Thursday, 29 November 2007

Labour Fundraising and the Unions

by Charles Pooter

Devil's Kitchen claims that contributions from trade unions to the Labour party can be seen as just as corrupt as rich individuals laundering their money through other people to make anonymous large donations to their political party of choice.

This is clearly not the case. In fact a union does the opposite: it groups together lots of small donations into one large donation. A corrupt individual splits a large donation into many small donations, which are then funnelled through proxy donors.

That aside, there is a scandal when it comes to union funding of Labour: the Union Modernisation Fund. By this method. the regime recycles taxpayers' money, via the unions, into Labour donations. Here is a simple diagram created by Guido Fawkes, which explains how it all works:

More info here.

In my opinion, trade unions should stop taking the Government's dirty money and they should stop donating to political parties who ultimately will do nothing for working men and women. Instead they should concentrate on building the new society within the shell of the old.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Copy of an email sent to Greenwich Council

by Bertrand Boer-Waugh

Dear council tax department,

I am writing to you whilst beside myself with rage at the council's complete ineptitude and malevolent collection practices for wrongly taking me to court in my absence and wrongly issuing a county court judgment against me for money that I don't actually owe.

I refer to summons number 1*****4 which you had informed me was cancelled. I will outline here the history of this case and the steps that the council is going to take to rectify it.

Case history

  1. I had a summons from you because when I swapped bank accounts you didn't transfer over my direct debit when my bank sent you the details
  2. As soon as I received it, I called you. I paid the overdue amount and updated the direct debit details. The payment reference for this is CEP0******4 - I paid it on 5th November at 10:39am
  3. I was informed that the £95 costs would not be charged and that the remaining payments would go out on my amended direct debit with the first payment happening at the start of November
  4. I was also told that the court summons would be cancelled with immediate effect and that I needed to take no further action
  5. I requested written confirmation that the council had cancelled the summons, but was told that the council doesn't do that (and that it was unnecessary in any case)
  6. I have just received a Council Tax Liability Order Notification and Bailiff Warning Notice instructing me that on 19th November the court sat anyway and decided that the balance of £404 (i.e. the remaining payments and the non-refunded £95) must be paid within 14 days or Bailiffs would call to recover the debt.
This is absolutely disgusting - due to the council's processes not working I now have a County Court Judgment against me and the threat of Bailiffs. The council has also demanded details of my employer so that it can deduct my 'debt' at source. I will give it no such information.

Here is the action that I demand that the council takes to sort this ridiculous mess out:

  1. Remove the county court judgment straight away.
  2. Cancel the order for Bailiffs with immediate effect.
  3. Refund the £95 'court costs' to my council tax account
  4. Write to me confirming that steps 1-3 have been taken.
  5. Collect the outstanding funds from the direct debit that I have set up. That really is a much more straightforward way of collecting council tax for the council and for me. By using this method, the council get its money quickly and cheaply and I do not get my credit record wrecked by unnecessary and invalid CCJs.

I will be calling the department at 10am tomorrow morning to confirm that someone has received this email. I will call again at 4pm for an update on progress against my case. If there has not been satisfactory resolution then you can expect a personal visit on Thursday.

Yours disgustedly,

Bertrand Boer-Waugh


Social Networking

by Tobias Gregson

The only social networking I know about is the sort that I do down the "Crown and Anchor". I assume this is why the other Little Men thought it would be amusing to ask me to remind our readers of our existence on something called "MySpace" and something else called "Facebook". Apparently I am to ask you to become "friends" with us on these two websites. Duty discharged, now I'm going back out to the shed. Expect an article from me before Xmas entitled "The Infantilisation of England". Gregson out.

They Just Work

by Charles Pooter

Apple Macs: "They Just Work".

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Starbucks-crossed Lovers

by Bertrand Boer-Waugh

Now that winter is truly upon us and we curl up by the fire shivering and waiting for the green shoots of spring to arrive (no parallel with the UK economy intended), I thought that I would inject a little romance into the blog by telling you how a visit to Starbucks changed my life. Return with me to 2005, and to the Starbucks in Cabot place, Canary Wharf, and I will tell you a romantic tale.

As would be expected of early afternoon at the beginning of the year, there was a convivial bustle about the place. It was into this bustle that I inserted myself. Now, picture me. I was a twentysomething Management Consultant and, since my project had finished before Christmas, I was awarding myself some well-deserved rest by keeping quiet about not being on another project yet. This meant that I was ‘working from home’. Since I didn’t have broadband internet at home, did actually have work to do, and was running low on coffee, I decided that for the time being the ‘home’ I worked from would be the above Starbucks outlet.

Having installed myself at one of the tables, and resembling something from You’ve Got Mail or some other Meg Ryan movie (iPod, grande latte, wintry knitwear, laptop, hair carefully trained into an unkempt look, cynical stubble), I set to work trying to connect my laptop to the wireless network in the outlet. This meant trying to work the Wi-Fi in my laptop. It turns out that I am not very good at working the Wi-Fi in my laptop.

Getting slightly bored with this charade, I gazed out through the open door into the shopping mall area outside. ‘Wow’, I thought, as a stunning woman walked past the door and on around somewhere else. I went back to the screen, and continued in vain on the Wi-Fi. A few minutes later, I gazed up again and Stunning Woman was walking in. We made eye contact and smiled at each other, but I shyly looked back to my laptop.

I need to let slip some more autobiography here. I used to work in an office very near to this Starbucks, and still knew some of the people I used to work with. So, still struggling to work the Wi-Fi, I was relieved when the IT manager from my old department walked in. Thinking that I could enlist his help with this internet problem, I turned around to see where he was in the queue. As I did so, I saw that Stunning Woman had sat at the table behind me. We caught each other’s eye again, and smiled again. I went to ask my IT manager for help, and came and sat back down. I couldn’t concentrate, I had such a strong feeling about Stunning Woman. So I decided that I would say something, and I decided that it had to be something fantastic that I would say, because people must say things to her all the time. So I turned around, to say something fantastic, and I looked at her, and I took a deep breath, and I spoke to her.

“My Wi-Fi’s not working.”

That was what I said, and I’m not proud of it. It’s not the best line that anyone’s ever used to break the ice with someone that they had just met. OK, so it’s the worst line that anyone’s ever used to break the ice with someone that they had just met. But, somehow, it broke the ice, and Stunning Woman spoke back to me. We had a 15 minute conversation, and exchanged contact details (well, in truth, she gave me her CV), but I had to leave. I was in the middle of the most important moment of my life up to that point, having just realized that I had found my soulmate, and I was afraid that I might say the wrong thing. “If I leave now,” I thought, “I can contact her with dignity. If I stay, I may end up putting my foot in my mouth.” So I left the Starbucks, giving one last smile as I looked back and saw her watching me walk out. Outside, and out of sight, I finally understood the phrase ‘take my breath away’, as I gasped to breathe, knowing that I had just met my future wife. I now know that as soon as I had left Starbucks, Stunning Woman had also called her Mum and best friend to tell them that she had just met the man she was going to marry. Two days later, we met up. During the course of our meeting we told each other how significant our feeling had been when we met. Our relationship has deepened every day since that moment. After 5 months of being together, we got engaged, having asked each other spontaneously at exactly the same time. I had already bought the ring 3 weeks earlier. After 6 months of spending every day and every night together that it was possible to spend together, I moved my things out of my flat and in with her. It sounds quick, but if anything it felt like it had moved slowly, even though it flew by.

Unlike some other such stories, this one has a happy ending. We got married in my old college in Cambridge in spring last year and are living happier and happier days. Many of my single friends have taken to hanging out in Starbucks in the vain hope of a repeat, but the introducing of Bertrand to the Future Mrs Boer-Waugh has remained a one-off.

There is a moral to this tale. At the time that this happened, I was having problems with my (very recent) split from an ill-tempered woman and the last thing that I was seeking was another woman. But sometimes things happen outside of our control, and as Pangloss would say, everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. This can happen even when everything seems shit in this shittest of all possible worlds, and even when you are hopelessly out of your depth and making a shit job of the situation. Desperately pursuing happiness is not necessarily the most efficient way to find it - walk through open doors rather than pushing on closed ones. And when you find something special, it is worth cherishing from the start. Be happy - you deserve it.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Dragon's Den USA

by Charles Pooter

I look at YouTube so you don't have to.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

A Thanksgiving Message from Mrs Hoffman

by Ted Hoffman

My dear wife has asked me to post the following on her behalf.

Some of you may not be aware that One of the Most English Men Alive, Ted Hoffman, is married to an American. The details of why the union was formed will remain hidden from you, Dear Reader, but suffice to say he seems to enjoy cockiness, loud laughter, and Taco Bell. In any case, I break my silence today to clear up a wee misconception that the Brits seem to have about our hallowed November holiday. Thanksgiving is NOT a "bigger deal" than Christmas. The first couple of times that I heard this little gem, I thought the person earnestly explaining this conceit was merely confused. However, I’ve lived in the UK for six years, and, each Thanksgiving season, more than one person has expressed the same thought using the exact same phraseology. After a while, I became convinced that the British had been brainwashed like that chap in Conspiracy Theory who has to buy the Catcher in the Rye each time the baddies send him an electronic message. "Every time someone says the word 'Thanksgiving' to you, you MUST wheel out a clichéd urban myth." Ted looked at me strangely when I brought up this possibility to him, but I'm sure that's just because I've caught the propaganda out! Anyway, to Americans, Thanksgiving is the official beginning of the holiday season, so that's why we celebrate it so enthusiastically. Most white-collar workers not only get Thanksgiving Thursday off as a Federal Holiday, but also receive the gift of Friday off as well. Since we don't get many holidays, and we have no concept of Boxing Day, a dedicated four day weekend given to us freely is a source of awe, happiness, and turkey. Perhaps this is where the confusion lies.

You may know that the purpose of the day is to give thanks for all the blessings you've had over the past twelve months, and even though the word "blessing" is verboten in this country, I urge you to take the opportunity to reflect on all of the “good shit” that happened this year. Undertaking this exercise on the fourth Thursday of November is infinitely more logical than trying to take account on New Year's Eve when you're fuzzy on fizzy and your husband is off helping the host light fireworks despite being three sheets to the wind, the both of them. I digress. If, like Edwin, you abhor the artificial Christmas combination of green and red, adopt Thanksgiving with its muted hues of brown and orange! Whatever happens, you should definitely wish your favorite Yank a Happy Thanksgiving.

Mrs Hoffman

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin... LMWN Branches Into Audio

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Sometimes things just fall into your lap... Work you'd forgotten you ever did yielding up fresh pleasures.

Such is the case with today's posting, and excuse me if I drop into anecdotage to tell you where this came from... Some years back I wrote a short story, in the fictionalised essay form, that I was somewhat pleased by, and I posted it on the 'net. Mostly forgotten apart from the odd re-read and two years pass down the line, when I get an email asking me if I would be willing to allow it to be converted to MP3 form and podcast elsewhere. Well the answer to that was "yes, sure, but I don't think it will work in audio at all". Two somewhat baffled hours later the file we have published below landed in my lap.

Justin Fanshaw as he chooses to be called, has done an impressive job of the adaptation (he has cut it down by a half but kept the tone of the piece), and his voice is exactly how I always imagined this story being presented. It's a somewhat odd piece, an atmosphere focused story using a fictional publican as a way to bring out the bohemian feel of one of my favourite London neighbourhoods - Soho (it's painfully over-researched). So, without further introduction... I give you:

Jacob Whetstone

Landlord, Writer, Chaos Merchant and Baron of London's Bohemia
"Sod The Tower and The Rock, bloody ravens and monkeys. No, the day the cats leave The Wheatsheaf is the day the barrels run dry, it'll be the end! Or at least it will be for you, Thomas, I can't stand you sober!" John Betjeman, British Poet Laureate, 1906 -1984, in conversation with Dylan Thomas
(adapted for audio and voiced by Justin Fanshaw)

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

If You've Got Nothing To Hide…

by Charles Pooter

…you've got nothing to fear.

Children of the Ghetto: Henryk Ross

by Thaddeus Sholto

A party in the Łódź Ghetto, Photography by Henryk Ross

Long after the Second World War had finished, Henryk Ross returned to his native Poland and dug up the photographic negatives he had buried for safekeeping.

Many had suffered water-damage since they were concealed, but they had survived well enough for Ross to revisit the life he had led between 1940 and 1944. As he examined his work, he would have seen happy images of children’s parties; comedy shots, such as the one that depicts a policeman with a watering can hovering over his head; and a delightful photo of a pretty young woman posing by some saplings.

At first glance, you would mistake these as the snapshots of a very talented photographer. But look closer and you see a recurrent and unexpected detail: the yellow star worn on every breast.

Were it not for that, it would be hard to believe that these happy, well-fed people were interned at Łódź, in the Holocaust’s second-largest ghetto. Overseen by the controversial Chaim Rumkowski, whose name is now inextricably linked with the notorious “Give me Your Children” speech, the ghetto was effectively a sweatshop for the German war effort, as well as a holding centre for Jews being deported to the death camps at Auschwitz and Chełmno.

So why are these photographs so radically different to the now-familiar Holocaust images of starving and brutalised men, women and children? And how did Ross manage to get hold of the camera and film under such conditions?

The answer to both of these questions lies in the fact that Nazis allowed the Jews to administer and police the ghetto themselves. Subsequently a Łódź “elite” evolved: a minority who held coveted jobs and lived comparatively privileged lives. Henryk Ross was employed by the ghetto’s Department of Statistics to capture images of ghetto inhabitants producing goods for the Nazis.

Ross performed his duties correctly, but was also in demand by members of the elite families, whose children he photographed at play and at parties. However, he also risked his life by taking clandestine shots of the ghetto’s horrors: hungry people searching for food; Jews being herded into cattle trucks on their way to the death camps; individual deportations; a corpse hanging from a noose; people trying to escape Nazi round-ups of the old, sick and very young.

It was dangerous and horrifying work, but Ross later recalled the strength of his motivation:
“I was anticipating the total destruction of Polish Jewry. I wanted to leave a historical record of our martyrdom.”
He succeeded. Some of the photographs Ross later unearthed were used as evidence at Adolf Eichmann’s trial in 1961. However, although Ross himself did not die until 1991, the more ‘homely’ pictures of life amongst the Łódź elite were not publicly displayed until 2005.

It is not hard to see why. The images of a well-fed, seemingly content class of people amongst the ghetto’s inhabitants force us to ask some very difficult questions about human nature. How, against a backdrop of hunger, forced labour, deportation and murder can we interpret photographs of plump children playing at policemen and arresting their friends?

As one survivor remarked when seeing the photographs for the first time, “Hunger does not bring out noble feelings”. Nor is it easy to pass judgement when, looking into the eyes of those Ross photographed, one remembers that almost every single person was dead by 1945: of the 204,000 Jews who passed through the ghetto, just 10,000 survived.

Ross himself.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Beowulf: The Blog Post

by Charles Pooter


In glorious IMAX Cockney-vision


Ray Winstone as Beowulf
Anthony Hopkins as King Wassisname

Scene 1, Interior of King Wassisname's mead hall.

Beowulf enters.
Beowulf: Alright guvnor, I am Beowulf, son of Ronnie, son of Reggie, I 'av come to slay your monsta.
King Wassisname: I can smell your perfume Clarice.
Beowulf: You wot? You 'avin a fackin' larf?
King Wassisname: You have come to kill our Grendel?
Beowulf: Grendels? I've shit 'em!

Scene 2, Interior of King Wassisname's Mead hall, night.

Grendel enters.
Grendel: Arrrghhhh, arghhh, argggghhhhh!
Beowulf: Strike a light, what's your game?
Grendel: Arrrghhhh, arghhh, argggghhhhh!
Beowulf: Look you fackin' slag, you can fack right awf back down that fackin' frog and toad! You can't come down my manor playin' the biggun! Fack awf before I fackin' do you!
Grendel: Arrrghhhh, arghhh, argggghhhhh!
Beowulf: Alright you fackin' toilet, I'm gonna fackin' cat you up right proper, you slag!
Beowulf's comrade: You were only supposed to tear his bloody arm off!

Scene 3, Interior of King Wassisname's Mead hall, the next day.

King Wassisname: Beowulf has slain Grendel. Our nightmare is over. Later we shall eat Grendel's liver with a nice chianti (F-f-f-f-f), but first our bard will sing a song of Beowulf's victory.
Bard: Let's awl go daaahn the Strand ('ave a banana!). Knees ap mavver Brown, knees ap mavver Brown! Chim chimney, chim chimney, chim chim cheree! Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit! (Etc).

"I'll do you, you fackin' slag!"

The Great White Beard

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Primo Levi (1919-1987)
"I wanted very much to learn to draw: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world... It's an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is." From Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman by Physicist (and general hero) Richard P. Feynman.
Richard Feynman was one of the great scientists of the twentieth century, most famous to the physicist for his Feynman Diagram method of modelling subatomic systems (Quantum Electro-Dynamics, it got him his Nobel), and to the layman for his legendary autobiography Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman. As a layman, it's one of the most personally inspirational books I've ever read, with his anecdotes about lockpicking, his personal experiences on the Manhattan project, and his first-principles approach to any social or scientific problem. Whether he was solving the problem of liquid helium, theatrically determining the cause of the Challenger explosion, or drumming in the Rio Carnival, his style was unchangingly playful. However, despite being the archetype of a major physicist, he was a minor (although exhibited) artist, and a relatively minor (although hugely entertaining) writer. His book is rousing and humane, but never quite captures the passionate vision of reality that so obviously hangs behind his world-view — that's left for his lectures, his description of Entropy's role in time's arrow is magnificent.

Primo Levi was a minor scientist — a self-effacing Italian professional chemist who's post-graduate experiences revolved around analysis in manufacturing and industry. But he was the archetype of a major writer. His place in history is guaranteed by his first books If This Is a Man and The Truce, documenting with consummate empathy and humanity his year-long experience when interned in Auschwitz. It is a topic I will gloss over here, for it is not this aspect of his work that makes him one of my favourite writers. Beyond Auschwitz Levi managed to build himself a role as the poet laureate of analytical chemists, and in this respect he is unique. The poetry in his writing on the mechanical and technical raises and emphasises a vision of the world Feynman describes above striving (and failing) to render in pencil.

"I still enjoyed seeing it grow, day by day, and it was like seeing a baby grow: I mean a baby that isn't yet born, when it's still inside its mama. Of course this was a funny baby because it weighed about sixty tons, just the framework, but it didn't grow all anyhow, like a weed; it grew up neat and precise, like it was in the drawings, so when we fitted the ladders... and they were fairly complicated, they fit right off without any cutting or welding, and this is a real satisfaction, like when they made the Frejus tunnel, and it took thirteen years, but then the Italian hole and the French hole met, without any error, not even twenty centimetres" From The Wrench, by Primo Levi.
Levi's work usually took the form of a series of short, discrete stories that say more when taken together than they manage to do on their own. His skills as a poet of the technical are best seen in four of his works: The Wrench, Other People's Trades (sadly out of print), The Sixth Day and Other Tales and most of all The Periodic Table. The Periodic Table is a unique professional memoir, quite unlike anything else I've ever read. In it he describes his life's experience by a series of chapters named and viewed through the the properties of specific chemical elements. The first is titled Argon, through who's ubiquitous but inert properties he describes his people, the Jewish Diaspora. The last is titled Carbon, and is a poetic story of the existence and cycle of a carbon atom. Between these is an utterly humane work on the nature of living, making it clear that for Levi his professional discipline and empiricism carried him on from the camps, binding him to the unyielding nature of matter. Each chapter is intriguing of itself, I am particularly fond of Chromium — about a varnish factory that no longer understands its own recipe — and Gold — about his total abject failure as an armed partisan against Mussolini's regime. Taken together The Periodic Table is one of the strangest autobiographies of the 20th century.

The Wrench is notable as a collection of short stories, following the form described above, used to bring out the blood and satisfaction in the work of an engineer. The lead character is a rigger, engaged in numerous construction projects, and each story relates to steel, tools, and machine oil. There is an aesthetic here that a man should be viewed through his relationship with the physical, making an odd book but one well worth reading. The Sixth Day and Other Tales is equally strange, because it follows all the rules and forms of Science Fiction (a story about the day when water's viscosity spontaneously changed is particularly typical of SF written in the 50's and 60's) but was intended for an entirely different audience, and I suspect conceived mostly in ignorance of the form as it was being developed at the time. Levi would certainly have had success amongst the pulps, but his work is most closely comparable to another hero of mine, Polish SF writer (and major critic of the American version of the form), Stanislaw Lem. They share an ornery but playful intellectualism more pronounced than that present amongst the Americans. Levi's only novel, If Not Now, When?, returns to the topic of resistance in the Second World War, this time set amongst the Jewish population of The Ukraine. It's a good novel, and it holds well with his other holocaust books, but it does not reach the heights of his autobiographical books on the topic.

I am a fan, it's that straightforward. Levi is, and remains, one of my all time favourite writers. His work is not for everyone, there is no action in anything he ever wrote, but his books are intelligent, rich, and very, very human. He is the only writer I know that makes me wish I could read his work in the original language. He died in 1987 of a fall from the third story balcony, one of those Italian internal spiral staircases, in his home in Turin; whether this was suicide is still debated (unfortunately united with his material this makes him something of a Kurt Cobain figure to those who wish to view him that way). Anything he wrote is worthy of attention, and while If This Is A Man is a book of significant importance, such a weighty topic should not blot out the gravity of his less historic works.

Patron saint (Jewish) of analytical chemists.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Art From The Ghetto

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Bruno Schulz's self portrait, in characteristic scratchy and evocative style.

This publication has been building up something of a theme when it comes to celebrating the death of artists of note, not intentionally - it's a pretty morbid obsession - but I'm finding it impossible now to resist the "on this day" obituaries. A disturbing indicator for my sanity.

This Monday coming , for example, is the 65th anniversary of the death of Polish writer, artist and literary stylist Bruno Schulz. Schulz is an uncategorisable writer, widely recognised after his death for his imagery rich books that aren't really stories in the normal form. Schulz, an assimilated Jew, became trapped in the Nazi-occupation of Poland, and was murdered in the course of an argument between two Gestapo officers in 1942. A book review and biography will be forthcoming next week.

In Schulz's honour, and just because we can, we thought we'd attempt a brief season on works of art and science that emerged from the camps of the Second World War. For the most bleak events of the twentieth century there is a very strong body of human creativity that emerged from under their shadow, and it deserves celebrating (also, it's November and I'm feeling morbid). So, from Monday onwards we'll be posting on the topic.

To start off with a lede: Schulz's highest profile book Street Of Crocodiles served as inspiration for a stop-motion opus by American twins The Brothers Quay. This exceptionally dark adaptation, with its reliance on imagery and music rather than any real narrative is a bit overwhelming, and rated by Terry Gilliam as one of his favourite animations of all time (you can see similarity to his animated work). Anyone familiar with the music videos of the band Tool will recognise its influence immediately. So, I post it here in two parts.

Street Of Crocodiles by The Brothers Quay (1986), click for Part 2

Bruno Schulz (1892-1942)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Minister For Arms Dealing Quits Government to Win Le Mans

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Awww, how cute, politician dates a Cheeky G... sorry, joins Mclaren.

So a medium-scale political figure (he's only a Lord after all) has resigned his post in politics, to go and win Le Mans. A one day news furore, some stylish photographs in a motor-sport helmet followed by a disappearance from the public eye. The media lap it up (snark!), because it's a lovely fit of politics with human interest.

Call me a conspiracy theorist tho, but I smell a rat. This isn't just any low-ranked ministry, this man was in charge of Defence Procurement. One year ago I wrote a pretty significant article on the topic of his job, where I highlighted the vast and cavernous history of corruption associated with it under the last Tory regime. Alan Clark, Jonathan "Liar" Aitken and Stephen "dead with a bin bag over his head" Milligan were all tied to it. I am convinced that bending the law is one of the responsibilities that come with this post.

Last week was the state-visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the key partner in the long history of Defence Procurement corruption (as they funnel dirty money from that regime to BAE). In the year since I wrote my last piece, Labour corruption surfaced in the abandoned enquiry, a nasty and obviously dirty business that The Guardian's David Leigh (a man deserving of the title Hero) seems to have made it his life's work to bust open. Lord Drayson's decision to get out, straight after a major Saudi visit, leaves me as suspicious as ever about the State of Denmark.

If I were Minister Of State For Defence Equipment and Support, the new name for Defence Procurement (under Blair it was a PUSS-level job), I would cultivate a second string that would allow such a photogenic pull-out, allowing it to be brought to the fore when the blood and notes start to stick too irrevocably to my hands.

Drayson in the money shot, selling DML's MWMIK 4*4

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Police Vampirism on the Increase

by Charles Pooter

New figures show a huge rise in the number of cautions for crime and
cannabis warnings. However the number of people charged is falling. The
findings come weeks after Bob Quick, the chief constable of Surrey, admitted
officers were targeting minor offenders rather than hardened criminals in order
to hit targets.
- From tonight's London Evening Standard.
Of course the increased number of arrests without charge also means plenty more lovely victims for the National DNA database. If there are still English policemen with any morals or dignity, they should resign immediately and take up an honourable vocation like prostitution, loan-sharking or even estate agency.

Extras Christmas Special

by Charles Pooter

Being a fan of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's Extras, I'm looking forward to the feature-length Christmas specials that are to be shown later this year (yes, at Christmas). I found the following video announcement of the specials, which I nicked from Gervais' website, particularly amusing:

Warning: contains profanity!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Another Brick in the Wall

by Charles Pooter

Vindico has tagged me to name ten people I'd like to see bricked in the face. And he seemed like such a nice young man when I met him. For the record, I do not condone violence, except in self-defence...

...but they do say that the best form of defence is attack...

...they also say that one should attack with the element of surprise. It follows then, that the best defence is to attack before the other party has even thought of attacking you. Therefore, purely defenisively, I nominate the following for a good bricking:

  1. The Labour Party
    "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (Revelation 18:4,5).
  2. The Conservative Party
    (See: "The Labour Party")
  3. The Liberal Democrats
    Best not mention "bricks", it'll give them an idea for an innovative new tax on environmentally unsustainable building materials. A whole year of campaign emails in my inbox with the words "liberty" and "freedom" almost entirely absent.
  4. The Swiss
    When I come back from holiday there are two queues to the immigration desks: one for the EU and one for the rest of the world. The EU queue is always a huge, tired and huddled mass of people yearning to get home for a cup of tea. The rest of the world queue always has one man from Kenya who gets to rush straight through. Bizarrely, the Swiss get to use the EU queue, even though they are not part of the EU. Come on guys, you're making our queue longer without even properly regulating your bananas! You cuckoo clock manufacturing, well-armed gits!
  5. HRH Queen Elizabeth II
    See Edwin's post here. Also, regarding the Commonwealth, I quote myself:
    DK is always banging on about strengthening ties with the commonwealth. This is something I agree with. But surely some of the blame for these ties loosening in the first place can be put at the door of QEII, her antecedents and her progeny.

    It is true that she is the Queen of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island. But she is also the Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis; Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji. Her ancestors were the Emperors of the whole of India (including what is now Pakistan)

    ...And yet where does she choose to spend the vast majority of her time: Slough and Scotland. This is a provincial Monarch and provincial family with a
    provincial outlook. Where is the Queen's palace in Adelaide? Why no stately home for Charles in Wellington? Why doesn't the Princess Royal spend six months of the year in Bridgetown? Oh sure, they deign to jet off and meet their lowly foreign subjects every now and again, but they may as well be flying to Mars for all they know or care about the lives of these people.

    This is just another aspect of the neglect and dereliction of duty which is typical of Elizabeth and of her entire House.
    I should add, in case there is any ambiguity, that I nominate the Queen personally for a bricking and not the institution of the monarchy: that would probably be treasonous!
  6. ASH
    For God's sake enjoy a cigarette and chill out.
  7. The English
    You English are so predictable. You take your eye off the ball and let your country go to hell and then, as soon as night follows day, you'll have a right-wing populist backlash. If you sort things out now, fewer people will get shot.
  8. Humanity
    Why are you still stuck on Earth? Why haven't you terraformed Mars yet? Why does aging still exist. More importantly: Where the hell is my flying car?
  9. People who use the Daily Mail to end discussion
    Accusing someone of having an opinion shared with a theoretical Daily Mail editorial is the new way of saying "Hitler was a vegetarian":

    Quentin: "Immigrants help out the economy."
    Bob: "Yes, but perhaps there should be some kind of immigration control, so that public services can continue to function."
    Quentin: "Ooo, listen to Richard Littlejohn over there. Where's your Daily Mail? You couldn't make it up!"
    Bob: "Please accept this brick in your face."
  10. Ted Hoffman , Dom Corrigan, et al.
    Start posting again or I will brick you in the face!
Speaking of Corrigan and Hoffman, I nominate them to tell us who they want to be bricked in the face, which is probably gross bad form, but I don't care.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Friday, 2 November 2007

Balloons, North London, and Nutters.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

After savaging American Gods, I thought it suitable to follow up with a review of a book that I just read and, not only enjoyed, but was completely blown away by - Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan.

McEwan is a Booker Prize winner, he cant get away from it and his name will be plastered next to that tainted award till the end of time, let's get the pity out of the way at the beginning. Reading Enduring Love was quite the opposite experience to a worthy British literary novel (I don't usually read Brits). In the course of this book, no one overcomes anything, there is no mention of the beauty of life in a Turkish community in The Shetlands, and no one has to challenge their family's preconceptions about anything. Far from it, Love is a gripping, tense, page-turner which uses it's author's masterful literary technique to drive home a story that could easily have come packaged as a thriller.

The basic tale revolves around a tragic helium balloon accident, that serves as the trigger for a series of life changing events amongst all those present. The three lead characters are Joe, a North London based science writer, his partner Clarissa an English Literature professor, and Jed Parry, a party to the accident. I am loathe to discuss the story details much further, because it hinges on the most skilful use of the unreliable narrator technique I have encountered outside of The Usual Suspects. Every chapter of the book serves to cast light on the mental state of the lead, and it isn't up until the very last two pages that you have any idea of how much to trust him. I have never read a book where I had less idea where the hell it was going from one page to the next.

And yet, beyond the masterful structural tricks, this is an extremely human book. It fits into that very small category of love stories (along with The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene, one of my all time favourite novels) that show the mixture of fragility and emotional weight that characterise two people pretending they are somehow the same. I think it says something about me that I only really adore love stories about relationships falling apart.

But beyond the love story, and the literary, this is a novel about stalkers and about not knowing if you are losing your mind... At its heart is the fear that develops because someone else is thinking a lot about you, and you have no idea what they are thinking, whether that be love or hate. This loneliness tangible though-out Enduring Love illustrates my city in a way few London books manage.

I am finding it unusually hard to write a review of a book where you can't mention any of the plot without ruining it, so lets just say it's not as literary as one would expect, but that there is a humanity and stylistic skill that few other writers can touch. This novel hits you simultaneously in the chest and in the head. Its themes, settings, and fragility are exactly what I needed at the time...

In Condemnation of British Vulgar Libertarians

by Edwin Hesselthwite

It has now been 20 hours since the verdict was announced in the Jean Charles De Menezes court case, concerning health and safety law that everyone knows is the only way to raise an issue of dereliction of duty caused by collective hysteria.

Within 20 minutes of the guilty verdict Shami Chakrabarti, the face of pressure group Liberty, issued an article on The Guardian's Comment Is Free on the matter. Much as being the public defender of liberty in the UK must be a difficult task, Ms Chakrabarti never seems to miss-step. This is arguably the most important issue for watching-the-watchmen of the last 6 months, and she treated it accordingly.

Now, almost a day later, the major libertarian hubs of the UK blogosphere - Samizdata and the Libertarian Alliance blog - groups who lay claim to the heritage of Paine, Mill, Popper and Spencer, have yet to post a single article on the topic. While I know this is a complex issue - and specialist law - and that these sites do not have salaried contributors, I think it says a lot that these sites are more interested in discussing chemistry sets, and Boris Johnson's recommendations for US President than the police shooting civilians in the head, seven times at point blank range.

As a centrist libertarian I would like to take the opportunity to say that, were libertarians to get into a position of power, I would not endorse the tax and Tory obsessed vulgar libertarians of Samizdata and The LA to even run the home office. Their eyes, however idealistic, are firmly off the ball and glued to the tax deductions they see on their paychecks. Recent contibutors choose to discuss Italian sports cars, dangerous environmentalists trying to force high taxes and wealth redistribution on them, and so on. Is it any wonder that even natural sympathisers like LMWN have less respect for them than they might?

I wait with interest for the comprehensive article, on either of these sites, that will prove me wrong.

Too little, too late Mr De Havilland.

Quote of the Day

by Charles Pooter

Justice Richard Henriques, commenting on the conduct of ‘Ivor’, the agent of the British state who pinned down the unarmed electrician Jean Charles de Menezes before Jean was shot seven times in the head at point-blank range by other state agents.

UPDATE: For more information, read this.

Carson on Klein

by Charles Pooter

From Smith to Ricardo and Mill, classical liberalism was a revolutionary doctrine that attacked the privileges of the great landlords and the mercantile interests. Today, we see vulgar libertarians perverting “free market" rhetoric to defend the contemporary institution that most closely resembles, in terms of power and privilege, the landed oligarchies and mercantilists of the Old Regime: the giant corporation. When the “free market” is perverted to defend such odious interests, it's not hard to see why sane people view it with the same apprehension they normally reserve for the bubonic plague. Make no mistake: I hate such commentary, and the agenda behind it, with every fiber of my being. But it's not the free market.

If Germany had won the war, there would probably be a mushroom proliferation of Nazi “free market” think tanks (not inconceivably staffed by a considerable portion of the Austrian diaspora returned from America) defending the profits of Krupp and I.G. Farben in terms of “free market principles,” along with the Nazi equivalent of Nike sweatshops in Eastern Europe and black Africa. All decent people would hate such intellectual vermin and their monstrous version of the “free market.” The version of the “free market" defended by neoliberals and vulgar libertarians in our own world is only better in degree, and even that probably not by much.

Klein uses the term “disaster capitalism” to refer to the neoliberal modus operandi of “waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens [are] still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the ‘reforms’ permanent.”

It's a very real phenomenon. As an account of the process of neoliberal “reform” as it occurred in country after country, and a chronicle of the corrupt collusion between government and corporate interests in formulating the “reforms,” it is an outstanding reference work. The endnotes alone are immensely valuable.
This long quote is taken from Kevin Carson's latest post. Go and read the whole thing. It starts as a review of Naomi Klien's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, but becomes a mutualist tour de force. I think I am still too much of a vulgar libertarian to attempt to read Klein myself though, as some part of me still thinks the “neoliberals” that she and Carson damn to hell are better than the social democrats or state-socialists they replaced. Call it cognitive dissonance.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Still Riding on the Back of Sandman

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Let's talk about genre fiction prizes. The Hugo Award is science fiction's gold standard... Every year, along comes The World Convention and the attendees (dedicated fans) vote for the best SF since the last time. As a fiction fan, I will usually disregard a Booker, or Nobel author, but The Hugo will make me take note. SF's silver standard is The Nebula Award, given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Of America. This is the big peer award; and while it has tarnished a little in recent decades (the SFWA is becoming a bit of a joke), it's still significant enough to make it on to the front of a novel.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman managed to take home both of these awards in 2001, and further to knock back the Bram Stoker horror and Locus Fantasy awards... It even got a nomination for the BSFA award. To gain one is an achievement, to win both marks you down in the SF hall of fame (Le Guin managed this feat with The Left Hand Of Darkness, Niven pulled it off with Ringworld, Card delivered it with Speaker For The Dead, and each book is now canon), and to get both plus others is the genre fiction equivalent of Tiger Woods. Suffice to say I picked up American Gods with pretty high expectations.

It didn't merit them.

I cannot, on any level, understand the praise lavished on this humongous heap of horse shit. The conceit of the novel is a simple one: in modern America, the distant mythical gods of the past - from Norse to Egyptian - are co-existing with us while trying to get on with the long habit of immortality. It's a conceit that fans of Gaiman's work should be familiar with, since it is shared with almost everything else he's ever done. Sandman, the epic graphic novel series on which his reputation was built, is based around this central conceit. Good Omens, co-written with Terry Pratchett, is based on this central conceit... So, with this much experience, at least he should be good at it by now. To justify this epic sweep we have the prospect of a war among the gods as the central crisis, and the story is structured as a cross-America road novel.

So, why did I hate it so? Well, firstly lets look at the book itself, Gaiman has allowed his publishers to pad this extended edition with a massive epilogue/appendix and introduction. This contained interviews, background and context on the story, clearly Gaiman is rather proud of this one. I read this first, and in this section he repeatedly hammers home that this is supposed to be an "American Road Novel", the man is bordering on hubris with the conviction that he is an English writer attempting the Great American Novel. Thus, despite all this sales pitching, it was surprising that the novel more than anything else reminded me of The Long, Dark, Tea-Time Of The Soul by Douglas Adams and Small Gods by his former collaborator Terry Pratchett (and his best work). Both of these share an almost identical tone, conceit and plot structure, both of these are written by quintessentially English writers, and both of these are satire. American Gods is satire without the laughs.

Add to that the unbelievable length (600 pages of nothing happening?), the central character who is farcically poorly developed (at the beginning he is a loner with no family or prospects, at the end he is a loner with no family or prospects), and the hideously poorly executed denouement, a wet fart instead of an orgasm. I wasn't impressed... The structural flaws of the novel are clear throughout. A key example is that for the first half of the book there are short stories of background interwoven every other chapter, while in the second half these are stripped out with no explanation. This is just one of the threads he's left fraying in the fabric of this kilogram heavy tome. Yes, there are a lot of things wrong with this Great American Novel.

I'm not saying it's meritless, Gaiman has a lot of good ideas that he manages to pack this book with. Each individual scene contains enough meat that he keeps your interest. He tries, with intermittent success, to paint America as the grand outsider's canvas Leone does in his Dollars Trilogy. But a novel isn't visual the way a spaghetti western is, and there is no art to this one. The central conceit has been done before, better, by an author called Neil Gaiman, and his collaborator, and his collaborator's inspiration.

So much for the most heavily awarded speculative fiction novel of the naughts.