Monday, 30 April 2007

The Dangers of Optimism

by Edwin Hesselthwite

We behind LMWN are rather proud to announce that we have been doing quite well recently. Our number of RSS subscribers has been climbing of late, and we have finally started getting some pretty strong responses to our articles (we've been averaging just under 1 comment a day for the last month).

We have therefore chosen to completely shoot ourselves in the foot. You may have noticed that the URL at the top of this page is now:

Yes, we've gone and bought ourselves a domain. Ever onwards and upwards, it won't be long at this rate till we have a print edition coming out again (although old Caxton, the press we have still in storage off The Strand, will probably remain in retirement for the foreseeable future. Especially since Tobias walked of with parts of the typeset for "personal reasons").

The disadvantage of this move is that it has reset our status on Technorati and may have interfered with our Feedburner feed (although we are not quite sure what it has done to it yet). We would therefore very much appreciate it if those of you who are bloggers linking to us were to change their links to the new address, thereby pushing us back up to our previous status. Seriously. Pretty, pretty please?

So, as ever, please mind the ductwork and electrical cabling.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Film Review: Dead Man's Shoes

by Charles Pooter

Before seeing Dead Man's Shoes, my only experience of director Shane Meadows' previous work was 24-7 (vague recollection, not that impressed) and before that Small Time (I remember not liking it, but it was a while ago, so this may be unfair), so I really didn't know what to expect.

The film centres around the characters of Richard (Paddy Considine) and his brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell). The plot is easy to explain: Richard is a soldier who has returned to his home town of Matlock in Derbyshire to take murderous revenge on the drug-dealing scum who have been tormenting his younger brother Anthony (who has learning difficulties). It really is as simple as that. But what the film lacks in apparent complexity, it more than make up for in its execution and depth of portrayal.

From the sublime opening scenes featuring Richard and his brother hiking home through the gorgeously filmed English countryside, which for some reason made me think of Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza (I apologise if that seems pretentious, it is just what came to mind), to the ridiculous nature of the idiotic yet idiosyncratic losers who inhabit the small towns of England, Dead Man's Shoes depicts England as it is. OK, so it is not England for everyone, and many of us strive to escape and forget the influence of the kind of lowlifes featured in the film, but for the slice of the country and the culture to which the lens of Meadows' camera is directed, it tells a truth. I always admire people who can see things clearly and without pretension, as is not something that I find easy, but Meadows and lead actor/co-writer Considine achieve this.

Paddy Considine as Richard in Dead Man's Shoes

Considine gives a performance which runs from menacing to genuinely touching, but which is always believable. Richard is fearless and Considine makes this clear in every scene. Something has made the soldier completely unafraid of the men who have persecuted his brother. He no longer cares what happens to him and this terrifies the gang. But his portrayal is not over the top. His protective love for Anthony is touching, but not sentimental; his menace is menacing because it consists of unpredictability, not because of grandstanding dialogue. There is none of the sub-Tarantino banter of a Guy Ritchie plastic gangster movie. Considine's career has rightfully taken off and I look forward to his portrayal of Rorschach in the adaption of Alan Moore's brilliant Watchmen graphic novel. The rest of the cast do their jobs admirably, including Toby Kebbell who turns in a totally believable performance as Anthony.

To my mind the film does have a few weaknesses. A major weakness is the score: although Aphex Twin's claustrophobic electronica is used to great effect in certain scenes (especially the "drug scene"), some of the other instrumental and choral music was, in my opinion, unsuitable. Firstly, many pieces were played too loud compared to dialogue in the surrounding scenes, leading to the music overwhelming the beautifully directed shots of Richard walking through the picturesque and evocative East Midlands landscape. Secondly, the music often didn't match the setting. This is hard to explain, but the tracks summoned up images in my mind of the South of France or the majesty of Rome rather than rural Derbyshire.

The film also had some unrealistic elements. These are minor flaws in an otherwise very believable setting and cast of characters. One example, that got on my nerves, was that the gang drove around in a Citroen 2CV. I'm sure this was for comedic effect, and a fully weighed-down Citreon containing a rag-bag troupe of drug-dealers is an amusing image, but it is wholly unrealistic. Reasonable looking used cars are dirt-cheap in 21st Century England. Every time the Citroen appeared, I was no longer immersed in the film.

Anyway, this is petty. Dead Man's Shoes is excellent English cinema, which is far more realistic and entertaining than the so-called "social realist" films of the 60s and 70s ever were (Kes excepted). It is also a refreshing change from the all the tedious, mockney gangster flicks that infested the English film industry in the 1990s.

Intriguing Biographies on Wikipedia

by Edwin Hesselthwite

A number of months ago Charles Pooter pointed me in the direction of the Wikipedia article for Science Fiction writer and popular co-photographee F. Gwynplaine Macintyre*.

Mr Macintyre as seen in photographs with popular American journalist Andy Rooney, Playwright and London figure Toby Young, Politican Journalist and Comedian Boris Johnson and Science Fiction Writer Adam-Troy Castro

I have to admit, that I've been a little hooked ever since. The Wikipedia article itself is intriguing, we have these incredible events one after another - a disease so unusual Wikipedia doesn't have a page for it and it must be described in the article, expatriation to Australia, work on The Prisoner, poetry derided by the poetry community, heroic adventures to discover lost silent movies. I suggest you go read that article before continuing this one.

Wow! Please take note of the style of the piece, the list of "praisers" at the top of the piece - fame by association? The continuous references to mystery "few clues", "ghosting"... Then amongst this obfuscation there is all the inside information about his ghostwriting and relations with other poets and opinions on word use... I could go on at length about the unusual features of this Wikipedia article that yell fake from the rooftops, yet in the most interesting ways. Much like the novel House Of Leaves (reviewed previously) the obvious fabrications make the unseen underlying story more intriguing... Because there are still those definite photographs (what is a New Wave SF writer doing with Boris Johnson?), coming across like some bizarre Doctor Who figure in historical event after event.

So I dug a little deeper on Wikipedia, and it became obvious that almost this entire article had been written by the unregistered I.P address, and yet his novel The Woman Between The Worlds (doesn't sound like my taste, sounds a little too New Wavey for me but you can't tell without reading it), and his poetry are reviewed and available on Amazon. Curiouser and Curiouser.

At this point, an aside: back in my university days I knew a flamboyantly obese man whose name was something like Kevin, or Edward, or Tom, but insisted upon being called Napoleon. In the days when I used to go to heavy metal concerts he was the classic example of the sweaty guy you dreaded finding yourself behind, whose hair you discovered all over you after you left the gig and you could never tell if the sweat covering your once-black t-shirt was yours, or his. It was impossible to get to the bottom of Kevin's (as I will call him) personality because he covered his insecurities with fatuous bluster, and most people I knew just gave up on him after two or three attempts. I didn't hate Kevin, no one did, but no-one I knew ever managed to communicate with the man who was someone's brother, someone's son... They only managed to get Napoleon, the hard drinking computer programmer who had gained his nickname for hard-boiled tactics in role playing games.

As I read further into this Gwynplaine "myth" (I admit to spending over an hour thinking about this man) I kept seeing Kevin/Napoleon in my mind, but also seeing Borges and his fantastical fictional essays. To my tortuous view of reality, if the myth is good enough it justifies the lie (I personally have experimented repeatedly in the fabricated essay form elsewhere, it's probably my best fictional work), what I desperately wanted was some seed in the middle of this fantasy, something substantial to reveal it all. So what, or who, exactly is this Gwyn character? There are too many mentions of him in the science fiction world to write him off as a two dimensional fantasist, but much of the resources on the internet (alt.films.silent has extensive complaints about his lies and behaviour on IMDB) make one suspect... If you can find the key fact that makes his story fit together I salute you. This is more than a false Wikipedia article, because you don't just grow a massive set of mutton-chops like that in minutes, this man lives and breathes this myth he has created.

My suspicion is that he must have built up this identity of his before the invention of the internet, and now is stuck behind his farcical facial hair in a world where Google makes his fabrications all too transparent... A computer terminal with a man attached, wifeless in a small village in Wales is the image I have in my mind. And yet, yet, I sense a real respect for him in many places I have tunnelled. I hate to write off a man who has clearly contributed to the genre I love, but if you fill up a publicly owned balloon with hot air, I almost feel a duty to prick it. So, Gwyn (and if I have read your character at all I am sure you will find this article via Google within a day of posting) I salute you for your class, and respect your myths... But couldn't you have done, well, a better job of it?

* (Very soon after posting this piece a spoilsport Wikipedian stubbed the article, above is the original version and the new version is found here.)

After graduating from Belmarsh, Lord Archer returned to his successful career as a gardener

Ted's pet hates No. 1

by Ted Hoffman

No 1. Any reference to Ronnie O'Sullivan's natural ability at snooker.

Aside from such allusions being cliched and boring, snooker is quite obviously not a natural human skill; you acquire the skill of snooker. Good eyesight and a steady hand surely help, but I'll require medical evidence before I am willing to believe that it is attributes such as these that set Ronnie's ability apart.

There may have been some process during the development of Ronnie's brain that made him particularly predisposed to spotting angles on a green table. Though until someone finds the 'snooker gene' I shall follow Occam's Razor and insist that there is no reason to put Ronnie's ability down to anything other than good old fashioned hard work.

I'm sure he doesn't mind basking in his own mystique, but Ronnie is perfectly candid in his autobiography; like most people who are particularly good at something, he practiced from an early age with every spare hour he was given.

No further explanation of his talent is needed. He may be a percentage point better than anyone else at snooker, but that could perfectly well be down to working a percentage point smarter and/or harder than his peers. Besides, snooker is still a young game there will surely be better guys along in the future as coaching improves and the player base expands.

Anyway, I see Higgins made it into the second round.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

The Music Came Drifting Over The Barricades, and The Soldiers Fell Back.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

"Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
cause summers here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy" - Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones

"Hippies. They're everywhere. They wanna save the earth, but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad." - Eric Cartman, Die Hippie, Die
In Praise of The Scorpions and The Hoff

Spring 1967- Autumn 1968 the demographic boom following WWII has led to a youth generation of unprecedented influence, bringing forth a year to rival 1848. Their new music is blaring from every loudspeaker in The West, Break On Through by the Doors, White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and the distorted noise of Hendrix are sheer, raw, statements of intent. Youth is taking to the streets... By mid-June the student rebellions taking place in Washington and Paris begin to spread into other cities, Sergeant Pepper is played in London as an enormous smiling face is hung over the entrance to a squat on Carnaby Street. Before August the governments of De Gaulle in France and Wilson in Britain have fallen, and the Labour party in Britain is in turmoil, the pressure for change is external, and the Labour party isn't able to give it what it wants. Increasingly it becomes clear that the British political system cannot respond to this pressure with business as usual...

Oh, wait a second, this never happened.

The Baby Boom generation has, through dint of sheer cultural firepower, established some sort of claim to molding the 20th century, akin to The French Revolution or the pan-European events of 1848. As far as I can tell, their case rests almost entirely on the back of a couple of really good tunes. Paint It Black by The Stones, The End by The Doors and It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding by Dylan are certainly rousing anthems when you've got a petrol bomb in your hand, but shouldn't a revolution, well... Change something? Looking at it in political events per year, the biggest year of revolutions in the post-war world was 1989 (with it's sequel in '91, Post-Communist Revolutions 2: The Soviets). However hard I try, I don't remember Bob Dylan or short hemlines having anything to do with it. Unfortunately for the Eastern Europeans, they just didn't pick the right soundtrack, and they don't have the influence on the global media of the anglophone baby boomer left. Where the world could treat 1989 as year zero of modernity, much of the media prefers to slip back to 1967 and recycle trite truisms about it's importance to feminism, homosexual rights, and the pill. It all comes down to those kickass theme-songs...

In the western media's narrative, the Wende is irrevocably associated with two tunes - Looking For Freedom by David Hasselhoff and Wind Of Change by The Scorpions. Between the two of them they typify the end of communism and for this they deserve our praise. So, in the spirit of casting down the oppressors, I'm going to briefly go over their stories.

With an original line-up forming in 1969, The Scorpions wouldn't be the most obvious choice as the voice of youth 20 years later. A long suffering slogger of a German hard rock band, they had been ploughing a long furrow of "successful in Japan" records until their first big breakthrough: 1984's single Rock You Like A Hurricane. Wind Of Change would be their high water mark, but would also be one of the last great big hair anthems before Alternative Rock changed the game. The song was explicitly and theatrically branded as the ballad to end the Cold War, and used a montage of Cold War history as the backdrop for the video. They were so successful in this in my mind (and the mind of Wikipedia) that, despite this song's release in 1990 when Berlin was reunified but Germany was still two states, I cant visualise that man wielding a sledgehammer atop The Wall without hearing a whistling solo and thinking of power ballads and mullets.

Hasselhoff on the other hand was downright lucky, he'd been trying to break into pop music since 1984 (with most success in Austria), and his television career was kicking off again with Baywatch that year. 1989 comes and his second album Looking For Freedom was creeping up the West German charts when Erich Honecker resigned. His single of the same name (fantastic video, lots of shots of Kit from Knightrider along with The Hoff, as he prefers to be called, and females in various states of dress) hit the top of the charts in West Germany as The Wall was preparing to fall and then stayed the duration. With it's rousing but empty declarations on Freedom this song was close enough to a symbol that Hasselhoff was invited to belt this soft rock anthem out atop the Berlin Wall (dressed up in leather, scarf and pixie lights in front of The Brandenberg Gate, watch here) at New Year celebrations, barely a month after The Wall had fallen. The full story of Hasselhoff's delusions of political/historical importance is documented by the BBC. God Save The Hoff!

Some Quotes
"I've done everything, and I talk about what I've learnt through all those journeys: how I tried to save the world and I forgot to save myself." - David discusses his Autobiography

"I wanted to play around with the format, really tear it to pieces and shake it up. For example, if Mitch saves someone from drowning, and that person then goes out and releases a virus that kills a million people. Imagine the moral implications of that. " - David discusses Baywatch.
1989 did have some genuinely revolutionary (in both senses of the word) music, it was the year of N.W.A's Straight Out Of Compton and Public Enemy put out the single Fight The Power (see below). Hip-Hop was genuinely trying to smash down some social walls at the time, with KRS-One also at the top of his game, this was the era when Hip-Hop was closest to its Black Panthers roots. But Black American rappers weren't closely associated with the Soviet public consciousness, and I have trouble making links between the two however much I love watching Flavour Flav aggressively wield a clock in front of their incredibly threatening (camp) militaristic danceless troupe, The S1W.

Public Enemy's Fight The Power, released on the soundtrack of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing.

It's a sad shame, and probably more of a refection of my Anglocentric world than reality, that '89 is treated as a geopolitical phenomenon, rather than having the social implications of other youth movements. In a year which saw Tiananmen Square and Ceaucescu's execution there is very little spoken of changes to society. In the 21st century we will have to think harder how to brand our revolutions, you need to have the right soundtrack!

In memory of Boris Yeltsin, when he wasn't being an asshole, and of the Greek resistance against The Junta, who seized power 40 years ago this week.

William spent a long night awake, waiting for the telephone call inviting him to perform Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds at Woodstock.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

The Anglosphere Flag

by Charles Pooter

Back in 2003, I designed the above flag. I emailed a version of the flag to Samizdata from the account

Anyway, I notice that it is being used in various places around the web, so I'm posting the higher-resolution version above for use by whoever likes it.

I am licensing it under under a non-commercial creative commons licence, so use it on your blog, but no selling T-Shirts.

Creative Commons License

You Don't Get Me I'm Part of the Union

by Charles Pooter

There is a fascinating brawl about trade unions going on in the comments section of this Samizdata post. Jonathan Pearce's original post which defended the concept of a trade union and my comments backing him up really seem to have hit a nerve with some of the regular commentators there. Now that mutualist genius Kevin Carson has waded in, things are really hotting up.

Robin Williams Should Just Give Up

by Charles Pooter

He can't still be enjoying his film career, surely. Well, even if he is, I'm not. Na-Nu Na-Nu.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The Clips

by Charles Pooter

Quote of the Day

by Charles Pooter

Physical property rights are a direct outgrowth of the natural concept of possession. Because the same physical object can be possessed by only one person at a time, and the same space can be occupied by only one person at a time, my defense of my tangible property rights follows of necessity from my occupancy of it. All I have to do to enforce my tangible property rights claims is to maintain possession against any would-be invader. If necessary, I can call on my neighbors for help. But to enforce an "intellectual property" claim, in contrast, I have to invade someone else's space to make sure he isn't using his own property in a way the state has conferred an exclusive right on me to do.
Kevin Carson

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Wise words from Brian Micklethwait

by Ted Hoffman

"My favourite bad idea, so to speak, is the belief that the truth is obvious."
More here.

Close Encounter of the Worst Kind

by Charles Pooter

As you've probably already read, Gary McKinnon the Scottish computer cracker (a "hacker" is a computer programmer) recently lost his fight in the UK High Court against the US Department of Justice's vindictive campaign to have him extradited.

What I find particularly chilling about Gary's case and his pending encounter with the orange jumpsuits and degradation of the US justice system, is how this could so easily have been me or any number of people that I know. This article in the Scotsman gives some background on Gary and his life. His youthful obsession with science fiction and UFOs, his computer skills and general nerdishness, his fondness for ganja: this describes many of the people I have known and liked. For some, these things are a phase, for others the negative parts end up ruining their lives, but for most they keep the non-destructive elements and fit them into a normal life.

So what did Gary's cracking consist of? As this BBC article describes, In 2001 and 2002 Gary was cracking into US military computers running Microsoft Windows. This was a while before Windows had a firewall installed and activated by default and many people forgot to set user names and passwords on windows shares. In other words Gary's cracking consisted of typing Windows UNC paths and then typing Administrator as the username and leaving the password blank. For example, he would type \\\C$ and press Enter. That and some other very basic techniques are what Gary's "cracking" amounted to. If you clicked that UNC path link from a Windows PC and it was a valid IP address (it isn't) you too would be attempting to crack a computer. For this, the DOJ wants to jail Gary for life in a prison which houses rapists and murderers.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Fashionable Accessories for the Paranoid Obsessive Compulsive About Town

by Edwin Hesselthwite

This small, and stylish pocket accessory has been in my possession for a number of weeks. Adorned with the image of a Chinese Terracotta Warrior (the army having been buried near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor) this handsome business card case is essential for the raffish gentleman.

Inside it is contained my Transport For London Oyster Card, employer identity card and a few other pieces of plastic, and it is a rare pleasure to remove such a substantial object from my pocket when I need to ride on a form of public transportation. The plastic cases that the Oyster Card are sold with are fragile and prone to disintegration, much better to carry a metal shell that you can guarantee will protect your plastic.

It is entirely secondary that my employer ID card and Oyster Card both contain an RFID chip — a relatively new technology that is increasingly replacing magnetic stripes for holding digital information. It is entirely secondary that this technology is readable with the right equipment at a distance of up to 1 metre. It is entirely secondary that this technology is currently expected to expand rapidly (read here for entirely sensible suggestions for securing this technology) until these tracking/digital information devices are going to be replacing magnetic stripes and will be used to follow all purchases (they are already used by most mail companies for their "track your delivery" systems).

It doesn't matter to me at all that these handsome bronze cases act as a a functional Faraday cage, experimentally proved to surpress the signal produced by these devices. Thereby guaranteeing my privacy and protecting my digital information from being cloned without my knowledge and consent.

I just prefer not to wake up on a sunday morning wondering how I managed to snap my credit card in half.

Stocks are currently low for our primary product, but this rakish Aluminium model is available for the bargain price of £4.85

Edwin Hesselthwite is personally endorsed by Adrian Cartwright, M.D.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Science Fiction Podcaster Throws His Weight Around

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Escape Pod Hits its 100th Publication:

This site is probably my single favourite thing on the web - I have posted about this before. Escape Pod is a science fiction podcast that every week publishes a short science fiction story. It is the child of Stephen Eley, who has final say on the stories and always attaches a short spoken essay on topics ranging from the rearing of his son to the science fiction/fantasy divide. The stories are usually read by podcasters who appreciate the publicity, and the stories are all paid for out of donations. EP is a case in point of how Podcasting can make solid financial sense (when traditional magazines of SF are in decline).

EP has just hit its 100th episode, meaning it has been running for just shy of 2 years. Steve Eley has managed to become a very, very big fish (7000+ RSS feeds) in the science fiction world on the back of this overhead-free project and, in a display of influence that smacks of serious showing off, has managed to get his hands on Isaac Asimov's Nightfall as EP100. To anyone who knows their SF it goes without saying that this is among the most famous and perfectly styled Golden Age SF stories and is often listed as the greatest SF story of all time, Mr Eley has every right to feel very smug about it.

I disagree with Mr Eley about just about everything: he is wrong when he says fantasy is an equal and equivalent genre, he is wrong when he says that being fun is more important than being intelligent, he is wrong about the importance of escapism, and he is completely and utterly wrong when he says that modern SF has better characterisation than the works of the '50s, '60s and '70s... It's to the man's credit that he doesn't seem to be at all annoyed with me for continually barracking him from his comments threads. One thing I really like about Escape Pod is that they have a respect for SF's canon (which is one of my passions) while knowing and cultivating the modern scene in a way that has pushed me to read SF published after 1975, something I would otherwise never do.

So, if you have the slightest interest in SF I suggest you wander across there, and for your listening pleasure I have listed below the EP stories that I have enjoyed the most:

EP037 - Craphound by Corey Doctorow - A complex story about what would motivate alien visitors in trading with us.
EP031 - Robots and falling hearts By Tim Pratt and Greg van Eekhout - A gorgeously written story (reminds me of Stanislaw Lem) about an infestation of robots.
EP058 - Shadowboxer by Paul di Fillipo - Wow, psychic powers, terrorism, malevolent governments, this hits all my buttons at once.
EPO87 - Authorwerx by Greg van Eekhout - A heart felt eulogy for the golden age of SF.
EPO90 - How Lonesome a life without nerve gas by James Trimarco - An amusing war story with strains of Starship Troopers.
EPO93 - {Now + n, now - n} by Robert Silverberg - Robert Silverberg, nuff said, Steve starts getting his hands on some really big names.

All of these are excellent both for story and reading, but Shadowboxer is absolutely astonishing in both respects (that guy has an amazing voice) with a killer story about politics, terrorism, and fascism.

So, here's to you Steve Eley: You Are Wrong, as usual.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Old Car Tyres

by Charles Pooter

With news that the regime is to spend £500,000 of our money on CCTV cameras that can bark orders at non-compliant subjects, Little Man, What Now? asks: does anybody know where we can buy some old car tyres?

Monday, 2 April 2007

Rusbridger the Fat Cat

by Charles Pooter

Piers Morgan interviews Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger:

PM: What's your current salary?

AR: It's, er, about £350,000.

PM: What bonus did you receive last year?

AR: About £170,000, which was a way of addressing my pension.

PM: That means that you earned £520,000 last year alone. That's more than the editor of The Sun by a long way.

AR: I'll talk to you off the record about this, but not on the record.

PM: Why? In The Guardian, you never stop banging on about fat cats. Do you think that your readers would be pleased to hear that you earned £520,000 last year? Are you worth it?

AR: That's for others to say.

PM: Wouldn't it be more Guardian-like, more socialist, to take a bit less and spread the pot around a bit? We have this quaint idea that you guys are into that "all men are equal" nonsense, but you're not really, are you? You seem a lot more "equal" than others on your paper.

AR: Er... [silence].

PM: Do you ever get awkward moments when your bonus gets published? Do you wince and think, "Oh dear, Polly Toynbee's not going to like this one."

AR: Er... [silence].

PM: Or is Polly raking in so much herself that she wouldn't mind?

AR: Er... [silence].
Well worth reading the whole thing.

Second Vermont Republic

by Charles Pooter

This blog supports the Second Vermont Republic.

Read this Washington Post article for details (published 1st April, but not, as far as I can tell, a joke).