Thought, experience and memory from a brain in a jar, one that sometimes has control over a thirty-two-year-old Londonite.

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Location: Herne Hill, London, United Kingdom

31 December, 2004

Chapter Zero

Over the past couple of weeks, and in no way unconnected to my impending thirtieth, I have been increasing my resolve to start writing fiction again. The Grand Scheme had been to complete a children's novel (yeah, I know) by the time I was thirty, and then after my thirtieth, having done the research, I would begin work on the BFO serious novel that I've had in mind since I was about 24. Needless to say the children's novel is unfinished, and I've not done the research...

Despite the fact that the BFO serious novel has an idea behind it that most people who hear it seem to get excited about, it has ceased to be all that interesting to me. I dare say it will be attempted at some point, I'd just feel incredibly precocious tackling the subject matter write now (which is precocious of me in itself). Luckily, in a fit of despondency, I happened upon a series of ideas that are all within my grasp and will hopefully weave into a complicated but quite artful whole. I happened to notice that some of the articles I'd written for GRW have common elements that point towards the development of a universal idea which will hopefully be enough to build a novel around.

I have gone through the familiar pattern of sketching out chapters, plotlines, characters etc. but whenever I have sat down to... you know... write anything, I have been utterly appalled, both at my immediate lack of skill (I have a hard to live with, and utterly self-defeatist "first draft" expectation of myself) and the fact that I have forgotten the level to which I must acquaint myself with the story I am trying to tell. I have had characters turning up at people's houses only to discover I've no idea what sort of place they have - and to that end, no idea of who my characters are. Happily I am starting to realise that writing about them is an ideal way of finding out. This also allows me to ease up on my need for instant perfection.

I've just completed a rough and ready 1500 words of chapter 1, and have already begun to make decent progress on a variety of elements that ought to help the juices continue to flow. So to speak. In search of a new year's resolution, I shall be attempting 1,000 words a day (or a stiff bit of related reading). I feel more prepared to write a sprawl of rubbish at the moment than I have ever been, and the absolute fear of writing a sprawl of rubbish has kept me from writing for too long.

23 December, 2004

Let the bells ring out!

I've paid off my student loan!!!!!!!!

22 December, 2004

More ID Bill bashing

21 December, 2004

1984 1/2

Well the debate in the Commons yesterday was dreadful, wasn't it? Labour seem intent on rushing the Bill through without showing any kind of sign that they themselves have really considered it. I quick glance through Clarke & Davis' addresses did seem to demonstrate that the Labour party haven't got a clue as to what they are doing or why. Davis, although in favour of the cards, outlined his five tests which were interesting in that they pretty much ruled out the creation of the system all together - given that they requested a level of database security that would rule out any possible breaches, from within or without, (improbable and expensive) and that the system should be brough in as cheaply as possible. But having listed his tests, failed to say exactly how his party would be instructed to vote were these tests not met. He also failed to instruct his MPs to actually turn up - I understand there is apparently a good reason for MPs not turning up to such an important Bill, a Bill, in fact that will effect every single voter in their constituencies, but it so far escapes me. Something about not embarrassing the party?

What angered me a little was the way in which civil liberties seem to have become a single issue, one that can more easily be ignored (as it is being ignored) by the Labour government - claiming that the civil liberty argument is overstated. It took some time before anyone mentioned the fact that one of the reasons people were opposed to the scheme (apparently only 20% of the population!) was that they didn't trust Labour. And, hey, the report on Blunkett came out a day later than expected, neatly avoiding the Bill's hearing. And to no real surprise it decided that Blunkett's office did indeed speed up the visa application, but as it couldn't say for certain whether Blunkett was doing so as a favour or, instead, to use it as an example of the problems with visa application delays; and despite the fact that the fax disappeared, and no-one could remember anything about the visa application, there probably wasn't a cover-up.

Naturally enough, those opposing the ID card Bill on principle spoke of the Big Brother state, but sadly the world of 1984[1] was an impeccably well run, organised system based around party integrity, which is hardly true of Blair's softly totalitarian approach to government. If you want to turn your attention to a fictional representation of the kind of dystopia we are fast heading towards it is Gilliam's Brazil, with its inept public service bureau's choked by their own adminstration and procedure.

The price of freedom cannot be freedom.

[1] Incidentally, Clarke said that in 1837, when birth certification was introduced, the people of the day too complained about the creation of a "'Big Brother' type" government. Which just goes to show what sort of foresight the people of 1837 had. And what a flawed argument! He used it to deal with us "thin end of the wedge" chappies, but surely this example goes some way to actually demonstrate the wedge we're currently being split upon? And when do the slow creep of measures stop? When laws are put in place allowing people to be incarcerated for not showing their IDs, will the government's argument against the TEOTW be "oh well, that's what people said about ID cards"? When we are placed under curfew, when the carrying the cards is compulsary and the technology put in place that allows us to be tracked, will those that complain be met with "oh, well, that's what people said about ID cards"?

17 December, 2004

Evening Standard Bashing #1

Page 7 of the "lite" edition of the Evening Standard has an article on the Royal Opera House's forthcoming production of Wagner's Das Rheingold. In the second paragraph they claim the opera will feature "a scene in which vultures peck a human corpse to death."

That shouldn't take them long.

15 December, 2004

Ever since the Kelly affair, BBC News have had a delightful way with words:

"His stinging attacks on his colleagues in a new biography, second allegations - also denied - of a separate visa incident, his use of Parliamentary perks for his mistress, his continuing battle over access to the child he believes is his - all were combining to weaken his position on an almost daily basis."

BBC News

My favourite bit of BBC journalism was an explanation that, because both Blair and Bush were facing elections in the near future, a particular meeting "would" be the last time they met. They don't mince with the modal verbs, them BBC lot.

One down...

14 December, 2004

A Storm Is Coming

Well, the conservative party spoke out in support of ID cards yesterday. That'll show old Tony Blairs. And just to show they had a clue, their key "argument" in favour was that it would be a good measure in the fight against terrorism.


If the terrorists are British, then they'll have a British ID. If the terrorists are not British, then they won't be travelling under a British ID card. Also, a biometric ID card will not project an invisible shield in a two meter radius that will deflect dirty bombs or hi-jacked planes. David Blunkett said that the cards would not be a "silver bullet" in the fight against terrorism. No. It'll be little more than a chocolate fireguard - a very, very expensive one.

What makes me really very cross indeed is that fact that, since 11th September 2001, we have not had a single terrorist action from any group that has actually come off. We've only ever had hard to substantiate threats that have been dealt with perfectly well by the authorities using the powers they already have. So why ID cards? What they are is little more than a security blanket for politicians, because politicians have the unfortunate duty to do their job in a building that is, following Mr Blair's war-mongering, doubtlessly high-up on the International Terrorism target list.

There is no coherent and sensible argument for ID cards, and if you need proof, start looking at what happens whenever politicians start talking in favour of them. Hard information will fly out of the window instantly to be replaced by woolly notions, vague terms with no reference. Here's Blunkett, quoted on the BBC site:

The home secretary ... said the plans were part of a package to tackle people's fears about crime and security, both real and "subliminal".
"Strengthening our identity is one way or reinforcing people's confidence and sense of citizenship and well-being," he told MPs.
"Know your true identity and being able to demonstrate it is a positive plus and is a basic human right which all of us should treasure."

So one of Blunkett's chief reasons for his pretend measure is to allay the fears his own party have been doing all they can to create in the public through their lies and misrepresented intelligence. And, Mr Blunkett, true identity is not something that exists in a document. I would burn my passport, saying "I refute you thus!"

And here's Mr Blair (impeachment pending):

"They will help protect civil liberties, not erode them, because people will be able to produce their own identification,"

There you go - protect civil liberty by controlling it? Protect civil liberty by fining people four-figure numbers for failing to carry or produce ID their papers? He might as well say "Hair shirts will help comfort people, because people will be able to take them off and feel much better."

"I simply point out that without proper security then there can be no opportunity."

This isn't security, though, Mr Blair, it is insecurity, and insecurity will only be increased, not decreased, by the cost and bother of enforced ID cards.

The more that ID cards are discussed, the more the current view held by those in power is shown to be that people are a product of government, when in fact it is the other way round. This is also the way that democracy is heading - that democracy is government, not civil business. The democracy we've been struggling so hard to bomb into the middle-east is falling apart, raped by lying prime ministers, wilfull disregard of constitutional duty, ineffectual opposition and partisanship that flies in the face of representation. And the more people feel their voices are not being heard, the more they will shout. Not so long ago I saw footage of the poll tax riots and was shocked at the size and anger of the crowds. Now, though, I have the strong suspicion that they will be dwarfed by what is to come.

11 December, 2004 :: View topic - Bush and Blair

There's a great number crunching list here... :: View topic - Bush and Blair

10 December, 2004

Coinky Dinky #1

"Happy Birthday To You" copyright issues (including the original version and function) turned up as a question on tonight's QI.

(oo, and I got the Mozart question too!)

Whilst hunting for links through to the GRW cut-up engine, I came across this, which led me to this:

"Who does own the publishing rights to "Happy Birthday to You"? They were acquired by a New York accountant named John F. Sengstack when he bought the Clayton F. Summy Company in the 1930s; Sengstack eventually relocated the company to New Jersey and renamed it Birch Tree Ltd. in the 1970s. Warner Chappell (a Warner Communications division), the largest music publisher in the world, purchased Birch Tree Ltd. in late 1998 for a reported sale price of $25 million; the company then became Summy-Birchard Music, now a part of the giant AOL Time Warner media conglomerate. According to David Sengstack, president of Summy-Birchard, "Happy Birthday to You" brings in about $2 million in royalties annually, with the proceeds split between Summy-Birchard and the Hill Foundation. (Both Hill sisters died unmarried and childless, so the Hill Foundation's share of the royalties have presumably been going to charity or to nephew Archibald Hill ever since Patty Hill passed away in 1946.) "

I wish I could find more information on what the Hill Foundation does, but Archibald, a linguistics professor from Texas, sadly passed away in 1992:

"He used to point to this or that and say something to the effect that "'Happy Birthday' bought that." Many have speculated how much "Happy Birthday" subsidized the LSA between 1950 and 1968 or the Hill Library in the Department of Linguistics."

And it seems that Archibald didn't have any children, so where now for the estimated $20,000 per annum the song made for him?

09 December, 2004

Third Quarter Syndrome

In typical frustrated boredom I emailed Master Bristow (with whom I do not work) thus:

"Can I go home now?"

To which he replied:

"Third Quarter Syndrome: A phenomenon observed by psychologists whereby the third quarter of any unpleasant or gruelling experience, where the duration is known by those endiring it beforehand, is the least endurable. For example, on a four-week tour of duty, a lighthouse keeper will be most lonely on the third week. Someone doing an unpleasant job from ten to six will find the time between two and four in the afternoon the slowest and most soul-destroying part of the dayThis phenomenon has been noted in many different situations from space missions to prisons, and appears to hold true for any length of time from several years to less than an hour.

TQS may be explicable by the general trend of things to get less endurable over time as the sufferer's reserves of strength are broken down, this downward trend then reversing in the fourth quarter as the end hoves into sight, causing an upswell in optimism. Between halfway and three-quarters of the way through your ordeal, however, the extent of your torment seems to stretch to eternity in both directions."

and paraphrased in the furthermore...

"Two interesting corollaries to TQS:

1. Knowledge of TQS on the part of the sufferer does not make the bad feelings go away.

2. The worst part of the third quarter - the worst of the worst - is, of course, the third quarter of the third quarter, or the eleventh sixteenth of the whole duration. If my maths is right (and it may not be), repeated iterations of this identify a point 2/3 of the way through as the single most unbearable moment of any bad experience. If you work nine-thirty to six-thirty, this will be at three-thirty -eight minutes after your original email."

Nice to know I'm suffering from a syndrome. Is it grounds for sick leave, though?

Goat succas

Below you will find the list of most popular Google search items for weekending 6th December, c/o their Zeitgeist page.

Number 7 on the Top 10 Gaining Queries list holds a special interest. Not only does it refer to the legendary goatsucker, a cryptozoological beasty said to be responsible for a slew of animal mutilations in South America, it also demonstrates the way in which people just don't take this sort of lark seriously. Regular readers of Fortean Times will know that the beasty, being of Spanish nomenclature, is called chupacabras; one chupacabras, many chupacabras. This glut of online bad spelling is probably due to the underbright movie industry, and the various films that managed to get all the way through to a release without anyone pointing out the glaring error in the title.

And what is perhaps more disturbing than the plethora of bad spellers using Google, is the fact that the search term seemed to work fine for them.

07 December, 2004

No ID-er

Oo, and do get along to They're keeping their petition open, and are looking for people to join and/or fund the campaign. Some of the government's plans are truly scary, so have a read. Their current thinking even includes the use of ID cards in purchasing goods - leading to the creation of virtual databases that will be grotesquely intrusive. It seems none of the arguments for the cards hold much water - they won't do anything to prevent terrorism, and there's nothing they do that isn't already done by other means via passports or national insurance cards. In fact, when they start talking about four-figure fines for failure to carry or present ID cards, you realise that the whole exercise will serve to generate more criminals.

And it seems significant that Labour has suddenly stopped telling us how much it is going to cost - there was a figure of £35 a year per individual bandied about for a stand alone card, and £75 for three-in-one card (ID, driving license, passport). Suddenly the £35 figure seems moot, and has been replaced by an undisclosed amount. Apparently they're looking at £5.5 billion for the first ten years - which I'm sure would serve a better purpose in the forthcoming pensions shitstorm.

The ID card system will be useless without substantial increases in police powers and an erosion of civil rights, and the scheme as it stands will only be the thin end of the wedge. When it becomes increasingly acceptable for previous misdemeanours and previous court appearances to be taken into account during trials, and when the government start redefining who can be classed as a terrorist then you know there are bad times ahead.

I'd write to my MP, but she's in the cabinet and used to be a party whip. All hail democracy.

Just because it's missing, doesn't mean it's good...

Went along to the Missing Believed Wiped show at the NFT on Saturday. Much of the stuff recovered this year had, in fact, come to light last year, so it was a peculiar line up. There were highlights, mind.

The Complete And Utter History Of Britain episodes 1 and 2 made their way from Terry Jones personal vaults. This was one of the precursor shows to Monty Python, and mixed studio pieces with filmed inserts, making for quite a modern format. At one point they even filled the studio camera frame with the monitor before fading through to the filmed insert proper - a technique rediscovered for contemporary studio programming. On a personal level, having acquired a copy of the filmed inserts on their own, complete with bad audio, we'd been under the impression that the themetune ended with "The complete and utter history of Britain... and it's all true," when in fact what we'd been hearing was "episode two." Ah well.

The second program offered a great episode of Z Cars, Brotherly Love. The audience seemed to really go with it, which was great. Too often at these showings the viewers are laughing at, rather than with, the programme. A couple of years ago they decided to show some recovered effects test footage - shots of smoke that had been intended to overlay images in a sequence of Doctor Who. Not exactly entertainment. But with the Z Cars, the audience was definitely laughing with the programme, which remains refreshingly contemporary despite its age.

There followed an oddball show called Man Without Papers. It was strange seeing a show when you've got no context for it whatsoever. The opening sequence featured an American drifter trying to get through to a Lord on a public telephone. Had the show been The Avengers or The Saint you'd be forgiven for thinking the Lord would be the central figure, but no. Instead the show's protagonist was the drifter - v. sixties Dylan - an edgy character who seemed to be fighting against institutionalised corruption with hippy values. Selling it well, aren't I?

There was also a terrific Out Of The Unknown - The Tunnel Under The World, which saw the veteran British telefantasy show at its most Twilight Zone-esque. The story managed to be (if you forgive the retrograde similes) a halfway house between Groundhog Day and The Truman Show. Interestingly the bad guys in the tale were advertisers - socially relevant (even today) but politically telling given that OOTU was a BBC show.

Sunday saw me breaking in the go board. I had Daniel Bristow round for three quick games, three of which I lost! Dan's been playing against a computer opponent for quite a while now, though, so as a newby I'm not too downcast. It's actually great to play it on something other than a computer screen, and I'm starting to put my reading into context too. I was drawn to the idea of playing go primarily because I wanted a social pursuit, so really I don't need to be overtly competitive, but I still have this urge to play to the best of my abilities. I suppose what I'm hankering after is becoming one of those gruff old men who have twenty-year-old grudges based around meaningless games. At least there's a fair bit of philosophy in go!

I've also finished the linkage on the website for the broken English go instructions. Not sure what else to put up, save for a list of links...

01 December, 2004

Do Not Pass Go

Well, the beginnings of the site are up! There's not a vast quantity of things to see and do as yet, just some stuff I've recycled from my old site in the brain probe section, the Pocket Simon from my long defunct Static site, the word CHEST (which will hopefully make sense later) and an as yet redundant interactive text. Oh, and this blog.

I have been dallying with the ancient oriental game go of late, and very naughtily splashed out on a set from a very famous London toy shop. The set was made in China, as were the instructions, which are happily (if you already know how to play) written in that strangely poetic broken English favoured by e-mail comiddy links.

So I typed it all up. I've not placed a link at the site as yet (damn me for my over-ambitious graphical interface), so you'll have to make do with this link here, for now. I dare say, now I've invested too much in the game to lose interest, there will be various go bits as time goes on.

And finally...

Topical comedy is trickier than it looks. Apparently what you've got to do is look at the events of the day, sit down and think of funny little connections and ironies that present themselves, and turn 'em into jokes. Take David Blunkett for example. He got into hot water a while back for saying that ID cards were like loyalty cards, didn't he? And now he's up before the beak (well, the civil service) after allegations he fast tracked his former-lover's nanny's visa application. And now he's demanding access to his child. Hmm, so what have we got? Loyalty cards... ID cards... visa... access... Oh fish-hooks I can't think of anything, and it looks so easy on Dead Ringers...