21 December 2005

Creationism vs Evolution: Give Them A Choice

There is much harrumphing going on in The States about the teaching of Creationism, now in its Noughties guise of "Intelligent Design", rather than Evolution. Up until recently, the teaching of Creationism, for 'twas its name, was illegal in US schools. Religious groups have recently managed to overturn this and get "ID" taught. And now the boot is on the other foot, as pro-evolution campaigners have managed to reverse this trend in Delaware.

However, in this battle of Good vs Evil, Evolution vs Creationism, no-one is paying any attention to the people this affects: the kids. I'm wary at this point of getting too Whitney Houston: I couldn't say "I believe the children are out future. Teach them well and let them lead the way." without feeling ill, new daddy or no. But the fact remains that adults with their closed minds are enforcing their opinions on people whose only real freedom is figuring things out for themselves.

I should say that both Evolution and Creationism are both theories: they are both mechanisms by which the world we have around us can have been arrived at. There is no way that anyone can say with absolute certainty that "this is the way the world came to be". No-one was there at the time. Creationism, at least, has the luxury of not requiring this: Faith obviates the need for proof or certainty.

There are probably many more possibilities as to the genesis1 of the world, but people are so closed to any other options, and are so determined to crush other theories in favour of their champion, that they are destroying the ability of the kids to choose for themselves.

I'm sadly with Dubya on this, in that children should be presented with both approaches and let them make a decision about which works for them. Force them down any particular road, and any new advances that may lie in wait for enlightened individuals with the gift of choice and free will can never be made.

This is unfortunately the nature of the Real World. Human society is a funnel, churning out clones. Children start their lives with a plethora of opportunity, but gradually these possibilities are removed as the constraints of history impose themselves. Kids are not taught to be free thinkers, they are taught that things are done a certain way. Free thinkers are shunned and derided. At no point are they encouraged to think that there is room for improvement in the world. How many kids today have thought "I can do this better!"?. Those that do make millions.

This is probably why the youth of today is so disgruntled. Classrooms of square pegs are taught that the world is a round hole. No wonder they're pissed. The only people that make it through the system unscathed are those for whom a round hole looks like a nice place to be. But if you knew that there are no square holes out there, would you try?

The greatest gift we can give kids is choice. If we impose our choices on children, they will make the same mistakes as us. And then the Human race really is in trouble.

1 I'm using a religious word here, but not with a capital "G"; "genesis" as in "beginning".

19 December 2005

Avalanches: 'Tis the Season to Get Stabbed

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and everyone buggers off somewhere steep and slides down it with planks on their feet. The perfect excuse for not "going to your mothers". The chance to see if the hundreds of pounds of new gear, complete with in-built radio beacon and MP3 player, actually does mean you fall down less, like you promised the disbelieving wife it would.

The biggest danger associated with skiing is not falling down and breaking your leg, or mowing down a line of beginners, or being decapitated by a snowboarder ("Dude, like, sorry."), or being made to look stupid by a midget kid wearing a ridculous hat going twice as fast as you. No, it's avalanches.

The risk of avalanches is heightened every year by the expanding ubiquity of the portable media player. If you don't turn the volume down before you remove your headphones to berate a dread-locked boarder, the "uhn-tiss uhn-tiss" or irish-boy-band-ballad-power-chord will have the mountain down around your ears.

The thing that worries me is the way they go about finding people after avalanches; more specifically, the people without radio beacons in their coats. They get a big line of people with metal poles and then mooch about the hillside in big lines stabbing the ground. It's sort of like grouse shooting, if you take away the guns and give them sticks and lots of drugs instead.

Evidently they can tell the difference between stabbing snow and stabbing people, because they then dig 'em up, fill 'em with whatever they do fill 'em with and it's home in time for egg-nog and misteltoe.

I do wonder why they don't kill more people in the process. Or maybe they do. Think about it this way. You're trudging up a hillside, thrusting this metal spike into the snow, not paying much attention and then the next thrust encounters some initial resistance, but then continues as normal. The chances are that you've just stabbed some unlucky punter in the face / chest / groin. What is to stop them just carrying on, then going back down and saying "We never found anyone."? Nothing, right? People will get up in the morning, look at the mountain and say to their friends "Does that bit of snow look pink to you?"

You could develop a jacket with the equivalent to the reactive armour you get on tanks. If a tank with this armour is hit, explosive charges on the outside explode, cancelling the force of the incoming projectile. I think we'd all pay to see that; a line of sullen Frenchies stabbing the ground, praying fervently that they get to stab someone, only for three of four of them to be violently exploded into the air in a cloud of snow. The would-be-rescuee would then step smiling from the crater and point, laughing down the mountain.

So, the moral is, buy a coat with a radio thingy in it. Your chances of being stabbed in the chest by a Frenchman then drop to the levels encountered by aristos in the only war in which the French really tried1.

1 This has gone a bit anti-French, but as soon as I got into the French Civil War, I was overcome by Blackadder-isms.

16 December 2005

Poor Performance Bonus: Don't Try Harder

With the addition in recent years of Eastern European countries to the European Union, there has been pressure on The Old Boys of The Union to reduce the rebates they accept from the Union. The fact that they get back money they have paid seems stupid, but I don't pretend to understand why. It should be explained in the linked article. Chances are it's going to be one of those things that still sounds stupid even after it's explained to you.

Anyway, point being, the thing in Europe on which most of the EUs money gets spent is farming subsidies. This is basically to pay farmers to be less efficient and produce less. Farming methods have moved on to the point where most developed nations can produce more food than the populace can eat, even taking obesity into account.

The obvious solution is to sell it to nations that can't produce enough. Unfortunately, these nations are either too far away to get it, too insular to want it or too poor to pay for it. Which means that you either store "grain mountains" and "milk lakes", like in the Eighties, or you pay farmers to produce less. Bizarrely, it's deemed cheaper to pay them to sit on their arses. Whether that's cheaper economically or politically is not clear.

Farmers are encouraged to diversify and to use their land for other purposes, and there are all sorts of grants available to them to facilitate this. However, what the government giveth, they, egged on by the environ-mentalists, taketh away. For attached to each grant is a list of conditions so strict that they can only apply to a tiny fraction of the farmers in the country.

Basically, the only option viably open to farmers is to turn the country into a huge playground for those who live in the cities. The farm of the future will have offroad driving centres, bog-snorkelling courses, How to Build a Hedge / Wall / Scale Replica of Big Ben Using Toothpicks classes, corporate team-building days and the only animals on the whole place will be washed, shaved and abused relentlessly by the hordes of deranged infants in the creche's Petting Zoo.

This move is the final straw for what is the only remnant of Britain's industrial past. Rural Britain viewed from the air in a few decades will consist of several super-farms that produce the food, stitched together by a plethora of urban playgrounds for the tracksuit wearing masses. Assuming they don't have the moxie to kybosh the whole thing, e-mentalists will be forced to trudge the thousand hectare megafields in order to get any half-decent rambling done. Although, ramblers and rambling as a pass-time will only last until the first bobble-hatted militant is brutally slain by the heavily-armed robot
gunships patrolling the super-farms, blaring "Get orf moi laaaaand!" in a metallic West Country twang.

Britain will be one big theme park. It'll be "The Countryside"1 for people who don't want to get their Nikes dirty. It'll be "Westworld" without Yul Brynner. And he was the only thing that made it any good.

1 "The Countryside" is a Trademark of the Monsanto Company, "The Countryside" is operated in association with HM Government, and sponsored by Nestle and Bernard Matthews.

15 December 2005

Packaging vs Contents: Big Boxes of Air

As I wrote recently, our technology, rather than coming in one big box, now comes in two smaller ones. Except they're not actually smaller. They're bigger.

Because our technology is small and probably fragile to some extent, and because we generally buy it online, we actually get delivered to us One Big Box. Although there is an initial twinge of deja-vu and nostalgia for the old days, this goes when you open the box.

You are confronted with the modern two-smaller-boxes, which you can't get at. This is because they are surrounded by big bags of air which take up the airspace in the external box not used by the two-smaller-boxes, thereby stopping two-smaller-boxes from being able to chat while in transit, much less breathe. These bags of air are basically bubblewrap writ large, but are confusingly less fun to pop; no breakfast cereal "snap" here, just a lazy sigh, as from a recumbent canine. If terrorists wanted to kill people, they could just sneak into the Big-bags-of-air plant, fill them all with something nasty and Western society would vanish within a couple of months.

So you remove big-bags-of-air and can finally reach two-smaller-boxes, which you then open, requiring, of course, all sorts of knives, pliers and degrees from red brick universities to do so. Inside these boxes are the Nineties equivalents of big-bags-of-air; cardboard spacers and hard plastic bracing. It looks like the inside of a garden-shed nuclear device, with your gadget nestling in the centre, pretending to be a plutonium core.

The cardboard-spacers are basically they way they get rid of the spare cardboard at the packaging plant. They cut and fold it into interesting shapes and jam it into the two-smaller-boxes. The up side is that it gives the kids and the dog something to destroy while you're unpacking your toys. It's not like the have the qualifications to open Noughties packaging anyway.

The hard-plastic-bracing stuff is an utter bastard. It's the stuff they put tools in at DIY stores, the kind you need the tool itself to open. You spend hours hacking at it with a kitchen knife and are left with a mass of lethal shards on the carpet, most of which end up in the feet of you, your family and your pets and most likely a piece of overpriced tech which looks like the residents of the local pound have been chewing on it for a week or two.

So, basically, what you bought constitutes anywhere from 50% to 1% of the volume of the external packing, depending on the size of the gadget. The smaller the gadget, the more airspace is included Free! with the packaging. It would be OK if it was positioned in the centre of the box, but no. You pick the box up in the middle, only to discover that the contents are actually a twenty kilo point mass located in the far bottom corner, which means the box throws itself on the ground, right on the corner where the gadget is cowering, thereby rendering the big-bags-of-air, two-boxes, hard-plastic-bracing and cardboard-spacers thoroughly redundant.

You would have thought that these days, the amount of packaging would be reduced, for all sorts of environmental reasons. Yow would need to waste less oil on plastic, waste less trees on cardboard and expend less jet fuel on flying boxes of air around the globe. Teeny bits of tech should be (and probably are) designed to take some bumps in their life, especially if they are portable, as teeny tech tends to be.

Yet it appears that if we're spending £200 pounds on something, we want some decent packaging and we want it to be shipped in containers that would withstand a gigatonne nuclear blast at point blank range. In a few years, the traditional opening of Christmas presents will be conducted in the garden, packaging will be nuclear-bunker-analogs and come with integrated transit tubes, allowing people to crawl between presents without having to brave the elements. Present opening will take on the adventure status of potholing, as you will need some sort of axe, harness, and helmet-with-a-torch to make it out before New Year arrives or the turkey becomes infested with Salmonella.

While that sounds like fun, not everyone has a garden capable of housing even a single nuclear bunker. So, packaging types, think of the planet and people with small cars and gardens and give us some decent packaging commensurate with the size of the contents. Otherwise Boxing Day will have to be replaced by Boxing Week.

12 December 2005

Survival of the Fattest: Evolution is Dead, Long Live Evolution

Some people, among which comfortably rest I, bemoan Modern Western Society as wasteful and decadent and lots of other generally negative words. And it is undoubtably all these things, and more. However, among the "more" are such characteristics as "peaceful" and "supportive", etc. These days, those of us lucky enough to be born into the luxury of a First World country can live out our lives without, if the notion takes us, ever having to try.

This unfortunately means that anyone can procreate successfully (that is, have their offspring survive long enough to procreate). There are no sabre-toothed tigers out there to kill off the elderly, the ill and the slow. It is precisely these people that Society protects, thereby allowing those people exhibiting these characteristics to further their genes without any "survival of the fittest"1.

So, evolution is stagnating. Society prevents natural selection from ocurring. But what about other means of selection? I'm talking about "adventure sports". Since the masses stay in and watch Sky TV, thereby virtually eliminating the threat of evisceration and possible death by felines with elgongated incisors, it is down to adrenaline junkies to do their bit. But all this means is that the people with the kind of characteristics that have been preserved through natural selection are now being killed off by poor-quality Taiwanese parachute silk, shoddy aluminium climbing gear, wicker climbing boots and bungee ropes that are slightly too elastic.

It may be that physical evolution is being replaced by mental evolution. The drivers for physical evolution have been removed as Humans have tamed the World. The real challenges now are mental, as we try to devise new ways to use our mastery of the physical world. What this probably means is that a greater number of the people in the world no longer posess the mental furniture capable of making it in this Brave New World of mental evolution.

Taken to a (logical?) extreme, this could mean that we could have a genetic "underclass"2. Take that to its extreme, and you've got a big global war: the knuckle-dragging mentally-challenged masses against the big-skulled boffins in their flying chairs. The stuff of Hollywood dreams!

The linked article cites the existence of groups of teenagers terrorising our streets as symptomatic of a peaceful and prosperous society. Previous generations, it argued, would have been dying in wars and coal mines, rather than wearing Kappa and faux-Burberry and drinking own-brand vodka outside the local Co-op.

However, this does leave them open to Sabre-toothed Cat attacks, thereby reinjecting some natural selection back into our stagnant society. Now, all we need are some Sabre-toothed cats. Hmmm, I wonder if they're on anyone's "Reintroduce-to-Britain" list...

Human species may "split in two"
Looks like I was right...you're either a god or a goblin! "But in the nearer future, humans will evolve in 1,000 years into giants between 6ft and 7ft tall, he predicts..." Huh, some of us are pushing 7ft already. Seems my protestations about being the genetic future are no longer funny...

1 I'm aware I'm sounding a bit Nazi here, but I'm not proposing a Solution. In fact, I think I have yet to come up with any solution to the things I have blogged about.
2 This does assume that clever people would never sleep with stupid people, but "The Power of Love"™ and the effects of alcohol should never be discounted.

01 December 2005

The New Iraq: American Bureaucracy meets African Corruption

Where to start? The New Iraq™. They say that The Ends Justify The Means, but I can't help feeling that The Ends thus far do not bathe The Means in the cool light or righteousness. I also want to be thoroughly hopeful and positive that Iraq can rebuild itself and the people can enjoy an era of peace and prosperity. Call me an old cynic, but the real world isn't that simple.

New Iraq™ (© USA, Inc. 2003) is going through Teething, or The Terrible Twos, the first periods of prolonged pain in any new life after the trauma of the Birth itself. New Iraq's progenitors have a great opportunity to help create a stable society from scratch and avoid as many of the problems as possible.

But, like a teenage mother, lacking in Life experience, America is making mistakes. America hasn't been a country for that long, and is consequently less worldly in terms of the machinations of countries and societies. Oh, you can read as many history books as you like, but it is no substitute for centuries of experience. I'm not saying that Britain, or any other European country, would do a better job; merely that Europeans are understandably more realistic in terms of the rebuilding of countries destroyed by war and tyrannical dictators.

America may admit in media interviews that it's a "difficult job with many interesting challenges", but I don't think they really understand how difficult and challenging the job is. Culturally, they believe that with application and hard work, anything can be achieved; The American Dream. But they're not dealing with wide-eyed, forward-looking Americans. They're dealing with psychologically abused orphans with a violent past. The needs of each cannot even be compared. They can't use the same approach and expect the Iraqis to embrace it.

Which they blatantly aren't. There are many factions within Iraq who sense the power vaccum and are sucked into it. As the creators of the vacuum, America find themselves in conflict with these dissidents who are using violent means in an attempt to further their agenda.

America's attempts to install, from scratch, American methods and its attendant bureaucracy into an Arab country brainwashed to see America as The Enemy are foundering. Billions of dollars are being poured into Iraq but, as in Africa, not all the money is ending up where it should. Keeping track on all that cash is an impossible task and, after years of doing without, Iraqis are understandably grabbing what they can. Bribery and Corruption are rife. Combine American Bureaucracry with African Corruption1 means that very little progress is made despite the level of funding.

New Iraq™ is America's baby, and all Europe can do is watch like a new grandmother, wincing at America's mistakes, trying to offer advice without making it sound like advice and hoping that Iraq doesn't hit Puberty too soon.

Given all this, America is doing the best it can. I don't think anyone else could do much better.

Survey finds Optimism in Iraq
What's the betting America try to mine that and export it. Maybe they'll be going to war with Iraq again in the future, except this time it'll be because Iraq is more optimistic than America, not because they have lots of lovely oil. Or "liberation", if you insist...

1 Sorry, Africa. But it's true.

29 November 2005

The Real World vs The Environmentalist

OK, we all accept that using fossil fuels is bad for the environment, so it's just as well we're running out. Technology is being developed that is cleaner and more efficient and runs on chip fat or orange peel. Years of people strapping themselves to oil tankers are finally having an effect, even if we scoff and attack their tactics while they're at it. I know I have.

Despite their approach, the battle is at least joined, if not won. Governments realise that if they are to protect the way of life they have been elected to protect, they need to move things forward. Hats off to them, I say.

What does annoy me is the response of the environ-mentalists. Governments and Industry are extending the hand of compromise, and the e-mentalists are slapping it away. Every proposal designed to progress society towards an ethos of cleaner, renewable energy is met with a vitriolic "That's not good enough!".

Government: How about we have Wind Farms to generate lots of lovely power?
E-Mentalists: They're not pretty. They ruin the beauty and purity of the countryside for the ramblers.
G: Well, they're not goi...
E: And they kill all the birds. The turbines suck them in cut them into little bits. Thousands of rare European Plump-breasted Tits will be killed every picosecond. They'd be extinct!
G: OK, well, we could go for wave-power? It's a bit more expensive and difficult to maintain, but it's a.....
E: [SLAP] NO. WHY WON'T YOU LISTEN?! We've being telling you for one hundred and fifty million years, Wave Turbines kill fish. Trillions of rare Coke-Bottle-nosed Dolphins would be brutally clubbed every femtosecond. They'd be exstinct inside a millisecond!
G: Oooooo.K., so no wind power because of the birds, no wave power because of the fish. [tentatively]What about Nuclear Power?
E: RRRRRARRRRRRRRRRR! NO, NO, NO! THE HUMANITY! Anything Nuclear is inherently bad. You'll just use them to make bombs, which you'll then drop from bombers onto orphanages in the Congo! Don't think we don't know what you're up to!
G: That's ludicrous! And anyway, that's a different kind of nucl...
E: [SLAP] WE HAVEN'T FINISHED!! We've been saying since the creation of the universe that we want an unobtainable perfect world populated by caring, tolerant people who are self sufficient and would rather stab themselves in the testicles than stand on a blade of grass!
G: Errr, well, what do you want us to do?
E: Don't try and put the blame on us. It's not our job. You're the elected Government. It's your job.

And so on. This is a somewhat lampooned version of the tooing and froing that goes on, but in general the e-mentalists ironically seem to be the people who are preventing the very progress for which they have strapped themselves to squirrels to get.

E-mentalists populate a idealistic world where clean energy and unsullied landscape is their birth-right. Governments live in the real world with scandals, sleaze, waiting lists, league tables and elections. They need to keep most of the people happy most of the time. The two worlds cannot co-exist. Governments are making the effort to meet in the middle. It's about time the environmentalists realised this and did the same.

The Appliance of Science

Being an engineer and a human (no, they are not mutually exclusive!), I have a healthy suspicion for science. I have blogged before on Science and Religion in the context of Faith vs Proof. However, during recent discussions with RocketBootWife, herself an ex-research-scientist, it transpires that the use of the word "Proof" as a byword for scientific endeavour is stretching it a bit. More than a bit, actually.

Scientific effort appears to be split into three fronts; high-energy physics (where they try and kill us with very small, strange things created when they bang very small things into other very small things at very high speeds), health research (Cancer, Heart disease, you know, useful stuff) and what I'll call "filler" science.

Filler Science is the kind of research that they might as well have not bothered doing. Its the stuff that populates the SciTech pages of news websites everywhere. Things like "Birds Fly South For Winter, new research shows" or "Men are Hairier than Women, scientists claim". But this sort of crap must be the bread and butter of thousands of scientists.

Science, from an outsider's perspective, seems a cutthroat world. Its a wonder more of them don't sport eye-patches or wooden legs. Their whole world is driven by funding and publications. And you only get to inhabit this world if you have stupid levels of qualifications in the first place. RocketBootBestMan has a DPhil from Oxford and he gets paid way less than me, despite being considerably more clever.

You're expected to work like a dog for peanuts (exucse the mixed metaphor) and crank out good results month after month. Reality dictates that you will go down blind alleys every so often, resulting in useless results. So what do scientists with crap results do with a poor publication level and a funding review looming? They make it up.

So they make the results look good and get them published. Their paper goes to the expert in the field who, in this case, laughs at it. The author then sends it to the next guy in the chain until it gets to some idiot who will ratify it. At this point, the chances of getting it published in Nature or The Lancet are slim, so they go with the BBC Good Food Magazine or some such.

This research is then used as the basis for some other scientists research. You would hope that these other scientists realise that any research published in the BBC Good Food Magazine is next to useless, unless it's "How To Make Chocolate Pudding To Die For", but I wouldn't bet my research grant on it. Again, you would hope that it doesn't require a PhD or millions in research cash to develop the perfect Chocolate Pudding recipe. It may be that scientific research is polarising; those who can get good results publish it and progress with their career, and those who can't publish Chocolate Pudding recipies and vanish into obscurity.

Publications are everything. You could be an ape-man from the wilds of Borneo, but as long as you've got good publications, you're set.

The whole system seems to be geared towards failure or mediocore, safe research. Or, it is geared towards weeding out the weak links; survival of the fittest. Only those who are good or sneaky enough to avoid any bad results can hope to make any money and generate useful research. It does however mean that probably only 5% of all scientific funding generates a good return.

Is it any wonder that the number of people doing hard science is dwindling? Scientific endeavour should be cooperative, not competitive. Sadly, as long as the majority of research is funded by large multinationals, Science will struggle to make significant advances. 1 step forward, 19 steps back.

PS Apologies to Zanussi for using their old tag "The Appliance of Science", but since they're now Zanussi/Electrolux, I doubt they'll care.

Proof: I faked my cell research, admits cloning pioneer.

See?! If he's doing it, imagine what lesser mortals are doing.

25 November 2005

Antarctica: The Great White Hope

Antarctica should be counting its lucky stars. Being inhospitable, the only people who ever bother going there are scientists and sily people who want to get to the middle so they can build a house where every wall points North. Antarctica is protected by international treaty; it cannot be claimed by any country and mining its wealth is prohibited. All this means it has escaped the ravages of humanity. No, wait, that's wrong. I forgot. Antarctica counts its lucky stars throught the hole in the ozone layer which we made. They must look especially twinkly.

It used to inhospitable for different reasons. The place is supposedly packed to the rafters with oil and minerals. So, at some point, it must have occupied more northerly climes, or else more northerly climes came to visit. Either way, it must have been warm enough for the pre-requisites of oil and coal to grow. The occassional tree stump is visible in places were the twinkly stars melt the snow.

There are differing theories about which is the reason. Obviously, continental drift means continents swim round the planet, not looking where they're going, collide, hence mountains. The other, more scary theory is that the planet underwent a rather nasty event called "pole-shift" where distribution of land masses and the attendant centrifugal forces caused the crust of the Earth to rotate over the molten core, thereby reordering the planet in one. This means that there would be an awful lot of sprained wrists and ankles and an unfortunate distribution of warm clothing, but it is possible.

Whichever mechanism is responsbile, Antarctica has had a more jungly past. Who knows what sorts of animals lived there? Today, it is home to many different species of Penguins and zero Polar Bears. Those cards and jokes about Polar bears eating penguins are false. The only way it will happen is if the scientist introduce something that causes penguin numbers to explode and they have to introduce Polar Bears to keep the numbers down. More likely, it'll be for entertainment purposes. I can't imagine there's much to do in the weeks of perpetual darkness. It's either watch polar bears chase penguins or have sex, and the researchers who go to Antarctica can only be there because they not attractive enough to work somewhere warm. Polar Bears it is!

And so to my target audience; the unattractive, unpopular, unsociable scientists of the world! It is my stated intention to get someone from Antarctica to read this blog. The two methods open to me are praise and criticism. Sadly, derision comes more naturally to my fingers.

I'm sure I am incorrect about the nature of those who choose to persue their avenues of scientific discovery in Antarctica. Maybe its like the French Foreign Legion. Scientists who have falsified research, not been published in a decent journal, failed their PhD or spent their whole research budget brewing their own hooch can escape and start their careers anew, as Scientists of Fortune! That sounds much better than "My field is snowology" or "I'm hoping to develop synthetic ozone".

I just checked, and Antarctica does have it's own domain. For a horrible minute there, I thought all this open hostility was going to waste!

In the defence of Antarctic research and researchers, there is a very cool base at the Pole called Amundsen-Scott which is a half-submerged geodesic dome. The perfect location for the underground lair of the Scientists of Fortune! Having it's own website, pictures and GPS coords somewhat reduces it's capability as a secret lair. Maybe its a smokescreen. Maybe the actual lair of the Scientists of Fortune is disguised as a flock1 of huddling penguins.

So come on, upside-down research types. Pull off those mittens, wipe the frost of your keyboard and riposte. The hopes of a stupid blogger rest on you.

PS If there are really any attractive scientists in the Antarctic, send photos. We will judge.

1 Does "flock" apply to flightless birds?

Mel Gibson in Saddam Hussein looky-likey shocker!

Saddam HusseinMel Gibson
Images linked from BBC News and ABC Australia News

Welcome, Surfers of The World!

When I first started blogging, I really wasn't sure why. Why, thought I, would people want to know what I think about anything? However, some people do. Well, some people stumble across my blog and can't leave before their presence is recorded. It's nice to be able to commit one's reasoned arguments and thoughts to the Ether, in the hope that like-minded people may be reassured that they are not alone.

To find out if any like-minded people do exist, I added a tracker to my blog, which diligently records info about the people who stumble through on their way to somewhere good. Most interestingly is the details of where in the World people stumble from.

People who have read my blog hail from such far away places as the United States, India, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Norway, Hungary, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Republic of Korea, Israel, Malaysia, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Philippines.

Which means I have covered 5 out of 7 continents. Just Africa and Antarctica to go! So my mission henceforth is to get people from Africa and Antarctica to read this blog.

I have referenced Africa briefly in a couple of posts, but only in relation to drought and poverty, probably not the sort of things the Africans with access to the net search for. Antarctica I haven't mentioned, although there are plenty of things to discuss. More soon!

So I'll keep you posted, my reader(s) of many nations, religions and creeds.

24 November 2005

Is Technology really getting smaller?

Human endeavour and progress is defined by superlatives. Faster, Higher, Stronger1, Better, Cheaper, Faster2, Smaller. If and when we meet aliens, we're only going to be impressed if their MP3 players are smaller than ours. Their capacity for intergalactic travel is so last century.

But is it really getting smaller? Taken as a whole, no. I agree that the bits of the system that the end-user gets to play with are getting smaller, shinier, faster, cheaper, etc. But these gadgets are the 10% you do see. As with icebergs, it's the 90% you don't that you need to think about.

The easiest way to make gadgets smaller is to devolve elements of their operation away from the gadget itself. Yes, your iPod may be teeny-tiny, but take a look at its power supply. What an iSore! My first impression when I saw that was of the boat disguised as an iceberg used by Roger Moore in A View to A Kill, which was the height of 1980s tech. The Internet is so very shiny, but it all lives on big, matt black servers occupying entire floors of office buildings around the world.

I'm always predicting the day when mobile phones get so small that when you open the box, it looks empty. All there will be is a syringe marked "Nokia 9999x" which you'll inject in your ear and bingo!, you'll be sending pornographic pictures of the girls showering at the gym to your mate Steve on Mars. But when you have to recharge it, you'll have to stick a plug up your arse and connect it to the generator van parked in the drive. Plus, all the while, it will be happily microwaving your skull.....NO! Stop that alarmist-media-bollocks immediately!

Technology isn't getting smaller. Instead of a box, you get two smaller boxes, one of which you take with you. In twenty years, your hi-fi will just be a big box of dust. The price of progress and gadget teenification is an ugly power supply. Woo.

1 The Olympic Motto; "Citius, Altius, Fortius". Just so you know.
2 NASAs approach to spacecraft.

Relaxation of Late Licensing: Lawlessness Looms?

The Newspapers, eh? God love 'em. Well, someone has to. They've been counting down the days to "Beermageddon", the Day where the UK's Late Licensing Laws are relaxed and social order evaporates in an alcoholic haze1. So, citizens of the world, am I writing this on my garbage-fuelled laptop in my apocalypse-fuelled V8, wearing leather and eating dogfood?

Dissappointingly, no. That was sounding quite idyllic. I am still sat in front of my computer, as normal. Wearing the same old shit, eating a Coronation-Chicken-filled pita pocket, courtesy of RocketBootWife. The alarmist drivel that the Media fabricates to sell newspapers has failed to materialise.

Last night, people were allows to get drunk into the early hours of the morning!. And on a school night, too. The fact that it was a Wednesday night in November on an island where it mostly rains and is frequently cold probably also helped ensure Beermageddon didn't ensue. In fact, that's probably the first sensible move the government has made in a while. I bet it was nothing to do with them at all.

The real test will come when it hits a Bank Holiday Weekend in Spring / Summer. Then the councils up and down the country are going to need "Beer Ploughs" to clear away the drunken stiffs sleeping in the street. Will they? Again, probably not.

We know what happens when controls are removed and people are allowed to go mad. Remember when you were a kid? It's been a productive night out Trick-or-Treating and you've got several hundred pounds of sweeties in your wheelbarrow, enough to last until next year. So do you eke it out over the months? No. You eat your body weight in penny chews and cheap supermarket multipack chocolate in the first thirty seconds, then spend the next 3 hours yerking it all down the toilet. Or your Dad discovers you smoking and makes you smoke the whole pack? Again, three hours hugging the lav. And this is when it's free!

Translate this to alcohol, which is far from free. Drinking time may be expanded, but beer has not become propotionally cheaper. No matter how long you have to get drunk, eventually lack of money will come in to play. Two or Three extra hours drinking time early in the monrning probably translates to £50 extra quid, once you factor in the drunken buying-champagne-for-everyone! sort of idiocy that goes on.

One hopes that the clever people who kicked this off mid-week in November will ensure that morons who spend all their cash on booze and end up penniless and alcoholic do not get to spend the rest of their lives on Booze Support, with a weekly stipend and support groups, but I fear they will. I can hear the whining "The amount I get from Booze Support isn't enough to keep up with the rising cost of drinking!" already. The social sickness of shirking responsibility strikes again!

So, Beermageddon is not here, and probably won't be. One can only hope that the binge drinkers are not rewarded for their action, but this is the First World. Those who should know better are always having to be bailed out by those of us who do.

1 I'm being unwittingly alliterative today...

23 November 2005

The Results of our How To Review Lists Campaign

Ooh, you're going to hate me. I've sold out. I am using cynical techniques to attract traffic in the vain hope that people will be attracted by the sweet keywords and get stuck in the stickiness of my rhetoric. For samples of my "literal conserves", please browse the links over there.

If you abhor this approach and wish to decry it, please leave a post.
If this cheating has suckered you in good and proper, leave a post.
If you applaud my dirty tricks, leave a post
If you want to interview me, leave a post.
If you're a lunatic, post some leaves.

Step 1:

The linked article gives tips on how to attract traffic to your blog, so as a starter for ten, I've tried to use as many of these things in the title for this post.

Step 2:

Use the contents of something like Google Zeitgeist and paste them on this page as more "Hit-Jam"&tm;1

Todays zeitworten are:
black Friday, emma watson, xbox 360, harry potter, walk the line, johnny cash, superman returns, june carter, thanksgiving recipes, christina aguilera, keith urban, brooke burns, daniel radcliffe, rosario dawson, joaquin phoenix.
Who knows what any of these things mean? They're just words.

Step 3:

The following are the list of Hot Blog Keywords from HotOrNot Blog page.
1. music
2. sex
3. life
4. love
5. blog
6. photography
7. fun
8. movies
9. politics
10. humor
11. personal
12. friends
13. funny
14. news
15. pictures
16. writing
17. family
18. photos
19. poetry
20. art
21. sexy
22. relationships
23. entertainment
24. rants
25. gay
26. philosophy
27. diary
28. technology
29. women
30. humour

People searching for these terms, or combinations like "gay relationship rants" or "sexy personal photography" are going to be terribly vexed.

Step 4 is In Development, pending the results of Steps 1 to 3.

1 Hit-Jam&tm; - a method by which ones attracts hits.

Getting the Brush Off - Day 2

Welcome back to Day 2 of "Safety in The Workplace - What Not To Do". Those of you have followed this real-life tale of danger and excitement since yesterday are no doubt anxious to hear more about "Bob" and "Geoff", and whether they survived Day 1.

Geoff is wearing what I assume is a faux-Burberry scarf.

Someone has obviously complained since yesterday. Bob is no longer shackled to Geoff. Geoff's chance to take Bob down has passed. He doesn't look too thrilled about it either.

There has been a noise all this morning which sounded like a motorbike race populated with very small motorbikes. Turns out they're trimming the hedges below where Geoff and Bob are working.

I'm reminded of Tarzan swinging over a river, just avoiding the snapping jaws of crocodiles. Maybe Bob and Geoff's appreciation of more traditional dangers, as mentioned yesterday, has prompted the improvement in safety.

The guys trimming the hedges are wearing hardhats though. Not that they'd do much good: Geoff isn't a lightweight.

22 November 2005

Getting the Brush Off

This is a bit of a departure from the usual high-minded brain farts I come out with, but I'm struggling for material at the moment. Maybe the idiots are staying indoors and out of the news at the moment.

All save two. I'm talking about the two guys outside my office window who are sweeping the roof. Obviously this is a critical maintenance exercise to rid the building of the rampaging concrete-eating plants that infest these climes.

My building has two levels to the roof, one bit above the first floor and smaller bits above the wider ground floor. They have been happily sweeping the higher bit of roof all morning, happily running about with little care for safety lines or the like. Now they're now rather closer to the ground, they've decided that a safety rope is in order.

They are evidently unaware that Ground is potentially more dangerous the further you are away from it. Confusingly, the opposite is true for more traditional dangers, like Tigers, for instance. These guys must have more experience with tigers than with working on rooftops. That's not too much of a leap, is it?

Let's call them Bob and Geoff. Geoff is older and killing time until he can claim disability. Bob is younger and is after an excuse not to be sweeping the roof. They are attached to piece of blue string. From here, the string looks like it would happily reach the ground, somewhat reducing its suitability as a safety rope. In addition, they are both attached to the same piece of string, so when Geoff has a coronary, Bob's joining him on the ground.

I can't see the other end of the rope, but given the approach taken on this side, its probably attached to two other lunatics on the other side. They have radios to keep in contact. The plan appears to be if someone falls off one side, they can get on the radio and someone will jump off the other side to balance it all out.

They're both now trying to work in opposite directions and are looking rather confused why they can't move, despite the fact that they tied themselves together not five minutes ago.

Geoff is using a very small brush, obviously in the hope that bending over and having to work harder will result in a swifter coronary and the attendant incapacity benefit, with the added benefit of taking Bob the Smiling Monkey down with him.

There are no bums in evidence, but Geoff is sporting some very fetching navy blue pants.

Turns out Bob isn't as stupid as he looks. His line is merely clipped over Geoff's line so when he does collapse, Bob will not be dragged screaming to his death, as is Geoff's fervent hope.

Geoff has realise the flaw in his plan and is now trying to brain Bob with his own safety device by flicking the safety line, ostensibly to free it from a snag. A likely story...

Amazing the sub-text one can read into an innocuous situation....

04 November 2005

Relax, France. It's not a Race.

In an unprecedented show of entente cordial, the French have decided to stand together with the United Kingdom and have race-related rioting of their own. Typically, being French and not wanting to be overshadowed by les ros bifs, their rioting has now spread outside Paris and is affecting Dijon, Rouen and Marseilles.

The catalyst for the French rioting is similar to that in Britain, in as much as it is being perpetuated by rumour1. The Birmingham riots were supposedly started by a rumour of the rape of an Afro-Carribean girl by two Asian men. The French riots started from rumours that two black youths had been shot by Police.

Race-related violence is going to be the Great Battle of our time, at least in Europe. The World stage is reasonably quiet. There is no all-encompassing War on the horizon. Capitalism is taming India and China, the only countries who could give America pause. The next World War will not be about Politics, but Race.

Having a very quick think, it seems that it is Caucasian-ethnic countries that have, or are likely to have, racial tension, due to the immigration of people looking for the brighter future that Caucasian-ethnic countries, which are all First World countries, provide. It is, therefore, tempting to think that this is a problem caused by Caucasian peoples. However, it is precisely that divisive, racial thinking that is the root of the problem.

The next thought is that different races of sentient beings cannot peacefully coexist. Consider the squirrel. Grey squirrels introduced to Britain do not live happily alongside their smaller, indigenous Red cousins, which is why Red squirrel numbers are so low. I'm not suggesting that Humans and squirrels share the same inability to tolerate difference, more that it is not a given that branches within a species can coexist harmoniously.

The UK has no great animosity towards the Scandanavian nations, whose hordes invaded Britain willy-nilly hundreds of years before the name "Britain" was even coined. That's because we look like them; their traits of blond and red hair (OK, some animosity) are now our traits.

This all happened over 1000 years ago. We can never know how long it was before the Britons stopping being angry about being given ginger hair, but chances are it was a few centuries. And it will take that long before racial tension ceases.

There's a reason why when you mix all the paints together you get brown. And we're stuck with racial violence until that applies to us.

1 I realise that I am perpetuating these rumours. So please take them as pure rumour and don't use them as a catalyst for global racial meltdown. That's like glacial meltdown, only warmer.

03 November 2005

What's worse than Vampire Bats?

I'll give you three guesses. And it's not something stupid like Vampire Tigers, or Cricket Bats. You'll never guess, so I'll tell you. Rabid Vampire Bats. Hundreds of people in South America are being bitten by rabid vampire bats. They (you know, Them) claim it's due to deforestation.

Picture the scene. It's dark and you're sat on the veranda of your new villa, freshly hewn from the majestic Amazonian rainforest which surrounds you. You take a sip from an iced tea and gaze up into the night sky. You begin to notice small clouds on the face of the Moon. Disturbingly, the clouds, small at first, begin to grow in size. They move with a strange, fluttering motion. As you stare into the night, comprehension dawns. What you are seeing are the foaming jaws of Rabid Vampire Bats! Dropping your iced-tea you race for the screen door and safety! Too late!

As I've blogged before, I am of the opinion that Nature finds a way to counteract Man's destructive influences. Combining two nasty things like Rabies and Vampire Bats to counter deforestation in South America is a master stroke on Nature's part.

Man cuts down the trees, Bats contract Rabies, Bats bite Man, Man can't cut down trees. The article that prompted this post was not specific about the mechanism by which deforestation caused Rabies. However, missing important details like that should not stand in the way of a comedy situation. Maybe deforestation gets to the point where all the Vampire bats have to roost in one tree, and there aren't enough branches, so they all roost on each other. Maybe there is a finite number of bats you can have hanging off you before something snaps and bang! you're rabid.

What's next? Exploding penguins attacking ships due to the melting of the Ross Ice Shelf? The ground work has already been laid for Mad Beavers with TB. There's no telling where Nature will strike next, or how surreal that strike will be.

Basically, the last person to be killed off by Nature will be laughing their ass off.

Added: 15/11/2005

Deforestation slowing - UN

Evidently all those bats are taking their toll on the lumberjackos.

01 November 2005

No Excuse for Bad Design

World Usability Day is on the horizon and no doubt new technology will get the pasting it rightly deserves. But it isn't just new stuff that's rubbish. Lots of old stuff is rubbish as well.

Being the son of an architect and trained as an engineer and thusly, a designer at heart, I am forever frustrated by the instances of bad design in the world that should never have made it into production. I'm relaxed most of the time, but go ballistic when things don't do what the're meant to do.

Part of this is down to me using things in a manner other than directed, I accept that. However, I expect a toothbrush to brush my teeth, not bend itself double in an attempt to get away. The time I have laughed the hardest was during an episode of Hardware, a comedy series on TV, in which a character attempts to iron. On an ironing board, which then does the toothbrush thing and collapses everytime weight is applied, as required by the act of ironing. The character than proceeds to viciously beat the ironing board off the sofa. I was on the floor at this point. I have done similiar things so many times.

And we all have. How many times have you jabbed your finger at your computer monitor and cursed its metal innards and the stupidity of Mr Gates' minions. To defend the computer monitor, it isn't its fault. It's just the messenger. The processor, the source of the problem sits smugly on the desk, knowing full well it can screw up at its leisure and it won't get smacked because the irate user knows that all their data will fall out the back if they so much as look at it wrong.

Truth be told, boringly, it comes down to economics. If you want to sell ironing boards, or toothbrushes, you make them sound great, make them offer something no other ironing board or toothbrush does and you make them out of the cheapest, most pliant material in the most engineeringly unsound fashion possible, because if you don't, someone else will and they'll get all the cash.

No doubt some bad design is down to pure laziness. Some is definately down to people trying to use the Swiss Army Knife "thing-for-getting-stones-out-of-horses-hooves" for something else and getting it through their hand. But most "bad design" is down to buying on the cheap and inflated expectation. I could buy a Reliant Robin but I wouldn't win the Indy 500 in it.

So really it's all marketing's fault. They make you think that if you spray yourself and your entire home with deoderant, flocks of migrating supermodels on their way South to the Med will land in your house and proceed to rub themselves suggestively over your Ikea sofa-bed and completely ignore the six-inch layer of beer cans and pizza boxes you're using in place of a carpet.

So the appearance of poor usability and design are inflated by the ravenous demands of marketing and economics, the bane of designers and engineers everywhere. We should pull a Douglas Adams and put all the Marketing types and Economists on a spaceship with all the lawyers and hairdressers and tell them a meteor is coming. When they ask "Aren't you coming?", we'll say "We're right behind you. Just got to get this stone out of my spaceship's hoof".

31 October 2005

Higher Education: Nobody's Laughing

Previous Post: University vs Trade

Getting a University education has long been the way to get a good job. However, the governments misguided attempts to force people into universities is having the obvious consequences. A university education as a stepping stone into a job is being washed away; it's becoming a joke. And no-one is laughing, except the politicians.

Not all men (or women) are created equal. Not everyone is a genius. For everyone with an IQ over 150, there must be one with an IQ less than 50. That's why the average IQ is 100 (see Wikipedia entry here.) Wet-finger-in-the-air-guesstimation says that only a quarter of the populace have the required intelligence to go to University and graduate. Intelligence is not the only factor but it's a good indication as to a persons ability to assimilate degree-level information; quoting from the Wiki article, "IQ is strongly correlated with academic success...".

So, as the government force more people into University, they correspondingly want to make sure the move is a success, so they can look good in the Commons. Rather than rely on the abilities of the undergrads, and thereby hugely undermining the whole exercise in the process, they do what politicians do and spin the results. Now, since we're all up to speed on spin, the next generation of Spin Doctors1 go one better and force those marking the exams into giving people "inflated" marks, thereby removing the need to spin (and the responsibility) from the government. Their numbers look good and their hands are clean.

Hopefully, the more technical disciplines (Chemistry, Physics, Medicine!) maintain their entry critera (to prevent unnecessary explosions, if nothing else), which means that embryonic Universitygoers choose something pointless like Media Studies. They get their inflated first year Media Studies results, think "A is good" and press on with the next few years, further indebting themselves in the process. They then all pop out at the end and, if they're lucky, get a job on some pubescent digitial TV station as a lackey on some god-awful reality show. Hmmm, I wonder how much hidden funding flows from the government into the TV networks to fund new digital channels so the media types have something to do in the afternoons?

Rather than further castigate the governments policy of forced university attendance2 (which I've already covered), another thought occurs. Since the laws of economics apply to TV (I really hope they do) as to all companies, then there must be some demand for all this drivel the postgrad media types supply? But where does the demand come from? Has bad TV become self-perpetuating? Are there enough Media grads out there to provide enough demand to keep their fellows busy cranking it out?

Maybe Economics doesn't apply to TV. Maybe the government feels that is sufficiently in control of things that they can spend time subverting economics and giving jobs to the multimedia masses. The one plus side to all this is that talent becomes the stand-out commodity. Just as long as they don't make a bloody TV show about it.

1 No doubt graduates of Spin Medical School.
2 Which replaces National Service. You won't die, but you'll still pay the price.

The day after I originally posted this, the linked article appeared on the BBC. They didn't, however, examine the link between new digitial channels and the spate of media studies grads.

27 October 2005

Return of The Beaver

Reintroduction of species to their previous haunts sounds like a brilliant idea in the squeaky white labs of the scientists and the natural fibre igloos of the environmentalists. However, the real world is considerably less squeaky and tweedy.

The introduction, or re-introduction, of species to an area invariably goes out of control, and they need to introduce some other beastie to do away with the first beastie. The second beastie then eats all the things it isn't supposed to, which usually, tragically and amusingly are even more rare than the things that were introduced in the first place

So the decision to reintroduce beavers to Britain is doomed to disaster. Obviously, the beaver was not their first choice. Wolves and Bears have been mooted over the years, but being large and snarly, the public understandably freaked. So they went with beavers, which are altogether more cuddly. And vegetarian, which keeps the hordes placated.

To illustrate just how stupid this all is, they plan to fence them into a 500 acre site to begin with, while they see how it goes. How typical that they would choose to fence in an animal who is uniquely armed to facilitate the swift destruction of its confines. So, in the event that they go mad on low-grade Britsh trees and become rabid meat-eaters, they'll be on the loose. I can see "Mad Beaver Disease" headlines already. I bet they can transmit tuberculosis as well, which would take the focus of the poor badgers for a while.

Why does Man feel, with everything we have done and seen, that we can work with Nature? Doesn't anyone read the papers? You can't fence living creatures things in, especially ones that eat fences. As Jeff Goldblum prophetically states in Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way".

Since anything big enough to eat beavers has also been eradicated from these shores, their numbers will spiral. Since they're not also introducing predators, it will be down to humans to control numbers. And if the people performing the cull wear the wrong colour jackets, it'll be made illegal. You can't re-introduce part of the food chain without the other parts of the food chain. Their numbers will spiral without natural predators until the point that all our forests have been cut down and made into dams, and then they'll all die. Which will be pleasant. Lots of stagnant pools full of rotting beavers. Mmmm...

The linked article states "beavers could also help keep waterways clear of debris." What? Assuming Sir David Attenborough wasn't lying to me all these years, beavers build dams. Isn't that the opposite of "keeping waterways free of debris"?

Basically, this is a stupid idea.

25 October 2005

Who is Responsible?

The response of the citizens of Key West to the onrushing Hurricane Wilma could be called many things. Brave. Foolhardy. Stupid.

The word I'm going to use is irresponsible. As taxpayers, they have the right to expect that their Federal Government will do everything in its power to rescue them if needs be, and to restore services as soon as possible. However, does the fact that they ignored the mandatory evacuation order, thereby knowingly placing themselves in mortal danger, mean that they have less right to expect rescue than those who did what they were told and got into trouble anyway?

If Wilma had hit Key West (and its parties) hard, then hundreds of rescue personnel would be involved to get them out. The people who choose to risk themselves in these situations need to realise that their actions affect not only themselves, but others as well.

And it's not just in life-or-death situations either. Failure to take responsibility for your own actions appears to be worryingly prevalent these days. Whether its people eating or smoking themselves to the point where they draw valuable medical resources from really needy people, or parents who blame the actions of their kids on schools, or 30-somethings who continue to feed off their parents, or people fraudulently claiming benefits.

I'm going to stick my neck out and call this a First World problem. People can shirk responsbility because many of us live in an over-controlled, over regulated "nanny state", where every aspect of our lives has constraints. The more constraints there are, the less decisions each of us have to make. Consequently, we take less responsibility because more of the things that affect us are outside our control.

In the Developing World, I will bet you dollars to pesos that everyone takes responsibility for their actions, because if they don't, no-one else will. If they didn't take responsibility, they'd be dead inside a week. There is no government agency to throw money at aid schemes, or touchy-feely think-tanks, or regulatory bodies to tell them what they can and cannot do.

Progress is a double-edged sword. While it gives us clean water, Art, air travel and iPods, it taketh away self-determination and control and, to some extent, pride. And that's the biggest loss. Pride in your achievements, pride in what you have built, or made, is an incredible thing. But if 80% of the work required for those achievements was given to you, you feel hollow. Something given has no value.

Those who do not take responsbility for their actions, and who believe that it is their right to be supported by others are, in my opinion, the biggest drain on society. If it was survival of the fittest, like it should be, they'd all be toast. That would mean we'd be eating toast for a very long time.

24 October 2005

Birmingham or Bosnia?

Racial groups fighting it out in the streets? Rape, looting, murder? Sounds like the sort of thing you hear about in the news in places like Africa and the Balkans. You see these reports and nod sadly, thinking how unfortunate that these things are commonplace in those areas.

Except this is Birmingham, the UK's second city. That sort of thing can't happen! This is Britain! Except it is. The white middle class hordes (of which I am one) sit in our semis and never come into contact with the racial tension which bubbles not very far beneath the surface. Race-related violence is something that happens on the news, in other countries. Isn't it? It's hard for the majority to believe this is happening, when it occurs outside the borders of our neat and tidy little lives.

The thing that really brought home the comparison with the Balkans was the use of the word "enclave" in the linked news article. Up to now, I have only heard that word used in conjunction with Srebrenica and Sarajevo, which were war zones at the time.

It maybe that the only thing which is keeping Balkan-style violence from erupting is the legacy stability that exists, and the British ethic of ignoring things and carrying on regardless. However, the British way is probably a big factor in why those for whom this mindset coexists with others feel so marginalised and under threat.

That the Government overlook the fact that not everyone on this little island necessarily shares the same "keep walking, don't engage" mentality means that incidents like those in Birmingham will continue to happen.

While Britain does not have the long history of racial upheaval (being an island has meant that racial diversity is a recent thing), we do have the press. While these people work under the misapprehension that they are presenting The Truth to the readers, the readers take everything as gospel, even when its editorial rubbish.

The riots in Birmingham were apparently sparked by a rape which may not even have taken place!. Having a media who can say what they want is a good thing. However, it does mean that they can say what they want.

A solution to this sort of problem is beyond me. Its beyond most people, possibly even everyone. While History was terribly boring at school, its does explain the reasons behind almost every problem in the world. People do things because of what has happened to them in the past. Understand people's past, and you can predict their future.

Unfortunately, this sounds like we need more psychiatrists.

20 October 2005

Look Forward / Look Back

You're sitting in Starbucks with your Mocca Chocca Grande Latte, staring out the window at the relentless grey tide of humanity streaming past in the pouring rain. Faced with such as scene, is it any wonder your mind ponders the greyer side of humanity and civilisation?

Well, consider that your Mocca Chocca Grande Latte is half full, and not half empty. If you're willing to do that, consider a random businessman outside the window.

Think about what he's wearing. Think about the materials, the weaving, the cut, the tools, the craftsmanship, the manufacturing technology, the design and the millions of people over the millenia who were necessary to bring clothing technology to the point where that random businessman can buy a wool suit off the peg for £300.

Consider the laptop he's carrying. Again, think about the science, the theory, the testing, the chemistry, the technology, the design, the technicians, the engineers and the trillions of pounds invested over only two decades to take the state of the art from the size of a small house to the size of a large book that costs £500.

Consider also that he is walking down the street with little concern for his safety or wellbeing or the fear of attack. Think about the centuries of law and order, history, social stability, war, diplomacy, courage and sacrifice that allow him to do that.

Think about his trip home. Think about the invention of the wheel, steam locomotion, the internal combustion engine, metalled roads, signalling, policing, aerodynamics and applied thermodynamics that lets him get home withn 24 hours from anywhere on the planet.

Think about when he gets home. Think about governments, the councils, mining, processing, building technology, hot and cold running water, santiation, garbage pickup and the home security that ensures he gets a good nights sleep and doesn't wake up dead.

When you've thought about that, look up. Think about going up and up, out of atmosphere, out of the solar system, out of the galaxy, out of the universe. That mind boggling scale is precisely the scale of human endeavour.

You and the things in the world are the result of all human activity in the millenia to this point. That's pretty amazing.

The Bible is Wrong

Not my words. Don't kill the prophet! Back, zealot!. This is from the horse's mouth. The Catholic Church has now stated that elements of The Bible are untrue.

The regular Reader (yes, THE reader) will know my thoughts on Organised Religion, Christianity in particular. I personally have always thought that The Bible is more akin to a compendium of short stories, rather than a blow by blow historical account told from various points of view. I should add that, being an atheist and having only read snippets of The Bible, my dissection of the contents thereof should not detract from the U-turn of centuries of Christian dogma.

Are they saying that, actually, we shouldn't have gone to South America and killed all those Incas and Aztecs, etc for sacrificing all those other people1? It was a typo in our Big Book of Orders. It turns out you aren't allowed to kill people and cut out their hearts, and all that other stuff.

Are they saying that going to far off lands, giving them a Bible and saying "read this and do what it says, or we'll kill you" was wrong? Put simply like that, it is wrong, regardless of whether the Bible is "right" or "wrong".

Genesis is "conflicting"? So He didn't create the universe in six days? That always sounded far-fetched. That's like a government saying "We'll fix everything wrong with this country, for free!". Putting aside my atheism, creating a half-decent universe takes a month at the very least, even allowing for omnipotence.

Quote: "should not expect 'total accuracy' from the Bible". So, the only decent parts of the whole book are rubbish? Water into Wine? Walking on Water? Parting the Red Sea? Plagues of nastiness? All those cunning plot devices that make the Bible quite the page-turner aren't true? Well, what do we do now?

This does rather leave a couple of billion rather out in the cold, theologically2 speaking. That's like saying to a Capitalist "You know all those bits of paper with pictures and numbers on them you crave so much? They're not worth anthing!"3.

So, like removing Saddam from Iraq, those who have suffered "deity decapitation" 4 now have a yawning power vacuum into which all sorts of nasties may get sucked. It's a dangerous universe out there. Keep your undying soul inside the vehicle at all times.

1 Which is hypocritical at best.
2 As supposed to 'meteorologically'.
3 Which of course they aren't. But don't tell anyone. It'll be our little secret.
4 Which I hereby Copyright, by the way.

19 October 2005

Saddam's Trial - Day 1

Thought I'd just jot some comments on this as it progresses.

Showing just how momentous an event this is, BBC News' website has a FULL WIDTH headline! Must be serious...

Several of Saddam's cronies are in there with him. The Judge first asked Saddam to identify himself, at which point he started prevaricating with great aplomb. Maybe he watched the Clinton impeachment trial and was impressed. The judge then asked the other guys their names and, surprise surprise, they all gave waffly answers as well. I would have thought it would have been better to let the others go first, rather than give Saddam the chance to dictate their approach to questioning.

At this point, the judge gives up in the face of such high-powered, Clinton-esque flanneling, to which the interpreters whispered, but very audible, response is "circus, absolute circus".

Almost as much fun as the defendants response to questioning is the interpreters coverage of the trial. The audio and interpretation is patchy, and you can hear every breath, sigh, fart, slurp, keystroke and whispered comment them make. It reminds me of Terry Wogan's coverage of The Eurovision Song Contest; not as funny, but just as irreverent.

Ooh, Someone's phone just rang, playing the Nokia Tune. I half expected Dom Joly from Trigger Happy TV to stand up with his massive 'phone: "HELLO! WHAT! NO, I'm IN SADDAM'S TRIAL! NO, IT'S BORING".

The guy who must be The Prosecutor (dressed in legal garp) is reading out the charges, to which the Defence Lawyers (dressed in shabby suits) are shouting randomly. Apparently, there is some disagreement about the point of the trial and which crimes are the focus of the trial. It doesn't sound particularly like a courtroom; more like a pub after a football match in which one team was playing rugby.

The clothes are interesting. The Judge and Prosecutor are all done up in the usual stuff, trying to add some credence to the proceedings. No wigs though, which is a pity. The Defence Lawyers look like they've slept in their suits, hoping to gain some sympathy by appearing to be court-appointed through LegalAid. Saddam looks very snappy, although he apparently has a personal dresser (not his words - more like "They made me wear this suit").

Someone in the interpreters booth is typing either on or with what sounds like a pestle and mortar, and getting a decent words-per-minute out of it too. This is all happening while someone, probably someone else, is rhythmically putting a mic too close to a speaker, so we get some really nice feedback. If it wouldn't have led to critics decrying American involvement in the trial, it would have been nice to get the producers of Judge Judy in to get some decent coverage. Maybe get Judge Judy herself to run the show. She would've got Saddam to 'fess up his name at the very least.

Today's broadcast has come to a close. There's been a lot of shouting, some confusion as to who people really are and why they are there, and what they are there for, and the children do not know where lieth the thing belonging to their father that has a raffiawork base, and an attachment. It's all very Monty Python, except without the production values or Terry Gilliam's animations. Now that would be something. Instead of boring court artist renderings of the scene, get Terry to animate it. Ahh, the curse of the Ideas Man. No talent to carry them through!!

Oh, yeah, and he pleaded Not Guilty. Evidently, a bigger boy did it and ran away...or one of his doppelgangers.

05 October 2005

Faith vs Proof

Since no-one has told me I'm an idiot yet, I'm going for the big one, you know, keep lining them up and knocking them down. And trying to get crushed only some of the time.

Making a huge generalisation, there are two main types of blogs; those trying to sell things, and those about Jesus. Since this blog is neither, I can poke fun at either. And Jesus1 is up first.

There are two main schools of thought about how the universe came to be; benevolent, omnipotent entity against statistical probability. The benevolent, omnipotent entity school is supported (or followed) by those who belong to an organised religion. The statistical probability school is supported by those of a scientific bent who, by the nature of their work, need to prove that it works. And if Proof denies Faith, you can't have both.

The vast majority (I believe its over 95%) of people on this planet are "affiliated" with one of the major religions. Chances are there is an overlap in the two schools; those of a scientific mindset who practice a religion. This would imply that you can have both, or that these people are either bad engineers / scientist, or lapsed religious types.

Organised Religion has, in my humble opinion, a chequered past in that it goes to great lengths to foist its beliefs on others. Most notably in South America, where thousands of indigenous peoples have been forced to embrace Christianity, or be "purified"; read as "shot" 2.

Scientists too attempt to foist their beliefs / findings / proofs on others, in an attempt to ratify their life's work. I suppose, in a small way, each scientist is the leader of their own little religion, trying to bring others to their cause, except they use evidence and reasoning, instead of relying on blind faith and the sword.
Being objective, science hasn't been around as long as religion, so The Sword as a means to an end isn't really an option for Science. I'm sure some scientists are pretty cut-throat in their dealings as well.

Religion, in the same way as Planning, is Man's attempt to impose order on the chaotic universe, in an attempt to understand it. But so is Science. So Science and Religion appear to be two disciplines with the same goal and differing methods.

But Religion requires that you accept that the universe and its wondrous variety is the work of the omnipotent being, and not worry about the How, which isn't a mechanism for understanding the universe, merely with being comfortable with how it is.

Science, on the other hand, very much wants to know How, as Human beings are generally an inquisitive lot. If we accept the omnipotent creator, why would He/She/They/It create a being, one of whose defning characteristics is curiosity, who would attempt to identify their origins, if such an act is heretical?

1 Was he really Puerto Rican? We'll never know.
2 You may be able to tell that I don't have a great deal of time for organised religion, but I'm trying to be objective here. If not, it gives your religious people a get out clause.

04 October 2005


Does it bother anyone else that during a total Eclipse of the sun by the moon, the Moon is juuuuust the right size to block all but the sun's corona, giving us a spectacular "ring of fire"? Isn't it a little bit too convenient?

If religious types really wanted to convert people, that's the kind of thing you need to be selling as divine creation, rather than saying you'll rot in Hell 1.

From a planetary mechanics point of view, I'm sure the equations probably balance out. If you assume that the supposition that a prehistoric Earth impact ejected the material to make the Moon is correct, then it may be that the relative masses and densities of the two bodies involved are such that the Moon automatically assumes the correct orbit to provide nice eclipses. Maybe that's just how moons work.

It's almost like Archimedes getting into the bath and displacing his volume in water, which is juuust enough to cover the floor to exactly the depth required so that when Archimides got out, he slips and falls back in. OK, so it's nothing like that.

If you do accept the Creationist dogma for a second, it would stand to reason 2 that what is for The Moon is for all moons. But would He go through all that trouble making nicely positioned and sized moons, only to give Life to one planet only? Maybe he couldn't be bothered. Maybe He got to late Saturday afternoon, tired after a full week creating the Universe, the footie is on the telly, last job in the Job Jar is "create eclipsing moons" and He thought "No, Its Chelsea Versus Liverpool. Screw Their Nicely Eclipsing Moons. They Can Be Happy With What They've Got. Or Else." Doesn't sound much like the popular depiction of God thus far does it? Ooh, Deity as Couch Potato Footy Fan, there's a concept. Maye I should write a book and sell the film rights to Tom Hanks.

Errr.......Eclipses! Very pretty, little bit too convenient, but very pretty all the same. I'm sure there is a rational, science-based reason for it. Answers on a Postcard.

1 Wouldn't you have to believe in God, and hence Heaven and Hell, before this threat carries any weight?
2 Sorry, used "reason" in the context of Religion there.

22 September 2005

Man vs Nature

Recent events have reminded us just how powerful and destructive Nature1 can be. Only by Man fiddling with Nature in naughty ways (atomic bombs) can he even begin to emulate the power of Nature.

After filling up the car with petrol at £1 a litre (you lucky American drivers!), it occurred to me that Nature is protecting itself, applying some draconian measures to ensure that some measure of equilibrium is maintained.

The fact that the petroleum-producing capacity of one of the biggest polluters in the world was severely limited possibly is an indication of a cause-and-effect loop. We produce petroleum, we drive our cars, destroy the ozone layer, heat up the oceans, which drive the hurricanes that destroy our ability to produce petroleum.

I'm aware that I'm attaching the idea of conciousness and awareness to an "unintelligent" planet, but there may be an argument that when a system reaches the complexity of a planet, with all its associated process, a change to one element leads to a equilibrating change by another; i.e. the system protects itself, albeit reactively.

This is not what environmentalists would want to hear, but indications are that each atrocity visited on the planet is met by a counter-attack from the planet. It may be that no matter how badly we behave, we will always get a slap.

Take the Boxing Day tsunami. A hundred years or so ago, the number of dead would be two orders of magnitude smaller. The only reason so many died is that so many were alive in the first place. Same goes in Africa. The land can only support so many people, so those it cannot support don't make it. Callous though it sounds, sending aid only prolongs the suffering. Aid doesn't adjust the properties of the region, it merely postpones the effects of that region.

The only way out of the loop is to alter the properties of the region; e.g. irrigate the whole of Africa. However, this is somewhat beyond the Will, if not the Wit, of Man. I suspect that if we were to do so, Nature would come up with some way of defending itself.

Attempts to homogenize the world into a evenly-productive sphere would only cause stagnation. Nature requires extremes and differences to drive those processes which allow Life, and therefore Man, to exist.

So, I think that there will come a point where Nature's retaliation to our relentless rape and infestation of the planet will meet the rate of our infestation and an uneasy calm will ensue. That's when things will get interesting.

1 I'm not including animal life in my definition of Nature. Animal life, humans aside, have the least impact on the planet. I think, anyway.

07 September 2005

Soverignty Violation ™

While America may have embraced it, they didn't invent it. And despite my ™ label, they haven't patented it, although given the US patent laws, it wouldn't surprise me.

Altering how other countries run has been a hobby of the superpowers for centuries. The men in power sit in their gentlemen's clubs, tweaking trade policy here, installing puppet rulers there, basically playing Monopoly with the World. And if you run out of Hotels, or money, you can leave, or have a coup. Hey, its not like its your country.

Now, the World has calmed down. Most countries are in charge of themselves. Apart from the odd civil war, the colours on the geo-political map remain constant. This, however, does not mean that those men in power have to forsake their favourite hobby.

Now, I live in a country where the leaders are chosen by the people. Democracy, right? So naturally I take Democracy to be way forward. However, there are various other ways of operating going on in the World. And the people in those countries are probably mostly content with how their countries work. They're used to it, they know how it works. So why do the majority feel the need to try and foist their way of life onto others?

It's a parallel with organised religion. Hello, Mr Inca. What, you sacrifice people to the gods? Hmm, I must kill you all and turn whoever is left into Christians. Now out of my way and point me to your gold. Thou shalt not kill, by the way.

When the Soviet Union and Communism collapsed and Captialism arrived, the Russian people couldn't handle it. Even now, it doesn't work for them. I believe that it costs a months wages to hire a babysitter for the night. Now, are you going to tell them that they should be happy to live with Capitalism, when under their previous regime, everything they needed was provided?

The only reason the Superpower du jour can do what they want is because no-one else can stop them. Even attempting to do so under the auspices of the United Nations has no weight. What do you mean, we're not allowed to go to war on Iraq? Welllllll, we're going to, so there. What are you going to do about it, Kofi? Or you, Anne? Honestly, Kofi and Anne. Sounds like Tom and Jerry. Do you expect people to take you seriously?

I guess I'm against people foisting their ways or beliefs on others. If Communism was the prevalent doctrine, and the Superpowerski forced us to change our way of life, we'd be pissed. If I lived in a jungle, quietly worshipping trees, I'd be pissed if someone in a shiny hat told me to stop that heathen nonsense and start worshipping some made-up bloke in the sky.

Is Aid for America Right?

It is the done thing these days that nations support each other, especially in times of crisis. Which is why everyone in the world is sending Aid to America to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Even countries whom America has pounded in one way or another has sent aid; e.g. Afghanistan, Iran to name but two, prompting Graeme Norton to brand it "Sarcastic" Aid.

I was blown away by how quickly the World responded to the Tsunami last year. Britons stumped up an astonishing amount, quickly embarrassing the amount the government had pledged.

I just get the feeling that automatically pledging aid in every case isn't always right. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the devasted nation is the richest in the world, and even third world countries are sending aid. I understand that most of this aid is token, but sending aid to America is like endorsing the US administrations lack of regard for their own people and their interventionist foreign policy1.

I think America should be rather more introspective in their spending and concentrate on their internal problems. Bringing their brand of righteousness to the world2 while their own citizens wait 8 days for aid seriously undermines their credibility, if stomping American values round the world gives you any cred in the first place.

As for Aid, the people of the Southern US unquestionably need help, but they shouldn't have to rely on Aid from poorer countries when their own government is pissing away money violating the soverignty of other nations.

1 At least they haven't asked for any.
2 Mainly by the sword, I hasten to add.

02 September 2005

First to Third in Seconds

From across the pond, I watch the scenes on the news of the devastation in Louisiana and elsewhere with a mixture of emotions. Obviously, sadness at the loss of live, destruction of property and the suffering of the people.

What also occurs to me is that, from a dispassionate point of view, it is very interesting to watch how a First World society handles being thrust back into the Third World overnight. The scenes from New Orleans are not far removed from those in Africa, and Afghanistan, and Iraq.

For the first time, American citizens, on their home soil, are witnessing the conditions similar to those that result from American and Allied military action overseas, albeit as a result of an Act of Nature1. The response to this disaster from the Government is not being met with the approval of the American people, least of all those made homeless by Katrina. 10bn dollars must pale into insignificance against the money spent on the "conflicts / police actions" in the Middle East. Given that hurricanes are a yearly problem in the Carribean, the citizens of the Southern US must be shaking their heads in disbelief at the time it is taking to solve this humanitarian crisis. Not least the inhabitants of New Orleans, who have been living below sea level since New Orleans was built and who must surely have simply been waiting for this to happen.

I am also aghast to hear radio reports that people are committing first degree crimes and to read statements from the National Guard that they are willing to use deadly force to quell this lawlessness. I am not convinced deadly force is the answer; however, it is shocking that, if the reports are to be belived that such lawlessness is happening. Shooting at rescue helicopters? Rape? Murder? What is going on? Are we to believe that American culture is capable of resorting to such acts after just a few days of, admittedly, hellish experiences? I would be very, very angry at my situation but I'm not sure I would resort to first degree crime2.

If I lived in New Orleans, I would be, to put it mildly and diplomatically, extremely annoyed at the present administration for the diversion of funds into a questionable war in Iraq. It will be very interesting to view the fallout of these events, and the effects on the Bush Administrification and the American way of life, now that they have witnessed the Third World first hand.

1 Maybe Nature is pissed off that the US has not ratified Kyoto. Who knows.
2 Thankfully, I have never been in this situation, so I can't judge anybody.

23 August 2005

Interpretation and Perception

I don't mean translating. I mean how we construe what other people say, or write. Interpretation is at the heart of all interaction and is practically always overlooked. Failure to consider how ones words are perceived can, with some certainty, be placed at the core of all bad communication.

The words themselves can be well-meaning, or innocuous, but we derive as much, if not more, information from the sub-text, the nuance. For example, if your female significant other (for those of you that have one) says "Get to bed early last night?", you know painfully well she's not making a airy inquiry and that she's all too aware what time you crept into bed with your tail between your legs.

Politicians are the few people for whom interpretation is foremost in their minds, and still they're rubbish at it. People see through their lies and stories, see "spin" and deception, even if nothing is spinning. It may be that being aware of how your words are perceived, and actively trying to alter that, merely makes your words seem hollow, regardless of their substance.

The rise of email as a method of communication has thrown the perception of the meaning of your words into even sharper relief. Since all nuance is removed, the original meaning can be even more easily misconstrued. Emoticons (;-b) were invented to counter this problem. This is why, even in this day and age, face to face meetings and conference calls are still commonplace.

Now, if human interaction contains nuances that alter our perception of the meaning of the words, wouldn't that make written or electronic communication less susceptible to these misinterpretations? Given the continued use of meetings, it would appear that we would prefer to retain this extra information, even if it results in misinterpretations. So, if we're stuck with speaking to people face-to-face, we should pay more attention to how our words are perceived.

It would be interesting to know how this ramble is perceived. And does my calling it a ramble reinforce or change your perception of these words thus far? Were I, if I haven't already, to veer off on some random tangent, would that denigrate that which I have written thus far? Does the fact that I have a propensity for using big words make me come across as elitist? Or that I have an intellectual inferiority complex? Does it turn you off? Have you even lasted this far?

Who knows, because the major unknown factor (in terms of perception) is the person with whom you are communicating. Their entire life, and its constituent experiences, alter how they perceive what you have said. This is why communication has to be pitched; aimed at its target audience.

This is where what has laterly come to be known as "spin" comes in; delivering the information in such a way (usually altered) so that its meaning can be mandated to some extent. Spin is a powerful weapon in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. If Shane Warne could put the revolutions on a cricket ball that government spin doctors put on a press release, he'd be looking at rather more than 600700 Test wickets. However, once people become aware of spin, and its effects, they see spin everywhere. And they don't like it.

People don't like to be spun, what I'll call "active" spin. They prefer passive spin; spin that they apply subconciously. Which is where the spinners have their problem. The unadulterated truth is not an option, yet spinning a yarn isn't an option either.
So spin, in the political arena anyway, has had its chips.

Spin, and perception, and interpretation will continue to be part of our interactions with other people. It derives from our evolutionary roots, where elementary vocal communications had to be heavily backed up by a range of body language.

It's an interesting topic and I'm pretty sure I haven't come up with any answers, merely more questions. I should note that I'm not a psychologist, or behavioural scientist, so it's more than likely that all this is bollocks.

Driving #1: Middle Lane Hoggers

This may be a phenomenon limited to those countries with motorways (freeways, autoroutres, autobahns, autostradas) with fewer than four lanes (so not America), but my number one hate about motorway driving is people who sit in the middle lane when there is nothing to stop them driving in the inside lane.

I say limited, but my definition above encompasses several hundred million people. It does of course assume that in every country there are thoughtless people who drive with their thumb up their arse and their mind in neutral, which is probably a safe assumption to make.

Rule 238 of the UK Highway Code clearly states "You should drive in the left-hand lane if the road ahead is clear.....Return to the left-hand lane once you have overtaken all the vehicles or if you are delaying traffic behind you." Crystal, right?

Now, it's not just that 95% of all drivers forgot the contents of the Highway Code the instant they passed their test. People just do not pay attention when driving on the motorway. I have spent many years traversing the arteries of this fair isle (in the absence of a usable public transport system, we have no choice). Even spending 8 hours driving to Scotland I manage to maintain lane discipline. It's not difficult. It's safer and keeps you alert as well.

If only I could be a Special Constable with the power to give people tickets for hogging the middle lane. Boy, would I abuse that power!! I would be a proper constable!!

Driving #2: Indicating

Annoyingly, Dictionary.com doesn't provide the necessary ammunition for the definition of indicate but I'll include anyway.

Indicators, Turn Signals, whatever you want to call them, are on cars for a reason. You pay for them so you might as well use them. I believe that not using them is an offence in the States. But sleeping with your sister isn't. Well, in Alabama anyway1.

The point of indicators is to indicate your next manouevre in advance of that manouevre. I don't need you to tell me what manouevre you are making. I have eyes. I want to know what you're going to do, not what you are doing. When we're doing 70 on the motorway and you switch lanes in front of me, indicating halfway through merely enforces my opinion of you as a moron.

Again the UK Highway Code has various rules about this sort of thing.

In town, its different but no less annoying. If you're sat in a queue and someone wants to be let out, but they aren't indicating, they give you a look which means "Please let me out" to which you respond with a look that means "I would, but I haven't a fucking clue where you want to go! So No. Read the Highway Code while you're waiting!"2.

Roundabouts (or "keepleftis" in Swahili) are a good invention for getting several roads joined together without undue lights and waiting. However, people's perception of the rules governing the use of roundabouts is as varied as the nature of moron who abuse them. Some people dispense with indicating full stop, which means that no-one else can join without the distinct possibility of getting a car in the lap, thereby turning a great invention into a circular scrapyard.

So, a plea. We're all trying to get home as quickly as possible, with as much of our hair and cars intact as possible. Pity the other poor souls sharing the road to hell and keep them informed. Use your indicators. Or.....I'll bitch and whine at my inability to do anything about it.

1 No offence, Alabama. I reached for a sterotype and you were closest.
2 I can convey a lot in a look.