Saturday, 30 September 2006

Brian is back

by Ted Hoffman

My favorite blogger is back from an occasionally interrupted 6 weeks break from blogging. Good news.

Friday, 29 September 2006

A deal we must stick to: Bulgaria and Romania join the EU

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Moving swiftly on from this weeks turbulence, over the past week there has been something of a media furore over Romania and Bulgaria’s impending accession in to the European Union. As a bit of a pro-European (an unpopular position on this website) who too often sees The Union get a whipping in the media, this strikes me as an ideal time to do a piece on the history of EU expansion.

Europhiles talking of EU history speak in terms of The Treaty of Rome (The EU was founded by this treaty in 1957), Maastricht, the original 6 countries, De Gaulle saying "NON!" - a bureaucratic narrative, perfectly illustrated by the hideously boring wikipedia article and the BBC's recent series on the topic. This is a tough sell to Europeans who are known for their nationalism and hatred of bureaucrats. To me personally, the real and usually ignored story of the EU is of expansion, how a carrot dangled in front of countries staring into the political and financial abyss kept potential dictators at bay. I'm going to go over that story here.

First lets take a snapshot of the diplomatic situation in Europe in the early 50’s. In the words of Churchill: “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory.... From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Half of Europe was in communist hands, with bastards like Hoxha in Albania running countries into the ground. Portugal and Spain are ruled by the right wing fascistic dictators António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco who have been in power since the 30’s, Greece had just emerged from a vicious civil war in ’49. With The Marshall Plan in Western Europe this was not a stable place to live.

Snapshot mid '60's – the Iron Curtain has got even nastier, with the Berlin Wall, Soviet tanks storming into Hungary, the Prague spring... Romania has fallen under control of Ceasescu and Albania is firmly under Hoxha's dictatorship, there is a coup d'etat in Greece followed by military rule.

I hope this is beginning to make it clear that up until the 1970's, Europe and particularly the Mediterranean had fundamentally a similar situation to Latin America at the time - when change occurred it was all too easy for some would-be dictator to jump in with a putsch. I'm not trying to claim the EU was the only force building the continent you see today, I'm sure NATO, domestic politics and the UN played a role, but I do believe the EU was a major factor in changing that situation. From the 70's onwards it was standing next to its undemocratic neighbours saying "You can come in! Join the prosperity. Just sign this form, organise a liberal democracy, pay the French a few quid in farm subsidies and get rid of the death penalty". It's harder for the elite to sieze control in such circumstances.

By 1981, with less than 10 years since revolutions and upheavals in Spain, Greece and Portugal, we have 3 fully functioning liberal democracies that are members of The Union. Ireland joined at a similar time, saw massive growth - by the mid 90's, for some reason, Ulster decided it didn't want to fight anymore.

The biggest test of this model was, obviously, the fall of Communism. With one painful exception this was a success. One need only compare the current situation in the former communist states outside the EU influence with the countries offered accession to see what effect the carrot had. Moldova contains a breakaway state (Transdniester) hidden inside it, Belarus is a dictatorship, The Caucuses are a horrendous mess, and almost every country in Central Asia is a dictatorship. Belarus and Lithuania - close neighbours who have long had a fluctuating border - are now politically incomparable. The EU has stabilised a continent.

Does the EU make sense as a confederacy of nations? For me, personally, this fits into the question of what makes a nation, and must be seen in the context of how small European countries are. Due to it's tortuous history (and the action of The League Of Nations) Europe has more countries for its landmass than anywhere else in the world. India, a nation of a comparable size, number of languages, and variety of ethnic groups, is a single functional entity. It's an open question whether this can work, but with the example of London (de facto EU financial capital) showing how cosmopolitan a society the EU can be, it does look feasible. The Schengen Agreement has worked wonderfully, the Euro less so. Unity will depend on whether there is sufficient internal immigration and trade that internal EU activity is comparable to internal national activity.

It will depend entirely on exactly the sort of activity people are scared of with the prospect of Romanian and Bulgarian accession - internal immigration. We made a deal with them, the founding principle of the project has been "fix yourselves and you can join". We can expect a brief period of internal immigration (which our economy needs) and the resulting problems, but in all likelihood they will be up there with Greece and Ireland as EU successes in15 years. The same should absolutely apply to the former Yugoslavia. If we consider ourselves Europeans at all we should be saddened by the worst war the continent has seen since the '40's. I have many, many criticisms of the way the EU administrators have dealt with ex-Yugoslavian accession to The Union - I have even more criticisms with the way our, currently provisional, government works - but EU expansion is still an incredible narrative.

Just one thing - this link, clearly intended as PR for our supernational government - is just about the most ridiculous piece of propaganda I have ever seen. Grow up EU, we need better from you.

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Fatwa fun

by Ted Hoffman

I was searching our visitor logs, and came across this discussion, which appears to be something to do with this unnavigable site. Anyway, there is talk in the comments of putting out a fatwa on members of Little Man What Now?.

'We need the E2 version of a fatwa declared on ol' Ted the Little Man.'
This is probably as a result of this article, which caused a certain amount of disagreement. I would just like to say that if there are to be any killings over slight criticism of the Everything 2 website, that it is Edwin, not Ted who should be slain. Ted respects them as a website of peace, and has refrained from writing anything derogatory about them.

11 Pages of Pilkington

by Charles Pooter

An illustration from Ricky Gervais Presents: The World of Karl Pilkington.

Ted Hoffman just sent me a link. The Telegraph has an 11 page interview with Ricky Gervais' co-podcaster and idiot savant Karl Pilkington. The interview is primarily to plug his new book. There are three long extracts from the book with illustrations (Karl is clearly a talented cartoonist), but there is also plenty of the usual Pilkingtonian wisdom. For example: apparently Karl enjoys visiting Regent's Park near his flat, because you can see the tops of the giraffes in London Zoo for free.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Song Tapper

by Charles Pooter

So you're trying to relax on a Sunday afternoon and your neighbour keeps playing the same awful song again and again. You would really like to know the name of the ditty, if only so you can send a poison pen letter in green ink to the popular beat combo responsible. Well, as always, the web has provided.

Monday, 25 September 2006 – a slightly premature obituary for a web innovator.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Everything emerged in '99 and soon became Everything2, the website which wrote the book for user maintained content. Back in the days when the closest thing to web 2.0 was the review pages on Amazon, there was nowhere as user driven as Everything2. At first it hid in the links behind it's butch elder sibling, Slashdot, but it wasn't long before it broke away. In posting this I am expecting a little heat from the last few diehard members of the community (it is still online), but it should be pretty apparent to outsiders that the bellcurve is slipping closer and closer to infinity. So, while the outside world might still care, I'm going to say a few words.

E2, as it is affectionately known, was an online community before MySpace, an online encyclopaedia before Wikipedia, a searchable database of random web content before Digg and an online writer’s workshop before… Well, it’s fairly honest to say that nothing has filled that market yet. If you never encountered E2 before I suggest taking a quick browse before you read further - the way to play with it is to type a random topic into the search engine and see what crops up, then surf the links that sit at the bottom of the screen for interesting related topics - I've lost days wandering these chains of "softlinks".

E2 – a site where users could add content on any topic they chose, where it would be accessible through the on site search engine. You wanted to write a piece on Khruschev? You could write the definitive essay on his life, or crack jokes about his shoe and his bald head. The encyclopaedia form lasted up until the sillyness began to get creative. Everything had an editorial policy to match its name, so its buzzing userbase rebelled and started adding elaborate in-jokes, fiction, poetry, anything that could be transcribed in prose at less than 5000 words. On top of this was a game-like level and feedback system that meant influential users became the most important judges and voters on each other’s work - any work submitted was “judged” by the community, a massive asset to beginning writers in need of advice and acceptance, I for one would not be writing for LMWN if I hadn't cut my proverbial teeth on E2.

The place underwent a few revolutions in it’s time – with in house references to them becoming ever more convoluted (GTKY, Raising The Bar and Node For The Ages all incomprehensible to the uninitiated, turning the place from an anarchistic riot to an exclusive gentleman’s club) but there was a continuous stream of high quality wordage by talented writers for years. Unfortunately the web crash at the end of the nineties hit E2’s development team, and while the community thrived, site maintenance became a hobbyists field, with advertising funding never accepted as income. Other websites emerged and sucked up parts of E2’s purpose – probably the most damaging being Wikipedia, but just as bad was the lack of graphics, which made the place seem increasingly out of touch. While there is still a dribble of new content, and a fiercely elitist old guard of a community, E2 is no longer the force it was and is unlikely to be again.

Here I get to the guts of this piece. E2 has a truly awesome content base – possibly one of the greatest of any website, and certainly among the most varied. But as the site becomes ever more cliqueish and distant from the rest of the web it’s becoming less likely that anyone will ever see it, and in the dim future someone is bound to pull the plug. Over the 7 years it’s had fashions, leaders, followers and internal political movements – a world in miniature. A couple of examples of what it does at its best are here for literary fiction, here for sillyness, here for the sort of fascinating information you wouldn't find elsewhere, and here for essays - it would be a travesty for this all to vanish. The problem is that under E2’s policies the user maintains authorship and copyright, so a content sucker is out of the question. Further, the content is so heavily integrated into the site’s tone and architecture it would make little sense if you just took the database on its own. I don't know how to save all this material, but it should not be left to die.

So, I write this brief obituary, to say goodbye to a website that lead from the front. I encourage those who read this to go and spend a brief time exploring E2, take a look at the flowers and the topiary – an empire that has fallen. Please don't take too much notice of the Morlochs rampaging around the shrubbery, they are all that is left of Rome - and they wish to protect it from the evils of bad grammar, poor punctuation, and the threat of unbridled creativity.

Saturday, 23 September 2006

Review: Extras Series Two, Episode Two

by Charles Pooter

Ricky Gervais as Andy Millman (the "chubby little loser") with David Bowie.

The first few minutes of Extras episode two are really the last few minutes of When The Whistle Blows episode one. This is our second look at the fictional lowest-common-denominator comedy of Ricky Gervais' nightmares. We can see that all Andy's fears have been realised: he's written and starred in a wigs-and-catchphrases based sitcom. When Whistle ends with a lame Green, Green Grass style theme tune, we see Andy nursing his wounds, with his "useless agent", Darren Lamb. There have been some scathing reviews in the press, which the agent asks Barry to read out. There is some good news, however, as the episode had 6 million viewers. This is where the good news ends however as the rest of the episode brings humiliation after humiliation for Andy as he pays the price for selling-out.

We constantly hear B list celebrities moaning about how awful fame is. This episode of Extras is Ricky Gervais telling us that it's true. He's also saying that some celebrities deserve it. First Andy is recognised by a homeless person and emotionally blackmailed into giving him 20 quid, then Andy tries to use his fame to impress an attractive new neighbour, which leads to humiliation when Maggie inevitably messes-up her part of the plan (perhaps purposely, as I suspect Andy and Maggie will become more than just friends later in the series). Next we have every celeb's nighmare: the insane, obsessive fan.

As funny as this all is, the second episode wouldn't have lived-up to the first without the brilliant musical set piece at the end. Attempting to enjoy a night out without hassle from the British public, Andy, Maggie, Darren and Shaun ("Barry") end up in an expensive cocktail bar full of celebs and wannabes. Andy finds that he can't avoid the hecklers even here and tries to find refuge in the V.I.P. area with David Bowie. This leads to probably the best cameo in Extras so far, with Bowie performing an impromptu song in the bar detailing Andy's woes in insulting and depressing detail. Bowie encourages the whole bar to sing along, which they all do, including Andy's friends.

Some people claim they didn't find The Office funny because it was too painful to watch: they had to "watch it though their fingers" as the cliché goes. This episode of Extras was full of this kind of humour, with Andy very much like David Brent at his lowest ebb. But like with The Office, people who just find it painful are missing the point. There are some scenes which are more embarrasing than funny, like the scenes with the attractive neighbour, but there are also elements that are just straight-hilarious such as Andy performing in Whistle, the agent and "Barry" chatting up the women in the bar and throwaway characters like Count Fuckula. Finally there are the scenes which are painful and touching, but also snortingly hilarious, like David Bowie's song.

Speaking of David Bowie's song, here for your delectation are the full lyrics. I suspect that, like David Brent's classic Freelove Freeway, they were really written by Ricky Gervais:
Little fat man who sold his soul
Little fat man who sold his dream
Chubby little loser

Chubby little loser
National joke

Pathetic little fat man
No one's bloody laughing
The clown that no one laughs at
They all just wish he'd die

He's so depressed at being useless
The fat man takes his own life
He's so depressed at being hated
Fatty takes his own life
Fatso takes his own life
He blows his bloated face off
He blows his stupid brains out

He sold his soul for a shard of fame
Catchphrase and wig and the jokes are lame
He's got no style
He's got no grace
He's banal and facile
He's a fat waste of space

He's banal and facile
He's a fat waste of space

See his pugnose face
Pug, pug, pug, pug
See his pugnose face
Pug, pug, pug, pug

See his pugnose face
Pug, pug, pug, pug
The little fat man with the pugnose face
Pug, pug, pug, pug
The little fat man with the pugnose face
Pug, pug, pug, pug
He's a little fat man with a pugnose face
Pug, pug, pug, pug

Friday, 22 September 2006

Write For Us

by Charles Pooter

Little Man, What Now is looking for new contributors. Our statistics show that this blog is read by the world's cognitive elite, e.g. IT workers looking at upcoming stories on Digg and people searching for "hairy chinese kid" on google. If you want your work to be seen by the people who matter, then join us. If you can write about:

  • current affairs
  • politics
  • frippery
  • technology
  • books
  • movies
  • TV
  • high weirdness
  • anything else at all that grabs your fancy
...then waste no more time. Email now to get your work seen by literally several people every day!

Orion: NASA's new Apollo Clone or an Atomic Spaceship to Saturn.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

The proposed lunar lander of NASA's new "Orion" project

It appears that George Bush’s plan to return the human race to the moon is taking form. According to this article, NASA has contracted Lockheed Martin to build a vehicle they are going to call Orion. Looking at the specifications and details listed online this project looks near identical to Apollo but, of course, they plan to “incorporate the latest advances in technology in computers, electronics, life support, propulsion and heat protection systems”. Which reads to me as - we are going to do this on the cheap and pretend newer means better.

LMWN has made it’s opinions on NASA clear before, but will admit to being rather irritated at the name they have chosen for this unambitious white elephant- there already is a space vehicle with the name Orion, and it’s a hell of a lot more impressive than this little tin can.

Detailed in full in this wonderful book is the story of the most ambitious vehicle the human race almost built - Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957-1965. The book is a labour of love by George Dyson, son of Freeman Dyson - one of the 20th century’s most important scientists and the key theoretician behind the project.

Concept: take a huge concave steel dish and set off a controlled nuclear explosion beneath it – you get thrust. Now build a vehicle on the outside of the dish and develop a delivery system so that “bombs” can be released and ignited every half second. Kaboom - you have a pulsed atomic drive vehicle.

An Orion at liftoff - image from here

Everyone's first impression is that it sounds both impossible and irresponsible, but this project ran for 8 years at General Atomic, a military industrial complex offshoot of the Manhattan Project, and by the end of it they had ironed out most of the kinks. Firstly the “bomb” used here is a much more tuned instrument than you first think, the main bomb designer of the project was Ted Taylor who had worked at Los Alamos as the key micro-nuke engineer, he’d solved that problem before the project even began. Secondly, early experiments showed that the ablation of the plate was minimal, and if you coat it in a layer of oil it’s almost non existent – the explosions will not destroy the vehicle. This project had a team working flat out with a lot of the talent from Los Alamos, nothing they produced can be dismissed as impossible.

Orion is still the most fuel efficient high thrust vehicle humanity has yet conceived – it is speculated that one of these could make it to Pluto and back inside of a year. The advantages of these monsters are as massive as the drawbacks - for example, increasing the yield of a nuclear bomb costs very little, so increasing the size of the vehicle makes it more cost effective, Orions can be huge! On the other hand, atmospheric nuclear detonations are not a good thing - the project was killed off by the atmospheric test ban treaty of ’63 and Dyson calculated that 10 people would die of fallout effects for every successful launch. Nonetheless, if we ever do try to use an orbital staging post to get to other planets then Orion is still the best bet for getting to Mars, fast.

Orion is not a future technology, the work has already been done. With the political will we could build one within five years. Dyson's book is a wonderful insight (and a remarkably gripping page turner, that reads much like Richard Feynman's fantastic essays on his work at Los Alamos) into an idea that would have given us the solar system.

A speculative image of an Orion orbiting Mars - image from here

So, let’s pity that pathetic Pork Barrell organization that is NASA, they may be building a cheap Apollo clone to go to The Moon, but it sure as hell doesn’t deserve the name Orion.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Rocky Balboa

by Ted Hoffman

The 6th installment of the Rocky series will be out at the end of the year, and will see a 60 year old Rocky in one last fight. The years have made him slow, and he is too old to spar, so Duke his trainer recommends he "build some hurtin' bombs" instead. Which presumably means he lifts a lot of weights while listening to some 80's German rock music.

Despite this being a stupid idea for a film, I can feel the excitement building in the pit of my stomach.

Why do I dream of Tokyo?

by Lucas Maximilian

I recently had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Tokyo. A fantastic experience that I would encourage anyone, that can, to try for them selves. As an Englishman born and bred in North Kent who fled to the relative paradise of Sussex as soon as they were able, I'm fascinated by the places, and ways in which, people live.

So what of Tokyo (or maybe you were just thinking "so what?")? The thing that most sticks in my head, now I'm back in Old Blighty, is just how damn nice it was there. Yes I know "nice", very convincing... but that is the best word my poor vocabulary has for the feeling it gives you. Yes it's interesting, it's different, it's exciting, but so are a lot of places. Tokyo felt safe, it was clean, it was efficient (but not clinical), and it was full of pleasant people.

Tokyo's inhabitants seem to exhibit something that, living in the West, I assumed was lost long ago, respect. Real respect. Respect for their country, and respect for each other. Despite the fact that Tokyo is full of career-minded workaholics, keen to get-ahead (just like most major cities), they don't seem to have the 'it's all about me' mind-set that this normally brings. Smokers carry their own ashtrays rather than drop ash and cigarette butts on the floor, those with a cold, or the flu, wear what look like surgical masks to protect others form their germs and in all the time I was there, travelling on the packed underground everyday, I wasn't barged out of the way once!

Of course this respect is part of their culture, has been drummed into them as they grown up, reinforced with the idea of honour and pride. Those are another two words that I see little evidence of in England. Here it seems that National pride means cheering on the English football/cricket/rugby (please delete according to your social class) team, or supporting our troops aboard, and nothing more. There is no pride in England being clean, pleasant, efficient, and a nice (that word again) place to live. With honour it is much the same. What bothers me so much is that these are things that England used to do so well.

Everyone I met/saw in Tokyo, and I mean everyone, clearly took great pride in doing what they did to the best of their ability. No one was clearly doing their current job while they were waiting to be discovered, no one made me feel that serving me was beneath them. Quite the opposite, I have never felt so appreciated as a customer. Not that I'm under the illusion that they don't want to do something else, something "better", but by-God while this is what they are doing they will do it well.

I've spent some time in America and I always come back impressed that their customer-facing employees are so helpful and friendly compared to their UK counterparts. The difference between the Japanese and the American service, however, is that you get the impression that the Americans are being fake. Being friendly and helpful due to a fear of what will happen if they are not (Americans being excellent at complaining and making sure they get what they want). The Japanese seem to be motivated by wanting to do their best, they are friendly and helpful because that is what they expect of themselves.

I do fear, as no doubt do the older Japanese, that as Western attitudes and ideas gain increasing popularity with their young the county will lose this respect. I hope it doesn't, it certainly hasn't yet. So far they have picked fun parts of Western attitudes and fashions and incorporated them into their culture. Neatly and efficiently fitting them in around what makes their society work so well.

Please don't get me wrong, I love England, and I doubt I will ever live anywhere else, I don't think I could for long. It just pains me, as I see more of the world, to realise that things don't have to be the way they are in England. We could respect our country, we could respect each other, we could feel pride in ourselves and our achievements without openly resenting those around us. We could feel national pride without dropping some bombs or waiting for a sporting event. England could be... nice.

Edwin as a South Park Character

by Edwin Hesselthwite

It should be noted that this post is being written under duress... Mr Pooter is intent on lowering the tone of this newspaper (I, like The Economist, believe we can adopt the term newspaper for any publication that has the object to inform) - and as such insists on acts of flippancy.

Regretably, since he has numerous of my possessions held within his sinewy grasp, it seems sensible to be flexible on this issue. I will, however, be returning to my usual highbrow level when i get around to finishing that damn series on the BBC i've had hanging over my head for 2 weeks - note should be taken by our other contributors that their perspectives on Auntie would be welcomed as part of the series.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Another Flippant Post

by Charles Pooter

Sorry, I can't sleep due to noisy urban foxes and I couldn't resist passing this on to our regular reader(s). I have it on good authority that we can expect some better, more serious material from the other contributors shortly.

Classical look-a-likes from

20 Facts about Linux

by Charles Pooter

This is an updated version of some true observations I made about Linux a few years ago:

  1. Linux is the most reliable operating system in the world, this has been proven... by science.
  2. To remove a folder (or "directory") in Linux takes a qualified engineer an estimated three hours (five, if the folder contains files).
  3. The average Linux systems administrator mates once every five years.
  4. Linux hibernates in Winter.
  5. Linux was not invented, it was discovered.
  6. After the electric guitar, Linux was Kurt Cobain's favourite musical instrument.
  7. Eight out of ten Linux users surveyed said they hated the Queen of England.
  8. Steve Jobs' brain is actually running Linux, not OS X as would be expected.
  9. Linux is Finnish for UNIX.
  10. The word Linux cannot be written onto paper.
  11. Linux is better than the little-known operating system known as "Windows".
  12. Hunting Linux with hounds is now illegal in the UK.
  13. In Linux, the command:
    compress `find . -type f \! -name '*.Z' -print`
    will compress files whose names don't end in .Z
  14. "To Linux" in English means "to have sexual intercourse".
  15. The Batcomputer runs Linux.
  16. There is a link between Startrek and Linux. I am yet to work out what this link is.
  17. Up until 1995, along with buggery, Linux was banned in Utah and Kentucky.
  18. In Kenyan law, Linux has the same status as a foetus.
  19. Linux users are ineligible to join the French Foreign Legion.
  20. To use Linux, one must first know how to smirk.

South Park Character Creator

by Charles Pooter

Charles Pooter says: "Screw you guys…I'm goin' home."

What do you look like as a South Park character?

How to Fool a Biometric Scanner

by Charles Pooter

All the more reason to say:

Monday, 18 September 2006

Ubuntu Linux Aint There Yet

by Charles Pooter

Warning: Computing post ahead!

I thought I'd give Ubuntu Linux a try at home. I do a lot with Windows at work and home, but I'm no stranger to UNIX or Linux. The first few weeks have been great. I've been doing all my surfing, writing, emailing, instant messaging and blogging using Ubuntu Linux on a Dell I "borrowed" from work. So far, so good. I've been enjoying the quick boot-up times and the general responsiveness and stability of Linux and have barely touched my girlfriend's Windows laptop.

Today, I tried to get my iPod working with Linux. I've run out of podcasts for the train to work. As I usually do, I visited ubuntu guide. Various messageboards informed me that the application I needed was amaroK. I followed the instructions on ubuntu guide, installing the packages I needed using the excellent apt-get command line application. Unfortunately, after installation, amaroK didn't work. I got a helpful message saying:
"There was an error setting up inter-process communications for KDE. The message returned by the system was: Could not open network socket. Please check that the "dcopserver" program is running!"
A web search informed me that amaroK is a KDE program, rather than a Gnome program. For those who don't know, these are the two main "window managers" for Linux. I followed some instructions to install core KDE elements but this didn't help. I'm sure I could fix this with some effort, but I get my fill of fiddling with computers at work, I don't need it at home. Oh well, back to Windows for now! As always, I'm open to suggestions.

Blair's Boss Jamie Oliver

by Charles Pooter

I've just been watching Jamie's Return to School Dinners. It was amusing watching Tony Blair sitting there, with a face like a bulldog that has swallowed a wasp, being lectured by the big-tongued one. I would be equally annoyed if I'd climbed the greasy pole to become Prime Minister only to have to take lectures from a celebrity chef. I can't imagine Churchill sitting meekly in his chair taking a lecture from Fanny Cradock:

"Yes madam, we may serve Turkey Twizzlers in our schools, but you are ugly. In the morning we may stop serving Turkey Twizzlers, but you will still be bloody ugly."
Churchill to chefs: "We will fight you on the beaches".

Saturday, 16 September 2006

Conservative Logo: Another Suggestion

by Charles Pooter

New Tory logo: "meh".

People are already criticising the new Tory logo and Dave hasn't even finished tidying his crayons away yet. The logo is meant to show that the Conservatives have, like, changed and stuff. It is meant to put across that the Conservatives are now into progressive causes like environmentalism, but are still stable like a big bloody tree. I think the attempt is half-hearted. How about a logo based on this instead:

Banksy's Indian elephant: Apparently a big fan of Hayek.

A logo based on artist Banksy's wallpapered elephant, which is currently on display in L.A., would far better communicate the Conservatives' new identity. The multi-coloured pattern would demonstrate the "flexibility" of Dave's new policies. The use of a modern art design would show how "down with the kids" the Tories are now. It would also demonstrate Conservative stability, because there's nothing more stable than an elephant. I would say something about what the average elephant produces, but that would be too obvious.

Too Little, Too Late

by Charles Pooter

(Via Chase Me ladies). It's all very well for Australians to start organising reprisals against the stingray menace, after the murder of Steve "I'm gonna jam my finger in his butthole" Irwin, but where were they when Rod Hull was pushed off his roof by his pet emu? Rod spent much of his career in Australia and as an antipodean bird, the emu is their responsibility. Perhaps they only care about their own citizens?

Hull, murdered by an emu: No reprisals.

Irwin, murdered by a stingray: At least 10 rays brought to justice.

Friday, 15 September 2006

Booster Seats, Bad Reporting and the EU

by Charles Pooter

Following a report on a poll of which professions the British find most untrustworthy (a clichéd story that pops up every now and again), the ITV evening news just proved that reporters deserve their place near the top of that list.

On Monday, parents must ensure that children under 12 years of age and under 135cm tall (4'5" in real money) use a child car seat when traveling in their car. According to the ITV report this is due to a "new law". Here's a similar story on their web site. "A new law"? Is it really as simple as that? Did the New Labour regime really think that this was such a pressing safety issue that they had to make parliamentary time for it? The answer is no. This is an EU directive that requires the UK Government to change the law. You can find the details in this UK Government document, which makes it clear that the only reason for the amendment is EU directive 2003/20/EC. This wasn't mentioned in ITV's report at all, so all their viewers will assume that this was something decided by parliament, not by the unaccountable European Commision. I'm only picking on ITV because their report was the first one I caught on TV. The EU origin isn't mentioned in any of these stories either:

Yes, yes, I know: how very Daily Mail of me complaining about E.U. directives. I'll be going on about straight bananas next. But that's not my point. My point is that, surely when a new law is introduced, the origin of that law is a basic piece of information that should be included in any news report about its introduction. If the origin isn't mentioned, are we to assume the laws have been handed down directly from God? Imagine ITV reporting to the Israelites in the wilderness:

"New regulations, to come into force on Monday, will mean that the public will have to refrain from murder, adultery and coveting their neighbour's ox. The regulations also create a further seven new offences, which if broken will incur a 30 shekel on-the-spot fine."

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Review: Extras Series Two, Episode One

by Charles Pooter

Ricky Gervais as Andy Millman as Ray Stokes.

The first episode of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's second series was funnier than any of the episodes in Extras season one, which in itself was better than 90% of British TV. It was also better than any episode of Steve Coogan's recent sitcom Saxondale, which I also really liked.

In tonight's episode we saw Gervais' character, Andy Millman, rehearsing the first episode of his newly-commissioned BBC sitcom When the Whistle Blows. We've seen a chatshow within a sitcom, both with The Larry Sanders Show and Coogan's Knowing Me, Knowing You. Now we have a new device: the sitcom within a sitcom. This is Gervais showing what could have happened with his career. Instead of Millman's vision of a sitcom worthy of Fawlty Towers, the BBC executives and the camp co-writer they have foisted on him have turned it into Oh Doctor Beaching. We soon learn that it's even worse than that, as Paul Shane found it "too broad" and has been replaced by Keith Chegwin. Thank God this never happened with The Office.

Millman works through a frustrating experience, attempting to direct Cheggers in a scene where Chegwin's character gives news of his dead sister to his work colleagues. Cheggers is unable to do this without grinning, looking at the camera or wandering out of shot. After the BBC Director of Comedy insists that Millman's character wears a "comedy" wig and glasses, Millman finally cracks and insists that his artistic vision remain intact. But after being threatened with going back to being an obscure extra and with Barry from EastEnders ready to take on his rôle, Millman sweeps his integrity to one side, dons the wig and glasses and milks his new catchphrase for all it is worth ("Is he havin' a laff? Are you havin' a laff?") , much to the delight of the When the Whistle Blows' studio audience, many of whom are wearing T-Shirts with other recent, "hilarious" comedy catchphrases ("Am I bovvered", "Garlic Bread?").

Along the way, we learn of Cheggers' bigotry ("Is this place still run by Jews and queers?") and there's quite a funny sub-plot involving Ashley Jenson's character and an egotistical Orlando Bloom ("Who wouldn't find this face attractive?"). Stephen Merchant is still brilliant as Millman's unnamed agent and Shaun Williamson (Barry) is a star.

As Andy Millman walks off the set of the first episode of his sitcom, he realises he has sold out and he holds his head in his hands. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant won't be doing that after tonight's outing. If this season of Extras maintains the quality of episode one, it will be better than The Office and up there with the BBC's other great comedy series.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Irresponsible Child Experts

by Charles Pooter

A bunch of busy-bodies have written to the Telegraph, bemoaning the fact that, amongst other things, kids don't play outside any more. As far as I'm concerned we should thank our lucky stars the little blighters are locked up inside playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Here is incomplete list of the evil things that "people we know" got up to as children, whilst engaging in "real play" (as the letter calls it). Note that all the perps come from reasonably respectable backgrounds and none of them were regarded as "wrong-uns". If anything, they were all swots:

  1. Waterbombing hundreds of innocent bystanders.
  2. Wasting NHS resources by falling out of trees, getting run over, etc.
  3. Stealing footballs from the training ground of a professional football club.
  4. Taunting the groundsman of a professional football club until he wasted his entire day chasing us on his little tractor.
  5. House-breaking.
  6. Burning down a tree (it survived).
  7. Setting up a lethal, Heath-Robinson, booby-trap in an abandoned double-glazing workshop (no one was hurt).
  8. Advertising, far and wide, a fictional party at a boy's house on a date when his parents were away.
  9. Wasting police time (see point 8).
  10. Much mischief with fireworks.
  11. Stealing a fire extinguisher from a church.
  12. Pushing a window out of the top deck of a bus so that it smashed onto the street below.
  13. Stinkbombs (still a classic).
  14. Whole summers of hedge-hopping.
  15. Unregulated bicycle mayhem.
  16. Shoplifting.
  17. Setting fire to bins.
  18. Setting fire to so many different objects within a concrete tunnel, in a playground, that the tunnel itself eventually disintegrated.
  19. Huge, sprawling games of manhunt (like hide and seek, but with violence) that spanned whole days and neighbourhoods and included many unwilling participants.
  20. Stone fights.
  21. Tramp-baiting.
  22. "Knock-a-door-run" on an industrial scale.
  23. Ordering taxis and pizzas to unwilling customers.
  24. Ordering pizzas to ourselves and then not paying.
  25. Catapults.
  26. Ordering refuge skips to unwilling customers.
  27. Calling Canadian UFOlogist Stanton Friedman from a phone box and pretending to be an alien using a toy electronic voice changer.
  28. Stealing every single traffic sign from a small English village.
  29. Throwing tree branches onto a road until cars could no longer pass.
  30. Fun with airguns.
  31. Making a nuisance of ourselves on a municipal golf course.
  32. Knocking on the door of a local eccentric, arguing with him about politics and then laughing and running away.
  33. Knocking on the door of a local eccentric, insisting he play his guitar and sing one of his topical, satirical folk songs and then laughing and running away.
  34. Turning up to a parish council meeting and then laughing and running away.
  35. Dangerous, irresponsible conduct in a swimming pool.

Don't judge the childish perpetrators of this evil too harshly. None of them are proud of what they did. Think back carefully. If you played outside, away from your parents eyes, I'm sure you were a little bastard too. Why not add your own youthful outrages in the comments? Thank God kids are now under lock and key where they can only engage in virtual atrocities.

Saturday, 9 September 2006

Not dead yet? In praise of 50s SF writers

by Edwin Hesselthwite

While wandering around the interweb today I decided to look up the wiki pages of the two men I consider the greatest Science Fiction writers never to get media acclaim outside the field - Richard Matheson and Frederick Pohl. I was stunned to find that in both cases, these legends are still alive. Both were at their most productive in the 50's and 60's, both have fallen off the public radar completely in the following 40 years.

I've always felt it a pity that writers like Clarke, Heinlein, Dick and Asimov are always taken as the figureheads of SF from that era. Because, while fantastic ideas men and passable craftsmen, the four are not great writers by any stretch of the imagination. Not to dismiss these, but by comparison to Matheson, Pohl and literary figures like Wyndham and Bradbury these guys were second rate wordsmiths.

It's really quite incomprehensible that Matheson isn't a better known name - The Omega Man, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Hell House, Duel, and Nightmare at 80 000 feet (the episode of the Twilight Zone with William Shatner on a plane) are all based on his intensely claustrophobic work. But somehow all those movies didn't lead to him being taken seriously as a name in his own right. Duel, the film that made Steven Spielberg's reputation, is particularly typical of Matheson. Matheson's speciality is stories of a paranoid man in a world that really is out to get him. Typically he strips his story's down so far that it's just 1 man versus idea. Without doubt the best introduction to Matheson's work is his book I am Legend, the brickshittingly terrifying story of a world populated by vampires. Read it in one sitting (there is no other way), then read everything else.

Pohl's lack of fame is more understandable - Hollywood has never been his friend. However, when on form his sheer craftsmanship eclipsed everything being written in the field. His novel The Space Merchants is fascinating for the way it raises most of the issues of the Anti-Globalisation left 50 years before Klein's No Logo (although No Logo doesn't include 40 foot spherical chickens that are farmed like rotating kebab meat). However, if you want something with a little more roaring storytelling, Gateway and Man Plus are his best. Pohl's underlying interests tend to be advertising and capitalism, although he always leads from the critique rather than offering solutions. Personally, his short fiction grabs me more than his novels, but he's still one of the greatest novelists SF ever produced.

I am glad to be living on this planet at the same time these 2 men are alive... Long may they continue.