All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon…

The weather in this country seems to be pandering to typical stereotype. Today, London had not a cloud in the sky, but as my GNER train trundled through Yorkshire the sky got darker and darker, and I swear, the very second we crossed the border at Berwick, the heavens opened and it started to rain. It’s not even nice rain up here that would make it a bit fresher – just an insulting, muggy drizzle.

Still, I am back from my (very brief) holiday; dissertation handed in fine on Thursday, a long weekend soujourning down the coast (as Armand merrily recounts – point of order though, the Google search was a joke), drinking, sunbathing, playing poker and avoiding playing bum charades in favour of making the worst placename pun jokes, ever (as in: “My wife’s gone to the Caribbean for her holidays” “Jamaica?” “No, she went of her own accord”) . I fear repeating them would be proscribed as a crime against comedy, so I shan’t (although I will never be able to say “Vancouver” with an entirely straight face again…)

I’m not making very much sense here, am I? More sense will come tomorrow and over the next few days, I hope. I haven’t got much else to do. I might even have a crack at polishing up the site while I’m at it. I’ve first got to read through about a week’s worth of RSS subscriptions – that could take a while…



Apologies for not posting of late. I have been vaguely overwhelmed, what with my dissertation in end of this week and all that (still had time to do the self-portrait on the left, but let’s not talk about that). Up to the fifth draft and deperately trying to find 1,000 words to trim by tomorrow. Apart from that, all is well, but I haven’t got time to blog…

…which is a shame, because there’s plenty to talk about. There’s the ongoing fallout from the de Menezes murder, and Ian Blair’s appalling mishandling of the situation. I wanted to talk about the Piano Man who wasn’t (aka “Why everyone loves an idiot savant, even when they’re not”); the absurdity of suing a private school because they don’t want your child dragging it down the league tables; the Flying Spaghetti Monster, pseudoscience, satire, and the (distinctly different) challenges we face this side of the Atlantic. After reading Engadget 1985 and wondering “where do all the calculators go?“, I’ve been wondering whether whether Peak Oil isn’t our only problem, and it could be Peak Everything…

But they all need more research, and consideration, neither of which I can afford. But, in a week’s time you’ll be in luck. By then, I will no longer be a panicking master’s student with a rapidly escalating caffeine addiction, but the worst kind of blogger of them all – the unemployed blogger. And then, I’ll have nothing to do but bore you to death with every tiny thought on my mind. Dunno about you, but I can’t wait. See you soon.

These boots were made for walking… all the way to Dundee

I know adverts are generally infruriating, but the one I saw last night during Lost took the biscuit.

(Aside – Lost is great and fab, but is anyone else here a little disturbed by the plot holes? Like the fact they shot and killed a polar bear, but then forget about this highly unusual turn of events by the next episode? Or the fact that Kate happily wanders around with a loaded gun prominently tucked in the waistband of her trousers all day and Dr. Jack doesn’t notice? There’s loads of them… whether it genuinely is full of howlers, or I’ve been concentrating too much on watching it and am spotting them more than I normall would, I don’t know…)

Anyway, this advert was for the University of Dundee, as it’s now clearing season (I presume it was only shown in Scotland). The advert is a slickly-shot series of shots of pairs of shoes, all of which “belong” to someone; various famous people are namechecked alongside them. The first two (slippers representing Albert Einstein, high heels for Audrey Hepburn) aren’t too controversial, but then the following ones (amongst them, Martin Luther King, Mary Seacole and Emmeline Pankhurst – the latter’s shoes lying in the shadow of a set of railings) really brought the bile to the top of my throat. The closing line is “Are you up to stepping in their shoes? Then come to Dundee!” (or some such bollocks to that effect).

It is possible that they are operating under the delusion that these people attended Dundee (especially ironic when many of them didn’t even attend university, full stop), but it’s far more likely that this is a simple case of cold-blooded cashing-in on the names of great people. It’s especially galling in this case as it’s coming from a university (and no, this isn’t just some smug Edinbugger looking down on Dundee; I’d be appalled if any university, big or small, did the same), who should really know better than to take credit for others’ achievements. At the same time, they’re unlikely to get into the same kind of shit that a corporation would if it did so. Oh well.

Update: I’ve just realised what it reminded me of, which was of course the Apple “Think Different” campaign, which was just as cold-blooded and cynical. Although, I think, Apple at least went to the extent of getting hold of the image rights first…

On reshelving books: a humble opinion piece

Via Boing Boing comes this: Political prankster Jane McGonigal has had an idea for a rilly great political gesture – move all the copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four from the fiction section to Current Affairs, then post the results to a Flickr group pool. Because they want, you know, to make a statement, about Bush and the Republicans, and stuff. Or something like that. They’re not sure. But it will be funny!

To which the only response can be…

“I’m sorry – this guy has been in charge of your country for, what, over four and a half years? In that time, he’s exploited a terrorist atrocity in order to start an illegal war, destroyed your country’s credibility in the international community, passed draconian laws, imprisoned people without trial, privatised your social security system, given enormous tax breaks to the already obscenely wealthy, run up a massive national debt, done nothing in response to global warming and… this is the best you can come up with? For fuck’s sake, how does pissing off a few hard-working bookstore employees, who will inevitably have to spend time undoing your pathetic sub-Mark Thomas jape, equate in your minds to making a political statement? But then you’ve probably never had to do a crap job in your lives, you hipster douchebags, so you wouldn’t actually know what a pain in the arse you actually are. Why not actually try working for once, instead of being a smug, lazy showoff prick? While you’re at it, why not actually broaden your horizons, gain some sophistication, and find out about books other than Nineteen Eighty-Four, because quite frankly, referring to it all the damn time and trying to use it as an allegory for whatever you want to whine about is the height of intellectual laziness, and something that is probably making Orwell somersault in his grave as I type. In summary then, you are a grade-A fuckwit, who’s more concerned with trying to gain kudos for being a “subversive” amongst your braying sub-Nathan Barley peers by making this “statement”, when actually you have less sophistication than a cunt rolling downhill in a shopping trolley. It’s wankers like you who deserve to have the government you have at the moment, and if I could have it my way, you’d have Bush for a third term, all the fucking way to 2012 – maybe by then you’ll realise that there’s more to political action than merely going ‘Barnes & Noble! Pwn3d!’. Now, do the whole world a favour, and fuck off.”

Update/reflection: Whoah. Dissertation stresses bring out the Brooker in me, I think. Still stand by every word of it, though.


I don’t know if or Audioscrobbler did searching users by their taste (top left box) before the makeover, but anyway, I’ve been having fun doing Googlewhack-style searches. That is, find particular combinations of two artists that only return one subscriber, which means that only one person has listened to both of them. It’s harder than you think (three people have listened to both My Bloody Valentine and The Cheeky Girls), but so far I’ve found Black Lace and Boards of Canada, Slowdive and S Club 7 and most frightening of all, Cliff Richard and Slunt. This could be the start of a whole new memetic sport, as well as spawn the worst mashups, ever.

Btw, on reflection, I’m not totally enamoured by the redesigned site – I rant a little about it on Tom’s blog but I should really find the time to give it a proper going over…

Reforming the Lords

This blogpost is in conjunction with the Elect The Lords campaign, who recently made a Pledgebank appeal to blog about Lords reform, which I signed. More are available via Technorati tag , and the New Politics blog.

The House of Lords – it’s a messy business, isn’t it? While most of the other dusty relics of English history have long been swept away or turned into purely ceremonial, the Lords, and the question of reform still hangs around our neck. It has been since August 10th, 1911, when the first Parliament Act, which said in its preamble:

…whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation.

Ninety-four years later, we’re still here! Well, not quite, we have only had life peers since 1958, but in terms of democracy, being in the upper chamber because you were the Prime Minister’s old flatmate isn’t much fairer than being there because your great-great-great-grandad was a mate of the King. And remember – that job is for life, no matter how naughty you are. Honestly, I don’t know how people from outside the UK don’t gasp in disbelief when they hear we appoint our politicians for life (only Lesotho does the same).

Of course, the traditionalist point of view is that the Lords may not be democratic, but at least it’s totally subservient to the elected Commons. True, but the only reason it has been made subservient is because it was the only way of justifying its continued undemocratic existence. What we end up is the worst of both worlds – a toothless body stuffed with retired MPs, cronies and other hangers-on, which rarely has the will nor the power to fully scrutinise and review the laws passed by the Commons, no matter how bad (in the current political climate there’s been a rash of those of late, with the odd honourable exception).

The problem is, that any time we want to discuss the role of the Lords, the same obstacles of democratic unaccountability appear. We need to get rid of these – the first step to a more democratic Lords is to elect a majority of its members; only then will it have the legitimacy possible for its role and powers and its relationship with the Commons to be discussed. Sadly, Labour have promised plenty but done little, apart from reducing the number of hereditary peers (ironically, this has meant the remaining hereditaries are the only ones who had to go through any sort of vote to get there). The best we have out of the government at the moment is a plan to drip-feed elected members in (presumably as the current life peers die off), first at 20%, then 40%, etc. all the way up to 80%. The kicker is, that the Commons get to stop the process at any stage if they feel the new Second Chamber gets too uppity.

I don’t care either for Billy Bragg’s proposals for a secondary mandate, i.e. it’s filled according the proportion of the national vote each party got at the general election. For starters, it means the Lords is filled at the same time as the Commons, when I believe we should borrow a good idea from the Yanks and have half of the chamber elected in mid-term elections, to better cater for the variable and cyclical political mood. It also means that there’s no chance for any independents to join the Lords; in fact there seems to be no catering at all for cross-benchers or expert appointees, who I still think have an important role to play (more on that later). Most importantly, it’s too fucking chicken: it’s saying that proportional representation is fine only for the Lords, and we can bolt it onto the faulty electoral system we have for the Commons and it will solve all our problems. Wrong, it doesn’t. Both the Commons and the Lords should be elected according to a fairer voting system.

Instead, I am broadly in agreement with the ideas instead espoused in the proposed Second Chamber of Parliament Bill that a cross-party group of MPs (including the late, lamented Robin Cook) drew up last year (full text here [warning, enormous PDF]). It calls for a directly-elected 70% of the upper chamber, with the remaining 30% crossbenchers appointed for their expertise (roughly the same as the 27% of independent peers now), which is good. I don’t agree at the length of term they propose (12-14 years is a bit too long, I’d let them have 8 tops, and preferably the same terms as MPs), and they pussyfoot around dropping the bishops (let them all go, I say), but the right ideas are in place – there is a clear majority of directly-elected members, but still bears in mind the Lords’ function as a body to scrutinise and inspect legislation, so those from outside politics have an important role to play.

The one thing I really do disagree with is the gradualist approach the bill’s authors take – phasing in the new Lords over a three-term period. I think we should just stick them all in straight away though, with none of the softly-softly business we’ve been having of late. Labour’s been in power for eight years now having promised reform and the gradualist approach is getting us nowhere. I worry that, having to wait for it to go through over 12 years, there’s plenty of time to botch it up. But, the bill’s written by MPs and they’re going to know what it takes to get a controversial bill through Parliament and the concessions you have to make, so I’m willing to compromise even on that, which is why I give the Bill (or any similar measure) my full support. If you feel the same, then why not register as a supporter of Elect The Lords? while you’re at it, write to your MP – after all, if the members of the Commons don’t know people care about an issue, they’re not going to pay much attention themselves. We’ve been waiting too long for change as it is – don’t let them get away with making you wait any longer.