Archive for the ‘News’ Category


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I may have mistranscribed some of this, but here is what was written as the second story on the front of today’s Evening Standard:

Gordon Brown today vowed to “get tough” on equestrianism as he insisted the Government was right to sack a scientist who said horse riding was as dangerous as ecstasy. The Prime Minister warned against the danger of giving “mixed messages” to young people targeted by dealers. Mr Brown said: “A tough policy on equestrianism is essential and it is what the public want. I’ve seen the damage that equestriansim can do and people can see it in estates in London.”

This is almost exactly what it said, although I may have mixed up the word “drugs” with “equestrianism”. Still, they’re as dangerous as each other, statistcially, so it probably doesn’t make any difference.


Whose Golden Globes are they anyway?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Does anyone remember the bit at the end of each episode of Whose Line is it Anyway?, the comedy improv show, when Clive Anderson would ask his guests to read the closing credits in the style of his choosing?

Good. Now watch Kate Winslet’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes last night and imagine that Anderson instructed her, just before she went on, to read the cast and crew list of Revolutionary Road in a certain style.

I cannot say for sure what style she is attempting, but I’m leaning towards “Pregnant woman attempting to give a speech at her best friend’s wake”.

Cletus Spuckler arrested on suspicion of Barack Obama murder plot (I think I’ve got that right)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What would Brandine say?

The mugshot of Nathan Johnson, the man claimed by police to have divulged details of a plot to assassinate Barack Obama, leapt out at me this morning. Despite his more casual attire, he is instantly recognisable to fans of The Simpsons as Cletus Delroy Spuckler, Springfield’s resident moonshiner and enthusiast of racoon-based cuisine.

Brandine – his girlfriend, mother, sister and daughter – was not available for comment.

Worst Olympic nations

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dalai Lama and BA Baracas

It might be considered smug, now that Britain has won enough gold medals at Beijing 2008 to make BA Baracas look like the Dalai Lama, to try to work out the least successful Olympic nation ever.

But what the hell.

There are 74 nations that, at the beginning of this year’s Olympiad, had never won an Olympic medal of any colour. The reasons are various, although none is, on its own, enough to guarantee failure.

Poverty, for example, is a huge impediment to producing sporting champions, but Kenya (where the average wage is $5 per day) has won eight medals so far in Beijing, bringing its all-time total to 69. Other important factors are war (although Ethiopia has won 34 medals to date despite being at war for more than half of its 52-year Olympic membership) tiny populations (although Luxembourg has three medals despite a population of 486,000) and short existence (not a problem for Armenia, which has won eight medals since it began competing 12 years ago).

Some nations are dogged by a combination of these factors, but the ability of other countries to overcome similar difficulties suggests that genetics and culture are significant. Some peoples, to be blunt, are just bad at sport – or at least those disciplines deemed worthy by the International Olympic Committee.*

Caveats aside, the question remains: which country is the worst Olympic performer? Depending on which method you choose, it’s a toss-up between Monaco and Bangladesh, but it’s worth taking an in-depth look before leaping to any conclusions. Click on the link below to make up your own mind.


The bitch is back

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, courtesy of a screengrab by Brian Byrne

Joan Collins’s latest dispatch from her base in St Tropez, where she keeps her finger on the pulse of British society, has appeared in The Spectator magazine, the journal for people who think society is going to the dogs because of indiscipline among the poor. I would attempt a parody of her views, except she seems to have beaten me to it.

“There’s something dreadfully Mugabe-ish about Gordon Brown’s attitude towards the ordinary citizens of Britain,” Joan writes. “He seems to care not one jot that we are all finding day-to-day living more and more horrible, with the rising prices of goods, fuel and transport, unfair taxes and rocketing mortgages. Thousands of pensioners – the same people who got us through the Second World War – are practically starving while the portals are wide open for every foreign immigrant who arrives and immediately collects massive benefits such as housing, health and maternity care.”

She goes on to note that she knows of two Eastern European girls who have become pregnant upon arrival in Britain and are now living a “relatively comfortable life” on housing benefit.

Where to start? Robert Mugabe’s principal political tactic – appealing to nationalist sympathies to justify attacks on people deemed to be outsiders – bears a closer resemblance to Joan Collins’s politics than those of Gordon Brown. Her idea that pensioners (who, contrary to her assertion, are mostly too young to have fought in the Second World War*) are suffering as a consequence of immigration policy is a classic nationalist false correlation. The two are connected only in the sense that both are a burden on the public purse – a link so tenuous that you could use the same argument to blame the plight of chicken farmers on the RAF, or the road death toll on Olympic athletes.

Joan also betrays the source of her information and opinions. Only a Daily Mail reader believes that you can live a comfortable life on housing benefit. Is it too much to hope that she was spoofing herself?

* The vast majority of Britons of pensionable age (about 80 per cent) would have been 16 or younger at the end of the War, so although many lived through it, it is not true to say that they contributed to the War effort.

Smoke and mirrors

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Smokers are fighting back, claims Forest, the pro-cancer lobby “voice and friend of the smoker”. The ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces is, they say, ruining lives of people who should have the right to choose.

I was once on their side. Sure, smoking kills, nastily, and is poisonous and smelly in a way that would make other habits like, say, kipper curing or taxidermy a bad choice for a pub-based activity. But it had become normal behaviour, and to legislate against it was to interfere with one’s freedom to harm oneself provided it doesn’t unduly affect others.

Then, as the ban came into force, I realised that there is nothing normal about a smoky atmosphere. I was no more imposing my will upon smokers by enjoying a smoke-free environment than they had been imposing their will on me amid a cancerous fog.

I had accepted smoking because although it made everything slightly less pleasant, it was too abstract and too normalised to allow me to complain about it without resembling a health fascist.

Now the boot is on the other foot, and smokers who whinge about their predicament sound like hopeless addicts whose social lives have been ruined by their own bloody-minded inability to go outside occasionally. Forest, in a press release noting the social impact of the smoking ban, gives voice to a 37-year-old engineer whose lament is hard to read without hearing maudlin violins in the background.

“Prior to the ban I was a regular pub goer and member of a local pub pool team. All of that has ended. I now visit the pub around once or twice a month at best. Prior to the ban I only ever drank alcohol in the pub. Now we buy in a couple of boxes every time we visit the supermarket and have even invested in a drinks cooler.”

Hardship indeed, but if his need to smoke is so severe that it prevents him from playing pool then hopefully the ban will help him to put his life in perspective. He goes on to say that the ban has driven him to contemplate hosting a number of barbecues. Not exactly a dystopian future, is it?

One smoker I met regarded the ban as the first curtailment of civil liberties that would inevitably lead to a banning of all pleasurable activity including, he said ominously, drinking. It’s a bogus comparison because harmful as drinking can be, it is not bad in moderation and does not directly harm others in excess unless it is combined with violence or driving, which can be punished in their own right.

Is it the tip of the iceberg, as he suggested? I suspect that it is, less frighteningly, the entire iceberg.

Almost insightful

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The wonderful thing about the word “almost” is that, used artfully, it can be a barbed way of saying “not”. Heather Mills, for example, is almost endearing. Bob Dylan can almost sing.

I wonder, then, if that is what was meant by Mike Sullivan’s unnamed Scotland Yard source quoted in a piece in the Sun newspaper about “barmy Law Lords” unleashing anarchy by barring anonymous witnesses in court trials. Sullivan’s anonymous detective apparently believes that Britain could witness unrestrained violence like the slaughter in Zimbabwe. “You will have Zimbabwe UK on the streets,” the source said. “Gangsters will be able to kill almost with impunity…”

This is, of course, a monsoon downpour of crap. To take the most obvious point first, the violence in Zimbabwe is state-sponsored repression, not the result of the state granting defendants the right to know their accusers. The Zimbabwe analogy is peculiarly bad because agents of the state routinely exact punishment without any trial, let alone a trial that puts a defendant on an equal footing with those who denounce him.

But even if the copper’s analogy was merely a topical illustration of the amount of violence we should expect if criminals can intimidate witnesses into silence, it ignores the fact that other states manage to avoid anarchy without granting anonymity to witnesses.

Perhaps, then, the detective is not stupid, but a master of irony. What is killing “almost with impunity”? Is it, in fact, killing without impunity?

There be dragons

Sunday, June 8, 2008

komodo dragon photo taken by mark grapengater and used under creative commons licenceMuch excitement in the British press today about the stranded divers who escaped a 12-hour ordeal in shark-infested waters off Indonesia only to drag themselves onto an island infested with “deadly” komodo dragons. They survived the onslaught of the toothy lizards, which have been “known to kill humans“, by pelting them with rocks.

Gripping stuff, but just how ferocious are these dragons? Well, an eight-year-old boy was killed last year, but when was the last time an adult died as the result of a komodo dragon attack? Um… 1974.


Hunting Mr Big

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sean O’Neill argues in The Times today that the police have neglected tackling organised crime in favour of foiling terror plots despite the higher human cost of the drugs trade in Britain. The article (in the print edition, at least) is headlined: “Whatever happened to the fight against the Mr Bigs?”

What indeed? The home addresses of the Mr Bigs in Britain are public knowledge. A search of the electoral roll shows that Mr Neville F Big lives at Glen Lyon Court, Cumbernauld, Glasgow (with Mrs Anne Big) and Mr Mircea C Big lives in Austin Street, Northampton (with Mrs Cleopatra Big). Why (oh why) do the police do nothing about them?

Tiger Tiger, not burning bright

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tiger Tiger, the bar outside which the incompetent London car bombers parked their jerry-built Merc on Friday morning, released a statement on Friday saying that any suggestion that it was the intended target was “pure speculation”.  Nonsense. Pure speculation would have been that it was a plot by Sir Jimmy Savile to mark independence day in the Seychelles. When wannabe terrorists leave a car bomb outside your club it is circumstantial evidence of an attempted attack, not some wild fantasy cooked up by a news-parched Sky reporter.

My favourite part of the coverage was when Sky broadcast a Google map of the area with arrows suggesting which way the driver could have run away. “He could have run along here, to the west, or perhaps here… he could have run in any number of directions…” Tiger Tiger take note: that is pure speculation.