances of surviving a laser blast are slim, his circuits being damaged by the gun.
The rest of the Bongos see the slimy carcass of their comrade, scream, “They are armed!” and speed away into their blob ship. I turn around and see Jean crying at Bob’s side. “He was a good robot,” I sigh. “Why, thank you sir!” replies the robot. “You’re alive?” I wail. “Then please clean up this mess.”
Friday, October 28, 2005
- A Clockwork
Orange (Kubrick, 1973)
- Annie Hall (Allen, 1977)
- Bowling for Columbine (Moore, 2002)
Breaking the Waves (Von Trier 1996)
- Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese, 1988)
- Life of Brian (Jones, 1979)
Manhattan (Allen, 1979)
- Sexy Beast (Glazer , 2000)
- Swingers (Liman, 1996)
- This is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984)
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Ooh, ooh, here's a good story.
A former cabinet minister has been asking questions about forthcoming Rockstar title, 'Bully' in the UK House of Commons.My immediate reaction was: this sounds awfully like the "Cake, the hallucinogenic drug from Czechoslovakia" fiasco. Is this for real? I did some research, and yes it is (also some scant Gamespot coverage).
ImageThis week concern about forthcoming Rockstar boundary-pusher 'Bully' reached the floor of the House of Commons in the UK, where former Labour cabinet minister Keith Vaz asked the house leader Geoff Hoon ,"Do you share my concern at the decision of Rockstar to publish a new game called Bully in which players use their on-screen persona to kick and punch other schoolchildren? Will you ask the prime minister to refer this video to the British Board of Film Classification? If they don't make any changes will the government use its powers to ban this video?"
A report from the BBC goes on to detail Mr Hoon reponding that whilst the contents of the game did sound 'disturbing', the effect that they might have on young players were as yet, 'not known'. Rockstar have been coming under increasing pressure of late from parents and anti-bullying lobbies to withdraw the game from release.
This could potentially be a doosie. My mind is racing at the edginess and the possibilities, especially in Rockstar's dependable hands. While we wait, we can enjoy some screenshots:
  
Meanwhile, there was evidence that the inquiry was looking to the wider manipulation of intelligence before the Iraq invasion. According to one former intelligence official, the inquiry has had contacts with a parallel Italian inquiry into the forging of documents purporting to show Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Niger.
In Rome, the head of military intelligence (Sismi), Nicolo Pollari, has been summoned to parliament on November 3 to answer questions about its role in the forgery after La Repubblica newspaper suggested Sismi may have circulated bogus documents to help Washington justify the invasion.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
I can think of no scenario which will end well for this poem and its legacy. If the Christian Right sends its peons in droves to see it, we'll get them all whining on about how it strays from the literal biblical texts, about how it makes Satan a hero. Or, perhaps worse, a few might attempt to claim the poem's more conservative content (Eve's centrality in the Fall, anyone?) as possessing the authority of scripture... which it don't have.
What the film won't have is the awesome density and restraint of the text. The article's parallels to Troy (2004) are appropriate: it is not valid to present this text by dramatising it, just as a silent 168k GIF version of Star Wars is an echo of an echo of an echo of the original's grandeur.
I won't even start on how the producers intend to convey the political, theological and personal context of this blind, penniless, king-killing zealot's work. Paradise Lost may well be the most complex piece in English literature outside of Joyce or Hamlet, and the thought of mega-churched hicks appearing on Fox to denounce it after investing only 100 minutes of their lives fills me with impious rage.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said people who work in the executive mansion do have a sense of humor, but not when it comes to breaking regulations.
“When any official sign or seal is being used inappropriately the party is notified,” Duffy said.
“You cannot pick and choose where to enforce that rule. It’s important that the seal or any White House insignia not be used inappropriately,” he said.
Duffy said while he does not personally read The Onion, he admitted knowing others in the White House who do. “Like everyone else, we like a good laugh.”
Here's the offending page.
To me it seemed that drawing parallels between this law and race hatred legislation was like trying to include Intelligent Design in the Science classroom. A race, we all agree, is something you can't decide, can't change, and which says nothing concrete about how you behave or treat others. A religion, on the other hand, will often be the defining factor in your behaviour - and a bad interpretation of it should rightly be criticised.
Thank you, Mr. Atkinson.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Overweight people miss out on jobs, says report
Tuesday October 25, 2005
It reports that 93% of those questioned said they would favour a "normal weight" candidate over an overweight person, even if they were identically qualified.
Nearly half said obesity lowered an employee's output and 30% regarded obesity as a valid reason for not employing someone. Four in 10 suggested overweight people lacked self-discipline and one in 10 thought weight a ground for dismissal.
After spending several days watching episodes of The Simpsons, a Russian court has rejected claims that the show is 'morally degenerate' and likely to lead kids to drugs and violence.
The Khamovniki district court in Moscow rejected a lawsuit brought against Russian RenTV by a man who claimed the programme and another US hit show called Family Guy had got his child interested in drugs and led to him call his mother "a toad".
Igor Smykov demanded £6,000 after claiming that both series were morally degenerate and promoted drugs, violence and homosexuality.
He said that his six-year-old son, Konstantin, had asked him what cocaine was and then insulted his mother, calling her a toad, after watching episodes of the programmes.
Judge Lyubov Dednyova rejected claims that RenTV, by broadcasting the two programs, was interfering with a child's right to a normal, healthy childhood.
The ruling comes just weeks after Russian MPs said they wanted The Simpsons given an adults-only rating after a new report blamed the US series for corrupting Russian school kids and degrading family values.
The demand for action came after MPs asked the Russian ministry of culture and mass communications to monitor cartoons shown on Russian television.
Russian MP Yelena Afanasyeva said: "The experts gave just the result we feared. They found The Simpsons was crammed with violent and aggressive episodes. These cartoons also introduce antagonism between children and parents."
She and other MPs want TV stations to be fined for showing it during times when kids will be watching television.
And Ljubov Sliskova, the deputy head of the State Duma, admitted: "There are certain animated films which do not help children's education processes."
The Russian daily Izvestia, however, defended the series, saying: "They reacted like this to a fairly innocent episode of The Simpsons. What would they say if they saw South Park or Beavis and Butthead?"
I can sort of see how Family Guy could blow a 6-year-old's mind and turn him into a drug-taking violent homosexual, but The Simpsons?
Scream robbery is fair game for Munch Museum
Gwladys Fouché in Oslo
Tuesday October 25, 2005
Players of The Mystery of the Scream, a game aimed at the family market, must hunt down the robber before he reaches a criminal paradise. "It is pure fiction, so it is fun," the museum's head of marketing, Jorunn Christoffersen, told Norwegian radio NRK. But local art gallery owner Harald Enerud said: "I don't think one should make fun of something this serious."
The whereabouts of the painting is still unknown.
Wonder how many You, Me and Everyone We Knows i have to see before I learn my lesson?
Beautiful pretentious quote, btw, from director Mike Mills in the above article:
"The marketing thing pissed me off. It shows deep disregard for the audience, for life."and then, later, the interviewer notes:
"I have to pop out of the room where we are talking. When I return, he is filming the bubbles in my drink with a tiny digital camera."
Monday, October 24, 2005
...and on one occasion (the drummer) Thomson, 29, was so short of money he sold the fat from his buttocks to medical science for the princely sum of £500. Today, there is a neat incision still visible beneath each cheek.Discuss.
I, personally, would not part with my buttocks, no matter how undersupplied the buttock donor market may be at that point, if only for the crucial sitting comfort factor (and the ass-bone-protecting shock absorption function is not to be sniffed at either..)
Sunday, October 23, 2005
A couple of points:
- "Bush was ' ... exuding more charisma than any one individual should be allowed to have,' Rove later gushed." I keep hearing this over and over. Why can that not be ever seen on TV? Is it because Jon et al. edit out all the charismatic stuff?
- "Rove saw the fulfilment of his ambition in Bush but it is more likely that Bush is in the end the dominant one. Bush is, after all, the President. He can fire Rove. Not the other way around. Both parties know this. In the relationship between Geek and Jock - even one as symbiotic as Rove and Bush - it may be the Geek who does most of the planning, but it is the Jock who has the power and the glory." Could this explain the Myers nomination? Surely Rove would have anticipated all the backlash and reaction, but Bush might have overruled him...
We expect this one to have a slower burn,' said Betty McBride, policy and communications director at the BHF. 'But, thanks to Sinatra, every time they hear that song the smoker will bring to mind the unseen damage.'
Saturday, October 22, 2005
I checked out the lunchbox auction site and it's pretty cool. Like for example, you can buy
Friday, October 21, 2005
Horatio doing Update must have been trying on the viewers...
An interview with Lenin: his cold, clear brain
Tuesday October 21, 1919
A small wooden office beyond the bridge, where a civilian grants passes, and a few soldiers, ordinary Russian soldiers, were all there was to be seen at this entrance. It is always being said that Lenin is guarded by Chinese. There were no Chinese here.
Lenin entered. He is a man of middle height, about 50-years-old, active and well proportioned. His hair and pointed beard have a ruddy brown tinge. The head is well domed, and his brow broad and well raised. He has a pleasant expression in talking, indeed his manner can be described as distinctly prepossessing. He speaks clearly in a well-modulated voice, and during the interview never hesitated or betrayed the slightest confusion. Indeed, the one clearly cut impression he left on me was that here was a clear, cold brain, a man absolutely master of himself and of his subject, expressing himself with a lucidity as startling as it was refreshing...
I took up the thread by asking about the attitude of the Soviet Republic to the small nations who had split off the Russian Empire and had proclaimed their independence. He replied that Finland's independence had been recognised in November 1917... that the Soviet Republic had announced some time previously that no soldiers of the Soviet Republic would cross the frontier with arms in their hands...
For the third time I took up the questioning, asking what guarantees could be offered against official propoganda among the Western peoples, if relations with the Soviet Republic were opened. His reply was that they had declared... that they were ready to sign an agreement, not to make official propaganda. I asked if he had any general statement: he replied that the most important thing to say was that the Soviet system is best, and English workers and agricultural labourers would accept it if they knew it.
A Guardian article covering reasons for UK citizens to be optimistic. This is also one of the most compelling arguments I've read in the Roe vs. Wade debate...
Blair should be alarmed that, despite the figures, people still think things are getting worse in the public services
Friday October 21, 2005
In just four months the public has changed its mind radically. People may still rank Labour safely above the Tories: no surprise there, considering current Tory self-obsession. But Labour should be seriously alarmed that people suddenly think everything is getting worse and expect little to improve.
That is what they tell Mori in its latest depressing delivery index on attitudes towards public services and the economy. "There has been a 180 degree flip from optimism to pessimism," Mori says. This comes despite hard facts showing that the NHS, education and crime reduction are steadily improving all the time. No doubt things could be better, but the outcome figures do show steady progress. Yet the public, which was optimistic in May, now thinks that everything is on the slide. (Private polling for Labour confirms it.) And Mori finds that confidence in the NHS has taken the worst tumble.
Take yesterday's annual crime figures for September. They were good, they really were. Burglary is down 17%, car theft 10% and violence 7%, according to the British Crime Survey, which is the best measure because it picks up on more crimes than those recorded by the police. No doubt this morning's press will blaze with shocking headlines suggesting that no one is safe in their beds; deliberate misinterpretation of the figures will use the quarter's recorded crime figures - also down in almost every case - and knowingly distort them. Recorded violence has risen because of a new system demanding that police write down every minor fracas: one man hitting two people outside a pub is two crimes. Michael Howard plastered the land with election posters claiming violent crime was rising. That wasn't true, any more than it is true when David Davis says, as he does all the time, that "violent crime is continuing to spiral out of control".
Why has crime fallen across the western world since the mid-1990s? Cars are better defended, homes better protected, televisions and DVD players too cheap to steal. Policing is better. Labour can claim credit for a blitz on crack houses, street robbery and crime hot spots. Above all, unemployment is down - though good times increase casual violence because they provide more money to drink and fight. One startling theory from the US economists Steven Levitt and John Donohue is that crime falls in proportion to the rise in abortion. US figures show that crime fell steeply about 18 years after the Roe v Wade case legalised abortion. Unwanted foetuses would have grown up as neglected children, with many turning to crime - the missing cohorts of criminals. I checked UK figures and found the same correlation: abortion reached high rates by the late-1970s and crime rates started falling sharply from 1995.
Multitudes of grand theories abound, but on one thing every expert is agreed: crime is falling. As it falls we keep redefining as reportable crimes events that were once too slight to attract police notice. Antisocial behaviour is the "new" phenomenon hurriedly filling the vacuum in our anxieties.
What should seriously alarm Labour are this year's figures showing the public fear of crime rising again after it had begun to fall. Why do people fear so much? To be sure the press is appalling, turning graphs on their heads to find a scary headline. Television drama makes lurid rape-and-rip serial murder look like an everyday event, while Crimewatch milks fear shamelessly. But none of that has changed in the past four months.
Labour should ask itself why people's trust in policing rose steeply just before and during the general election, only to plummet soon afterwards. Was it because Labour MPs and ministers went out and argued the case for the success of their crime and policing figures during that time? Then the first thing Tony Blair did when he came back from the election was thunder on about boys in hoodies, respect and Asbos. He made it his number one message, to the dismay of many of his ministers looking for third-term optimism and a vision of progress. So the public gets the message that crime must be bad because the prime minister himself keeps saying so. It's the first thing he has done again on returning to parliament: chasing his own tail, demolishing his own success.
But even more alarmingly, the NHS has taken the most drastic hit in public esteem. In May, people were optimistic: 9% more voters expected the NHS to improve in the next few years. Quite right too. Waiting lists are falling exceptionally fast (before private provision kicked in, that is). Labour politicians stomped the country singing the praises of the health service and promising better to come. But four months on, people changed their minds. Now, a 9% increase has turned into an 11% decrease, as people expect the NHS to get worse. Mori says that public expectations of the NHS are close to the worst recorded. How did Labour allow that to happen?
Here is a good guess. The whole service is being thrown into turmoil. It is unknowable how much will fetch up in private hands as the NHS becomes a mere purchaser. Cries of anguish come from inside the service about likely closures due to the instability of cash flows. Insecurity grips those in community services who don't know who will employ them. No one knows how to pay off debts - by no means all the hospitals' fault - and there is despair among battalions of good managers who have to re-apply for their jobs for a third time under yet another Labour reorganisation. "Reform" must be done, says the prime minister. Why? Because the NHS is rubbish, riddled with waste and inertia. That is the implication of his impatience. Is it any wonder the nation believes him? One million unhappy NHS employees go home and tell perhaps a further 10 million people that the system is in chaos. No wonder Mori detects a plummeting public optimism.
There is a time before elections for all on the centre-left to rally support for Labour to keep the Tories well and truly trounced (with nose pegs if need be). But when elections are over, it is time for ministers and MPs to question which direction they are being taken in. It is time for ministers to voice concerns outside their own narrow silos, whatever the protocols. It is a time for new ideas and creativity, but also time to speak out against very bad ideas. A lot of that was voiced in myriad fringe meetings in Brighton and a deal more of it murmured in hotel bars and corridors. Apart from a few cabinet deadwood drones put up to defend anything and everything, there is alarm at the leader's accelerating "reforms" in virtually every department. Reckless marketising radicalism is his dying phase.
He will be gone, but a more dangerous opposition will capitalise on this public disappointment. It is time ministers took their wider responsibilities seriously as they see how much public optimism has been squandered in just four short months.