Friday, 31 August 2007
by Edwin Hesselthwite
We at Little Man, What Now? appreciate Fisking as much as anyone else. We don't particularly engage in it in these parts (it's a little bit... vulgar...) but it certainly makes good blog-print for our brethren. And I think no blogging practice has done more to make it clear to the mainstream media that bloggers are going to tear your legs off if you get things wrong.
However, this post over at blog favourite The Devil's Kitchen takes the process a step further than I've ever seen it used before. A 2642 word fisk to hammer home the author's deep-seated dislike of Jamie Oliver...
Personally, I do truly understand Oliver rage (and I suspect the author is after Charlie Brooker's job). But I suggest this The Nameless One character drinks a nice cup of Earl Grey, and considers the world outside media-blogging for a day or two, maybe think about taking up squash, or chess..."It quickly became the most talked about show in town. Oliver was a revelation. The 26-year-old showed patience and perseverance far beyond his years, combined with a real understanding and empathy for the mismatched, dysfunctional youths on his team."
If we want to praise people for showing "understanding and empathy" for "mismatched, dysfunctional youths" perhaps we could praise, I don’t know, social workers or psychotherapists, who often do their work for little more than the minimum wage plus tips. Rather than a poorly educated fucktard who is deigning to interact with just 15 dysfunctional youths simply to advance his floundering career in the limelight.
Wednesday, 29 August 2007
by Edwin Hesselthwite
Absolutely true story:
Jesus walks into a bar.
With sweat streaming down his face, and soot baked into his hair, his appearance would usually result in a customer being shown the door. Here, the barman barely glances up. Steam-rolling forwards, Jesus heads for a prominent stool in front of the steward.
On necking the first tumbler Jesus immediately begins waxing lyrical — using up the last of the steward's notoriously limited patience. He holds forth on the pain of conscious reincarnation into a fully human body, the implications of an infancy spent with vivid, searing memories of an earlier death by torture. He talks about his most recent childhood, his relationship with his family, and reminisces about being tested over 40 days in the desert.
After Jesus knocks back his fourth double, unruffled by the thunderous sounds from outside, he looks up. Making firm contact with his shockingly beautiful ocean-blue eyes, he asks the barman a question
"Today's Wednesday, yeah? Prime Minister's been advising everyone to remain calm?"
The barman — called Bill or Beel by the regulars and My Lord by his grotesque and scarcely seen underlings — finishes cleaning a large tankard. Placing it upon the polished oak, he says
"No, today is Saturday. London hasn't looked this lively since 1666."
A tall figure, with an ashen face and a hooded cape, walks up to the bar and orders four ales. Jesus pauses, then says
Tuesday, 28 August 2007
Friday, 24 August 2007
by Edwin Hesselthwite
Today Little Man, What Now? passed something of a landmark in terms of readership: we clipped 50 RSS feed subscribers (55 today). Monitoring our helpful Feedburner statistics (we started using this facility in November '06) allows us to determine the implications of this minor milestone.
The correlation that resulted was strong, so we have passed this information (and the data generated for our pageloads activity) on to our friends and colleagues at the Seldon Institute for Psychohistory, who are expert at predicting the future from numerical information. The resulting mathematical constructions will allow the Adam Hawks Estate and Little Man Trust to determine future expenditure and make consistent mitigating decisions in relation to projected events.
Based on preliminary studies, the next print edition of LMWN should be entering the shops in 2118 C.E. And, assuming this holds true, we will be eclipsing The Independent newspaper in early 6737 C.E (just in time for the next glacial period).
When our dear friend Sol goes begins to expand, our readership will be pushing 202 billion... And when all the suns finally begin to die at the imminent heat death of our universe, the subscriber base should be holding firm at 45*1014 readers.
Thursday, 23 August 2007
by Charles Pooter
Update: To Wikipedians and others, I respectfully request that you do not attempt to hotlink straight to the Blackwall Tunnel PDF report referenced in this article. Instead, please respect independent journalism and link to this blog post.
The Blackwall Tunnel in East London is one of the major Thames crossings for motor vehicles. Until recently the tunnel operated a "tidal flow" system. This added an extra Northbound lane in the usually Southbound tunnel in the morning rush hour, easing congestion and allowing a greater number of commuters to use the tunnels to reach their North London jobs from their South London homes.
In April of this year Transport for London ended the tidal flow system. The decision was made suddenly without any warning or consultation. TFL justified the decision thus:
“…an increase in dangerous driving behaviour, including overtaking in the tunnel, has led the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London to bring an end to this system…”However since the scheme ended, with the resulting congestion South of the river, some are suspicious that TFL had an ulterior motive for ending the scheme:
“If safety is the real issue, why not implement average speed check cameras through the tunnel and a higher police presence. The mayhem that has been left on the south side of the tunnel will undoubtedly result in more accidents there instead.With these questions in mind, a Little Man, What Now? correspondent (who wishes to remain anonymous) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Transport for London and, after the maximum amount of time allowed by the law, they sent back some interesting results.
Is this the Mayor deliberately trying to mess up traffic flow in the area to ease the way for one of his other schemes? All of these seem attractive when faced with the disaster he is causing with this scheme:
- The proposed £3.50 charge for using the tunnel
- Extending Congestion Charging to the Docklands and Greenwich
- Thames Gateway Bridge”
According to the documents we have obtained, in 1996 TFL commissioned Mott MacDonald to produce an independent traffic and safety review for the Blackwall Tunnel tidal flow system.
The in-depth report contains a review of accidents within the tunnel, advanced modelling of tidal flow operations and a review of the current arrangements for traffic managements and signing. It then goes on to make recommendations for the future of the scheme. One thing is for certain: the report made it clear that ending the scheme would mean more congestion and that there was plenty of room for improvement to the safety of the scheme without having to end it entirely. TFL sent the document in hard copy, presumably to prevent easy dissemination, but we have scanned it in and converted it to PDF for download:
Some notable quotes from the report:
With an in-depth report like this in their hands, why did TFL end the scheme on the basis of some anecdotal evidence and CCTV footage from the police? We can only assume that they do indeed have an ulterior motive.
“The net effect of the Tidal Flow operations is to typically increase overall northbound capacity by nearly 20 percent during the morning peak periods typically implemented and removed 3 times between 0615 and 0915 hours on weekday mornings [pg 53]
In terms of overall network statistics, the removal of Tidal flow operations would reduce overall average network speed and increase fuel consumption [pg 53]
It is also noted that in tunnel operations of this type, detailed monitoring and incident management procedures are required, even without tidal flow operations. As such the incremental cost of operating, maintaining and policing this, tidal flow movements is likely to be substantially lower than for a normal road. [pg 53]
The accident risk has shown that the proportion of accidents occurring in and around tidal flow operations is not significantly higher than would normally be expected on this type of road with this volume of traffic, and that the overall wider area effects are small. On the basis of the accident records available it is recommended that accident mitigation should be focused in the first instance on speed management aspects, and specifically on the deficiencies, limitations, and in some cases, inconsistencies in the signing, signalling and road marking regime. [pg 54] [all emphasis ours]”
Other recent London stories:
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
by Charles Pooter
Cartoon characters today hit back at a survey published by Which? (The Consumer Association) that accused the characters of "undermining parents' efforts to make their children eat healthily".
Simpson to Which?: "Eat my Shorts you nannying puritans"
Monday, 20 August 2007
by Edwin Hesselthwite
“He sat there two months ago and put his feet up on Woodrow Wilson's desk, and he said, "Jim. Make it good. Congress is on my back. They're looking for a reason to cancel the program. We can't afford another screw-up. Make it good. You have my every good wish." His every good wish!” Dr. James Kelloway, played by Hal Holbrook1978 - Carter is in the Whitehouse, Callaghan is in No 10. born; Capricorn One emerged in the shadow of '77's massive SF blockbusters: Lucas's Star Wars and Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The film was already something of a relic, a little too slow and thoughtful for a modern SF blockbuster. The classic years for intelligent thrillers in the early 70's were over... A huge rubber shark had lunged onto a little fishing boat and failed to eat Richard Dreyfuss, but managed to eat Francis Ford Coppola instead. The Movie Brats generation were on their way out.
Politically, America was still in the shadow of a bungled hotel burglary in '72 and the resulting impeachment proceedings. This, and the counter culture generation, led to a rash of highly paranoid movies (Alan Pakula made a bunch, but think of Soylent Green too) and a deep cynicism about the government. For NASA, funding cuts were bringing an end to the Golden Age of American space exploration: Voyager 2 had been launched towards the outer Solar System in '77, the Viking Missions had made their way to Mars and the old Saturn rockets had yet to be replaced by the new and exciting Space Shuttle Program.
With Elliot Gould, O.J. Simpson, a hammy Telly Savalas in a bi-plane chase and a score by Jerry Goldsmith, Capricorn One couldn't fail at the box-office, despite the changing times. Capricorn One's theme's of NASA corruption and Mars landings barely classed as science fiction in '78. Apollo 17's lunar landing in '72 was a vivid memory, Government lies were virtually expected, and a manned mission to Mars was the obvious next step for America.
“Over the years, the space shuttle program has changed its organizational structure due to outside forces… They emphasized effectiveness and efficiency. Essentially they emphasized cost and schedule and things like that… And de-emphasized good engineering and research and development and safety.
The board felt that in order to understand this accident that you have to understand the history of the shuttle. The board felt very strongly that this … was not a random anomalous event. This accident, when you put it in the context of the shuttle's history, fits into a plot that's predictable.” Admiral Hal Gehman, Chair of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
Capricorn One is among my all time favourite movies. It doesn't try to be 2001 or Citizen Kane, it's a straight up paranoid political thriller, with a story that can be summed up in a sentence: What if they had to fake the Mars landing, and it still went wrong? In the hands of the Movie Brats films had subtlety, taking an emotional investment we find unfamiliar today. The opening scene (all 11 minutes of it) is particularly low key: with no character introduction and a conversation between politicians as they wait for a countdown. There are numerous nice touches and the script is razor sharp. Elliot Gould get's some fantastic lines in his Woodward and Bernstein type reporter role, and the film climaxes with a Helicopter/biplane chase. There is enjoyment, along with the political cynicism and attitude to NASA that borders on prophetic.
History has been unkind to Capricorn One, either it is forgotten, or it is cited as evidence by those strange Internet-types who deny Apollo 11 ever landed. Bart Sibrel, a classic example of the type, made a career out it (he's even been punched in the face by a 70 year old Buzz Aldrin) naming his documentary after a misquote from the film A funny thing happened on the way to The Moon. A film with this much class deserves better.
The guts of Capricorn One is Hal Holbrook's villain, the NASA administrator. It is through his character that the film emphasises Watergate era corruption and conspiracy. Notable links to Watergate are Holbrook (who played Deep Throat in Pakula's All The President’s Men), a young unorthodox investigative reporter as hero, Woodward and Bernstein are even name-dropped in a conversation about good journalism. Hyams uses Holbrook’s character to make a film about political evil, crimes committed by the system more than by individuals, so they never seem to stick.
As the film progresses Hal Holbrook’s character goes through a moral descent; at first he appears to be acting altruistically, and before using any leverage he gives a long speech desperately trying to persuade the astronauts to get on board for the good of the project. It’s only when they back him into a corner that he ineptly blackmails them. But the political narrative becomes set, to the world the astronauts are on the rocket. Holbrook is gradually hemmed in more and more by events, until he has no option but to remove them and the dangerous reporter. By never getting his hands dirty he manages to maintain his composure and personal morality. The scene where he consoles Brenda Vaccaro, the astronaut's wife, is chilling. There is no cartoon demon here, he was honestly going to fly them back to their families, until in classic NASA fashion, the technology fails. The real villain played here is The President, always offscreen and never giving sufficient responses, everything that happens is a result of the line I chose for the top quote of this essay, but none of it can be tied to him because he has made it clear that he doesn’t want to know.
When the leader chooses ignorance, but makes it clear that they have the power and failure will not be tolerated, is a very dangerous time. I haven’t studied the topic, but having visited Auschwitz and read If This Is A Man, I have long suspected that Hitler never directly ordered The Final Solution (I don't think anyone gets up in the morning and decides to order 11 million deaths, it's part of a chain of events); that he simply went to Himmler and Eichmann and made it clear the Jews no longer fit his story for where Germany and Europe were going. Then once it was set up it added flexibility to the system, allowing similar problems to vanish. Political evil happens when you establish a political narrative and it becomes more important than the facts (for example, Saddam Hussain having weapons of mass destruction), until the facts must be changed to fit the story. To my mind, this may be why politicians who use the big lie technique, such as Hitler, Oswald Moseley and Joe McCarthy, are so dangerous (rather than them being mentally ill or storybook evil); because once their narrative becomes the dominant one of the time then reality becomes secondary. Set the wheels in motion and institutionalised bureaucrats can be pushed to do pretty much anything, it’s the way humans are.
This film's other main target is NASA, with its deeply cynical tone and emphasis on bureaucrats. Conceived in the shadow of the Soviet missile gap, NASA's purpose has always been cloudy, and the turgid effects of budget squabbling have lain heavy on it since Apollo 11 finished the primary goal of the organisation's first decade. By the time this film was made there had already been accidents, Apollos 1 and 13, but nothing to compare to what was to come with the Shuttle.
I haven’t trusted the organization since reading Feynman’s book discussing (amongst his many stories) his key role in determining the cause of the Challenger disaster: What do you care what other people think?. You create a government department, under the auspices of science but which is actually a mixed bag of motivations, from international public relations to pork barrelling, and you are going to find it difficult to justify your stratospheric funding. Go several years down the line and you have an organization hanging on by it’s fingernails. To my eye, NASA has been the single biggest resistance to human space exploration in the West of the past 30 years, because they have always had incumbency. How do you compete with billions of tax dollars when you are considering satellite repair/launch as a business line?
I find it deeply, deeply depressing that so little has been made of The X Prize in the general media. There has been no movie made about it, there isn’t even an official biography of Burt Rutan; why? Because everyone thinks it's already been done by NASA. The pathetic, clunky, Winnebago of the skies that is The Shuttle, and people pay no attention to the first genuinely practical space program of the private sector. In Capricorn One Hyams showed insights into all of this; there is a strong undertone that the only purpose of NASA is to continue the existence of NASA. It also sent a cold shiver down my spine when I realized the cover-up/mission failed in this movie because of the detaching of the heat shield on re-entry, exactly the cause of the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003.
Hyams never quite made it into the big league of cinema, following this with the less inventive but solid Outland, a High Noon remake set on a Jovian moon with Sean Connery in the Gary Cooper role. Not a bad film, but nothing special. Then he went on to make the flawed but well crafted 2010; a similar attempt at intelligent, political, science fiction but burdened by the terrific weight of Kubrick's original, a job best not attempted. His decline then accelerated towards high concept trash in the 80s and 90s (Timecop, The Relic and End Of Days), his films no longer even notably intelligent.
Capricorn One is no masterpiece, it’s probably not even all that good, but it has a vividness and an insight to it that hundreds of more artistic movies lack. It is certainly food for thought, and a fascinating slice of the 1970’s. If you liked it once and haven’t seen it in 20 or 30 years, go and watch it again. It’s worth it, even if it's just for Elliot Gould saying:
"Look, when a reporter tells his assignment editor that he thinks he may be on to something that could be really big, the assignment editor is supposed to say: "You've got forty eight hours, kid, and you better come up with something good or it's going to be your neck!" That's what he's supposed to say, I saw it in a movie".
Friday, 17 August 2007
Wednesday, 15 August 2007
by Edwin Hesselthwite
"I have no problem living with invertebrates: it is known to me how many mites my bed, clothes and body are covered in, and I tolerate spiders as they devour the biggest of these – this is inevitable and you should not deceive yourself that you are clean…" from Mouse Dies Screaming by Edwin Hesselthwite.
I was wrong.
It had been building up over a period of weeks. One day, noticing some grit accumulating in the light fitting which hangs above my bed, I was intrigued. I removed the glass dish and found — trapped beneath the bulb — the hunched remains of Vespula vulgaris: the common wasp.
I thought little of this, insects are so common around lights in summer, and I like to keep an open window. So it was only on the third occasion of finding a specimen of these vicious females that the problem became clear. Studying the light fitting closely I realised there were holes, vents, through which the insects had crawled from the other side of the ceiling, this being the weakest point, and they had become trapped inside. Each of these wasps had been either cooked by the searing light of the bulb, or walked in tiny circles upon frosted glass till starvation came.. On the other side of the ceiling, somewhere in the roof space, there was a nest and it was growing.
Again, my instinct for extermination was tempered by mistaken advice "leave them" they said, "the nests only last 1 year, you can then just destroy the empty shell with a hammer come November" they said, and like a fool I listened. Until last week when I removed the light fitting to dispose of the latest corpses — and like an overfull soup bowl — it fell from my hands and shattered. Now there was no protection, all that lay between my sleeping form and the multitude of vermin above my head was a thin layer of Gaffa-tape, which I had just used to seal the holes.
The next mission was as inevitable as it was formidable, dressing in the most ridiculous garb (with a thick sweater, gloves and a pair of swimming goggles), I moved my bed to one side and placed a ladder running up to the attic-hatch. Upon lifting the lid on darkness, I became uncertain — does one use a torch (for Americans, that's a flashlight)? An option likely to instantly attract some insects in the direction of the beam, but probably only out of curiosity. Or does one flick the switch, sending 100 watts of white light across the room, potentially screaming "THREAT" to the Queen's army of neutered drones? A dangerous option but one that doesn't necessarily tell them where you are. With my eyes adjusting to the darkness, I gingerly reached out towards the light switch. Seconds later - as the air filled with Hymenoptera - I descended the steps and shut the hatch. The location of the nest is still unknown.
So now, as the days pass, I must sleep beneath the hatch and light... Knowing exactly what lives above, but safe in the certainty that a week today the experts will come, and a potent nerve-toxin will be released upon them. Despite their angry stingers (an egg-canal that is used by the drones to pierce your flesh, rather than deliver young) they will all, to the last wasp, die.
By my bed I keep a can of RAID. It would be best not to mistake it for deodorant in the mornings.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Friday, 3 August 2007
Thursday, 2 August 2007
by Charles Pooter
Ted's previous post prompted me to write the following comment, which I'll now arrogantly promote to the front page of the blog.
The West Wing is fun to watch, but ultimately it is a modern version of the Platonic fantasy: the philosopher king.
There is a romantic, but deluded notion amongst some American "liberals" that one day they will get their perfect President: a beacon of benevolent omnipotence at the head of the Executive branch. This is a myth fuelled by the cult of JFK (not the real JFK who ordered the Bay of Pigs invasion, but the alternative-reality Kennedy, who would have ushered in a new Camelot if he had not been murdered).
The romantics who subscribe to this notion are always looking for their Josiah Bartlet, but invariably they end up with a Bill Clinton (followed by a George W. Bush). The American founders were more realistic. All men are fallible, so they tried to ensure that too much power could not be placed in the hands of the Executive. This doctrine, originally coined by Montesquieu, is called "separation of powers".
Perhaps American liberals should spend less time fantasising over Josiah Barlet's fictional regime and more time reclaiming some of the power stolen by the Executive branch in the last two centuries.
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
by Ted Hoffman
I'd never seen the West Wing. My brother however is an evangelist for the show, often telling me how good it is.
Last week I was up late working with the TV on in the background, and came across an episode. It must have been a season finale, as the president, played by Martin Sheen, found himself injected with the ebola virus by a crazed nurse. Luckilly she had a cure, with which she was trying to blackmail the president. I watched intermitently wondering how this daft show became so popular.
I finished my work, and couldn't sit through the rest of the show so I turned off. In the proces, my sky box revealed that I had not been watching the West Wing at all, but the film Contagion a B Movie from 2001 that rated 4 out of 10 on IMDB. The man I was completely convinced was Martin Sheen was in fact Bruce Boxleitner.
by Charles Pooter
One of the world's hairiest men, who nicknames himself "King Kong", has launched a campaign to carry the Olympic torch during the relay ahead of next year's Beijing Games.Karl Pilkington would be proud.
"The Olympics belong to everyone - the common people and those with abnormalities included," Yu Zhenhuan said.