Thursday, May 31, 2007

Scott and Stott

With the famously enigmatic Scott Walker giving interviews left, right and centre these days, I found myself idly musing about Wally Stott, the genius arranger behind many of his best songs. Whatever became of Wally, I wondered? The somewhat hair-raising answer is here. Food for thought...

Potato Day - The Morning After...

All Peru was en fête yesterday to celebrate Potato Day. Good for them. We in Britain also have a Potato Day of a kind, a movable feast around the end of January, beginning of February. Surely we should do more to celebrate the doughty tuber. Perhaps we could rename Potato Day as Wayne Rooney Day...


A new word was born today. In the course of an iiluminating (I think) discussion of the philosophy of William of Ockham, a rather scary American female academic, seeking to explain to Melvyn Bragg the concept of haecceitas, coined the word 'Melicity' for the essence of Mel, that which makes Mel Mel. Brilliant. The Christian name Melvyn suggests (in Wodehouse's phrase) raw work at the font. But lo, from that unpromising soil sprang the fine flower of Melicity, with its suggestion of honeyed sweetness and electric force. The raw work came good in the end.
It sure beats Nigicity.

Sniggering at Greens

This rather leaden post on Samizdata accurately captures a common - usually right-wing - attitude to environmentalism. Basically the greens are priggish busybodies and the scientists are, as usual, crying wolf. These attitudes are, as far as they go, fair enough. The scientists have, unquestionably, too often cried wolf. And the greens, as I recently posted, should have some terrible disasters on their conscience. Furthermore, the sceptics are quite right to doubt the efficacy of much of what the greens are advocating. If the prevailing scientific orthodoxy is correct and if the recent indicators about the unexpected rapidity of the warming process - here's the latest from NASA - are accurate, then even massive cuts in carbon emissions will achieve nothing. Indeed, the first effect would be that things would get much worse. Carbon burning creates a haze which provides some cooling; if this were to go tomorrow, the world would suddenly become a lot hotter. European emission cuts are thought by some to explain the heat waves in recent years. But ignorant, macho scepticism of the Samizdata type is very dangerous. There is no doubt that global warming is happening. The only serious disputes are about whether it is caused by human activity and whether it is a long term phenomenon or merely a cyclical variation. Personally, I am persuaded that it is anthropogenic, but that's just my lay opinion and, like yours, it is worthless other than as an aspect of the political calculus. Whether it is cyclical is irrelevant because the central point is that, leaving aside the disputes, the balance of evidence is overwhelming - the planet will warm, probably catastrophically, over the next century. This, surely, should render mere opinion and all political posturing irrelevant. It should even sideline arguments about the effects of emissions, since any reduction now will not work, though it would seem to be wise to stop burning carbon in oxygen over the very long term. Radical solutions are now in the air, some of them making highly imaginative use of the planet's own processes. Tedious sniggering at the greens may affect the political climate sufficiently to prevent these being implemented. In that event, the sniggerers will, one day soon, have an awful lot of human suffering to explain.

The Blair Decade 3: Condescension

The return of Big Brother reminds me of some, probably ancient, Top Gear I saw recently. BB's presenter, Davina McCall, was the 'star in the reasonably priced car'. Clarkson made some scathing remarks about BB, adding that he would never watch it. McCall's response was significant. She accused him of taking no interest in 'popular culture'. What she did not say was, 'You should watch it, it's a great show.' The phrase 'popular culture' is a way of saying, 'I know it's crap, but you can't call my bluff because that would sound elitist and, anyway, some popular culture like The Simpsons is, in fact, high culture.' In other words, Davina was hiding rabid elitism behind a mask of populism. Of course, BB is not only crap, it's vile crap and Davina is not the only elitist responsible. As I pointed out in my article about the betrayals of the boomers, Peter Bazalgette, the power behind the show, is a privileged man - he should be, he is the great great grandson of the great Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette who built the Thames Embankment and the sewers that suppressed cholera in London. Joseph saved the working classes from disease; Peter poisons their imaginations to make money. This is, in its most savage and cynical form, the contemporary form of condescension brilliantly described by my friend George Walden in his book The New Elites. The wealthy and well-educated affect populism out of self-interest. Once it was only the preening and condescending Tony Benn that did this, now everybody is at it; it is the only political game in town. As far as the left is concerned, it is, of course, a complete reversal of the postwar aspirations born of the conviction that 'nothing was too good for the working man.' Blair understands this change perfectly. No wonder. His primary task when he took over the Labour Party was to ditch socialism and turn the party into something acceptable to the secular, materialistic, barely-educated masses. Again, as with legalism, it seems to be the case that the cultural trend was in place and all Blair had to do was exploit it. Now the spectacle of privileged people talking, with infinite condescension, about 'popular culture' is so commonplace that it goes unnoticed. This tends to neutralise what energy there actually is in mass art by smothering it with old Etonian middle men and, more seriously, it deepens class divides. That these effects have been so successfully concealed is yet another testament to the political genius of Blair and the commercial talents of the new elites.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Once More for Marilynne

I am, I am fully aware, a Marilynne Robinson bore. So be it. Today, I am, once again, indebted to Frank Wilson for drawing my attention to this exquisite essay.
'To associate religion with unwavering faith in any creed or practice does no justice at all to its complexity as lived experience. Creeds themselves exist to stabilize the intense speculations that religion, which is always about the ultimate nature of things, will inspire.'
Read and be grateful.

Tinky Winky's Bag

Sadly the Poles do not seem to have grasped the concept of the Man Bag. The handbag (That's 'purse' in America where 'bag' evokes 'scrotum'. Or so I am told.) of Tinky Winky of the Teletubbies has convinced them that the show is gay propaganda. Jerry Falwell was on to this back in 1999. I am, of course, an expert - perhaps even a community leader - on the subject of the Teletubbies, having hung out with them in 1997. Tinky Winky then struck me as a thoughtful individual with an interesting perspective on the later works of Samuel Beckett. Okay, he made a pass at me, but this was a rounded tubby with much to contribute. The bag, he said, was nothing to do with his sexuality; it was his mother's and it made her happy to see it on TV.

Music for Dads' Day

Father's Day looms; the sock shops are empty, the smell shelves have been stripped of Cool Water 'by' Davidoff, sales of Frank Lampard's Totally Frank are enjoying a modest surge and, amidst the torrents of snail mail sent to me by desperate PRs, I find a double CD from UCJ Music. 'Dad's Anthems' it is called. I have some trouble with the apostrophes - whose Dad are we supposed to be discussing here? Should it not be all Dads? - but I mustn't lose sight of the big picture.'Father's Day on June 17th,' chortles the press release, 'will not be complete without this collection of bold and classic music!' In a survey, apparently, the theme from The Great Escape - you know duh-duh...duh-duuuuh-duh-duh-du - has emerged as the number one Dad's Anthem 'across the company of experts'. (What? Never mind, big picture.) These platters that matter also include Star Wars, Dam Busters, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler?, Jerusalem, Nessun Dorma, Rule Britannia, the British National Anthem, Braveheart, Land of My Fathers etc etc. 'Whether they are tired from work,' gurgles the release, 'missed the football or just needed cheering up, this album is sure to bring a smile to any father's face.' The Dad in the imaginations of UCJ's 'company of experts' is insanely militaristic, prone to lachrymose sentimentality, outbursts of desperate patriotism, violent fantasy, brief episodes of religiosity and atavistic cravings. This sounds about right, though they seem to have missed out the morbid obessions of Dads like me. All they had to do was include The End, written by Nico and performed by The Doors, or possibly Leonard Cohen's Dress Rehearsal Rag - 'There's a funeral in the mirror/And it's stopping at your face.' - and my June 17th would have been complete.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pecuniary Respiration

Desiring to kowtow to the ziggurat that is the American Heritage Dictionaries, I wish to report an evanescent epiphany that has enervated my abstemious but tempestuous evening filibuster. Gauche, jejune, diffident moiety of a suffragist that I am... No I can't go on. The point is that AHD have issued a book 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should know. This complete list is here. It evokes a strange, pompous and distinctly eccentric world of vaguely old-fashioned learning. Why, exactly, this 100? And is 'impeach' an absolute necessity for a High School grad? A British list would be quite different, of course. But, otherwise, it makes me want to create a language consisting only of 100 words. I feel there would be less room for misunderstanding

Still Hope?

This doesn't often happen. I saw something on television that made me feel happier. BBC4 had devoted a swathe of programming to children's TV of the 1960s, concentrating - as is only right - on the genius that is Oliver Postgate, who, with Peter Firmin, has probably done more for the happiness and imginative wellbeing of the nation than any man alive. It's tempting to say that we shan't see the like of this duo again - but wait, we have Nick Park, exactly the same kind of inspired shedman, with a similarly uncorrupted, wholly English imagination. There is still hope for us. Cracking.

The Blair Decade 2: Legalism

Nige pre-empts me on the matter of the new legalism that has overrun our country after a decade in which we have been run by lawyers. Nige refers to 'the erosion of Judgment in both personal and professional life, and its replacement with legalistic structures of compliance and proscription.' The combinations of Blair's ASBO mind set and Brown' savagely centralising authoritarianism have unquestionably enserfed us and drained our capacity for independent judgment. But which came first, the serfs or the lawyers? Take the teachers. People blame Blair for loading our children with tests. But they miss the point. It is not the children that are being tested, it is the teachers. Teachers had, from the sixties onwards, effectively deprofessionalised themselves by destroying any realistic possibility of assessment and compromising our ability to transmit culture from one generation to the next. This made them unreformable other than by the coercive and legalistic device of tests. Nobody can say this openly, but, in private, it is bipartisan orthodoxy. This legalism was thus forced on Blair. It was the result of a cultural collapse, a loss of ethos. There are many other examples - the National Health Service being the most obvious. This movement away from ethos and towards legalistic coercion certainly happened in the Blair decade. But did Blair and the lawyers do it or were the people at fault? The answer is both. Ethos collapsed and a bunch of busybody Labour lawyers arrived on the scene at about the same time. The shift from ethos to legalism is a move away from custom, wisdom and judgment is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. Maybe it had to happen, but it lowers us as a nation.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wowsers control news agenda

I often emerge from my fitful slumbers around the time the first news bulletins come up on Radio 4. These seem to be becoming increasingly divorced from anything that can rightly be called 'news' (though, happily, priorities often shift later as some real stories come in) - and increasingly dominated of late by the anti-alcohol wowsers, who won't rest until this nation is teetotal. Today's meaningless headline-grabber (so meaningless that I can't find a single link to it) was a proposal that all bottles and cans must be labelled with the number of 'alcohol units' they contain - a measure that would have zero effect, but keeps up the pressure to present all alcoholic drinks as poisons. A short while back came the ludicrous 'advice' that parents should not allow a drop of alcohol to pass their children's lips before the age of 18, as drinking at home leads to binge drinking on the street. This has been firmly knocked on the head since, but it still became, briefly, a big 'story'. Then, a few days ago, new 'guidelines' were issued, declaring that pregnant women should not drink at all. The beauty of this one was that those proposing it cheerfully admitted that this was not in line with the best (though still ultra-cautious) medical advice. They were working on the assumption that people - especially pregnant women, bless their fluffy little heads - are incapable of understanding such nuanced advice, so the best thing is to issue a blanket ban. This is worse than patronising, and it points to a much larger phenomenon that has blighted the nation under Blair/Brown - the erosion of Judgment in both personal and professional life, and its replacement with legalistic structures of compliance and proscription. This is a large theme, and I feel the metaphorical pen falling from my weary fingers at the thought (that's the trouble with fitful sleeping) - perhaps someone Out There will pick it up (the theme, that is - you'd be wasting your time looking for the pen)...?

Mrs Noah in Lesbian Snake Handling Shock with Veep

I don't know, maybe that Dawkins chappie has a point. I am deluged this morning with news from the ultra-bonkers wing of American religion. The most deliriously entertaining item comes from the Pandagon blog, which, when not written by Jeffrey Archer's future squeeze, Amanda Marcotte, can emit some good stuff. This vid is a joy, if a disturbing one. Good ol' boy Fred Phelps brings hellfire down on the Cheneys - 'these two old fools who are holding dyke daughter Mary's newborn bastard son and pretending to like it.' Fred - 'God hates America. America is doomed' - is a fine example of that strange phenomenon - American anti-Americanism. Meanwhile, at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, you can see relieved dinosaurs peering out of the windows of Noah's Ark. 'Sure beats the hell out of extinction,' says one grateful brontosaurus from Cleveland. New research among ten per cent of Americans tells us that Noah's wife was Joan of Ark, hitherto thought to have been a lady from France, the one country God hates more than America. The book that reveals this makes the point that, though the US is the most religious nation in the developed world, it also appears to be the most ignorant about religion. Brian's Bible Pronunciation Biblical Pronouncing Website has been nominated by some as the worst web site in the world. It's certainly the most Zen as every link brings you back to the same place. And, finally, a brand new American faith - relationships - is brilliantly represented by Lloyd on Ofuzi - 'You've got a gripe, let's hear it.' Lloyd is in search of 'an unstable woman for a drama-filled relationship'. I especially like his stipulations that she must 'drink to forget', a course of action that never, in my experience, works, and that she should have 'undergone negative psychiatric evaluations in the past.' I know, I know, weird America is an easy target, but it is Bank Holiday Monday and it hasn't stopped raining for decades.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Blair Decade 1: Blair Swears

With the Dear Leader about to depart, I shall be posting a series on the Blair Decade. Everything written elsewhere is and will be, predictably enough, narrowly political. But recent happenings at Westminster will prove as lasting as a Jeffrey Archer novel. The real legacy of politicians is to be found elsewhere, in the marks they leave on the national - and international - imagination. What counts, as ever, is culture. So, to begin:
Today, the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley reveals that Blair has asked for the swearing to be removed from Alastair Campbell's diaries. That Blair swears in private is unremarkable - most people do - but that he asks for the evidence to be removed is significant. For me, it echoes the 'I did what I thought was right' theme of his farewell speech at Trimdon. As everybody pointed out at the time, Stalin and Pol Pot could say they did what they thought was right. In spite of Kant's best efforts, the unsupported urgings of one's conscience are no guarantee of virtue. But Blair does seem to believe that his conscience is sufficient, that it is a special, private garden which he waters daily and to which he permits limited public access. This garden is a haven of ultimate virtue and must, especially now that he is stepping down, be seen as such. Swearing might suggest that Blair's privacy is a pub rather than a garden, hence his sensitivity on the matter. Blair's conscience is easy to mock and, when set alongside the cynicism of his day-to-day political dealings, very easy to satirise. But, as his self-defined court of ultimate appeal, it shows his need to seek refuge from the implications of the value-free, postmodern politics of which he is the master. The question is: has he discredited the appeal to conscience? I suspect, for the moment, he has. But his conscience/destiny approach should be seen for what it is - a desperate attempt to find moorings in the floating world which he so enthusiastically embraced. In this, Blair is not so different from the rest of us.
More to come

Brown and Madeleine

Like The Truman Show, the question about the Madeleine McCann abduction story is: how will it end? If neither Madeleine no her abductor are found, the agony of her parents will continue unabated and the media will be forced to consider when to start paying them less attention. This sounds brutal. But it is the logical consequence of the incontinent way this story has been handled. The latest development is the news that Gordon Brown has intervened to put pressure on the Portuguese police to release more information. We seem to think we know more about how to conduct these inquiries than gesticulating Johnny Foreigner, a laughable delusion. Of course, in their position, I would probably do what the McCanns are doing - seize every opportunity to keep people's minds on their predicament in the hope that it might do some good. But a ghoulish festival of 'caring' has been unleashed, which, if nothing happens, will suddenly abandon Madeleine and move on to the next occasion for self-indulgent 'concern'.

Boomer Guilt

In The Sunday Times Magazine - your blogmeister on how the babyboomers are robbing their children.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Hewitt Insultancy

As Channel 4 News reports that yet more sensitive, intelligent and competent people are refusing to have anything do do with the fabulously botched NHS reforms - this on top of the collapse of the unbelievably expensive IT system - it is worth reminding ourselves that Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, was once head of research at management insultants Accenture in the days when it was known as Andersen Insulting, a name it, naturally, had to suppress after the little unpleasantness over Enron and various other corporate embarrassments. I just think we ought to remind ourselves of that every few hours or so.


there's this read-it-and-weep item.

Saturday News Round-Up

Advertising News: 'Dr Martens is very sorry for any offence that has been caused by the publication of images showing dead rock icons wearing Dr Martens boots.' Well quite, everybody knows dead rock icons wear big bunny slippers with sunglasses.
Research I don't believe: Marijuana intoxication does not adversely impact decision making. Or at least I think I don't believe it. Did I say that or just think it?
Scientology pays off: As exclusively forecast by Thought Experiments, scientology is improving the lives of Vicky and Dave. Thanks to L. Ron, Becks may now be recalled for the worst football team in the world.
Coke's Ice: Alerted by my thoughts on their dilution policy, Coca-Cola has taken steps to remedy the ice-defects in health drinks.
Cornish Sleeper: Traumatised by my shock departure from Cornwall, a Cornishman (they all look like that) has gone to sleep.
Gates-Jobs: Encouraged by the stirring example of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates promise a full kiss with tongues at a rare public meeting.
And that's the way it is this holiday weekend.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Birdlife Latest

Here's a startling development - a pied wagtail has taken up residence amid the glistening marble turbine halls of NigeCorp HQ. It has been wagtailing around the place since the weekend and seems perfectly happy. Perhaps the NigeCorp waterfalls (think Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with a fascistic twist) have attracted this water-loving bird. What next? Maybe Bryan's favourite the Dipper (see blog homepage)? The pied wagtail is increasingly urban - on a winter evening recently I saw an entire tree-full of them settling down to roost on a suburban high st.
On the other hand, the NigeCorp bird might well be a goldfinch - or perhaps an African rhino...

Blanket Exceeds Tightrope

The nice thing about The Independent is that, if you tear off the silly tabloid front page, what remains is a pleasantly dull, old-fashioned newspaper. It's like going back in time - even down to some of its strange, rambling, barely comprehensible columns. I was just reading this one by Helena Kennedy in a condition of Zen-like detachment brought on by her bizarre, vaguely legalistic prose. I still can't tell you what it's about. But I was snapped out of my reverie by one sentence which, I am afraid, demanded wider dissemination. I burst out laughing, very unZen. Anyway, here it is:
"The tightrope walked by registered charities in their campaigning work is exceeded by the blanket exclusion civil society organisations face when they try to campaign in other areas of British public life."

Scientology 2: The Beckhams

Ever since my post on scientology, I've been wondering how the Beckhams are progressing. Tom Cruise is said to have 'sucked' them into the faith, which has always made a point of converting and then very assiduously nursing celebrities. So have Dave and Vicky gone 'clear'? Are they ready to move up the Operating Thetan levels and to learn the story of Xenu, the alien who brought billions of people to earth, blew them up and left their souls to wander, attaching themselves to humans down the ages? This Xenu stuff is a mistake. As far as I can make out, Xenu apart, this is a pretty orthodox belief system involving a prolonged ritual of purification of the immortal soul and a return to an original, blissful state. Technology and the projection of a benignly therapeutic image merely add a contemporary spin to this ancient idea. But, of course, the church's thuggish and stupid attempts to suppress criticism, its apparent brutality towards unbelieving families of the faithful and its deranged theories about the malignant power of psychiatry discredit the whole enterprise and convince most people, rightly or wrongly, that is is one gigantic scam. But what is really interesting is why anybody should feel the need to embrace this particular version of the soul-purification/original bliss myth. Perhaps it is simply that the idea itself is so potent. People are drawn to it and, as a result of their ignorance about older, wiser religions, fall into the trap of believing that this is something entirely new. But, on the bright side, scientology may well do the Beckhams some good by persuading them there is a meaning to life other than shopping. Also going 'clear' is said to raise the IQ.

On Liverpool 3

My mind wandered during the Liverpool-Milan match and I found myself wanting Liverpool to win. (Incidentally read Dave Barry's brilliant blog reports on the match from an English pub in Miami. Last post is Final Crapcam Photo) However, I returned to my default condition of Liverpool loathing when I subsequently heard returning 'fans' being interviewed about the trouble at the match on their return from Athens. They, of course, did what scousers do best; they whined about it not being their fault. Seemingly 'fans' breaking into the ground without tickets was caused by poor Greek policing. They let them do it, see? One has to admire their original take on the concept of moral agency. Anyway, so far UEFA is unmoved and has blamed the English 'fans'. In time, however, these Johnny Foreigners will be worn down by the whining and will, as usual, apologise to the city and its people.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Episcopal News

Good to see the absurd Bishop of Southwark back in the news. His somewhat erratic journey home from a reception at the Irish Embassy did much for the gaiety of the nation - and gifted the drinkers among us with a splendid new catchphrase: 'I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do' (this when he was chucking toys out of a car - not usually regarded as part of a bishop's job - but times change).

Catering News

It was pointed out to me yesterday - by a wise man who insists on only one cube in his diet coke - that ice is an industry. People make and sell ice and ice machines. Obvious really, but this has certain implications. Eager to sell ice, US ice makers flogged a cunning scam to the soft drink makers. Put loads of ice in the drinks. This saves money by defrauding the consumer - the ice is cheaper than the drink and the punter is not getting a full glass. Of course! At once I understood that irritating American habit of serving drinks consisting of three parts frozen water to one part of the good stuff. Our poor cousins have been victims of this scam for so log that they now think this constitutes a pleasant drink, in spite of the fact that, after about three minutes, it consists of 99 per cent water. It will, I fear, take generations to sort this one out.
Meanwhile, McDonald's in the UK has started a campaign to get the OED definition of McJob changed. It is currently 'an unstimulating low-paid job with few prospects.' But changed to what? 'A stimulating high-paid job with fabulous prospects and company Porsche.' Surely they should simply want it removed. In fact, I would be on the side of McDonald's on this one largely because I saw Polly Toynbee attacking their career structure on TV last night. Unfortunately, however, I must join the critics for the simple reason that all those fabulously wealthy McJobbers are trained to put too much ice in the drinks.

Cosmic Vanity

There will come a time, it seems, when he expansion of the cosmos will put all the stars, galaxies, alien battlecruisers etc out of sight. Future humans, says a theoretical physicist (Is it my imagination or are they suddenly on the increase?), 'will be stuck in an endless black void.' No change there then. They will feel 'very special'. Again no change. 'Our tiny cluster of galaxies will be the observable universe to them.' They will also look back on our cosmologists as superstitious fools who saw vast non-existent starfields, black holes and all sorts of other implausible exotica. Contemporary vanity is concealed in this story. The physicist wonders if these future scientist will discover relativity and, indeed, the expanding universe. It does not occur to him that perhaps we are in the same position. We may be deluded by the cosmos we see. Perhaps once it was entirely different and displayed no evidence of relativity, quantum theory, expansion or any of the other phenomena of which we are so proud. Perhaps once it made sense.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Life On Mars

This strikes me as notably bonkers - and it's even got a wind turbine (of course). What does it tell us about life on Earth when a Martian garden wins Chelsea? Anyway a real Life On Mars garden wld have Gene Hunt's Cortina crashing through one wall.

Thinking Greens Hate Windmills

My co-poster and I share a view of life - odd, tiring, funny - but we disagree about many things, not least the end of civilisation as we know it. There is much clear green water between us on the matter of the environment. But I suspect we agree about the intellectual credentials of your average green. Unthinking greenery has done appalling damage. Greens destroyed life in many of our river when they embraced a cancer scare about nitrate fertilisers and drove famers to use pig slurry instead. Most terrible of all, greens continue to kill millions by their unthinking opposition to DDT. This also involved a cancer scare that led to the substance being banned. Africans were thus condemned to suffer malaria indefinitely. Greens may now kill millions more by opposing nuclear power, soon to be embraced as part of the new energy strategy. Nuclear energy is the ONLY serious option if we are to have any hope of cutting carbon emissions. Windmills etc are mere tinkering. Oil companies love to use such friendly technologies in their ads precisely because they know they represent no threat. But, in fact, if the latest indicators are correct (subscription seems necessary) then nuclear will come too late. Like tidal power and biofuels, it will be one last futile attempt to avert the day when hedge funders become warlords and the few remaining humans eke out a nasty, brutish and short existence in the damp Arctic tundra.

Polanski's Lunch

Kuala Lumpur Chris sends me news of a gratifying outburst of common sense at the always appalling Cannes Film Festival. That great director Roman Polanski did a John Sweeney at a press conference, berating the hacks thus: 'You're all asking such inane questions! ... It's the computer that's reduced you to this level. You don't write anymore. You copy your articles from the Internet and then send that to your editors. I've had enough. Why don't we go and get some lunch?' The secret of Polanski's art is timing - The Pianist has one of the most perfectly timed scenes ever filmed - and the secret of timing is knowing exactly when to suggest lunch.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Early Butterflies

Here's more good news on global warming, courtesy of The Independent. In the newspaper, the piece is illustrated with pictures of a fine array of these early butterflies, only one of which is misidentified (the Wall Brown - I think it's a Scotch Argus) - that's good going for the Indy.

All Russians to be Sent to Mevagissey

So we want to get hold of Lugovoi and charge him with murdering Litvinenko, but we can't because Russia's constitution does not allow its national to be extradited. Suddenly I want to be a Russian. One could simply pop over to Germany, Italy or wherever for a little light bank robbery or a few casual assassinations and then flee back to the homeland safe in the knowledge that, if detected, you would be protected. The obvious solution, as far as we are concerned, is to arrest every Russian leaving the country on suspicion of almost everything. We could then hold them long enough in special camps in the vicinity of Mevagissey, forcing them to eat only food from the St Austell branch of Tesco, which, of course, is not only horrible to start with but would also be well past its sell-by date. This would make the Putintours Weekend Crime Spree Get Away From It All option unattractive, thus forcing ex-KGB goons to seek their bargain breaks elsewhere. Algeria, I am told, is nice at this time of year, as is Iran, where, I imagine, the radiation from Polonium 210 would be undetectable thanks to the leakage from the nuclear weapons programme.

One Brain?

I don't like to be a bore, but isn't there a fatal flaw in the reasoning that drove David 'Two Brains' Willets to conclude that the Tories should no longer press for more grammar schools (thereby plunging the party into an entirely predictable crisis)? He was no doubt right that these institutions aren't the engines of social mobility they once were - but this is surely a product of their scarcity and the fact that they can now recruit from far and wide. Hence they've become ferociously competitive and dominated by the aspirant classes. If there was, as Major envisaged (but did nothing about) 'a grammar school in every town', this effect would disappear. Has one of Willets' brains fallen out? Or is it just that the so-called Conservative party has fallen totally for the 'forward not back' mantra? Where does this leave us reactionaries? Grumbling on the sidelines as usual, I suppose...
Anyway, enough of that - here are the day's top stories: gay flamingos and hamsters on Viagra. That's more like it.

Sweeney, YouTube and Scientology

While I was away - not in Mevagissey, I just went there, but somewhere much more tasteful, discreet and less 'Cornish' as befits my exalted station in life as Blogmeister of Thought Experiments - John Sweeney famously lost it in the course of a conversation with a scientologist and thus entered the Valhalla of YouTube immortals. Sweeney, I assume, is kicking himself because, if he had said nothing and simply let Tommy Davis deliver his sinister rant, this would have done more to discredit his church than any amount of investigative journalism. It's always better to show than tell. Now Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism (an institution of which I was previously unwaware), emits a curious article about the incident. The first curiosity is his remark that the Sweeney video was disseminated 'faster than Staph A on a lukewarm Petri dish.' (Note, to Mr Marsh's students: ignore your teacher's use of similes to show off general knowledge, especially when it isn't general.) The second curiosity is his argument which is, basically, that the incident was a lesson to journalists about the pervasiveness and speed of new media. This seems to suggest that the YouTube video was the story rather than the conduct of the scientologists. The truth is that Sweeney's report showed that these people behave as if they have an awful lot to hide. That is the story.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Co-Poster Nige

Having realised that I'm too indolent to go off and start my own blog (though I might yet), The Master has given me his spare key, allowing me co-hosting privileges at this feast of reason (or, in my case, 'entertaining prejudices').
I've been listening to a Grandaddy CD, Sumday, which was recommended to me by a usually reliable source. Liking it instantly, I thought I'd check out the band and, in doing so, stumbled on this in their Wikipedia entry - their common themes, it says, are 'wildlife, obsolete technology, robots, incompetency and heartbreak'. Well if that's the case, I've found my perfect band and will have to listen to everything they've made. And (apart perhaps from the robots) what a blog prospectus that list wld make...
Meanwhile, I am struck by the lack of comment on the fact that, at last night's 'glittering' Bafta awards ceremony, a Fellowship was awarded to the Devil Incarnate, i.e. Richard Curtis. I'm sure I saw the end of his pointed scaly tail peeping out from the left trouser cuff of his appalling suit. Am I the only person who feels this way about Curtis? Probably yes - though, Devil Incarnate or not, there's no excusing those films.

Clarkson and the Gay Car

So Jeremy Clarkson has been reprimanded for describing a car as 'gay' - or, to be precise, 'a bit ginger beer'. I dimly remember seeing that particular show, but I can't remember the car and Guardian Media disdains to enlighten me. Can anybody remember? Personally, I find the Lamborghini Murcielago a bit hetero and the Ford Mondeo a bit white. My own Ford Ranger truck is, of course, impeccably half Jewish. But now I'd better shut up.

Cutty Sark

I used to live near the Cutty Sark. I gasped whenever I saw it and now it is on fire. No reconstruction will fit the bill; the whole point of this beautiful ship was that it was real.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Seemingly Innocuous B-29 Super Fortress

While in Mevagissey, I spotted a very cute looking model plane in a very strange antique shop. My wife insisted on buying it - it is, I suppose, the sort of thing a man ought to have on his desk. It is a metal Corgi model from their Aviation Archive range, a B-29 Super Fortress. On closer inspection, it turns out to be a very specific B-29. It is the Enola Gay. 'Are you into aircraft?' asked the seventies, old-rocker type shop owner. 'No,' I replied, 'mass slaughter.' Unable to back out after this witticism, I now find myself with a very beautiful model of the Enola Gay on my desk. Is this right?

I Am Back

Poor old Henry James used to say the most terrible words a man could hear were, 'I don't know if you know, sir, but...' There then followed a story from the maid or whatever about how the Victorian cast iron bath had crashed through to the living room. That is how I feel, a maid has entered the room and announced, 'I don't know if you know, sir, but a babbling bunch of deranged party animals has taken over your blog, spilled red wine on the off-white shag pile, stubbed out fags on the flock, gouged the fake Chippendale and left a disgusting pool of something or other behind the DFS sofa.' Well, the boss is back and there's some urgent tidying up to do. You people are going to have to shape up. Okay, to be fair, Nige seems to have kept you entertained and babbling and will, I hope, continue to do so whenever he feels overcome by the need to emit. His knowledge is more far-reaching than mine and his prejudices more entertaining. For the moment, here are a few thoughts I have been saving.
To lose a Prime Minister in my absence may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce looks like carelessness.
Did Brown get in merely because you were convulsed with laughter at Nige's latest apercu? It is the only respectable explanation.
Why are all the buildings in Cornwall so ugly? There are very old churches in that county - or country as it so often styles itself - that induce nausea.
We were right about Cornish pasties, they are disgusting except when made by Rick Stein.
I am horrified that ostrich have taken to falling out of trees at commuter stations.
Jim Lovelock's scheme to save the planet DOES include humans; I merely observed to Nige by text that it also had the additional benefit of proving the Gaia hypothesis. But, for the moment, I can say no more.
The great redeeming feature of the Eden Project is that it makes a large number of sweet old ladies incredibly happy.
And, while I am on the subject of Great Jim, you can listen to him on Radio Three's Private Passions. It is a joy listening to Michael Berkeley struggling to cope with Lovelock's amiable insistence that there is nothing whatsoever we can do about global warming and, by the end of the century, what few of us remain will be living a violent, tribal existence at the mercy of warlords, who, Jim and I agree, will be the descendants of the hedge funders of today.
Anyway, I'm back.

More Nige Birds

Having shouldered my way across London through hordes of Chelsea fans (are they the fattest in the land, or are all soccer fans similarly lardy?), I travelled (by train, of course) into Bucks and Oxon, into territory where the red kite flies. The word 'spectacular' is bandied about too freely, but these birds really live up to it. Except on the wild tops of the Chilterns, they are completely, shockingly out of scale with their environment - huge in fact. They seem like some fierce raptor that's strayed from a wholly alien landscape - the Egyptian desert, say. In fact, as attentive readers of Shakespeare will know, they were common enough in Elizabethan London, where they were useful all-purpose scavengers and rubbish-eaters. They've surely got a bright future then, as one of the results of the impending 'recycling' crackdown will be that much of the country will become one huge illicit rubbish dump. The kites will have to rediscover a bit of urban attitude though - at present they spend most of their time being harried, humiliated and seen off by birds much smaller than themselves. Yesterday I even saw a house martin, of all things, effortlessly shooing a kite away.

Meanwhile, here's a very fine news story from Spain, where even quadriplegics have cojones.

By the way, when I mention red kites above, I mean of course goldfinches - no, ostriches - no, African elephants...

Saturday, May 19, 2007


This late news must await the return of the Master for fuller consideration. Meanwhile, we can but rejoice - in the end, it seems, Scotty did indeed have enough power.

On the other hand - while it's been good to see the England cricket team making runs, what on earth were they doing wearing those yellow ribbons? Presumably this was to show support for the parents of the missing child Madeleine McCann. Hmmm. This is the kind of look-at-me-caring gesture we expect of footballers, not cricketers for heaven's sake. This throws some light on the phenomenon...

Friday, May 18, 2007

The techonology here at NigeCorp is in a peculiarly bad mood, so there might not be much from me today - but I must say something on a truly burning (hehe) issue - the impending smoking ban in England. Was there ever a more illiberal, malicious and oppressive piece of legislation passed by even this government? (Possibly the hunting ban - but at least that's been widely honoured in the breach). This one - like so much else - can be traced, of course, to the 'European' entity that is the source of most of 'our' legislation these days, but that's no excuse. Besides, our continental cousins have a more robust attitude to the interference of the state than we do - partly, I think, because they tend to have much stronger local institutions and identities. Here we can't even manage to cobble an English indentity together, let alone anything more local - so we are at the mercy of the State in all its meddling madness. As a result, we are apparently going to go along with this ludicrous blanket ban on smoking in all 'public places' - and even disfigure our churches and cathedrals with No Smoking signs (and no doubt they're looking into the effects of incense inhalation). So infuriated are my good friend Loophole and I at all this that we have actually resumed smoking, despite having 'given up' - simply in order to savour a last few weeks in something that still vaguely resembles a free country.
And then there's this - about to be 'rolled out' nationally, and exactly the kind of thing Brown will bring us more of. The State wants to get its hands on us even before we're born. Aieee....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Nige Flâne

Thinking again of walking matters, it's clear to me that that potent Baudelairean concept, the flâneur - nicely summarised here - has much bearing on these matters.
In our present age, it seems, the art of urban walking has been all but lost. The pavements of our city streets are now blocked by grazing phalanxes of the barely ambulant. Startled by the novelty of bipedal motion, they shift their considerable bulk from ham to ham, swaying like inverted pendulums and achieving virtually no forward momentum. As a result, we real urban walkers - the purposeful flâneurs who, for all our idling tendencies, favour a degree of forward motion - spend much of our time raging silently behind these swaying, impassable backs. If we weren't so bloody civilised, pavement rage would be breaking out all over.
Here's a link to a website that's almost too perfect - three years defunct and still thinking about it...

Delusional NIge

This morning, while I waited at my commuter station - no Adlestrop it - a goldfinch was singing its heart out in the greenery just yards from where I was standing. Nice work by the props department to provide this link with yesterday's thoughts...
Today's began when I got on the train and noticed that the man opposite was reading, avidly, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I have seen this phenomenon before, and it is invariably a man, and invariably reading avidly. I know much has been said of Dawkins on this (highly delusional and proud of it) blog, but there is one thing that still genuinely mystifies me about the success of this book. Why should anyone, in today's cultural climate - especially in this country - feel so threatened by the idea of God as to feel the need of Dawkins' prickling battery of surface-to-air missiles to send it crashing and burning to the ground (not that D does any such thing of course, but his avid readers aren't likely to notice that). In this country, God makes only the most hesitant and apologetic appearances in any public discourse, what George Herbert called 'the sweet mediocrity of our native church' has only become sweeter (and more crushingly mediocre), there is no prsent threat from God or religion in any shape or form.
Militant atheism in past eras and particular cultures was an entirely understandable cultural force - but in Britain today? What is going on? The only theory I can come up with is that many people have a nagging sense that possibly, just possibly, Something might have been lost - and, rather than inquire into what that Something might be, these uninquiring minds (products of our largely fraudulent education system) prefer to put an end to any such doubts altogether by arming themselves with Dawkins' adamantine certainties.
Anyway, the goldfinch was lovely.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fly Nige

Worrying news from the world of
flies. How come they've got free will and we, according to all the most respectable sources, haven't? I suspect there's a fundamental misunderstanding here. Where's my swatter?

Nige Thinks of England

On a rare recent excursion from the turbine halls of NigeCorp HQ, I was sitting on the train, musing with my eyes shut (dozing might be a more accurate verb) and opening them intermittently to see where I was. This, on a familiar route, takes about a second - but then it occurred to me what a very short time it takes to know, from a single glimpse, especially from the railway, that you are in England - or, as it might be, France, or Denmark, Italy, wherever. Not that I was expecting to be anywhere but England - but here's the question: What are the qualities that make England so instantly reognisable?
Certainly there's a general quality of ragged, rounded, bosomy greenness, of burgeoning vegetation, which you get nowhere else (certainly around railways). Then there's the heavy, over-specified, post-Victorian richness of detailing - this affects everything to some extent, and is obviously very apparent in railway architecture and engineering (much of which is indeed Victorian still). The housing too - faded, designless, blandly sub-rural - is instantly recognisable. And there are smaller details, like the bond of the brickwork, styles of lettering, materials... There must be much more. Here is what might just be my first effective link (thanks Andrew - and the good Dr Hackenbush), to a truly lovely
website which is, as the name suggests, all about English particularity, though with a more local slant. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Occult News

Good news and bad reaches me, by occult means, from Beyond the Veil.
The good news is that the great Jim Lovelock, whom God preserve, has worked out how to save the planet. The bad news is that humanity's not included. O well, easy come easy go, it was fun while it lasted.

Bottled Nige

After yesterday's lengthy excursus, a couple of snippets picked up from the 'news' ...

This crudely forged link tells the tale of a supposedly 'green' milk bottle -

Now, my own ecofascist council collects my plastic milk bottles under the pretence of recycling - and yet, according to this, the things end up in landfill. Why am I not surprised? A council's obligations in this matter, I believe, extend no further than collecting stuff 'for recycling', regardless of its fate. I don't see why they can't have 100 percent 'recycling' by simply giving everybody only green bins. That'd do the trick.
Meanwhile, some bright spark might work on designing a milk bottle that's easy to open and that pours where you want it, rather than all over the immediate vicinity (like those milk jugs you still find in hotels and tearooms, with a lip so narrow it can serve no useful purpose). Hang about - this particular design conundrum was solved many years ago, by the slender glass milk bottles that used to adorn the nation's doorsteps - and were recyced in the best, lowest-impact manner, by being collected and reused. What happened? I blame myself - I should have kept quiet about cow-juice.

There was a much more reassuring report somewhere, that a certain cheap Hungarian Merlot is the healthiest wine in the world, in terms of resveratrol content - the stuff that prevents heart disease, cancer, sobriety and all manner of other horrors. Being scientists, the cretins who came up with this finding failed to mention exactly which cheap Hungarian Merlot it was. Can anyone out there in the blogosphere track down this vital information? (and pass it on to me in terms of strict confidentiality). Santé!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Walking Nige

Nietzsche (about whom Jeeves was probably on the money when he judged the great sage 'fundamentally unsound, sir') wrote somewhere that 'Only thoughts which come from walking have any value'. Nuanced and understated as ever - but he's onto something. I'm convinced there's an essential link between thought - in particular the processes that turn thought into words - and walking. And I suspect that the thoughts and langauge of a walking culture take different shapes from those of a sedentary culture, i.e. the one we now inhabit.
Or the one most of us do. Me I'm a pedestrian by habit, necessity, desire and conviction. I love to walk everywhere (time and distance permitting). I do not drive and never have - and there are many like me, especially in the London area, where it is possible to get by very well without a motor. We inhabit a different world - richer, more detailed, more apparent to all the senses - God knows not necessarily more pleasant, but definitely more present than the A to B blur of driving. And yet our kind of walking is scarcely acknowledged as walking. Walking, in our ever more specialised and accessorised culture, is something people dress up in hideous anorak-type things to do,and consists of following Walks through designated areas of outstanding Attractions where people Walk. Well, that's one kind of walking- but the kind of walking that my kind of pedestrians do is a very different affair - marginal, unofficial, unpretty, solitary (there are shockingly few pedestrians - more foxes than people on suburban pavements most evenings). It is, by its nature, little noticed - but there is one magnificent book that celebrates it and explores its nature, its history and its strange appeal - the great psycho-geographer Iain Sinclair's London Orbital, in which the author and a few fellow oddballs walk the badlands at the boundaries of the mega-London enclosed by the M25. It is an astonishing piece of work and I found it so enthralling I could hardly bear for it to end (and it's big). 'We're never entirely comfortable,' he writes of his band of like-minded walkers, 'about travelling through territory that is happy to have our company.' As Jeeves would say, Rem acu tetigisti.
Any thoughts? Feel free to take a walk first...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

God Only Knows Nige

Sunday then, but no complacencies of the peignoir (yes, Wallace Stevens' Sunday Morning) for me - I am back amid the hissing valves and pumping pistons of NigeCorp HQ. A truly classic Eurovision, I thought - won by a burly Serbian Sapphist with an entourage of Prisoner Cell Block H warders, with Ukraine's answer to Timmy Mallet as runnerup - who could ask for more? The contest will never leave eastern Europe again - which means we shld be in for many years of deep and strange madness.
I had been meaning to write something about walking, but in this grim London weather it's really not on - and I'd need a walk to compose my thoughts. Meanwhile, let me test a theory (theory - what am I saying? It seems to me self-evident, yet every time I bring it up it is firmly rebutted):
The Beach Boys classic God Only Knows (I was listening to it the other day on the strangely wonderful Brian Wilson live Pet Sounds) is, it seems to me, most definitely not the 'perfect love song' of popular repute, but an undisguised admission of morbid dependency - dependecy so total that love itself is irrelevant ('I may not always love you...' - cracking way to open a love song, Brian). This is then apparently contradicted by the 'Life would still go on, believe me' line - but life, one fears, would be going on without Brian, and the second stanza ends with something close to a veiled suicide threat. Nice.
Seems to me I'm stating the obvious here - or am I about to be rebutted again?
By the way, quick political prediction: Brown calls snap election.

From Beyond the Veil...

... a mystic voice informs me that your absent blog master has an article in The Sunday Times that succeeds in making the shatteringly dull subject of arts funding interesting.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Just thought I should share with the blogosphere my latest 'win' on eBay. A fine stone-coloured linen jacket, as new, a snip (and then some) at £11.99. Designed, what's more, by Jeff Banks, ex-husband of barefoot chanteuse Sandy Shaw, who won Eurovision with her anthem to automatism Puppet On A String (and then expected us to take her seriously - ha!). Go Scooch!

Eurovision Nige

Today - as I need hardly tell you, my friends in the blogosphere - is Eurovision Song Contest day. This extraordinary survival is television at its most consoling - in at least three ways. One is the sheer fact of its survival - it is almost the only living link we have with the innocent TV world of the 1950s (the other being the equally consoling, equally bonkers, but rather less accessible The Sky At Night with the inchoate mass that is Patrick Moore). Eurovision also does a grand job of reminding us of how comically inept Johnny Foreigner is, and, in particular, how entirely different from us are those unfortunate chaps stranded on the wrong side of the Channel. Anyone who ever thought a European Union that included us (or, indeed, any European Union) could possibly work, need only watch Eurovision to see just how wrong they are. And then, of course, underlying and subtly underscoring all this, is the superbly laconic commentary by the permanently (and understandably) aghast Terry Wogan.
Apologies to bloggers further afield than Europe if none of the above means a thing. Bear with me - the next bit might. Because Eurovision is also the most spectacularly, joyously camp of television events - and tonight it is the jewel in the crown of an astonishingly camp Saturday night schedule, following hot on the heels of that ongoing campfest Any Dream Will Do. Television is fast becoming a remarkably camp - and when not camp, at least feminised - medium. Saturday evenings are a regular battle between audition shows for (aargh) stage musicals (ITV's Grease Is The Word is only slightly less camp), the likes of Graham Norton and the ghastly Russell Brand are everywhere, Paul O'Grady chats and bitches daily on Ch4, where Ugly Betty keeps us entertained in the absence of Will & Grace. Less than a generation ago, the face of British TV was male, middle-aged going on elderly, besuited and avuncular. Now it is either female or campishly male, youngish, garishly dressed and as clueless as we are. O tempora, o mores, o that's enough of this... Enjoy Eurovision though - I shall be.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Here is a crudely fashioned link to a story that is not funny.

Here, to go with it, is a quotation from Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd:
'If children went to school from the day they were born in order to be taught how to speak, a good percentage of the population would be unable to do so, or would stutter.'
Wise words.

Nige The Musical

A story caught my eye last night (don't, please, ask for a link) that audience members at a West End musical had rushed, screaming, to the exits in the course of a performance. At last, I thought - an appropriate response to the horrors of the modern stage 'musical'. But it turned out that these were sensitive souls scared by the Orcs in the musical of Lord Of The Rings. Yes, Lord Of The Rings - first the interminable books, then the interminable films, now the soddin musical. Whereas once all art aspired to the condition of music, now, it seems, all art - all life, all everything - aspires (or rather despires) to the condition of the musical. Just as the things we all know to be the case cannot actually be so until they have been endorsed by 'scientific research' - so nothing in life or art is fully achieved, fully real, until it has been turned into a 'musical'. (The case of The Producers is an example of this madness in extreme form - from near-classic film about staging a musical, to a stage musical, to a rubish film of the stage musical.) It wouldn't be so bad if the modern 'musical' lived up to its name, but this it clunkingly, hideously fails to do. Maybe the fact is that this most debased and stupid art form is the perfect expression of our debased and stupid culture? I rather fear so...
Another story also caught my eye - that the latest Shrek movie is getting lukewarm audience responses. Only one thing for it - Shrek The Musical, coming soon to the West End. Wayne Rooney, this is your appointment with destiny.

Steam-Driven Nige

The steam-driven 'computers' here at NigeCorp HQ are playing up worse than ever, frustrating my every effort to blog. I live in hope of getting this steam-driven 'link' out - it leads to quite the funniest story of the day, or indeed the week...

Remember I Am Watching...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Queue Nige

Here's a scenario that is played out every day and night in shops the length and breadth of the land, but it still mystifies me. Staggering home last night (no I hadn't been drinknig with Loophole again), I dropped into my local supermarket for a few necessities. As I joined a shortish queue, a woman arrived at its head, having bought a single item for £1.43. This was duly rung up and price announced. A hiatus ensued. The woman, baffled by this development, struggled to compute its various elements - she had 'bought', it seems, an item, and was now expected to 'pay' for it, and this might involve 'money' changing hands. Eventually she had grasped it and began delving in her handbag, where, needless to say, she failed, after much searching, to locate £1.43. A lengthy card transaction followed...
Now the mystery is - why does the fact of having to pay for purchases come as such a shock to some people, finding them totally unprepared. The deeper mystery is that, like it or not, these people are nearly always women - surely nature's shoppers. Any ideas?

Nothing Nige

Well clearly nothing has happened in the world today, apart from Blair announcing his departure - No hang on, that hasn't happened either, not yet. What will be left to say when the Great Snake Oil Salesman finally utters? Never mind - here's the blog challenge for the day. Imagine a TV montage of the Blair Decade - what's the soundtrack? Which one track sums up the whole thing? Bob Dylan's Nothing Was Delivered was obviously written with just this eventuality in mind - but what else might fit the bill? Perhaps something reflecting Blair's rock n roll aspirations? Mott The Hoople's All The Way From Memphis? (mighty long way down rock n roll...). There must be many more...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lactic Nige

Here's a link, of sorts, for the latest damning evidence against cow-juice.

And another Nige

And another thing. As it's Auden's centenary, I figured the least I could do was to direct the attention of the blogosphere to an extremely fine poem that seldom rates a mention - The Dark Years ('Returning each morning from a timeless world..' We know the feeling...). Amazingly, I cannot find the text anywhere on the web - if anyone can, please pass on the , er, 'link'. Otherwise we might have to scan our bookshelves - or even order the Shorter Poems on Amazon. There could be few sounder investments...

Blogment Nige

Here I am, back again - the surrogate blogment. Feeling a little frazzled after a few drinks with my old pal J. Cheever Loophole, whom God preserve. Later, lying awake at dawn, as I too often do, the sound of the dawn chorus reminded me of something - a mere 3 days late - International Dawn Chorus Day. Here's a kind of link - - and it's worth a look for the bird picture alone, which, I can assure you, keeps changing from one species to another - that's entertainment! It's all very consoling anyway, and surely a world in which International Dawn Chorus Day is observed, however raggedly, cannot be all bad, or all mad.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Nige No-Link

On a day of dreary and depressing news, I've been trying (and of course failing) to create a link to an undoubted Good News story - the bumper honey harvest in Britain, despite dire prognostications and unfortunate bee-related developments elsewhere in the world. It's on Telegraph Online, and no doubt in the paper and elsewhere. Honey, however, has also made an appearance on the government food fascists' list of Bad Foods that will turn Our Kids into immobile lardbuckets. Also on the list are olive oil, Marmite and cheese. Has the world gone mad? Well yes, of course.

Nige on the Third Day

Well here I am again, feeling like some poor sap sent to keep the disciples entertained while they await the resurrection. Come to think - this is the third day, but don't get your hopes up. However, I can reveal that our Deus Absconditus has uttered. He uttered as one speaking from a cloud and I cannot divulge all that he uttered. But he heartily recommended G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography, which I have not read. Anyone out there know it?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Nige 2

Alors, Sarkozy... Hmm. Only one thing neeed concern us about this famous victory: will it make France any less agreeable a place to visit? I suspect the anwer to that is Non. After all, it was the French who invented that useful Plus ca change maxim - and indeed the Gallic shrug. We may resume our slumbers.

Of more moment, of course, is the imminent demise of the cassette tape (Dixons or some such are dropping them). I recently rediscovered the pleasure and pains (both considerable) of the personal cassette player when I found myself without a personal CD player. Why? Because these too are fast becoming unobtainable, expect via the terminally grim Argos shopping experience. Even buying online proved a strangely long-drawn-out affair. Soon the iPod will have conquered all - a chilling thought - all the music you're ever going to want to hear, in a thing the size of a cigarette packet? Can't be right - but we've been here before...

A more depressing story is of the man diagnosed with terminal cancer, who spent his life savings on various lavish end-of-life gestures, then was told it was a misdiagnosis and he wasn't going to die after all. Did he rejoice and thank Providence or whatever? Did he heck. He's suing.

Finally, I keep hearing/seeing trails for BBC4's Edwardian Season - which actually contains some rather good programmes. 'The Edwardians,' these trails tell us again and again,'were not so very different from us.' Is this the only way top 'sell' history now? Wouldn't it be much more interesting if they actually were very different from us (as of course they were)? Isn't this, in fact, the nature of the past and the point of taking an interest in history?

Nige (it's official)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Nige Emits

Gone? Well, we'll see. Bryan I know to be a man consitutionally incapable of 'taking a break' in any normal sense of the words, so we'll see - keep the faith, Brymaniacs. Meanwhile... As one who last appeared in Blogworld apparently (I use the word advisedly) sporting a comedy nose-moustache-and-glasses combo, I have no idea why I shld have been picked to keep the sacred seat warm. In fact I thought I'd more or less said No, but then technololgoy took over. Ah well, here we go...
It's nearly 11 on a Sunday morning and I'm conscious that by now, in normal times, B would have posted half-a-dozen piercing insights into the Zietgesit (complete with gags and links), read and reviewed a couple of books, and untangled a knotty problem in Kantian metaphysics - all before breakfast. At which point, it occurs to me, I have something to say: Breakfast cereals. Nothing wrong with them, except that they require drenching in milk. Why on earth do humans consume the milk of another, entirely unrelated species in industrial quantities? It has no nutritional advantage that can't be acquired elsewhere, and in its raw state it's vile, unless chilled to the point of tastelessness. Along with most of the non-English-speaking world, I regard it as something unfit for human consumption unless processsed into cheese or, at a pinch, yoghurt.
By now, also, Bryan wld also have devoured the papers - not me, tho I have caught the odd snippet on the radio. I like the story about the 'Naval hostage' putting his Chinese suit - a gift from the Iranian people - on eBay and selling it for, I believe, 99p. How did I miss that bargain? The act, of course, earns him a drubbing as a traitor, etc. I also heard an almost interesting Point Of View (R4) by the dreadful Lisa Jardine. In this she revisited the great 1580 eathquake off Kent (I'd put a link in here if I'd worked out how to do it yet). The response to this event was, of course, a stream of lurid pamphlets - A Burning Fiery Messenger, etc - urging prayer and repentance for the end was nigh. From here Jardine gets to global warming and the media response to the warm April. Why, she asks, doesn't any of the alarmist coverage tell us what we can do about it? Well, she almost makes the link herself, but surely what she's identified here is the religous nature of the global warming faith. Emotionaly, she wants to be urged to repentance and acts of atonement. We all do - it feels right (what is the trip to the recycling bins but a debased - and easy - act of atonement?). That is why the faith has taken such deep root so fast - and it is why we shld be vary careful and duly sceptical about the whole business. When such powerful emotional and (unacknowledged) religious impulses are driving something, clearly it's gone way beyond Science.
Anyway, that's more than enough - I can assure you I shan't be emitting on this scale very often, if ever again. But I must just comment on the short-sleeved-shirt-and-tie debate, which I only noticed belatedly. As ever, Homer J Simpson has the last word: 'It's good enough for Andy Sipowicz.' (Doesn't make it look any better though).

Dylan and the BM

Today in The Sunday Times - I interview Neil MacGregor of the British Museum and D.A.Pennebaker, director of the great Dylan documentary Don't Look Back. And with that, like Keyser Soze, I am gone.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Hiatus Ensues

'Just when one thing seems possible some new possibility arises, and finally these phantasms succeed one another with such speed that it seems as though everything were possible, and that is the very moment the individual himself has finally become nothing but an atmospheric illusion.' Kierkegaard.
The impetuous action of Nige in emitting that last post obliges me to announce somewhat prematurely that I am taking a break from Thought Experiments of approximately two weeks. It is premature because I shall post tomorrow on my Sunday articles, but, after that, silence. I have handed Nige my bow of burning gold, my arrows of desire and he shall not cease from mental right until he has built Jerusalem in this green and pleasant blog. I have given him, in short, the awesome power to post. He will do so when he feels moved to emit.
Anyway, Kierkegaard knew a thing or two about blogging and I have been, of late, in danger of becoming an atmospheric illusion. Blogging offers too many new possibilities. Enervated by this process, I have considered abandoning Thought Experiments, but have chosen, instead merely to take a break. This move is at least half inspired by the fact that I am on holiday and my wife views blogging as somewhere beneath Morris dancing and not, in fact, much above staring at a wall and picking one's nose.
For these two weeks, therefore, Nige is your ringmaster. Comment moderation is off so you can continue to talk among yourselves or, indeed, to me as I shall be listening. One thought occurs to me: I would be interested to hear your ideas about what I should do with this blog. Think out of the box, as they say. Comment on this post with your suggestions.
One more post tomorrow morning and then I shall be gone, though watching discreetly from a distance.


Well that was surprisingly easy. If only I had something to say. Hoping to have an idea tomorrow. Maybe.

Dylan to Free Paris Hilton

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter is 70 tomorrow. He was, of course, the inspiration for Bob Dylan's song Hurricane. Dylan himself, meanwhile, is now known as the 'weird man' who sings scary songs at his son's school. This seems like an unfortunate destiny for the Bobster, the supreme genius of popular music. But I think I can help. I have a cause that will, like the imprisonment of Carter, fire both his anger and his genius. It will, moreover, gain him a new following among the very young. Paris Hilton, the lady with a ball-bearing sewn into the end of her nose, has been sentenced to 45 days imprisonment. I have fantasised about being stuck in a lift with Paris and Jeff in the past, but now is not the time for fantasy, now is the time for action. Free Paris 'Ball-Bearing' Hilton. Let's hear it Bob - 'Here comes the story of the Ball-Bearing...'

The Great Tie and Short Sleeved Shirt Debate

Moving on from the great man hat debate, I am told by one who knows that wearing a tie with a short sleeved shirt makes a man look like a psycho. Discuss.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Science and Religion 2

Okay, the headline is a lie. But your comment rate has slowed and I feel lonely. The last time I posted on science and religion, there were 80 comments, so it might work this time. The correct headline for this post is: Local Election Shock. Since my previous, thoughtful essay on the results, I have discovered a handwritten but, sadly, photocopied note from two ladies named Roberta and Joyce. Roberta tells me 'canvassing has been an exhilarating experience' and Joyce goes so far as to inform me that 'it's been brilliant being your councillor for the past seven years.' Roberta, get a life, and, Joyce, has it indeed? The only way out of this silliness is to transfer more tax-raising from central to local government. We might then start thinking seriously about the membership of our local councils. We might also turn out for elections and abandon this stupid habit of voting in eccentric ways that bear no relation to our general election intentions. Unfortunately Gordon Brown is not the man to do this.

The Devastation of Catherine

In his Guardian column Simon Jenkins reminds me that Catherine Zeta-Jones was 'devastated, shocked and appalled' by Hello! magazine's illicit photographs of her being fed wedding cake with a spoon by Michael Douglas. A degree of DSA is, of course, essential for any court action, but CZJ's DSA does seem a little selective. Long ago, I was at a party in New York, as were CZJ and MD. A young man passed his time by taking photographs of the CZJ bum. I looked over his shoulder, they were really rather good, though, of course, devastating, shocking and appalling. I heard of no subsequent legal action.

Earnest Political Post About the Local Elections

Nothing happened in the local elections. However, in South Africa a naked man was superglued to his exercise bike and, in Norfolk, Thought Experiments has concluded that the best joke in any novel occurs in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop when Priscilla, William Boot's sister, substitutes the words 'the crested grebe' for 'badger' in his nature column for The Daily Beast.
'One lady wrote to ask whether she read him aright in thinking he condoned the practice of baiting these rare and beautiful birds with terriers and deliberately destroying their earthy homes; how could this be tolerated in the so-called twentieth century?'

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Anagram: A Dire Warning to Dubya

Good grief, President Anagram has completely lost it! Presumably inspired by the scandalous behavour of Hugh Gere towards Daily Shetty, he has kissed the hand of an elderly lady. She was wearing thick gloves at the time, but I do not doubt she felt the hot breath of sin on the back of her hand. The Hezbollah newspaper seemed to think so and has condemned the act. Anagram once suggested that women ought to be able to watch football matches. I was relieved when this rash scheme was rejected. What if they had seen the footballer who talked sense stricken by the red mist? Some things should not be seen by female eyes. In fact, now that internet sex is normal, intimacy need not be seen at all. Making it visible away from your computer screen or the local pornorama is illegal across the US, where the slightest indiscretion can get you put on the Sex Offenders' Register. Dubya had better watch his step when he meets the Queen, no glove would be thick enough and, in any case, her hands could well be naked now that we are in May. One false move and we'll have him.

Her Maj

I felt an absurd queasiness when I read the Queen was to start her US trip in Virginia. The state is named after the Virgin Queen and, ridiculous I know, but any suggestion of sex - or the lack of it - in the context of Her Majship just isn't right. Much as one admires hot-headed Phil, one likes to think the royals brats were immaculately conceived. This is a symptom, I guess, of the way she has at last re-attained the sanctity that clung to her when she first got the job. She is now beyond all her tribulations and has become, in the national imagination, the still point in a spinning world, a sign that something indefinable survives unchanged. This is not - watch out, Charles and William - a monarchist sentiment, it is simply pro-Queen. You don't hear even the most rabid republicans saying a word against her these days. So, colonials, look after her and, Dubya, don't get carried away. The real reason for her visit is the Kentucky Derby. Horses matter to the lady. One can see why, given her experience of people.

Fat Update 2

So, it seems, the calorie restrictionists now have hard evidence about the life extending effects of eating very little. Naturally, I got involved with this while writing my change-your-life-read-it-now book on immortality. This new research seems to support the hormesis hypothesis about CR. Eating too little causes low level stress because the body thinks that it is still two million years ago on the African savannah and that it has run into a period of food scarcity. This causes the old soft machine to, so to speak, get its act together and slow down all the processes that might kill it. In the light of my many posts on the matter of fat, I have to say that I am not happy about this. Food fascism is already rife and, if CR becomes popular, we can expect more fabulously unpleasant TV shows in which rancid, opportunist health Kommandants deride the bloated bodies of the poor. When confronted with this nonsense, remember the Nut Diet is all you really need. However, these new findings suggest that we might be able to develop a drug that mimics the CR effect but does not require us to eat very little. This is the Kelso Strategy, named after the evil doctor in Scrubs whose favourite meal is a 16 ounce steak and a fistful of blood thinners. Basically, you use modern medicine to do what you like. Some call it the Best Defence as it was George Best who came up with the brilliant scheme of getting a new liver in order to carry on drinking.
All of which is really only a preamble to the terrible news that Scrubs might be coming to an end. This show is my most reliable consolation, each night I watch it to forget.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Starbucks and the Tragedy of the Commons

My wife and I were killing time in two separate branches of Starbucks yesterday. In my branch, I noted a man who had taken over a window table by covering it with a huge laptop, books, files, newspapers and a token coffee. He regarded the place as his office. My wife, at her branch, had seated herself at an empty, four-seat table. A man called to her that this table was being 'held' for somebody. She rose and went over to his table, another four seater occupied by three people plainly having a meeting - files, papers etc. She sat down at the fourth chair. 'You can't sit there,' cried the man, horrified, 'we're having a meeting and you haven't even got a coffee.' 'I know,' said my wife, 'I'm torn between a latte and an Americano. Should we discuss it at this meeting?' These grade-one-listed jerks then flounced off to the table she had just been told to abandon. She waited for a moment and then left the cafe, the better to irritate these fools. The jerks and Huge Laptop Man plainly thought they had some proprietorial interest in Starbucks' seating arrangements. The company encourages this by providing web access and a policy of absolute tolerance towards long-stay, low-spending, table-hogging customers. But now their branches seem to be suffering from the familiar Tragedy of the Commons phenomenon whereby individuals exploit common resources until they are exhausted or useless. The problem is: how do they relieve their customers of the illusion that they own the joint without compromising their laid-back, corporate style? My solution would be sudden bursts of gunfire.

Digg and the Limits of Liberty

Overnight an explosive situation has arisen at Digg, a vast user-generated site. It is, on the face of it, a monument to web libertarianism. Stories are posted in Digg by users and the user body creates a hierarchy of levels of interests by 'digging', basically voting for which stories are the most gripping. Unfortunately, libertarianism at the margins, when the chips are down, is a hard creed to sustain. A code was posted on the site. This apparently decrypts HD DVDs and is, thus, highly commercially sensitive. Digg adminstrators removed the code. This inflamed the users, who promptly started posting it on hundreds of different pages. Digg was forced into a massive programme of deletions. This has, in fact, compromised my ability to provide links as pages, though visible on my RSS reader, are vanishing as we speak. This one seems to be persisting. Even the Wikipedia page has been locked and another page on the issue has been removed. Web libertarianism - as I have recently pointed out - is a fragile, implausible and illusory phenomenon.

Football News

I know I should try to say something intelligible about the big stories of the day - the fall of Lord Browne, the imminent departure of Blair and the failings of MI5 - but the first depresses, the second irritates and the third puzzles me so much that I would need to lie down for a day or two before emitting a post. But football, today, grabs me. I'm not talking about the worst football team in the world, nor last night's 'clash' between Liverpool and Chelsea - I just about got through 90 minutes by reading aloud my favourite passages from Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, but gave up when it went to extra time. No, football, for me, means Manchester City and it has been a great disappointment to discover that Sam Tyler in Life on Mars is a United supporter. Anyway, the big news is that City have taken the shocking step of suspending the footballer who talked sense, Joey Barton, merely because he seems to have duffed up Ousmane Dabo. Joey has, of course, got form, but I remain his most devoted fan. He is, I am sure, misunderstood. I am less keen, however, on the former Prime Minister of Thailand, who seems to want to buy City. City has always been an eccentric club but this seems an eccentricity too far. And, anyway, what would the serene, beaming Mr Shinawatra make of brawling Joey or 'Psycho' Pearce, not to mention the disappointment and suffering that afflicts everybody involved with City? Perhaps Buddhism will see him through; nevertheless, I feel I should write to him and explain.

I Move, I Shake. It is the Way of Things

Every year at this time Debrett's sends me a letter, the latest is signed by the whimsically named Conrad Free. The letter is intended, first, to sell me a copy of the book People of Today - at a special discounted price of £195 for the leather-bound edition - and, secondly, to persuade me to edit, update and amend my own entry in this book. Annually, I fulfil the second demand and decline the first. My presence in these pages means apparently that I am a mover and/or a shaker in British Society. Somehow, this feels like an affront. For one thing, why am I not also in Debrett's People of the Year, the Peerage and Baronetage or even the much under-rated Etiquette for Girls? Why, in fact, am I not in A.C. Black's celebrated Who's Who? Because I am not, it seems, a Who, I am a mere People, a member of the floating world of today, an evanescent glimmer on the dim tide of now, a soon to be squeezed blackhead on the nose of history. So be it, I am content; I shall edit, update or amend and send my form to Richmond, bow my head, put my shoulder to the wheel and and return to my alloted task of moving interrupted only by periodic bouts of shaking. Are we really, in the last analysis, free, Conrad?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

How to be Drunk

I find myself doubting the social responsibility of Cal Wineries, though, at the same time, admiring their practical, can-do approach. Here, you will observe, they tell us of Common Field Sobriety Tests and How to Pass Them. 'When tasting wine,' says Cal's resident piss artist, 'it's common to drive from one winery to another.' Well, quite, and, in the process, it is quite likely you will be pulled over and asked to do something silly by a police officer. His 'how to beat' notes for each of the tests are excellent, especially when he says, 'Do not talk to the officer.' They are, however, quite demanding. It is hard to imagine, for example, reciting to yourself 'one alligator, two alligator' etc without deciding instead to tell the officer your life story, how much you really love him and advising him to take up the Nut Diet.

Man Hats 3: Hard Evidence

Readers may remember Kuala Lumpur Chris's shattering intervention in the man hat debate. He suggested the Malyasian Songkok as the solution to all our woes. Now he sends a picture of himself in action to prove the point. Can anybody question the suave air of authority bestowed by this distinguished head gear?

Fat Update

Since I published my sensational Nut Diet, I have become a globally-recognised authority - pundit, if you will - on the subject of fat. Duty now requires me to keep you, dear readers, at the cutting edge of fat studies, sometimes called obesiology. So, from Korea, we hear of the creeping scourge of 'hidden fat'. People can be fatty, even though they are not fat, because of fat build-ups around their organs. The irony. This, like everything else, can be cured by the Nut Diet. Meanwhile, an American study has found that lesbians are twice as likely to be obese as heterosexual women. Er... hmmm... er ... let me see.... No, there's nothing I can or dare say about that, though, as ever, the Nut Diet might help.
Coming soon: a fat case study of Paul Wolfowitz, how large hair and anxiety can augment the effects of the Nut Diet.