Saturday, June 30, 2007

There is an advantage to nobody studying science anymore...

... it appears that it has left our terrorists are too stupid to be able to make their bombs explode.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sometimes the journalists do speak for us

This has been doing the rounds but it amused a very tired me that at least one person in the 'news' business understands that some of us have a brain, and want real news and not the latest updates in the life of some spoiled brat. Mika Brzezinski I salute you, and your two co-hosts should be shot.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Did Gordon tame the feral beasts?

Due to last night's trip to the theatre I missed the Newsnight interview with the Prime Minister in waiting. I'm watching it back on-line this morning and to my surprise I've been fairly impressed with his performance. He looks relaxed, seems on top of his brief and is generally answering the questions put to him, even if he is then pivoting back onto message (no shame in that). Interestingly the only question he has completely dodged was whether he found President Bush impressive or not, although that does come under the damned if you do (PLP erupts in protest) and damned if you don't ("PM Brown calls President Bush Thick") category of questions. Of course one would expect any competent politician to perform well under these circumstances given he will have had days to prepare and it wouldn't have been hard to guess what the questions where. The concern remains how will Gordon cope when something comes up and he can't retreat to cocoon of Her Majesty's Treasury and brood on it for a few months, we shall see.

As to the performance of the BBC's finest? Well I thought they over egged the pudding on Iraq. Yes we know its a disaster, but the time they spent reheating the frankly tedious argument over the semantics of exactly who has apologised for what could have been used to discuss something of real substance. How do we deal with a newly strident and authoritarian Russia, how do you defend free trade in a world that is increasingly hostile to it? Questions that might have told us more about Gordon's world view.

Oh and where was Evan Davis coming from on the will we join the Euro question? is that back on the agenda and I missed the memo? Although to be fair the quote he got out of Gordon on how he believes that monetary integration is, in principal, a good thing might turn up on a few Tory leaflets.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Middle Man (Small Miracle - Tricycle)

Twenty minutes into Small Miracle I was wondering whether I had made a serious mistake. I had bought tickets on an impulse, egged on by Charles Spencer's rave in the Torygraph. This comedy about family life seemed rather light and tired, the interfering mother in-law and stroppy teenager standard comedy meme's, with a comedy irishman thrown in. But slowly I was drawn into a play about family, loss, loneliness and hope, that smoulders if never truly catching light.

Bronagh and her teenage daughter Sadie have been brought to a camp site at the shrine of Knock by her partner Arjun, with his mother Meera, a hindu with a thing for the Virgin Mary, in tow. Whilst at the shrine Sadie (ever the stroppy teenager) begins to see visions and Meera is cured of her various ailments and shacks up with the campsite janitor, much to her son's distress.

There is much comedy to be mined from this set up, but Neil D'Souza's script is strangely hit or miss, with most of the laughs coming from Souad Faress foul-mouthed granny. However D'Souza is on much firmer ground when exploring the darker side of this messed up family, Meera's loneliness, Arjun's lack of fulfilment, and the strained relationship between Sadie and her Mother.

This isn't a play that is going to change the world, or one that I will probably remember in 12 months time, but it has its own quirky charm and doesn't outstay its welcome.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Its not that the Australian Government is racist...

its just that they know how to run the brown peoples lives better than they do.

This of course has nothing to do with the fact their is an election in the offing and John Howard is behind in the polls. Such a fine upstanding citizen would never stoop to stirring up xenophobia or racism to win an election.

No he just needs to find a scapegoat.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why I am not a Tory

I recently explained to a colleague that the reason why I'm a Lib Dem not a Tory can perhaps be best summed up in two words, Ann Widdecombe. Any party that could not just tolerate but actually venerate her, and her Victorian views on society, couldn't also find a place for me. But, she protested, the Widdecombe's of this world are a small if vocal minority in Dave Cameron's new model Tory's. Its now chock full of tree hugging, immigrant loving, twenty something hipsters.

Well if that's true, somebody should tell the parliamentary party; it appears that a large proportion of them haven't got the memo. For those people who have been claiming this survey isn't representative of the Tory party as whole, lets not forget that they split 3:1 against equal rights for LGB people in March this year, and that according to the voice of the grassroots Conservative Home over a 3rd of Tory members wouldn't even go to the wedding of a gay friend. It seems like dear Ann isn't so lonely in the Tories after all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Far be it from me to criticise our new housing policy...

... but I have just a couple of questions about what Ming announced today:

1) We appear to be calling for 1,000,000 new social houses to be built over the next decade. Nice round eye catching number, but where does it come from? Shelter are only calling for an increase in supply to 50,000 a year, when you are massively outbidding the lobby group maybe its time to check your maths.

2) How much will it all cost? well who knows, but at the current costs you are talking multiple billions a year! That ain't loose change.

3) Given we have a supply problem is putting in place a hugely bureaucratic process (community land auctions) that will slow the planning system down and probably result in less sites being brought forward for development really the most sensible solution? Or would deregulating rather than introducing more regulation be a more sensible solution?

4) What you going to do about the demand side of the equation? We can't build our way to better affordability at least in the medium term so we need to curb demand for new homes without damaging the economy, so what we going to do about it? (buggered if I know)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Maybe Dawkins is right?

I've always been slightly sceptical of the likes of Richard Dawkins et al. and their claims that science (and in particular science education) is under serious threat from the fundamentalists in the US. After all, despite its professed christianity and odd right-wing fruitcake, this is still the country that has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other, the home of MIT, Sillicon Valley and the Manhattan Project.

But some things do make you wonder. Take for instance this report from Gallup, that shows that depending how you ask the question between 40 and 70% of American's believe the world was created by God within the last 10,000 years. Given the oft-contested constitutional ban on the teaching of creationism and its bastard off-spring intelligent design (incidentally for a demolition of ID, and background into the legal fights surrounding it, the judgement in the famous Kitzmiller case is well worth a read) . Can teaching in American really be that bad that around 50% of the population prefer a demonstrable falsehood to the best current thinking in science. Deeply worrying whatever the cause, and maybe I should listen more closely to those siren voices.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bloody hell I agree with George Bush on one thing at least

The Girl and I had the pleasure of spending a week in Kosovo last month. We found a country that, although still bearing some scars of the 1999 war and the ethnic violence that both preceded and followed it, was both beautiful and welcoming. The mountains are simply breathtaking, and observing a mass at the 13th Century Visoki Decani Monastery was, even for this committed heathen, a spine tingling experience. Its just a shame that to get to the monastery we had to talk our way past the company of Italian troops that protect it from the local Kosova Albanians. Those troops are a symbol of Kosovo's ongoing problem IMO. It won't fully move on from its violent and divisive past until its future is settled.

Currently Kosovo remains in a legal limbo. Administered by the UN, policed in the last resort by NATO troops, but still legally part of Serbia. This limbo manifests in many little ways, the mobile phone system is an extension of Monaco's, the majority of Kosovas can't get passports and have to rely on UN travel documents that many countries won't recognise. The official economy (official unemployment runs at something like 70%) and the growth of good governance are stifled by the uncertainty, leaving room for the growth of the black economy, gangsterism and worse.

Kosovo has the opportunity to become a stable, modern, moderate, majority muslim country in the heart of Europe. If we don't act to secure its future soon, we risk it sliding towards sectarianism, extremism and violence.

That's why I agree with George Bush that the world community should push on to granting Kosovo its independence, notwithstanding Serbian and Russian objections. I am aware of the place that Kosovo and Methoia holds in Serbian culture, in terms of being in some ways the birthplace of their nation. But realistically Kosovo is never practically going to be part of Serbia again, and the continuing uncertainty only helps to maintain the ongoing tensions between ethnic Serbs and Albanians. Independence and progress, or continuing uncertainty and a slow decline appear to be the only options now.

Friday, June 08, 2007

All the potatos are numbered (Philistines - National Theatre)

Following the disappointment of failing to get into QI the flatmate, and I dived into the National to see what standby tickets we could pick up. Two tickets to Andrew Upton's new adaptation of Gorky's Philistines were forthcoming, and so instead of a very English evening of eccentricity we had three hours of naturalistic Russian melodrama to enthral us.

This is a play and production that needs staying with. The first half is spiky and disjointed as various characters flit on and off stage arguing and shouting, laughing and dancing (although more often the former than the latter) and it takes a while for the shape of this Russian household riven with dissension to take shape. Vassily the father, played by Phil Davis as a fast talking mix of Alf Garnett and Albert Steptoe, tries to reign over his former wannabe revolutionary son Pyotr and his depressed sister Tanya as well as drunken lodgers and rebellious servants, as everyone kicks against him, each other and the society in which they live.

Following this rather discordant first act, saved from mediocrity only by some excellent ensemble acting and comic relief from Conleth Hill as the alcoholic lodger Teterev, the second half bursts to life. The various emotions that were barely contained in the first half, burst forth in a series of denouements. Revolution ferments and boils over in the house just as the world outside is beginning to go up in flames. As the emotion is turned up to 11 the plays inherent comedy is also brought to the fore, as Vassilys ravings are repeatedly undercut by ironic asides from Teterev. Although Hill may get all the best lines, the set ups are beautifully played by Davis helped by a breezily modern and idiomatic adaptation by Upton.

All in all I fear this tips once too often into melodrama and the ending lacks the emotional punch of the rest of the second act, but its still an extremely enjoyable evening.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Stephen Fry is dead to me

I'm not sure its too much to ask that if you turn up to a show you have a ticket for half an hour before the doors open that you might be let in. Not at QI it appears.

The flatmate and I and several hundred others were turned away this evening after queuing for over an hour . It appears that whoever the guests were this evening had large guest lists so there was less space than normal. Not something you could have taken account of when distributing tickets applause store? of course not.

Well the flatmate and I ended up going to the National instead, and a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Is John McCain a Creationist?

This quote struck my eye from the write ups of last nights Republican presidential debates:

Mike Huckabee : "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Either someone believes God created the process, or that it's an accident and it just happened,"

John McCain: "I can't say it more eloquently than Pastor Huckabee just did. I hold that view."

So is John McCain a creationist or is he just pandering to the religious right again? Well I kind of hope its the latter, I'm not sure I could stand another four years of the world being led by somebody who believes in fairy stories.

(Hat tip: The Fix)

Monday, June 04, 2007

The hidden costs of the new 2012 logo.

The response to the launch of the new brand for London 2012 has been lukewarm at best. 'Bloody embarrassing' and 'makes you want to emigrate rather than face the shame of it' were two of the more positive comments in our office this lunchtime.

Now as a public sector worker I'm used to crap branding chosen by committees who have the visual sense of Stevie Wonder. So what worries me is how much is this going cost us, the taxpayer. Not the £500,000 it cost to come up with (ever feel that you are in the wrong job?) but the millions in lost sponsorship we will have to cough up for.

The organising committee are expecting big multinationals to cough up millions for the right to plaster that logo all over their products. If they don't, and if you were a brand manager would you let that near your products?, the Games, or at least the taxpayer, are screwed. You might have thought that given all the other wrangling over the budget and the £2billion odd stakes involved they might have played it safe. Well you have got to admire their balls if not their design sense.

On a brighter note, I can't wait to see the discarded designs if that was the best they could come up with.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Its not all doom and gloom for England...

Despite the 1st XV's not unexpected hammering by the Springboks, yesterday was actually not such a bad day for England rugby.

First, lets not forget that England led at half time yesterday and were in touch in both tests well into the second half. Take away the effects of altitude and the widely reported virus that rampaged through the touring party, neither of which will be a factor in France this autumn, this shadow side may have been competitive for all 80mins.

Even more encouraging was England Saxons ' victory over the New Zealand Maori in the Churchill Cup final. This was the Maori's first defeat since they were beaten by England in 2003 on their famous pre-world cup tour. What was really encouraging was that all three tries the Saxons scored were from flowing moves with the ball put through several pairs of hands. Voyce's try was set up by the kind of simple draw and give from Cipriani that England backs have routinely butchered over the last couple of years; and the winning try was set up by great vision and execution from Barkley (who had an impressive game all round) to find Croft in acres of space on the wing. Oh and for a lock forward boy can Croft move, Tigers have got a live one there.