Sunday, January 30, 2005

Pet Hates #2

Another little pet hate of mine is crap pubs. I don't really mind the theme bars and all that rubbish, except when they break the few rules of "What Makes A Shit Pub", below:
1) Rude, lazy bar staff,
2) TVs; especially when they are kept on even when not showing a sporting event. I don't like watching sport, but I can understand that it brings in the punters,
3) Shite beer. It' s amazing, some pubs have even managed to make pasturised, gas-fired rubbish like Tennants Velvet taste like a very badly kept, out of date ale.

The older I get, the less willing I am to spend my money in crappy shops, and pubs are no exception. If you want two Edinburgh examples of everything that I hate in a pub, try Greyfriars Bobby's Bar (particularly the rude, lazy bar staff, and for God's sake, don't have a beer), and Sportsters Bar (which is a bar for watching sport in, but remains one of my personal visions of hell)...

However, for really good pubs, try Cloisters Bar- in Tollcross - and The Cumberland Bar in the New Town: they are both superb. Friendly staff (particularly Cloisters), no TVs and excellent ales)...

Thursday, January 27, 2005

On the end of the species...

Another thought of mine, lifted from a fox-hunting debate on the Divine Comedy Bulletin Board (DCBB)...

"What would you think about being chased by a pack of snarling hounds?"

"How would a fox react to having to pay the mortgage every month?"

Foxes aren't humans, not even little, cute, red humans. They are vicious killers because they have to be because, unlike us, they are shaped by their environment. Being chased by a pack of hounds ensures that the fastest and fittest foxes survive. This is called natural selection. This forms the pressures required to drive evolution.

We, as a species, are pretty much stagnant in that regard. Because we shape our habitats to suit us, there is no evolutionary pressure on us. I believe that this is why there are so many health scares at the moment, because we are becoming unhealthier. There is no natural selection, no evolutionary pressure on the human species.

I believe that we will be extinct long before foxes are: not through some nuclear war, or other natural catastrophe, but through the gradual degredation of our genetic stock. Look around you, it's happening already; and no amount of exciting medical break-throughs are going to stock it.

If we were concerned solely with the survival of the species, we would instigate a serious programme of eugenics. Unfortunately, we are more sentimental than that, and that will be our downfall, our catalyst of destruction...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Iraq Terror: the real reason...

This interesting little snippet is from Scotland's The Herald: you can find the full article here.

Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the terror chief, warned Iraqis yesterday he would wage a "bitter war" against next Sunday's election... "We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," a speaker identified as al Zarqawi said on an Islamist website. "Those who vote . . . are infidels. And with God as my witness, I have informed them (of our intentions)."


Now, haven't the press given the distinct impression that it is people who object to the USA being in Iraq at all that have been doing the bombing? People have said to me that we should send the UN into Iraq instead, because the Americans are ballsing it up. Now we find that the Iranian-back al Zarqawi is fighting against "the principle of democracy", not the Americans. In other words, even were the UN to have been involved from the very beginning in the Iraq invasion, this campaign of terror would still be happening.

I am one of those people who think that, whilst we were lied to about the reasons for going to war (although why so many people were surprised that Tony and his cronies lied to us, I'm not sure; they have form, after all), broadly speaking the outcome could be beneficial, for both us (economically) and the Iraqis (for reasons so obvious that I win't even bother to articulate them).

However, it's all going to be a bit difficult if our opponents are fighting against our very belief structure. One might question why al Zarqawi is fighting against democracy; surely Islam can live with a democracy? Or can it?

Why is al Zarqawi fighting, and how has he suddenly got all these weapons? Not from the Ba'athists (whom he does not support; they're moderate, after all). Not from the southern Shi'ites, who never had any (otherwise Saddam would not have found it so easy to gas them in the early 90s), and not from the Kurds, who rather like the idea of a democracy. I believe that we need look no further than a nearby, hardline Islamic country ruled by Mullahs rather similar to Mister Zarqawi: Iran, the world's biggest funder of terrorism (and almost certainly the ones who were actually responsible for the Lockerbie bombing (cf: Private Eye's excellent special report, Lockerbie: The Flight From Justice)).

So, it follows that Iran is almost certainly responsible for funding the terror in Iraq. It is also, incidentally, a big funder of Hamas in Palestine (a spokeman for whom said that Hamas would not rest until they had "driven Israel into the sea"), and of various other militant Islamic cells in Turkey, Algeria and throughout the rest of the world.

So, here we have my controversial opinion: in order for democracy to succeed in Iraq, Iran - as it currently stands - must be destroyed. There are already reports that the Americans are scouting out targets in Iran, and everyone is saying, "Haven't they learnt from their lesson in Iraq?". My contention is, though, that the Iraq experiment cannot succeed whilst Iran remains a power in the region, and whilst it continues to fund the bombings in Iraq.

Furthermore, things will get even more desperate for Western democracy once Iran has nuclear weapons (which some commentators, in last week's Spectator for instance, believe will be in about 8 months). An Iranian nuclear programme is underway and, whilst the Mullahs claim that it is for "innocent" purposes (i.e. power), it is difficult to see why one of the most oil-rich countries in the world should need to investigate nuclear energy. I really don't think that they are that concerned about the environment...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Aaaaargh!

Sometimes, I really piss myself off. Usually when I'm drunk.
I seem to be incredibly adept at hurting those around me, and then sobering up a few days later and realising what an idiot I've been.

BUT...
... most of the time, what I've said or done is how I feel, just not expressed in the most kind or diplomatic way. I've hurt someone that I really care for, and now I've got a knot in my stomach, cramping in my guts (or maybe it's hunger). I think that what I did is ultimately for the best, because I wasn't happy. But - oh! - how I wish I could have done it without hurting her. But what can one do when one feels alone?

Anyway, enough of this self-pitying rubbish...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Marketing ID cards...

... to YOU!

I love the idea of ID cards, me. No, really. That's why I'm so pleased that the government is happy to employ some lovely person, who will be paid £47,000 - £66,000 of MY money, to market ID cards to me.

God, I love this country...

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Sound of Pet Hates 1...

(Firstly, I know that it's probably unusual to blog this much, but I've only been up two days and I've got 27 years of ranting to catch up on...)

So, this is the first of an occasional - oh, who am I kidding! - fairly frequent series of things that really piss me off. Not like huge, blood-vessel-busting things, e.g. this government, but little things that just annoy me.

#1: CHEWING GUM
This noxious substance is a daily annoyance for all of us. You walk a street, it's on your shoes; you grip a pub table, it's on your hands. I've seen it stuck to shop fronts, and even in a squirrel's fur (though those little greys bastards deserve everything they get). Most irritatingly, one can take pleasure in a pretty (and often scantily-clad) girl walking along the street: she's pretty, she has poise. She's dressed well, she's made an effort...

... but the whole pleasurable effect is ruined by the fact that she is CHEWING ON GUM LIKE A COW CHEWING ON THE CUD (which is grass regurgitated and partially digested from the first stomach, just in case you've always wondered what "cud" is)!

Another annoyance is bar staff who chew gum whilst serving. It looks dreadful and, frankly, I think it's rude. But maybe that's just me...

Sudan Chair

I'm interested to read on the BBC News website that an organisation known as Human Rights Watch has condemned the UN for ignoring the war in Darfur.

Apparently, about 70,000 people have died (not that far off - in numerical terms - the estimated 100,000 reported to have died in Iraq as a result of the invasion) and the war is escalating.

The world has shown a "callous disregard" for the 70,000 people killed in Sudan's Darfur conflict, a human rights lobby group says.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch singles out UN Security Council veto holders China and Russia for blocking tougher action against Sudan.


There seem to be a few of issues of general importance here. The first is that the UN has been largely ineffective as a military presence unless the United States is involved (e.g. Bosnia). Given the backlash against the USA over their interventions of late, plus the fact that they are pretty tied up in Iraq, I can't see them trying any intervention in the Sudan.

Next, HRW accuses China and Russia (who both hold vetos on the UN Security Council) of blocking and watering down sanctions against the parties responsible. China holds a 40% share of Darfur's main oil field, and Russia is believed to be the main arms supplier to the country. It seems to me that this simply illustrates - along with Rwanda (to which this crisis is being compared), the Balkans, Iraq and other cases too numerous to mention - the ineffectiveness of the UN as an interventionist organisation. Given this, and the recent corruption scandal over the Oil-for-Food programme (in which UN staff are accused of either taking payments or, at the very least, of being grossly negligent, whilst Saddam used oil to bribe countries, such as Indonesia, to break the sanctions on Iraq), one has to start to wonder what the UN is actually for? Is it a relevant organisation and, if so, how? And if not, should it be disbanded?

Other issues include the Band Aid money, the majority of which is to go to the Sudan this year. It has been - pretty eloquently - argued (in The Spectator amongst others) that the original Band Aid, in the 80s, actually caused more deaths and suffering than it alleviated. How?

It's very simple: Ethiopia's ruler, the delightful Mr. Mengistu, was undertaking a resettlement programme throughout Ethiopia, and was deliberately starving rebels in the south of the country. The majority of the Band Aid food and money went on feeding the Army - who were carrying out the resettlements and killings - and on propping up the Derg regime which was, at the time, pretty close to collapse.

So, will the same thing happen this time in the Sudan? And will those who bought the single and donated to the charity ever hear about it?

And, lastly, we come to the point about the government of Africa in general. No matter how much money you give, no matter how much food or other aid, Africa will swallow it like some kind of black hole. Africa is not short of - in fact, it is more than blessed with - natural resources. It is, in general, a fertile country. However, bad and corrupt government has destroyed the country. African dictators salt away huge personal fortunes whilst their people starve, or are executed in their thousands by government agents (Idi Amin was, surely, at the pinnacle of this game). They starve when Africa is blessed with a fertility the northern hemisphere can only dream of; they are hideously poor whilst the country is saturated in gold, diamonds, uranium, oil, tin, copper, silver, platinum, aluminium and just about any other valuable mineral that you want to name. Much of the R & D and the mines themselves were set up by the Empires that ruled the country. The Africans should have been set for life, as it were. And yet...

Perhaps it is time to contribute to The Spectator's Subscriptions For Africa campaign. Africa is not short of opportunity, it is short on ideas and long on corruption; perhaps dissemination of ideas should replace the pouring in of money?

Identi-Crit

From Chris Lightfoot's weblog...

The ID cards scheme is likely to be a disaster on financial and systems-integration grounds, but even if it worked as intended -- I admit that I am inferring its intention from clues left in the Bill, consultation documents and various utterances of David Blunkett and ministerial cronies, since its purpose is as yet unexplained -- I would oppose it.

At root, I don't think that it's the government's business to tell me who I am.[my emphasis - cm] The government are our servants, not our masters, and we oughtn't to let them forget that. Just as -- see Saki stories passim -- the Edwardian upper classes assigned names of convenience to their servants, David Blunkett intends to assign names of convenience to us. There's no good reason to let him do that, and I don't see why we should.

In more detail: the conceit of the ID cards scheme is that each person should have only one identity; that that identity is given them by the state and recorded authoritatively in the National Identity Register; that each person must notify the state of any changes to it, and such changes will be accepted at the discretion of the government; and that that failure to comply as prescribed by the law will result in various and novel penalties intended to result in compliance with these rules.


That's pretty much my opinion, in a nutshell. I recommend that you read his whole esay though: it makes most of the salient points, I think. As he puts it, this is a really important issue. Think about it, don't let apathy guide us into a database state...

Joe Gordon again...

A very considered response - and some important points - pertaining to the Joe Gordon furore here from author Charlie Stross...

Apples don't grow on trees...

The majority of this rant is ripped, bleeding, from the Divine Comedy Bulletin Board (the only - other? - 'net forum I'm part of), in response to someone slagging Apple Macs. It's one of those things, y'know, I'm a graphic designer who's been working in the print trade for 8 years: I use Macs and, like many of those that do, I love them. They are fantastic machines, and it annoys me when people slag them because they never do so for the right reasons...*

I do get defensive when people slag Apple, because they trot out the same old bollocks that people were saying in the mid 90s, when Apple was going through a particularly bad patch in terms of business management (and much of the stuff about incompatibility and over-pricing wasn't true even then) and that rubbish certainly isn't true now. Macs were very expensive in the mid 90s (mainly because they were a) pushing their luck and b) they used expensive but far superior components, e.g. SCSI Hard Drives) but they really are comparable to similarly spech'ed PCs these days. What Apple have never done is to make a bargain basement piece of shit that a monkey can type Shakespeare's sonnets on (this has sort of changed with the Mac mini).

I only chose Apple after having used both Macs and PCs, and I chose the better, easier, more flexible and more secure system, machines with better build quality, certified components that would always work and certified peripherals that would always work.

And, like many people, I was - and still am - willing to pay a premium for good-quality, decent machines that - to quote Apple - just work. It's a bit like a friend who likes nice cars; he could just buy a clapped-out old Skoda - it'll get him from A to B: but the man chooses to pay for quality, because then the journey from A to B is going to be considerably nicer, less stressful, and it becomes a pleasure...

Which is why Apple fans are often fanatics; because "driving" their computer is a pleasure, and their Apples become more than just a computer.

So, what to think about the new products, eh? Bit of a gamble, I'd say. The Mac mini is a nice little machine but, whilst just 1 year ago it would have been a highly desirable piece of kit, the G4 chip renders it... not obsolete, but a little dated. Has Apple sacrificed power for design? Have they used the far cooler-running G4 simply in order to fit it into the small (6.5"x6.5"x2") case?

The same applies to the new iPod Shuffle. Have they sacrificed features, e.g. a screen, just to make it look cool? Will people be disappointed after the iPod? But it's a different market. Sure, if you want a screen, on-the-go playlists, etc. spend the extra money and get an iPod. Bit the iPod Shuffle offers a lot of space (for a Flash player) - 512MB or 1GB - for rather less money than other competing models, and I think I'd rather have more capacity than a tiny screen. And the point is that they are a bit like an iPod, so they still have the "cool" factor...

And so for the Mac mini; they look cool, and take up very little space. They will more than adequately do anything that anyone, except an insane gamer or (print) graphics boy will ask them to do, and they'll look very good doing it.

Will they take off? I watch with bated breath...

*At some point, I will write about the right reasons for slagging them...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Joe Gordon

Read with indignation of the sacking of Joe Gordon by Waterstones, allegedly for "bringing the company into disrepute" by talking about them in a less than favourable way in his weblog.

It has to be said, however, that if Waterstones want their employees to talk about them in a more favourable way, it might possibly be a good idea to hire a manager whose people skills are just a wee bit more developed. Though we only have Joe's version of events, it seems to me that he reported them in a perfectly clear and dispassionate way: and the clear and dispassionate opinion can only be that the manager should probably not be the manager. Or a manager. What really annoys me is that Joe was obviously rather good at his job; everyone's favourite Neil Gaiman seemed to think so anyway.

Quite simply, the implications for free speech are a little worrying. It's almost like 1984 (not an original observqation, I know). I imagine that the Government are backing Waterstones...

I sent an email to Waterstones, Edinburgh (where this humble blogger resides) to inform them that I will be boycotting them and other related stores (HMV is the parent company, at present; or so I believe). Personally I hope that they've been inundated with similar notes.

I did receive a reply from the manager, saying that she* couldn't comment as the matter was a private one between the company and the employee. I think that it's possibly a little late for that...

*Why am I not surprised?

Well, hello...

My, this is a new thing on me, I must say!

A couple of days ago, I encountered a few weblogs (I was searching for opinions on ID cards, if you must know); I had, of course, heard of blogs, but never really bothered looking for them.

I found a load of people who shared my opinions (I find Chris Lightfoot particularly edifying) and it was wonderfully relaxing to find others that share my opinions.

Anyway, thought that I may as well start one myself (I always had a section titled "Rants" on my website, but never got around to posting) so that I can vent my spleen.

Luckily, unlike Joe Gordon (more on that in a bit), I am my own boss, so I'm unlikely to get sacked for calling him a bastard...

(You're fired - Ed.)