Tuesday, June 30, 2009

google street view - for all your internet stalking needs

Brief follow-up to one recent and one not-so-recent blog post:

Firstly, you may remember my trip to Cardiff back in December 2006, and the detour I made to look for my grandmother's old house in Whitchurch. (I'm reminded of this by my reference to childhood trips to Cardiff in my last post.) Well, it turns out, slightly gallingly, that the photo I took and included in that post was actually of the wrong house - the right house was two doors further back up the street (i.e. slightly behind me and to my left as I took the photo).

Luckily Google Street View has now expanded as far as Cardiff, so I can now locate the correct house without even leaving my chair. And here it is. That one does look slightly more familiar, now I think about it.

Secondly, I finally broached the bottle of Highland Park I bought a few weeks back, and the verdict is: it's very nice. Not dissimilar to its predecessor, the Macallan, in that it's quite rich and dark (this is largely down to both whiskies being matured in sherry casks, rather than the bourbon casks used for a lot of single malts), but different in that it's slightly less sweet and more smoky (though not as overpoweringly so as the Ardbeg). I think on balance this is the best one I've tried yet, though of course the sample size so far is absurdly tiny.

Monday, June 29, 2009

severn wonders

We went for a bike ride yesterday: not particularly remarkable in itself, just an 8-mile round trip with a cheeky pint in a pub halfway, but interesting in that the route was from Chepstow to Aust and back, and thus involved cycling over the Severn Bridge, which I'd never done before.

If you're starting from the Chepstow side then the cycle track heads down the side of the eastbound slip road onto the M48 before splitting in two; at this point you get to decide which side of the bridge you want to go over. I suggest going one way and coming back the other, just for the hell of it. On the English side the crossover point is via a track which crosses over the top of the toll booths; you then have to loop round down the access road to Severn View services and back up the slip road to get back onto the bridge.

The Second Severn Crossing has a nice reassuring chunky solidity to it, but there's something very aesthetically pleasing about suspension bridges. This one has special significance for me as it was always one of the landmarks on our regular trips from Newbury to Cardiff (to visit my grandmother) that indicated we were nearly there (the Brynglas tunnels being the other). Prior to the bridge's construction and opening in 1966, the only way of avoiding a lengthy detour via Gloucester was to take the Aust ferry, the slipways for which can still be found near Aust here and at Beachley here. The picture on the front of Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan film No Direction Home was taken on the slipway waiting for the Aust ferry in what looks like typically wet and miserable weather. I expect it was only being out of his mind on drugs that kept him so cheerful.

I must just also speak up in defence of the M48 - yes, the M4 route is a bit quicker, but if you're heading west, once 95% of the traffic has got off at the Chepstow junction you're left with 5 or 6 miles of sweeping curves and generally almost zero traffic before rejoining the M4 near Magor. If one were to desire a stretch of motorway on which to put one's foot down and indulge one's Michael Schumacher tendencies for a few minutes, this might well be it. Note that Electric Halibut cannot be held responsible for anyone getting nicked for speeding.

Anyway, some photos can be found here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

don't stop till you get enough, or till you have a heart attack

Marvel once again as I use exciting current events as a hook from which to hang some tenuously linked nonsense that's been rattling around my head for a while.

Michael Jackson died yesterday, as I'm sure you know. I'm not going to launch into any in-depth career analysis here, as I'm not really qualified to do so, his music not really being my sort of thing, though of course I recognise the merits of much of it. Instead I will launch into some brief, superficial, ill-informed analysis instead. Well, it's easier, isn't it?

Few would dispute that he'd become increasingly frail, eccentric, and, well, mental in recent years. Which means that anyone who bought tickets for his 50-date O2 arena residency in the expectation of ever actually getting to see anything was deluding themselves, as the whole project was clearly doomed from the outset. I would place the point at which Jackson jumped the shark at somewhere between 1982's ludicrously successful Thriller and 1987's Bad. Listen to (and watch the videos for) the singles: I Just Can't Stop Loving You, Bad itself, Man In The Mirror (more on this in a minute), Dirty Diana and the rest. The vocal tics have become weirdly intrusive (and ripe for parody), the attempt to look a bit dangerous and sexy with the bondage-y straps and buckles is laughable, and the physical transformation from reasonably normal-looking black guy to weird freaky white space alien with a completely different-shaped nose is, well, weird. The downward trajectory after that, personally as well as artistically, was pretty much inevitable.

Anyway, the actual point of all this is that by way of a tribute Chris Moyles played Man In The Mirror on his radio show this morning, and the toe-stubbing key change towards the end put me in mind of a conversation we (Doug, Anna, Hazel and me) were having about such things in the Forest Inn in Ashurst back in May, inspired by a particularly hair-raising example in something played on the stereo - probably Leona Lewis or something a bit older like Celine Dion, I forget the exact song (actually on reflection I think it may have been this one). I recall using the phrase "truck driver's gear change" at the time, having read it somewhere - it turns out it was here, and Man In The Mirror takes pride of place as one of the canonical examples of the genre.

Coincidentally the TDGC site appears to be run by the same guy who wrote the entertaining "pub facts" book Bears Can't Run Downhill, which can be found in, among other places, Doug and Anna's bathroom.

Note also that this is the second Michael Jackson whose death I've commemorated in a blog post. Spooky.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

would Jew believe it

Couple of things in the news this week which connect to earlier posts:
  • More crazy shenanigans with Jewish Sabbath ritual - this story is about a couple in Bournemouth who have issued a writ against their local council for breaching their human rights by installing an automatic light switch/sensor thingy in the communal area of their flat. To be honest walking through the path of an invisible beam and triggering something sounds, on the face of it, less likely to offend rabbinical lawgivers (or indeed God) than using a kosher telephone, but that's why I'm not a rabbi, I suppose. That and not being very keen on having my foreskin sawed off.
  • More on the Steorn perpetual motion machine - apparently the fundamental laws of thermodynamics aren't going to have to be rewritten just yet. Who knew? More here. Steorn remain bullish about a commercial launch "towards the end of this year". I predict that unforeseen technical difficulties might push that date back a bit. Just a hunch.

Monday, June 22, 2009

that'll learn me

Don't diss the big man - no sooner have I had a pop at God in my last couple of posts than he ensures not only that the US Open goes into a fifth day, thus ensuring I'll be at work and can't watch the coverage via my newly installed Virgin Media Sky Sports package, but also that the exciting climactic holes play out while I'm driving home, and also ensuring that my car radio is currently on the blink so I can't even listen to it. He did relent slightly by allowing me to get home in time to see the last two putts, including Lucas Glover's winning one. Cheers.

Nice to see David Duval playing well again - he finished tied for second and could quite easily have won. It's fair to say he's a bit chunkier these days than the finely-honed athlete of ten years ago, but he played very well, and didn't wilt under the unaccustomed pressure on the last day. Just to give you an idea how long it's been, the last time Duval finished ahead of Tiger Woods in a major in which both men played all 72 holes was at The Open at Muirfield in 2002, when Duval was defending the Claret Jug he won at Lytham the previous year.

hands up! this dog is loaded

The Independent's occasional online "10 Best" feature is always amusing, and the latest one (The 10 Best Sex Scandals) is no exception, partly for the warm schadenfreude of the actual content (Paddy Pantsdown!), but also for the hilarious lazy drunken "will this do?" journo hackery revealed in the section on Jeremy Thorpe:
Jeremy Thorpe's political career was dogged by rumours of homosexual relations at a time when such acts were still illegal in Britain; in one instance of having an affair with Norman Scott, a former male model. Liberal democrat leader between 1967 and 1976, Thorpe, who was twice married and had one child, met Scott in 1961, while the latter was working as a stable boy. Following a bizarre episode in which a man called Newton approached Scott armed with a dog, and shot the animal dead before attempting to shoot Scott too, Scott suggested Thorpe had threatened to kill him if he spoke about their affair. Newton later claimed Thorpe had hired him to kil [sic] his lover. Thorpe was never charged of any such offence, but his political career buckled under the weight of the scandal.
The first obvious quibble is that Thorpe was never Liberal Democrat leader, since no party of that name existed at the time. The second slightly more serious offence against good sense is the assertion that not only was Norman Scott approached by a man "armed with a dog", but that the assailant then shot his own dog, presumably to prove how hard he was, before turning the gun on Scott. Most accounts of the incident have it unfolding slightly differently.

Which is a pity, in a way, because the incident as described here has an almost Beckettian tragicomic absurdity about it. Man standing on deserted moorland, fog a-swirling, second man shows up with dog under arm, gnomic non sequiturs are exchanged, second man pulls out gun and shoots dog in the head, first man flees shrieking into the fog. It would have slotted into Waiting For Godot quite nicely.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

so, does the archbishop of canterbury believe in god?

A couple of brief riders to yesterday's post - I'm conscious of trying to minimise the length of these rants so as not to scare off potential readers, though of course that presupposes that there are some.

Firstly, a key third (or fourth, if you include McGrath) voice in this nonsensical debate is our very own Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. A man who you might expect to be able to clearly and articulately set out what he believes regarding God and religion, and set out in easily grasped ways in what measurable and observable ways his God interacts with the world. Not so, sadly, as the hilarious weaselling in this interview with Richard Dawkins reveals. Which doesn't stop him from having a pop at Dawkins' book in very similar vein to all the other berks I've previously mentioned.

The other key point, with regard to this particular debate, is this: what Eagleton, Williams and the rest argue is that Dawkins et al's characterisation of religion (as the belief that there is some supernatural being who created the universe and all the rules that govern its day-to-day behaviour, takes a day-to-day interest in our activities, can be petitioned by prayer and, if you're lucky, intervenes in the physical world in various ways, and, furthermore, has various rules and guidelines for our daily conduct which are written down in a book) simply does not address what religion actually is, i.e. it's a hopelessly simplistic and old-fashioned view and the modern versions of the various faiths are far more sophisticated and nuanced than that.

The trouble with this argument is that outside of the ivory towers of theological academia (i.e. in the real world) these things are precisely what people believe; furthermore they believe these things so deeply that they judge themselves entitled, indeed compelled, to constrain others' behaviour in line with these beliefs, whether it be by campaigning against, say, gay marriage or abortion rights, or by stoning 13-year-old rape victims to death for adultery.

If you are going to assert (as Eagleton et al appear to be doing) that in fact God interacts with the world in no measurable way, and that he is merely some sort of reification of "love", the "life force", then what you're left with is merely a sort of loose Deism. Which is fine, but that provides no logical basis for ever seeking to constrain anyone's behaviour, still less embody any sort of religious teaching in law (because, essentially, there isn't any; God set the balls in motion and then kicked back, put his celestial slippers on and lit up a cigar for 13.7 billion years).

To put it more simply, Eagleton's real argument should be with the 99.99% of all religious believers in the world who believe things in no way resembling what Eagleton himself believes, since these are the people whose beliefs Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris and all the others are engaging with. I wonder why he doesn't? Could it be because there isn't much money in it?

A bracing blast of good sense is required here: here are the Hitch and Dame Stephen Fry discussing blasphemy and all manner of other religious topics at the Hay Festival in 2005. I think it's Joan Bakewell chairing the discussion. You might need a cup of tea and a pikelet (or possibly a crumpet, hahaha), as it's rather long, but it's absolutely fascinating. Actually, since it's Hitchens, a quadruple whisky might be more appropriate.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

it's saturday night and time for: britain's got fuckwits

Here's something to test yourself with: if the audio extract I'm about to link to doesn't get you shouting at the internet and tearing out the threadbare remains of your hair, then you may have to conclude that you are so heavily sedated that you are in danger of imminent death.


OK. Here we go: this is an extract (the relevant "play" button is at the bottom of the page) from a radio interview with Terry Eagleton in promotion of his new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. The Eagleton approach to the debate mainly seems to consist of airily dismissing demands for any sort of proof for the existence of supernatural entities as hopelessly naive and simplistic, chuckling indulgently at the hopelessly hackneyed picture of religion painted by the so-called "new atheists" (Dawkins and Hitchens, principally), and chuckling indulgently once again at the simple-minded lack of understanding of the deep theological tradition inherent in such questions as "do you pray?" before neatly avoiding supplying any sort of an answer. Being a great big vacuous pompous gasbag fuckwit, in other words.

It's the same sort of hand-waving bollocks inherent in other books like Alister McGrath's The Dawkins Delusion?, though my suspicion is that McGrath's book is a more cynical attempt to cream a few shekels off the coat-tails of Dawkins' The God Delusion.

You can see it also in the brand of utter horseshit spouted by David Berlinski (author of The Devil's Delusion - you can see the emerging pattern here I hope) - try the following couple of clips which appear to be advocating the teaching of creationism in schools, although it's hard to tell with Berlinski's head lodged so far up his own arsehole. This clip from the execrable Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed sees Ben Stein earnestly interviewing Berlinski while he sinks languidly into a horizontal position in a comfy chair. I have just an inkling that Berlinski is also only in it for the money he can squeeze out of the Discovery Institute, and that it will all in the end be revealed as some fabulously droll post-modern joke on his part.

The far more important question is this: who is the bigger arsehole? My instinct is to say Eagleton, probably because my cultural upbringing ensures that I find chuckly tweedy English patronising barking irrationality to be more profoundly irritating than supercilious New York Jewish patronising barking irrationality. YMMV, though, as they say.

i believe i can fly

It doesn't take much to get me musing fearfully about air travel, and the recent Air France disaster has provided some food for thought. Let me sneak up on this in a slightly tangential way.

I read an interesting article the other day about airport security - most of us instinctively know that it's largely a meaningless pantomime designed to give the illusion of safety to those who haven't really thought it through, and for the authorities to be seen to be "doing something" to address a nebulous and badly-defined threat with an ill-understood degree of risk attached to it (on top of the fact that most people fail to understand the level of risk inherent in getting on a plane anyway, terrorists or no terrorists: more on that in a minute), but the article nails some of the specifics in an interesting way.

The journalist who wrote the article enlisted the assistance of Bruce Schneier, who is generally acknowledged as being the man to talk to about all things security-related. Schneier started out as a computer cryptography expert, but now seems to be a sort of general purpose guru-for-hire on all subjects, including airline security, post-9/11 in particular. He also has a website with lots of stuff that even those not interested in, say, collision attacks on MD5 hash algorithms (and my day job requires me to be at least partially interested in that sort of stuff) may find interesting, for instance this essay about the psychology of security. A lot of thought-provoking material about our ability to assess risk, and the ways in which we often make profoundly irrational decisions when doing so; one interesting point is the notion that the speed of technological progress and the rate at which it throws up new and previously unknown risks to be dealt with has become so rapid as to outpace our ability to evolve proper strategies to respond to those risks. Consequently relying on "instinct" or "gut feeling" to tell you the right thing to do is likely to result in the wrong decision being made, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Inevitably the essay touches on airport security; it also briefly touches on the relative risks of air travel and car travel. This is a fascinating subject and an interesting example of the old saw about statistics. Any safety figures you see presented by the aviation industry will tell you that air travel is something like 60 times safer than car travel. Well, that sounds pretty safe; I mean, I've never died in a car crash, and that's far more dangerous than flying! Trouble is these figures are based on a "deaths by passenger mile travelled" calculation. Ask yourself this: is a plane journey in which you travel 5000 miles and arrive safely 100 times safer than a car journey in which you travel 50 miles and arrive safely (or, conversely: is a plane journey in which you travel 4900 miles and then crash and die 100 times safer than a car journey in which you travel 49 miles and then crash and die)? I'll help you out if you like, the answer is no, they are equally safe - arriving safely is the only meaningful criterion. On that basis if you redo the calculations on a "deaths by number of journeys taken" basis you come up with a different answer, which is that air travel is about three times as dangerous as car travel. Granted, it's still something like 14 times safer than getting on a motorbike, but it gives you a different perspective on the subject. Insurance companies use the journey-based calculation, incidentally, and they know the score risk-wise if anyone does.

We're approaching the central subject here, which is my dislike of flying. This excellent article explains the issues extremely well so I won't regurgitate it all here, except to observe that the author has made the decision not to fly at all based on his conclusions. I don't quite go that far, as I make the judgment that my desire to visit far-flung places without having to spend three weeks on a boat outweighs my aversion to flying, but I still have a violent fear and loathing of the whole experience. And don't bother trying to explain how irrational my fear is. It's extremely rational.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

tunes! and farting

I know all the hip and groovy kids have it already, but I downloaded and installed Spotify earlier this week; if you have any interest whatsoever in music you should do the same. Imagine a radio station where you get to decide what gets played (and no inane DJ talk either). Search out all that obscure stuff that sounded interesting when you read about it but you weren't sure about buying, revisit stuff you used to listen to and remember how great (or, alternatively, shit) it was.

You can't download stuff, so you're limited to playing it through the Spotify player (i.e., implicity, while online), but you can always buy the stuff you really like elsewhere (via iTunes, say), instead of having to pay for and download it first and then decide whether you like it or not.

I've been revisiting some American late 80's/early 90's rock I used to have on various badly-recorded cassettes, before I tearfully took my tape collection to the civic amenity site in Bristol when I moved house - specifically In The Spanish Cave by Thin White Rope, and Brother Aldo by Chuck Prophet. Both still sound pretty good, actually.

Alternatively, you could head over here and follow up some recommendations for the worst and weirdest stuff to have been made available on Spotify. I can vouch for the weirdness of the contents of Speech After The Removal Of The Larynx; after that you're on your own. Well, apart from Spooky Farts For Halloween, which I can confirm is the funniest thing ever recorded, ever. Apart from, possibly, the Ultimate Halloween Fart Album.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

news headline of the day

The story would only be better if it involved Nazis in some way as well, e.g. Nazi gold 'hidden in sharks' or Mexico cocaine 'hidden in Nazis' or something like that. Or if they were sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads; sadly the article doesn't specify.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

well, this is all a bit of a pain in the neck

Here's a useful thing you can do today: sign the petition at Sense About Science protesting the ludicrous libel case brought against writer Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association. British libel law being the strange beast that it is there appears to be every chance that Singh will lose this case, despite his initial Guardian article saying nothing that isn't plainly obviously true. Note that the link is to an archived copy of the article, since the Guardian cravenly removed the original from their site in response to pressure from the BCA, the spineless bastards. Sense About Science have a nice button you can add to your website, as well, which I am happy to do:

free debate

There's been a highly commendable massed howl of outrage from the scientific and journalism community over this, as clearly the correct response to someone suggesting that your theories have no basis in reality is to present the evidence that they do, not to get all lawyery on their ass and sue them. If we'd done that back in the day we'd never have got as far as inventing the wheel, the telephone, antibiotic drugs, Jewson roof trusses and all the other things that enable the sort of societal stability that makes it possible to have a legal structure within which you can sue someone in the first place.

Since the convoluted legal process currently underway revolves largely around the definition and meaning (both implied and inferred) of the word "bogus", Language Log have got involved as well.

As an aside, chiropractic is one of those things that often gets a bit of a free pass among the general public and even the sceptical community, firstly because it has some superficial plausibility and secondly because generally people don't understand what it claims to do. I mean, a nice back massage is nice, isn't it? Even if it involves a bit of rougher manipulation, well, that can loosen you up, can't it? And the answer is: yes it can, but relief of back pain is not what chiropractic claims to do. It's all about the vertebral subluxation, baby. In this respect it's a bit like reflexology: the veneer of a nice foot massage concealing a whole wacky world of unfounded claims and craziness. A bit more sneaky than something like, say, homeopathy, which is clearly and unmistakably frothingly insane from the outset.

There is an amusing footnote to all this - in the general air of litigiousness and paranoid panic a lot of chiropractic practitioners are being advised by their governing body (I should note, for completeness, that this is a different governing body from the BCA; it's the Chiropractic Front of Judaea or something; splitters!) to remove large chunks of content from their own websites, lest - heaven forfend - they should be challenged on the accuracy or evidential basis of their treatment methods by cynical troublemakers. You know, it's almost as if they know that there's no factual basis for any of the twaddle they claim to believe. Who knew?

It's another example of the Streisand effect as previously observed here - the sharp and merciless light of publicity falling on things certain people would rather remained shadowy and obscure. Now you can find your local chiropractor on this list, compare the current and archived versions of their treatment claims, and conclude that the missing ones were bogus, and that they knew it all the time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

that is rather slippery of you, agent starling

If you spend any time sitting out in our garden on a sunny day, you may find yourself feeling a few spatters of what you might imagine to be rain, even though the sky appears blue and cloudless. Glance up at next door's roof and you'll see the explanation. Kids with water pistols? A furiously wanking tramp? No, in fact next door seem to have some sort of plumbing and drainage problem at present which means the external guttering is full of water, and the local starling population seem to be using it as an impromptu bird bath on hot days. And why not? They even let the occasional sparrow get a look in from time to time, before tearing their wings off and pecking their eyes out.

news headline of the day

Apparently you can't catch swine flu after you're dead. Who knew?

The article in question is here; needless to say this isn't actually what it's about. Lazy unthinking drunken journalistic hackery, or a sneaky joke someone managed to get past the sub-editors - you choose.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

coity uninterrupty

We popped up to Mum & Dad's last night for a flying visit, partly because it was my Dad's birthday and I wanted to deliver the bottle of Ardbeg I'd bought him. This was the standard entry-level ten-year-old one - it turns out the previous bottle, of which there was still a bit left, was a much older bottling from 1975, so we were able to do a bit of a taste test and comparison, purely for research purposes you understand.

The 10-year-old is very pale compared to the Macallan I've been drinking recently, and it couldn't be more different taste-wise either. Islay malts are famous for being peaty and smoky, and my first impression of this was that it was like drinking bonfire ash. It's less unpleasant than that makes it sound, and it grew on me a bit, but I can't honestly say it'll be going to the top of my list of ones to buy next. The 1975 was much darker and more mellow, and a bit friendlier to the Islay novice.

Inspired by the nice sunny weather, and undeterred by the slight red wine and Ardbeg hangover, I decided to stop off on the way home today for a bit of a walk. I parked up in Blaenavon and headed off towards Coity Mountain, which, apart from being conveniently accessible, also happens to be the highest point in both Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen and thus ticks a couple of boxes on my county high-points list.

It's not a hugely inspiring climb, since it's all a bit pathless (and even the few paths marked on the OS map don't bear much resemblance to what's on the ground), and the top is a big heathery plateau, so it's not entirely clear where the summit actually is (the picture below shows me standing on my best guess as to its whereabouts). On the other hand, the reason it's a bit pathless is that clearly hardly anyone ever comes up here, so even on a sunny mid-June Saturday I didn't meet a single solitary soul all day, which was nice. Heading south-east from the summit you pick up a rutted track towards Mynydd Varteg Fawr, where there is a trig point. From there the map suggests that there is a footpath back down towards Blaenavon; instead what you find is another trackless wilderness of bracken and cunningly concealed potholes, and towards Blaenavon a blasted landscape of old mining spoil-heaps and shattered concrete paths.

It's possibly a bit churlish to complain about the mining debris, of course, since this is what makes Blaenavon a site of historical interest, and indeed one of a select group of World Heritage Sites in the UK.

Photos from today's expedition can be found here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

photo round-up

Finally got round to sorting out some photos, so here's a brief round-up:
  • A few of Tredegar House and environs, taken a few weekends back when I was at a loose end and fancied a bit of fresh air. Basically the other end of the park we visited back here - even more noticeable close up how the M4 carves a big slash across the middle of the old avenue, which must at one time have stretched all the way up the hill opposite. I imagine they must have had to slip old Lord Tredegar a few shekels to be allowed to do that.
  • Some of our visit to the hallowed turf of Wentworth for the final round of the BMW PGA Championship. Glorious weather, beer not too ridiculously expensive, and we were by the 18th green to see the winning putt go in (and just as well, as a play-off would really have thrown a spanner in the works). Getting a train from Reading to Virginia Water, as we did, really saves you some grief and queueing getting into and out of the car park, plus you can steam into the lager with a clear conscience and save the planet at the same time.
  • Some of our trip to the New Forest the following week - we stayed at the excellent Ashurst campsite, run by Forest Holidays who also run the campsites at Beddgelert and Spiers House, as well as a handful of others in the New Forest and elsewhere. In addition to a bit of cycling and much barbecuing and pub-visiting we also visited the New Forest Otter and Owl Wildlife Park a shortish walk from the campsite, where much interesting animal life can be found. And - hey! - it's not just otters and owls; they have other stuff as well, some of it not beginning with "o".
  • Finally a few of our ascent of Cadair Idris last Sunday - we were staying over near Welshpool with some friends and the weather was pretty grim, so I wasn't very hopeful, but actually it wasn't too bad. A bit breezy and wet at the top, but, heck, I've had worse. Apparently Cadair Idris is the second-most-climbed mountain in Wales after Snowdon, which I find slightly surprising as I would have assumed it was Pen Y Fan, which is easier to get to and also easier to get up.

celebrity lookeylikeys of the day

My inspiration today comes from the top news events of the past week or so. Firstly, Apprentice runner-up and Brummie temptress Kate Walsh and ex-All Saint (and the current Mrs. Liam Gallagher) Nicole Appleton.

Rumours that the winner of The Apprentice was chosen simply by picking the candidate with the largest breasts do a grave disservice to Sir Alan and his team.

Secondly, BNP leader, newly-elected MEP, holocaust denier and boss-eyed fascist Nick Griffin and scrotum-chinned cartoon bozo Peter Griffin. One of these men is a fat drooling brain-dead buffoon fit only for pointing at and laughing. And the other is a cartoon character.

Scary coincidence - I was in Welshpool at the weekend, and it turns out Nick Griffin lives in Welshpool! I don't have his exact address, I'm afraid, but if you do can I suggest that you definitely do not in any way firebomb his house and defecate into the still-smoking embers.

Spooky coincidence #2 - Apprentice winner Yasmina's restaurant is literally just round the corner from my sister's house in Caversham. The food looks nice, though I think Mya Lacarte may well be the worst restaurant name in recorded history.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

hoots mon

Just to dispel the palpable and almost unbearable suspense following my previous post (i.e. which bottle of single malt was I going to try next) - I can exclusively reveal that I was fully intending to make it the Old Pulteney right up until the point where I got to the shelf and saw that Sainsbury's currently have the 12-year-old Highland Park for a mere £21.49, which saves you about 6 quid on the normal price.

All I know about it is that it's distilled in Orkney (the northernmost distillery in Scotland, at least until Blackwood in Shetland starts producing), aged in sherry casks (like the Macallan) and that Michael Jackson liked it a lot, as do quite a few other people. And it comes in a pleasingly funky squashed flask-shaped bottle.

Couple of drams left in the Macallan yet, so I'm not cracking it open straight away, but I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

pint of Hello Darling I'm Not Pissed, please

It's always nice to follow a slightly ranty post like the last one with a bit of light-hearted fluffery. You know, yin and yang, tears and laughter, sweet and sour, chalk and cheese, erm, Captain and Tennille.

Anyway, I was in the Reading branch of Morrison's last week and noticed the bottle on the left (well, one very much like it) on the spirits shelf. Ah, those crazy Spanish with their unintentionally ironic product names.

Officer: Hey gringo - tu es multo incapacidado con el groggo?
Driver: No, no, constabularo, sono completamundo soberano. Hic!
Officer: Pethethethetheth, Chrith Waddle, scorchio, etc.
Driver: ¡Ay caramba!

Incidentally the story about the Chevy Nova (where the unintentional misunderstanding supposedly went the other way) turns out to be largely apocryphal, not entirely surprisingly. The Mazda Bongo Friendee Auto Free Top is real, though, as are the problems with the Toyota MR2 in France. More strange and ill-advised car names here.

Monday, June 01, 2009

death to those who deny the right to life! no, wait.....

I wonder if it's perhaps possible to see some good coming out of the horrific murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas yesterday.

Obviously it's mainly bad, though - leave aside the obvious trauma to his friends and family, it is now even more difficult to obtain a late-term abortion in the USA should you need one - 33% more difficult in fact, as there were only three clinics in the USA specialising in this difficult treatment, and a similarly small number of medical professionals with the experience, expertise and bravery to carry them out. And this isn't bravery in the vague woolly moral courage sort of sense, but actual physical bravery; Tiller had been attacked twice before, once in 1986 when a bomb was detonated on the roof of his clinic, and once in 1993 when he was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion protester. His death brings the number of abortion-providing doctors murdered in the USA since 1977 to eight. The number of women who will now die, as a direct result of Tiller's murder, as a result of not being able to obtain safe and timely abortions from a competent practitioner is less easy to gauge (but it will not be zero).

On the other hand, I wonder if the focus on late-term abortions is indicative of a tacit admission by the religious nutters (and it is overwhelmingly religious nutters) that they've lost the argument over abortions at an earlier stage of gestation. Maybe so - if so it's indicative of their either not understanding how rare and difficult to obtain late-term abortions are, or (more likely) of their simply choosing to lie about it.

For the record, just reading the fairly blunt statistics in the Wikipedia page I linked to above reveals that, regardless of which country you're in, well over 90% of abortions are performed before 13 weeks, and typically under 1% after 20 weeks. 22 weeks is the cut-off point in the USA after which the doctor has to seek the advice of an independent physician to verify that there is either some gross developmental abnormality in the foetus or a genuine danger to the health of the mother before the procedure can go ahead. Apart from anything else at this stage it's a difficult and dangerous procedure requiring great skill and experience, which is why there are so few prepared to do it. Understandable fear of being shot dead by raving lunatics is another factor, of course. No-one is swanning in Sex And The City style to have their 22+ week pregnancy terminated on a whim and then swanning back out again to chill out with a mochaccino at Starbuck's.

The other bright spot is that the backlash against the ironically-named "pro-life" movement might include the newly elected President, who is apparently reputed to be broadly "pro-choice" (another horrible phrase, but there it is) in his views. His words today were pretty anodyne, but no doubt carefully chosen so as not to whip up any further hysteria.

The religious angle is the key here. Let's not imagine that these people actually have any opinion on when life begins, or "personhood" begins if you assert that that is different (and let's not forget cancers are alive by most rational definitions of the word), nor even that they base their thinking (such as it is) on anything the bible tells them (and just as well, frankly, given the Bible's dubious moral compass on killing-related issues). No, this is about one thing and one thing only: PUNISHING THE SLUTS. Oh yes. How can the hallowed balance of the sexes be maintained if women are just willy-nilly granted CONTROL over their own REPRODUCTION? Why, some of them might get it into their heads that once granted sexual freedom and autonomy they can just FUCK who they LIKE, WHEN they LIKE, utilising whatever BESTIAL POSITIONS and GREASED UTENSILS they LIKE, without the grinding shame, physical hardship and economic doom of a FORCED PREGNANCY. NOOOO, I tell you, they must be punished, the FILTHY WHORES. Otherwise how can we men be said, in any real sense, to OWN THEM LIKE CATTLE as the scriptures tell us?

If you're ever sidetracked into a discussion about foetal viability, suction vs. D&C, etc. etc., give yourself a slap round the head and focus. The debate is not about that. It is about PUNISHING WOMEN FOR HAVING SEX.

I seem to have gone on, and indeed off, a bit there. I'll finish by reminding you that, firstly, even those who purport to believe in abortion as the ultimate evil actually haven't really thought their position through at all, and secondly, when presented with an actual real-life situation requiring a choice, choose to exercise that choice in precisely the way they seek to deny to others, thus revealing themselves as massive hypocrites, as if that were any sort of surprise.

If you're all riled up by this - and you should be - consider giving these guys some money.