Friday, 30 June 2006

The Bikini is 60 Years Old!

I've forgotten what I was going to say now.

They Just Don't Get it

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is all in a lather, saying that the Israeli offensive in Gaza and arrest of over 60 cabinet ministers is a premeditated plot to overthrow Hamas.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Nazal, a Syria-based member of the Hamas politburo and equally miffed, told the Associated Press,

Israel is negotiating by fire. They're buying time until they can locate the soldier through intelligence and then try to free him.
And your point is... What?

Headline of the Day

US rebuffs Iranian calls for time on nuclear reply

Since this refers to Iran rebuffing the American negotiation terms, then the US is the rebuffing the rebuff.

Next: Iran rebuffs the rebuff of the rebuff.

I haven't seen so many rebuffs since I worked in a body shop (Boom! Boom!)

Vorsprung Durch Technik

They just don't build robots like they used to-- thank God.

Coming Up For Air

My soon-to-be-four-years old daughter suffers from severe asthma that can be triggered by something as simple as a cold, which has resulted in so many casualty ward visits that we have literally lost count-- though we will always have the gigantic medical bills to remind us. Sometimes it's been literally a lifesaver when we went in, and sometimes it was a better-to-be-on-the-safe-side trip, but when the kid is too small to use an asthma whistle to check lung capacity and you can't check her blood oxygen levels, what can you do? More than once we've gone in at 2 AM and sat for hours waiting to be discharged saying to each other, "You know, if we had one of these oxygen monitors we wouldn't have had to come in this time."

That's why this little gadget that measures blood oxygenation from SPO Medical caught our attention. Granted, this is no substitute for trained medical personnel, but like having a stethoscope, epipen or a bottle of oxygen at home, it can give be one more item of reassurance.

Power From Poo

From 1949, an old solution to a present problem. Forget ethanol, hybrids, fuel cells, and the hydrogen economy; what the world really need to solve its energy needs are great big plastic bags full of gas distilled from cow poo.

Let the fart jokes begin.

Falklands War Do-Over

Argentina is making another bid to take over the Falkland Islands; this time through "world opinion" over the issue of fishing rights.

Hopefully, Whitehall will respond with a brief missive that begins with "get" and ends with "stuffed."

Tales of Future Past of Tomorrow Today

Reihan Salam at Slate looks at the current predictors who are forming today's tales of the future, which will be tomorrow's tales of future past, and concludes that the future will belong to either the pessimists, the optimists or both.

Don't go out on a limb there, guys.

Lions and Donkeys

Were British servicemen in the First World War "lions led by donkeys?" Military historian Peter Caddick-Adams looks at the Battle of the Somme and finds that a lot of what has been accepted as truth in the '60s is really tells more about the historians than history.

When I was lecturing on history at university, the First World War was something of a bete noir for me, because until relatively recently it was almost impossible to find a modern work on the subject that didn't subscribe to the lions and donkeys school of thought. Worse, the popular narrative of the war always seemed to fit a template:
Archduke Ferdinand assassinated in 1914.
  1. Tommys march off to France shouting "God save the King."
  2. By Day Two the entire Western Front becomes a pointless killing ground of mud and blood that lasts for four years with Allies having no hope whatsoever of winning the war.
  3. Inexplicably, the Allies suddenly win the war in 1918.

Somewhere in here the Bolshevik Revolution, Gallipoli and the Lusitania would get shoe-horned in, but that was the general drift. Naturally, the Allied generals were all ultra-conservative boobs and their men were all lambs to the slaughter who'd have been better off committing suicide if they couldn't desert. This reached its nadir in 1986 with a BBC drama called The Monocled Mutineer, which as much as said that the war was nothing but a Capitalist conspiracy to destroy the working class.

Leaving the paranoid conspiracy theories in the land of elves and fairies, this narrative turns out to have been remarkably unfair. True, the sheer destructive power of modern warfare caught everyone by surprise, horrible mistakes were made in every theatre and, yes, the Western Front was a charnel house for the first part of the war, thanks to the deadly combination of barbed wire and machine gun that made massed infantry obsolete and stopped any hope of an advance until the development of the tank, but, as Caddick-Adams points out, the Allies, and especially the BEF, were not led by cowardly "donkeys" who never saw the Front. In fact, he understates the case, in that not only were scores of generals lost at the front, but that those losses were higher that at any time before or since.

As for the idea that Haig et al were a load of conservative dunderheads who were fixated on cavalry charges and the like, most people forget that the generals' belief in breaking the lines so that the horses could have a go was not based on reactionary thinking, but rather a fascination with modern technology. The cavalry of 1914 had advanced lightyears beyond the broken nags that Wellington had to rely upon a hundred years before and represented genreations of concerted developmetn in weapons and tactics. It was firmly believed that new firearms, artillery and cavalry techniques made modern horsemen a devastating force that simply needed room to maneuver in order to tip the scales of battle. In other words, it was analogous to a Bomber Command twenty years later saying, "clear the anti-aircraft away and my bombers will finish the job."

But what I find most telling is that the "lions and donkeys" narrative always tends to gloss over that one annoying little fly in the storyline: The Allies won. The charnel house gave way to hard-earned victory. At devastating cost, the Germans did break and Berlin was laid bare to the threat of an Allied advance that was halted only by the Armistice. However, those historians who were so quick to condemn the generals for their follies seemed rather reluctant to credit them for their victories.

Reminds me of certain journalists today.

Sleepy Subject

BBC Online has an article taking a hard look at the topic of sleeping on the job and jfdl'adkrt'ja;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

Thursday, 29 June 2006

The Moral Maze

I'm caught in a terrible ethical dilemma. Should I post an item on the nude Britney Spears cover for Harper's Bazaar? Seeing as I know almost nothing about Ms. Spears and am even less interested in her goings on, wouldn't it be transparent to all that the only reason I'm including such an item is because it is a bald excuse to include the words "nude Britney Spears" in a cynical attempt to attract search engine hits?

No, on balance, I've decided not to do the nude Britney Spears post.

That's nude Britney Spears.

Not doin' it.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Fallout: Dutch Government Resigns

The pro-Jihadist, pro-appeasement campaign that drove Ayaan Hirsi Ali out of the Netherlands and tried to strip her of her citizenship has had its dagger turned against itself and struck the body politic deeper than I'd imagined (or hoped). According to AFP, this failed railroading sparked such a row over Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, the instigator of the campagn, that the ruling coalition collapsed and the government had no choice except to resign en mass.

Now the Dutch will have to find someone to form a new government. Only those with spines need apply.

Tip o' the hat to the Captain's Quarters.

Long Distance Death Threat

Wives and other relatives of British soldiers serving in Iraq have been receiving death threats-- from Iraq. According to the Sunday Telegraph, insurgents are obtaining the numbers by intercepting mobile phone signals from servicemen calling home.

What would have taken the Nazis a major spy network and a ton of equipment can now be achieved by one semi-literate Jihadist with a couple of hundred quid worth of hacking gear.


Digital T-Shirt

One of those ideas that seems cool until you actually try it out-- a t-shirt with a functioning digital clock sewn into the front. This may be great if you're the sort of person who is fed up with constantly being asked what time it is, but as the readout is a tad inconvenient to read from the wearer's point of view, if you want to know the time yourself, you might end up being to one doing the asking.

Anti-Terror Raid Apology

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair admitted that the Forest Gate anti-terrorism raid was in error.

This time we did not find what we were looking for and it seems we were wrong. Once again I apologise for the harm and disruption caused.
However, he went on to say that the police were "wrong" not in carrying out the raid, but in not finding what they were looking for.

This is a positive development, as it's far better that the police to state that it is preferable to make that sort of error rather than the kind that ends with bombs going off in Tube trains. However, it seems that the government still hasn't a clue as to the nature of this war, since Sir Ian also said, according to the report,

(I)t was his view that the police should find leading figures in the Muslim community "who will be able to examine our methodology, our intelligence assessments and decision making before major operations."
It's rather like consulting with Russian ex-pats during the Cold War before going after KGB agents. With that sort of "help" I predict that the police are going to come up empty handed with remarkable regularity.

Okay, How About a Tote Bag?

It's been four days since Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the world, announced that he is giving 85 percent of his wealth to Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, to distribute through his foundation and I still cannot figure it out.

Why? Why did Buffett give all that cash to Gates when there were so much more worthwhile causes? Doesn't he read Ephemeral Isle? Doesn't he see the handy Donate button on the right? Doesn't he know about the great premium of classic radio plays on CD-ROM available for every contribution to the bandwidth fund over $25? For $47.5 billion he'd have 1,900,000,000 copies-- that's enough to take care of his Christmas list for the rest of his life and leave a couple left over to keep in the car. I'd even throw in a coffee mug for free.

Bet Gates didn't give him a coffee mug.

Quote of the Day

No, they’re not on the other side — not card-carrying members. But say they were: How, exactly, would their behavior be different?
Max Easton (paraphrased) on the behaviour of certain journalists.

Googling the OED

"Google" is now officially a verb, according to the 2006 edition of the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary. The entry is reproduced below so you don't have to enter the word in a search engine thingy to look for it. There's a word for that sort of operation, but forget what it is.

intr. To use the Google search engine to find information on the Internet. trans. To search for information about (a person or thing) using the Google search engine.

Has Somalia Fallen?

ABC News reports that Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, leader of the Muslim militias executive council, has claimed that his Jihadist forces have not only taken the south of Somalia, but now control the entire country.

If this is true, then Somalia is no longer a sideshow, but a beach head in East Africa and a potential new base from which the Jihadists can operate.

Dick Tracy Call Your Service

One of the more popular pages in Tales of Future Past deals with that technological oddity, the Wrist Radio. It's one of those predictions that people keep making and remaking, but somehow it never gets off the funny pages. Now, SMS Technology Australia announces that it is ready to market an honest-to-Tracy wrist radio-- or a wrist phone, rather-- complete with Bluetooth and voice dialing.

This is all very cool, but it still faces the insurmountable fact that in the cold light day you're still some twit talking to his watch.

Iran: The Clock is Ticking...Sort Of

Iran has been given until 5 July to accept the West's offer of incentives to suspend uranium enrichment or face the consequences.

As this is a G8 press release rather than an Anglo-American ultimatum, it has about as much clout as an exceptionally fluffy feather pillow, but it's a refreshing change from the resignation that has marked the international response to the Iran crisis up until now.

Update: Iran is playing Nuclear Chicken.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Wolverine Update

You can't keep a good mutant down. The X-Men franchise may have been wrapped up and half the characters killed off (and based on X-Men III, that's not such a bad thing), but that doesn't mean that the genetic angst is over, as Fox has announced that Hugh Jackman will be returning in a Wolverine spinoff movie due for release sometime around 2008.

And so will his sideburns.

Palestinian Terrorists May Have Fired Chemical Warhead Into Israel

According to Reuters, Gaza terrorists have issued the following claim:
The al-Aqsa Brigades have fired one rocket with a chemical warhead.
If this is true, and the Palestinians are resorting to chemical weapons, then they have lost all reason and any hope of a Palestinian state. Out of pure self-defence, the Israelis will drive the lot of them clean out of their borders.

This isn't the first time this sort of pathological arrogance bordering on mass suicide has taken hold of an entire people. The Plains Indians suffered from it, as did the Imperial Chinese under the last Manchus and the Japanese in the last war. And it wasn't pretty then either.

Update: In related events, Palestinian terrorists claim to have executed an 18-year old Israeli hostage and the IDF are rounding up Hamas cabinet ministers and members of parliament.

21st Century Vinyl

Not a step forward, not a step back, but more of a step sideways. This turntable with a difference uses a laser instead of a stylus, so you can listen to your old Moody Blues albums without wearing them out.

Why you wish to do so, is your affair.

Tip o' the hat to Ektopia.

Ephemeral Is Now Syndicated

We've finally figured out how to configure our Atom feed, so you can now receive automatic updates of Ephemeral Isle as we post.

Scroll down for the link.

Hello, Assad!

At the Captain's Quarters, we have the story of the Israeli Air Force paying Boy Assad a friendly visit at his summer residence-- in four fighter jets at ground level.

They seem to have been delivering a message.

Another Nail

The ancient office of Lord Chancellor has been replaced in the House of Lords by some modern bastardisation called the "Lord Speaker."

What you just felt is Civilisation taking another lurch towards the Pit.

World Cup: Budweiser Discovers the Obvious

From CBS News:

Simply put, Germans hate Budweiser. Weeks before the inaugural games kicked off the Cup, Germans were furious at the prospect of having to drink what they refer to as "dishwater" at stadiums.
In other developments, water is wet and fire is hot.

Duelling Headlines

Scientists OK Gore's movie for accuracy

AP Incorrectly claims scientists praise Gore's movie


This thing is bloody amazing. Defense Tech has a link-rich post on Boston Dynamics' BigDog-- a project to develop a robot dog that can be used as a mechanical packmule by the infantry.

There's even a link to some remarkable video footage, which includes a demonstration of how you can give the 'bot a swift kick in the side and it won't fall down. If they ever put any AI in this thing, I'd think twice about trying that trick.

Quote of the Day

Man, my career has really gone downhill. I really wish I had won that Oscar for Boogie Nights, that was my last shot. Take a left at the lights.

Burt Reynolds giving directions in the celebrity-voice version of the TomTom GPS navigator.

Mining Project

The Telegraph recently ran a story about a new shaped-charge mine, apparently developed and supplied by Iran, which is being used with lethal effect by terrorists against British troops in Iraq and which neatly dovetails with the first of Christopher Hitchens' four projects for anti-war activists.

What about the land mines? A few years ago, a fairly broad consensus was achieved, to the effect that land mines should be regarded as an illegal and immoral method of warfare. Jody Williams and her group received a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the question, and Princess Diana became an international star on the subject. The Clinton administration declined to sign the treaty, mainly on the grounds that a huge number of American land mines guard the so-called demilitarized (actually very highly militarized) zone that helps protect South Korea from a "dear leader" attack. But nobody is going to wander innocently into that zone. Whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan, every day dozens of these devices—sometimes known as "improvised explosive devices," or IEDs—are buried where anyone can step on them or be blown up by them. We have persuasive evidence that Iran and Syria have contributed some sophisticated explosives to the gruesome business. Would not now be the time to demand that the international community denounce land-mine atrocities and—especially the states that underwrite them? Anyone who has ever uttered the phrase "civilian casualties" has a particular obligation here.
Any takers?

Breakfast Story

The Telegraph looks at the current state of the Anglican Church and says that,

If the suggestion by the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday is taken up - of dividing it into "constituent" and "associated" parts - then it will most resemble a fried egg.
It's an interesting metaphor, but given Anglicanism's recent troubles, I'm more inclined to say it wasn't so much a fried egg as toast.

Update: The Right Rev Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, weighs in.

The Eyes Have It

Newcastle University recently ran a test where they placed a poster of flowers over a canteen "honesty box" and then replaced it with a pair of staring eyes to see if there was any difference in how much money people put in the box. Not surprisingly, when the staring eyes were put up, people had an guilt-attack and were three times more likely to pay for their drinks.

The scientists believe their findings may have applications in initiatives to curb anti-social behaviour or for law enforcement.

"It does raise the possibility that you could get people to behave more co-operatively or pro-socially by putting up pictures of eyes," said Dr Bateson.

Oh, yeah. I'm really looking forward to seeing posters like the one above on the street corners.

Doctor McCoy, Call Your Service

Like something straight out of Star Trek, the US Military is developing an ultrasound device that will allow combat medics to locate and then cauterise internal bleeding with focused ultrasonic beams.

If I'd read this in an old Hugo Gernsback magazine I'd have said, "In your dreams," but when I see some of the things that military medicine has come up with lately, I can't help thinking that it won't be long before some 21st century Hawkeye Pierce pulls a little whirly thing out of his bag.

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Israel Rolls Into Gaza

A tale of pure bad luck. The Palestinians vote out a load of bloodthirsty kleptocrats and vote in a government made up of raving Jihadists who wage civil war against their political opponents, reject every peace agreement made by their predecessors, vow to drive the Jews into the sea, shoots missiles at civilian targets, attack checkpoints, and kidnap soldiers and then act all surprised when the Israelis treated acts of war as, well, acts of war and sent the heavy armour into Gaza.

Who could have seen that coming?

Britain's Veterans Day

Today marked Great Britain's first annual Veterans Day.

First I've heard about the thing. Nice to see that they didn't keep it a secret!

Still, well done, lads and keep up the good work. We're all behind you!

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Still Dutch

A little slice o' justice as the Dutch government says no to appeasement and rules that Ayann Hirsi Ali can retain her Dutch citizenship.

Minister Verdonk, who was behind the drive to strip Ayann of her nationality, may find herself stripped of her job.

Nothing to See Here

Little Green Footballs looks at the case of a Denver shooting spree that has police utterly "baffled" as to motive despite this quote from the gunman's sister:

He told me that Allah was going to make a choice and it was going to be good and told me people at his job was making fun of his religion and he didn’t respect that.
Good Lord, Inspector Clouseau could figure this one out quicker.

Quote of the Day

From the Times' excerpt of Michael Groves' book Celsius 7/7:

Jihadists today are not conducting a series of national liberation struggles which, if each were resolved, would lead to peace on earth and goodwill to all infidels. They are prosecuting a total war in the service of a pitiless ideology. It is only by appreciating that the enemy we face is a seamless totalitarian movement that we can begin to appreciate the scale of the challenge we must confront.


Ward Churchill, pseudo-American Indian, plagiarist, academic fraud and sunglasses fetishist, who called the victims of the World Trade Centre attacks "little Eichmanns" is being fired from the University of Colorado.

Even in academia a spark of sanity flickers.

The Piranhas of North Dakota

Our local zoo has an iron-clad policy that all descriptive placards must talk about how harmless and misunderstood the animals in a particular exhibit are so that you come away thinking that jackals, king cobras, scorpions and crocodiles are just the cuddliest things on God's green Earth. I did notice, however, that even the most PC zookeeper couldn't come up with anything to say about the piranhas except one word: "piranhas."

That's what gives this story its piqauncy.

Stoke Up the 'Droid, Min

And just to show that progress can slam straight into reverse, we present the steam-powered robot!

Not to be confused with the horse-drawn android.

The Whale! The White Whale

A white humpback whale has been sighted off the coast of Australia.

Captain Ahab unavailable for comment.

And Now: Sport

It's all electric excitement here as Wimbledon gets underway at last. Having completely ignored the World Cup, I can now get down to some serious not-watching tennis.

Happy Birthday, Flexible Friend

The great British credit card is forty-years old today.

Coincidentally, that is how long it will take me to pay off my balance.

My Dog Has Two Noses

How does he smell?

(Well, it sort of fits.)

Mass Appeal

The Pope has declared that electric guitars and other go-ahead "modern" music is not compatible with Christian worship. Not everyone agrees with him , especially Cardinal Carlo Furno, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, who says,

Better to have guitars on the altar and rock and roll Masses than empty churches.
Having sat through, and subsequently avoided like the plague, my share of trendy services, I think that His Eminence would be more accurate using "and" instead of "than."

And While We're on the Subject

British scientists claim to have invented an inviso-ray. At the moment, it only works on microscopic objects-- so you'll have to take their word for it, but it's early days yet.

Our reaction? Been there. Done That.

By the way, notice anything odd abut this paragraph? (Emphasis added)

To perform this conjuring trick in his lab at Imperial, Prof Phillips uses intense beams of infra-red light from lasers that rely on special semiconductor crystals grown in the former Soviet Union. Although the laser is rated at 10 million w atts, it is surprisingly safe: he encourages me to put my hand in the invisible beam: with each pulse of laser light, I feel a tiny pinprick as some of my skin cells are vaporised.
For Heavens sake, Mr. Highfield, the Soviet Union has been dead and unlamented for fifteen years. Do we continue to refer to Germany as "the former Nazi state" or Cambodia as "the former Kampuchea?" Can we please stop this "former" nonsense and let that Communist abomination fade into the obscurity it deserves?

Death Watch

J. K. Rowlings has announced that two characters will die in the final Harry Potter book.

Hagrid placed under 24-hour police protection.

Now I'm Confused

First we had stealth planes, then stealth boats, now it's stealth radar.

Pretty soon military bases are going to be like my house; nobody is going to be able to find anything.

How to Break a Stalemate

Hamas appears to be on the verge of recognising Israel.

Why? Perhaps this has something to do with it. It's amazing how a hundred tanks manned by cheesed off Israelis who want their kidnapped comrade back can clarify the thinking.

Update: "Appears" turns out to have been the operative word. Back to square one.

Peak Oil

$200 a barrel oil prices? Maybe, but Larry Kudlow at NRO has other views.

Prince Turki (Saudi ambassador to the United States) can threaten $200 oil all he wants, but we may instead be looking at a downward correction that will have oil prices dropping more than anyone imagines possible. Supplies are at their highest levels in eight years, while demand appears to be falling, or at least leveling off. Should a significant price correction be in the offing, stock markets and the economy will cheer.

Monday, 26 June 2006

Blogosphere Byways

You are here.

The Blogosphere has been mapped.

Now I can stop asking at filling stations.


(Sigh) It had to happen sooner or later. Have a listen.

Nowhere is More Neutral Than Noman's Land

AP interviewed "five dozen" European and British-based moderate Muslims and uncovered a depressing "I'm not a terrorist, so what has this to do with me?" attitude.

To many, the pressure to denounce acts of terror smacks of President Bush's warning that 'you are either with us or against us.'

"People and politicians say where are the Muslim people, why aren't they on the streets defending themselves? They say we should go into the streets and condemn what happened so they see us as good Muslims," said Karima Ramani, a 20-year-old Dutch born to an Algerian father and Moroccan mother. "I don't feel it's my duty. I'm not responsible for the death of Van Gogh."
What both the AP and moderate Muslims fail to realise is that in this war between civilisation and barbarism it really is a matter of "with us or against us" and that the duty of the moderates isn't merely to troop out and condemn the Jihadists after this or that atrocity, but to stand up and literally fight the terrorists in their midst. The Iraqis understand this as they vote, form governments and line up in their thousands to join the police and army despite the bombs and knives of the terrorists. It's time for their co-religionists in London and Amsterdam to show some of the same bottle.

In other words, it's time to pick a side or get caught in the crossfire.

Tip o' the hat to Best of the Web.

First Rule of Anti-War Protesting

Never, ever let an unsympathetic cameraman wander around taking pictures of how small your protest is or how much like a bad fringe theatre group you look.

Rationalising Treason

There's been a lot of electrons spilled over the New York Times revealing the secrets of what it acknowledges is a perfectly legal and effective surveillance programme of terrorist finances. The Captains Quarters, Power Line, Little Green Footballs, Instapundit, Hugh Hewitt, et al have all weighed in over the story and the NYT editor Bill Keller's defence of leaking classified information in a time of war that boils down to "because we can," but I haven't added anything simply because my take can be summed up in one word:


Update: Wizbang summarises the New York Times' position.

Dear Reader:
  1. We have no reason to believe the program was illegal in any way.
  2. We have every reason to believe it was effective at catching terrorists.
  3. We ran the story anyway, screw you.

Not If My Daughter Has Anything to Say

Los Angeles Times columnist Pat Morrison says that Barbie has had her day and that Mattel should give her the axe.

So let's all have a go at Barbie. Give up on the re-re-reinvention. Take out Barbie at the top of her game. With a big, dramatic exit, Mattel could actually make a killing out of killing Barbie.
Governor Schwarzenegger calls out National Guard as hundreds of thousands of rioting three to ten-year old girls descend on LA Times offices with torches and pitchforks.

News Hot Off the Grill

Indian scientists have concluded that a vegan diet can have all sorts of nasty consequences including strokes, heart attack, diabetes and other fatal diseases.

Meat: Good and good for you.

Another Nail

Flying in the face of legal tradition, husbands and wives in Scotland may be forced to testify against one another in court.

Sanctity of marriage? Centuries of legal precedent? Pfft! We're modernising!

Sir Clive is at It Again

Sir Clive Sinclair has rolled out his ultra-compact folding pushbike and has once again confirmed that small is weird beautiful.

Dawning Questions

Does Aurora exist? Is it in Britain? Or is this the first reel of another Doctor Who/Quatermass/Tomorrow People episode?

Fighting Jihadists One Computer at a Time

A Montana mother shows that one person can make a difference.

Quote of the Day


Regarding The British government's electronic database that monitors children so closely that it even looks at whether or not they're eating five portions of fruit and veg per day:

The country is moving from 'parents are free to bring children up as they think best as long as they are not abusive or neglectful' to a more coercive 'parents must bring children up to conform to the state's views of what is best.'

Does Superman Know About This?


Mini Black Holes Might Reveal 5th Dimension

Mr. Mxyzptlk unavailable for comment.

Behind the Curve

Headline from Reuters:

Coming soon -- mind-reading computers

Sorry to disappoint the British and American Scientists involved in this bold, new venture, but I've had a mind-reading computer for some years now. It always knows exactly when I need to quickly look something up before rushing out the door, because that is when it chooses to seize up and demand a restart.

All this mind-reading rot is allegedly done in the name of better customer service, though I suspect that the end result will be more along the lines of the NutraMatic Drink Dispenser from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

The way it works is very interesting. When the ‘Drink’ button is pressed it makes an instant, but highly-detailed, examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism, and then sends tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject’s brain, to see what is likely to be well received. However, no one knows quite why it does this, because it then invariably delivers a cup-full of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

Fifty Percent Success, Thirty Percent Solution

David Cameron has called for Britain scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with an American-style Bill of Rights.

Aside from the fact we already have a Bill of Rights dating back to 1688 that has served us quite well (or rather, does when the government in power respects it), this proposal is a good example of why the Conservatives have a long way to go before they are fit for government again.

Cameron would have been right in pointing out that the Human Rights Act is an wretched piece of Euro-legislation that is unnecessary, incompatible with British law and should never have been adopted in the first place, but the idea of replacing it with a Bill of Rights is ill-conceived in that Cameron seems to forget that in today's political climate draughting such a bill would be an invitation for every crackpot pressure group to insist that everything is a "right" up to and including banana yogurt every Friday lunchtime. Not that this matters, as such a bill would be meaningless without a major change in the constitution, because as things currently stand, no act of parliament is binding on any future parliament and therefore such a bill would have none of the standing of its American counterpart.

Perhaps David Cameron should have done a bit of trimming and changed "We should scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a Bill of Rights" to "We should scrap the Human Rights Act."

Saddam Hussein Tries Corporal Klinger Defence

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is trying to avoid the gallows by convincing the court that he is barking mad. At least, that's the only conclusion that I can come to from this AP story where the runner up in the Pol Pot genocidal maniac awards claims that the United States will soon come crawling to him for help:

These puppets in the Iraqi government that the Americans brought to power are helpless. They can't protect themselves or the Iraqi people. The Americans will certainly come to me, to Saddam Hussein's legitimate leadership and to the Iraqi Baath Party, to rescue them from their huge quandary.

His lawyer goes in further by asserting that Saddam's trial is just a clever wooing ploy on the part of the Coalition.

The death penalty is political blackmail to pressure President Saddam to help the American forces out of their predicament in Iraq and to rescue it from the mess it created there.

I doubt if this will work, but as insanity pleas go, this sure beats sticking a bun on your head and claiming to be a cheeseburger.

Nose Transplant

Heart transplants, kidney transplants, face transplants and now submarine nose transplants. Isn't medical science wonderful?

And isn't it frightening that reporters can't tell the difference between "nose" and "bow?"

Bruno the Bavarian Bear Bites Dust

Bruno, the first bear seen in Germany since 1835, has been shot dead because he posed a threat to public safety. If sanity prevails, we won't see a repeat of this incident until 2177.

Don't Drink and Fly

Drunken pelican collides with car. Police unsure as to how to get bird to blow up little plastic bag.

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

It was on this day in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy stood before the beleaguered people of Berlin and in a show of solidarity declared "I am a doughnut."

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Chemical Trail

Hamas has claimed that it now has biological and chemical weapons. Over at the Captain's Quarters, Captain Ed says that if they use them, it will be the worst mistake the Palestinians ever made.

It might also tell us what happened to Saddam's stockpiles.

National Reconciliation? Not Good Enough!

Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq has announced a national reconciliation plan that may bring Sunnis on board and rip the heart of the insurgency, but over at Instapundit it is clear that the MSM have their own motto: When in doubt, move the goal posts.

Robocop Does Berlin

Security at the World Cup is being augmented by nearly a dozen robots. Now if we can get them the security gig for this event, we'll have the full set.

Swedish Bomb Belt

There has been an apparent terrorist attack in Sweden involving a man who claims to have been kidnapped and forced to to wear a bomb belt.

This is clearly payback for Sweden's involvement in the Iraq campaign and... Wait a minute.

What the Heck is Going On?

First boars, then tigers, now porcupines.

Beach Day

Today is officially Beach Day at Chez Szondy, so entries will be light.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

Army News

Lance Corporal William Windsor, stationed at the British Army's Episkopi base in Cyprus, has been busted to Fusilier for bad behaviour.

Not newsworthy? Not unless you know that Billy Windsor is a goat.

Friday, 23 June 2006

Speak For Yourself

I hereby declare that if in five hundred years any fool descendant of mine does to me what Sir Jack Hawkins' did to him, I shall show up in his bedroom and rattle my chains so hard that he never gets a decent night's sleep again.

The slave trade is a great evil that mankind is better off without and contrition is all well and good, but beating your chest over another man's sins is both presumptuous and the height of arrogance.

Today Gaza, Tomorrow the World

A Hamas web site posted a video of the late terrorist leader Yasser Ghalban in a reflective mood, during which he outlined the Jihadists' peace-loving plans for the future:

We will rule the nations, by Allah's will, the USA will be conquered, Israel will be conquered, Rome and Britain will be conquered…The Jihad for Allah... is the way of Truth and the way for Salvation and the way which will lead us to crush the Jews and expel them from our country Palestine. Just as the Jews ran from Gaza, the Americans will run from Iraq and Afghanistan and the Russians will run from Chechnya, and the Indian will run from Kashmir, and our children will be released from Guantanamo. The prisoners will be released by Allah's will, not by peaceful means and not by agreements, but they will be released by the sword, they will be released by the gun.
Sorry, I've read this script too many times not to take it seriously.

Tip o' the hat to Palestinian Media Watch.

Official: Saddam Hussein Hunger Strike Lamest Ever

Saddam Hussein's "hunger strike" in protest at the killing of one of his defence attorneys came to an end when it turned out that what he meant was "skipping lunch."

Arms Control is a Serious Business

Some clowns broke into an American ICBM base and (ineffectively) attacked the 110-ton hardened silo cover with sledgehammers.

And we do mean clowns.

Headline of the Day

Seal must pay his former manager £1m

Will he take it in herring?

When Cows Attack

Thank Heavens the helicopters rescued him, because "Killed by Cow" is a particularly embarrassing way to go.

Tarzan of the DVDs

Stanley Crouch at Slate reviews the Tarzan of the Apes DVD collection. He does a very good job of discussing the Johnny Weismuller films in popular culture without falling back on the "Aren't we so much more progressive these days" trope that is so wearisome, as shown by this even-handed assessment of natives and white men as portrayed in Tarzan movies:

With the exception of Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), where we see civilized Nairobi Africans in colonial circumstances, the natives in the bush are mean and bloodthirsty, but no more lowdown than the ruthless white men who invade Tarzan's Eden in order to leave with ivory or gold.

Back to the Futurama

Cartoon Network has ordered new episodes of the cult animated series Futurama, which was cancelled in 2003.

This is great news for fans of one-eyed babes and alcoholic robots everywhere, but I wonder how its nihilistic "Life is rotten, pointless, and incomprehnsible, but what the ----, at least we have each other" attitude will fare in a post 9/11 world where we face an enemy who does give a ----.

Headline: Study Says Spider Web Developed Just Once

Twice, if you count Peter Parker.

God Hates Mobile Phones

The evidence is clear.

Update: Motorcycles, too-- especially when moving.

Coulter 1 Paxman 0

Now this is good television. Jeremy Paxman grills Ann Coulter and doesn't get quite the results he expected.

Coulter is about as controversial as they come and I find that even when I agree with her I often can't hold with her choice of words, but I don't care if it comes from the Right or the Left, I love it when a particularly pompous television interviewer is roundly flummoxed.

Think of it as uniting against the common enemy.

Love & Monsters & Fans

I think I'm developing a love/hate relationship with the new Doctor Who series. On the one hand, I love that the Doctor has returned to television with a new look and a proper budget, and I am also generally pleased with the quality of most of the scripts. On the other hand, I am dismayed that Russell T. Davies doesn't work harder on recapturing the mixture of menace and whimsy that maked the high-water mark of the old series and the tendency of the new to indulge some of the worst vices of modern television-- not the least of which is a tendency to wallow in popular culture.

"Love & Monsters," the latest episode is a grand example of this. I was not happy when I read that Davies described it as "an experiment," and that some previewers predicted that it would infuriate traditionalists, but I was willing to approach the story with an open mind. This is a pity, as it would have saved me a lot of time.

"Love & Monsters" did not infuriate me so much as underwhelm. The fact that the story had a narrator, the hallmark of weak writing, didn't help, nor did the non-linear plotline that killed any hope of suspense or surprise stone dead. Nor did I tune in to find that the Doctor and Rose were absent from nearly the entire programme in favour of aforementioned narrator Elton, a tame working-class type (Is there any other sort of character in this series? It feels like Eastenders half the time.) who is obsessed with meeting the Doctor. As the story progresses (for want of a better word) we follow Elton as he joins a group of fellow misfits who share his obession and they form LINDA (London Investigators 'N' Detective Agency); a group dedicated to tracking down the doctor, but which is actually more of a social club for these members of damaged humanity to share cake and art projects while pursuing romances. Things seem to be going so well in that department that they forget all about the Doctor until a mysterious Mr. Kennedy shows up, who, to no ones surprise, turns out to be a man-eating alien from outer space bent on finding the Doctor for his own nefarious ends.

This is not a bad story, though not to my tastes. It's a very sweet tale (I hate sweets, by the way) with loads of sentiment and comedy and until the villain shows up like a massive speed bump it comes across as a nice little character study. Trouble is, this is not a Doctor Who story. If it were, the whole thing with LINDA would have been set up (albeit an insanely long one) and Mr. Kennedy would have been the pay off. Instead, Kennedy's appearance brings the whole story to a crashing halt from which it never recovers. Had the alien menace been jettisoned and the LINDA plot pursued to its logical conclusion (that its members did not need the Doctor, but each other), it would have been a much stronger story.

And that is the problem. Doctor Who relies heavily on the science fiction element to work. Remove the sci fi from 90 percent of the stories and they'd fall apart. Do this with "Love & Monsters" and it gets much stronger. It did not need Kennedy. It did not need the Doctor. This is not a poor science fiction story, it's a reasonably good Play of the Week struggling to get out. So, why the blazes did Davies make this thing? Was it ego? Is he out of ideas? Does he not want to do Doctor Who anymore and this is a cry for help?

The answer, oddly enough, comes from a Jay Nordlinger column in National Review:

I saw that William Shatner is joining the TV Hall of Fame, and I wanted to say a brief word about him. I don't know much about Shatner (Captain Kirk on Star Trek) but I do know this: I was on a television talk show with him, several years ago. I had just seen Trekkies-- a documentary about Star Trek fans-- and discussed it with him in the green room. He spoke wisely, sympathetically, and even touchingly about those "Trekkies." He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "We soon learned that it was not about us -- it was about them."

In other words, the conventions (for example) were not centered around the actors in the TV series; they were centered on the participants; their curiosity, their enthusiasm, their sense of family. The actors could show up or not. It mattered little, or not at all.

This is a perfect example of the rationale behind "Love & Monsters." This is not a Doctor Who episode, this is a Doctor Who fan episode, which explores "their curiosity, their enthusiasm, their sense of family." This is a laudable goal, but it's taking what should be a minor plotline or, preferably, an in-joke and blowing it out of all proportion. It's the sort of thing Star Trek indulged in throughout its later incarnations and is the sort of audience repellant that Doctor Who emphatically does not need.

Another Nail

Giant televisions are to be installed on tube station platforms to beam adverts to unwilling passengers waiting for trains. This comes on the heels of a recent trend of installing flat-screens on escalator walls to pummel people with commercials on the way to said platforms.

In a related development, walking soars in popularity.

A Tiger, Eh, By Gum

Good Lord, First it's boars in the West Country and now we have tigers up in Yorkshire.

Rambling has just become an extreme sport.

Miami Raid

The FBI has arrested seven men in an anti-terrorist raid against a Jihadist cell that was planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

In a sign that there is a severe disturbance in the Force, the BBC actually used the word "Muslim" in the second paragraph of the story, albeit tempered with the phrase "believed to be."

Update: CAIR seems to have noticed, too (Via The Corner):

Just heard part of the CAIR news conference on the Miami cell. An official instructed the media to "stop calling these individuals Muslims." If I were a CAIR official, I'd be more concerned with why one of the members of the cell indicated — I'm getting this from the indictment — he was building an "Islamic army."

Thursday, 22 June 2006

To Boldly Go...

Lynx helicopters... of the FUTURE!

WMDs Found, But Do They Count?

According to two U. S. Congressmen, Coalition forces in Iraq have uncovered approximately 500 weapons munitions containing sarin and mustard gas.

I've been following this story on the Web all day and it's interesting to watch it how it's received. Predictably, the MSM have been downplaying it either by tucking it in the back pages or playing up the fact that these weapons predated 1991 while playing down that Saddam wasn't supposed to have these either and that there are lot of other weapons, chemicals, and equipment still unaccounted for by Saddam's own records.

Granted, if confirmed, 500 weapons picked up over a three-year period aren't on the same level as a Ken Adams-designed bunker with a wall-sized illuminated world map covered with concentric circles and giant racks full of steaming missiles ranged in front of a control panel with a big red LAUNCH button, but 500 gas shells are still a hell of a lot in absolute terms and they're only going to make it more difficult for the anti-Coalition crowd to portray Saddam as a kindly man who wanted nothing other than to be left alone to fly kites and feed his people into industrial shredders.

Department of the Bleedin' Obvious

Headline from

Lack of sex blamed for low birth rate

How long did it take them to figure that one out?

Tip o' the hat to Tim Blair.

Stop the Presses!

Headline from the Telegraph:

Raw deal! Noel Edmonds injures his elbow lifting the telephone

Mr. Blobby unavaliable for comment.

Stylophone Flashback

Over at Retro Thing they're taking a look-back at the famous (or infamous) Stylophone; an early electronic music-maker that promised you the dream of sweet music on the go-- if you could get past Rolf Harris' hairy clock on the adverts.

My own involvement with the Stylophone was more of a close shave born of a lack of entertainment that archaeology is notorious for. After I totally failed to master even the rudiments of the harmonica, I once considered buying one of this little chirping keyboards to fight off the mind-numbing boredom of field surveying in remote areas. Lucky for me, I didn't have the dosh or I'd probably never have got out of camp alive!

An Inconvenient Truth: Fact-Checking is a Bother

As an archaeologist, I had to deal with evidence of historical climate changes on a daily basis, so I've always tended to regard all the hype about global warming with a good deal of skepticism-- especially when the press takes global warming as a given. The world's climate certainly is changing. I'd be very surprised if it wasn't. However, the notion that this time the Earth is on the road to resembling a rotissieire chicken (ummm... chicken) and that manmade CO2 emissions are to blame I find unconvincing and not enough to warrant the sort of doom-mongering that former vice-president Al Gore has been indulging in lately. And it certainly doesn't help when the only "inconvenient truth" is his lack of fact-checking. Climate change is so complex a phenomenon, the computer models used to support the global warming hypothesis so crude, and the evidence still so contradictory that a lot more work needs to be done before silly story ideas like this one from ABC News deserve any response more serious than James Lileks'.

ABC news has asked viewers to send in evidence of global warming. How is it affecting your life? ABC news wants to hear from you. This is like Life magazine asking readers in 1952 to describe the communists under their beds. Bald? Slavic? Ruddy? Drunken? Well, I can help. Naked hairless blistered ocelots prowl my yard; mutated day-bats flutter around the eaves, and the other day a polar bear got up on two legs and pushed around a fume-belching two-stroke-engine lawn mower as some sort of ironic protest. Although it may have been the neighbor mowing the lawn with his shirt off. Also, water levels are down around Jasperwood. The top tank on the Oak Island Water Feature is down an inch every morning, and while I might suspect the repair crew managed to puncture the new liner while replacing the stones, I suspect methane emissions are to blame. To do my part I will cork the dog’s hinder, since today he finished processing a bratwurst that fell on the floor, and my stars. Fire in the hole, indeed. Even the dog got that expression Curious George had when he broke the bottle of ether.

Chilling News

As if to confirm that American lager is naught but filthy, undrinkable muck, Coors has developed a beer so cold that it comes out of the tap half frozen.

Amazingly, they spent £10 million to create what can only be called a lager slushy, which is surprising, as I discovered the secret for nothing on an archaeological dig in northern Minnesota when I left a keg outside too long in January. The results were appalling, but on the plus side you couldn't taste a thing. This was a definite improvement.

Pluto Moons Named

In the interplanetary news, the two newly discovered moons of Pluto have been officially named Nix and Hydra.

Personally, I was holding out for Shiloh and Rain, but you can't have everything.

Headline of the Day

Australians to Get Free Porn Filters

Because there's nothing worse than dirty porn.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Doctor Who Rebirth

Lost Doctor Who episodes from 1968's "The Invasion," are being recreated in animated form by Cosgrove Hall.

Whatever you think of the new Doctor Who, its success is having some neat little ripple effects

Britannia May Retain Her Trident

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair's heir apparent, is expected to declare that he supports Trident being updated or replaced when its service life runs out in 2024.

Meanwhile, CND hit the macro on their computer to denounce the news saying that,

At this point, when we face no nuclear threat, to decide on a new Trident replacement is beginning a new nuclear arms race.*
This call for unilateral disarmament is, of course, very different from CND's position during the Cold War when they demanded that Britain unilaterally disarm because we did face a nuclear threat.

*No threat aside from Communist China, North Korea, Iran, an unstable Russia, rogue nukes going walkies from India and Pakistan and any clandestine terrorist programme that has slipped our notice, that is.

The Bright Side

As I mentioned earlier, Chez Szondy is being relocated to the country and one consequence is that we have to give up cable service for satellite. I was taking this as a bit of a letdown, but after seeing this, I guess it could be worse.

CBS News: The Touchstone of Accuracy

If Communist China suddenly adopted the Japanese flag, that is!

Tip o' the hat to Instapundit.

Update: According to Little Green Footballs, it's the wrong moon as well!

Eyes on the Navy

The U. S. Navy is discovering that technological advances have unexpected consequences as it hands out free laser eye surgery to Naval Academy students.

Plus side: More qualify for flight duty.

Minus side: Fewer submariners

Al Qaeda "Religious Emir" Killed by U. S. Forces

From the AP.

A key al-Qaida in Iraq leader described as the group's "religious emir" was killed in a U.S. airstrike hours before two American soldiers went missing and in the same area, the military said Tuesday.

Mansour Suleiman Mansour Khalifi al-Mashhadani, or Sheik Mansour, and two foreign fighters were killed as they tried to flee in a vehicle near the town of Youssifiyah, in the so-called Sunni "Triangle of Death."
Looks like we're on a roll.

Thatcher Derangement Syndrome

The BBC is airing a teleplay that portrays Lady Thatcher as an abusive drunkard. In the Telegraph, Simon Heffer points out that this is flat-out libel and examines why she still elicits such visceral hatred from the Left and the BBC in particular after all these years.

However, last week a light was shone in on my ignorance. A long-time servant of the BBC explained to me, in a moment of stunning insight, why the Leftists in that organisation, and the Leftist contributors to it, are so bilious and angry even 16 years after Lady Thatcher left office: it is because they lost. They were wrong. They were humiliated. They have become bores with nothing else to say. They were not, of course, defeated just by Lady Thatcher: the coming down of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War defeated them, too.

Their defeat was then compounded by the speed with which the party of the Left - Labour - abandoned many of its historic principles and, in order to be elected, adopted what can only be described as a Thatcherite consensus. And finally, Mr Blair put the icing on the cake by (we are told) promising that, at her death, Lady Thatcher will be granted the state funeral she deserves.

Another Nail

Parliament is considering a motion to ban the Army from using bear skin hats. What makes this insanity worse is that not only did a Labour MP start tying the noose, but Ann Widdecombe(Conservative) is throwing the rope over the gallows. Quote Widdecombe:

Black bears, who are intelligent and curious animals, (A species not in any way endangered or even threatened and whose population must be culled anyway. ed.) are slaughtered in Canada so that their skins may be used for ceremonial hats
And they couldn't be used for a better cause, Ma'am.

"Don't Suicide Bomb"

Iraqi television is preparing to air public service spots intended to show that a career as a suicide bomber is not a good idea.

I am all for propaganda efforts to counter the Jihadists in Iraq and, quite frankly, I wish the Coalition was doing more to spread the message at home as well, but somehow this somewhat misses the point that suicide bombing is not a public awareness issue.

Is This a Windows Problem?

Now this is what I call a computer crash!

Cod Smuggling

Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Top of the Pops Pops

Top of the Pops is heading for that Great Record Shop in the Sky after 42 years.

Gone it may be, but I'll always have the memory of puberty being kick-started by the likes of the Go Jos and Pan's People (Pause for quick knee-trembler). And then, there are those magic moments that we will never forget-- no matter how hard we try.

Women and Children First

Why the Jihadists are barbarians in one easy lesson.

PC Presbyterians

What do these have in common?
  • Mother, Child, Womb
  • Rock, Redeemer, Friend
  • Lover, Beloved, Love
  • Creator, Savior, Sanctifier
  • King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love."

Answer: Proof that the Presbyterian Church has taken leave of its senses.

One-Way Problem

The importance of learning the language before going abroad is illustrated by two English football supporters:

The fans parked their car in Cologne's old city and, before going off to have a drink, they wrote down what they thought was the German street name. When they returned several hours later, they could no longer find their car. According to this morning's German press, the unnamed England fans, who had driven to the Rhine city from Belgium, then approached two police officers and handed over a crumpled piece of paper with the street name on it. Unfortunately, however, it read - "Einbahnstrasse", the German for one-way street. German officers this morning said they had to carry out an "intensive search" before discovering the missing vehicle in a nearby side street.

And Now, a Bear... In a Tree!

Again with the bears. There is something going on.

You know, for every one you see there are 200 more.

Sex and the Single Robot

Scientists are pondering the ethics of artificial intelligence and man's relations with his creation and naturally they've started fixating on nookie. According to Henrik Christensen, a member of the Euron ethics group (whoever they are),

People are going to be having sex with robots within five years
Just think, if I was ten years younger there'd be a whole new class of sentient beings that I could totally fail to get off with.

Ultimate Retro Gadget

What you've been waiting for: a portable Stonehenge!


North Korea is preparing to test-launch an ICBM and the Americans have brought their missile defences online.

The Communists send one up, and the Americans swat it down. Now that's what I'd call a breakthrough in arms control.

Update: Defense Tech is not impressed.

Coupling Doctor Who

I'm about half way through the latest episode of Doctor Who, "Love & Monsters" (DVR, got to love it), and with most of the second season behind us, I think I can now say that anyone who is still waiting for the series to get up and a running at the standards of its heyday in the late '70s is going to be sorely disappointed.

It isn't easy to be too hard on Russell T. Davies, the producer of the series. After all, he not only convinced the BBC to revive Doctor Who, and to cough up the first decent budget in the history of the show, but he even got the corporation to stop looking on it as, in the words of a friend of mine, "the bastard red-headed child" by bringing in huge ratings and a raft of awards. This is no small achievement. On the other hand, the same can be said of many other producers of many other successful programmes that I can't deny rack in the punters and dominate water cooler conversations, but which I still find as enjoyable as jamming a fork in my thigh for an hour.

That isn't to say I don't enjoy the current series. Since Justice League Unlimited wrapped up it is the only programme that is required viewing at Chez Szondy. I think it is funny, generally well-written, and thoroughly entertaining. However, after watching the first half of "Love & Monsters", I must reluctantly conclude that Davies is less Phillip Hinchcliffe than John Nathan-Turner.

Okay, that was about as geeky a reference as you're going to get today. For those of you who are not obsessive Whovians, Phillip Hinchcliffe was the producer of Doctor Who during what many regard as its finest years when Tom Baker took over the title role in 1974 and Hinchcliffe moved the series in a more mature, gothic direction. Under him, the colour palettes for the sets became more muted, the lighting darker, the scripts placed a greater emphasis on horror (or at least as much as you could manage in the early evening) and concentrated more on the fact that the Doctor is an alien from an incredibly powerful culture. This very soon paid off with such classic stories as "The Ark in Space," "Genesis of the Daleks," "Terror of the Zygons," "Pyramids of Mars," and "Robots of Death."

John Nathan-Turner, on the other hand, was an odd case. He came on the show as a floor assistant in the late '60s and eventually rose to being producer in 1980. In fact, he often joked that his CV looked rather thin, as the only job he ever had was working on Doctor Who. Nathan-Turner clearly loved the programme and its fans and did all that he could to make it a success, but in the end he became a classic example of how loving something is no substitute for understanding it, and under Nathan-Turner's tenure it became clear as disappointments like "The Twins Dilemma" and "Timelash" appeared that he didn't have any real grasp of what Doctor Who was about. During the '80s, the programme moved sharply away from the Hammeresque approach of Hinchcliffe. The productions were brightly coloured and over-lit and the storylines less mature, more self-referential, and increasingly bizarre until the show's cancellation in 1989 was a mercy killing rather than an execution.

Now, Davies is no Nathan-Turner in that he is a brilliant writer, he does understand proper production values and Doctor Who (perhaps) never looked better. The music is no longer one-man-and-his-synth, the sets don't make you wonder if Arthur Dent is going to come wandering in, and some episodes, such as "Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit," have rightly been compared to feature films in their look and feel. As for the characters, there has never been such an emphasis on fleshing them out.

And that last is the telling point. If you search for "Doctor Who," you'll find a remarkable number of amateur music videos made from recut clips from the last two seasons-- and a soppier load of romantic dreck you will not find outside of Tigerbeat magazine. My wife pointed out that this is not surprising, as most of them were probably produced by 14-year old girls. This is very interesting, because if you were going to identify the one demographic group that the old series never appealed to, it would be soppy 14-year old girls.

The new direction for Doctor Who works and is a hit, but this is because what Davies is going for is not the old audience, but the one that now dominates television. Where the old series targeted boys interested in spaceships and monsters with a leggy girl thrown in for the dads, Davies is targeting adolescent girls interested in romance with sentimental plots thrown in for their mothers. Indeed, this is evident in my own home, where my wife is hooked on the current season, but rolls her eyes heavenward when I pop a Tom Baker disk into the machine. If I asked her why the difference, she explained that this is because a) I'm in trouble if David Tennant ever moves in next door, and b) because she finds all of the old series' Doctors to be harsh to the point of cruelty.

I had to admit to the latter as I made a note to watch out for the former, but it also cleared up what had been puzzling me for some time: What was lacking in the new series. In succession I'd thought it was the hour format, the romantic storyline, the tendency to centre the action on council flats rather than Army headquarters, the over-emphasis on character development to the point where the alien menaces would become subplots, and making the show practically revolve around the companion rather than the Doctor, but what the Missus said made it clear what (part of) the problem was: Where Nathan-Turner didn't understand the show, Davies does not understand the Doctor. At first, I thought that where the difference was with Davies' Doctors, as opposed to the previous ones, had to do with Davies' discomfort with working with plots that don't revolve around sex and therefore his Doctor had to naturally to gravitate toward a love story. But then it became clear that where the problem lay was not that Davies believes that the Doctor should fall in love with his companions, but rather that he could-- and that is the big difference between this series and the old.

If you go back and watch the old series from Hartnell to McCoy (or at least, from the point where the Doctor's backstory became more established), it wasn't that the sex angle hadn't occurred to anyone (the show was created in the '60s, for heaven's sake), nor that it would have been seen as inappropriate for a children's series (possibly) or get in the way of the adventure plots (certainly), but rather because the Doctor was an inherently avuncular character. By this I do not mean that he was the sort of man who treated nubile young women as if they were his nieces, but rather because if you look at the Doctor (especially Tom Baker's) talking to any human being whether it was man, woman, boy, girl, young or old, he treated everyone as if they were his nieces or nephews-- and very dull witted ones at that.

Pull out an old Jon Pertwee episode and you'll see what I mean. He doesn't just talk down to Jo Grant, he treats a middle-aged Brigadier General as if he's fourteen years old and can't do his sums yet. That is because back then the producers, writers and actors understood what Davies has difficulty grasping. The Doctor is an alien with an IQ far above any Earthlings. He is an alien from a people who used time travel as casually as we do electricity and were playing with black holes while the human race was picking fleas off each other. He is also many centuries old and has been travelling the universe for a heck of a long time. It isn't that the Doctor never had any sort of a romantic life (he's a grandfather, after all), but that in the old series for him to start fooling about with Sarah Jane would be tantamount to committing pedophilia with a particularly slow child. Indeed, the only companion that had a chance of sparking romance was the Time Lady Romana-- and that wasn't going to happen because they were always competing with one another. Besides, the fact that she thought the Doctor was probably mad didn't help.

To put it more succinctly, the Doctor is not on our level. Indeed, this was part of the humour of the old series, as we saw the Doctor deflating puffed egos of self-important officials and villains who couldn't possibly impress a Time Lord, and it was part of the drama during the rare moments when the Doctor came up against an equal and dropped his buffoonish facade, as in "Pyramids of Mars" when he confronted Sutekh in his prison and we realised that this was deadly serious, because the Doctor wasn't even thinking of cracking a joke.

This isn't a particularly original or even very new concept. Indeed, this sort of character is already well-established in the form of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, for whom women were a bit of grit in his microscope (Or as Robert Stephens put it in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, "I don't dislike women, I merely don't trust them') to be admired like Irene Adler rather than wooed and who seemed almost relieved whenever he had a chance to cross swords with Moriarty instead of some lesser villain. This was the nature of Holmes' character and it suited the genre that he inhabited.

And that is another thing where the current series differs, and perhaps that is why the Doctor differs. The old Doctor Who stories were adventures, where the new ones are romances with a veneer of adventure. This is not only obvious in that not even an appearance by the Devil himself can keep the Doctor and Rose from mooning at each other, but in the style of writing. Adventure stories are different from romances and require a different approach. Romances are about characters and bare emotions and generally wallowing in sentiment. These all lend themselves to monologues, extended close-ups, and allowing the gravity of The Moment to sink in. Adventures, on the other hand, rely on pace. The story must move forward and by the third act things have to book along. Character needs to be revealed in a single line of dialogue, not a three minute speech. Doomed actors giving long goodbyes are not done. Romance must drive the adventure, not vice versa. Look at "Genesis of the Daleks," for example. If this were made today, the Doctor would have been talking a great deal-- and most of it worrying about whether or not Rose was safe. But in the 1975 version, the Doctor has hardly any lines for three-quarters of the screen time as he sneaks about watching events unfold and he shows little concern for his companions unless they are under immediate threat of death or torture. Does this make Tom Baker's Doctor more heartless than David Tennant's? Possibly, but it certainly serves an adventure plot better.

Basically, what Davies needs to do if he wants to bring Doctor Who back fully is more Conan Doyle and less Couplings. If not, then we'd better just accept that the Doctor is not the Time Lord he was.

Bear Facts

Yesterday we had a brown bear in Bavaria taunting police and today we have another bear in Vancouver sitting in a woman's kitchen as bold as you like eating her oatmeal.

Coincidence? You decide.

Monday, 19 June 2006

Cool, But Odd

It's an air-conditioned shirt. And it runs off a USB port!


Just when you thought they couldn't stick them anywhere else, they're slapping television screens on the sides of blimps.

Watching the World Go By

The Linksys WVC200 wireless webcam with pan and zoom and live video streaming to its own IP address may not be a necessity, but I'd sure like to convince myself that it is one anyway.

Quote of the Day

American Senator Jack Murtha unveils his grasp of geography and his plan for handling the likes of Zarqawi more effectively: Move the American forces 4900 miles away to Okinawa, Japan!

REP. MURTHA: So--and we don't have to be right there. We can go to Okinawa. We, we don't have--we can redeploy there almost instantly. So that's not--that's, that's a fallacy. That, that's just a statement to rial [sic] up people to support a failed policy wrapped in illusion.

MR. RUSSERT: But it'd be tough to have a timely response from Okinawa.

REP. MURTHA: Well, it--you know, they--when I say Okinawa, I, I'm saying troops in Okinawa. When I say a timely response, you know, our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly.

A Tale of Two Headlines

Wearing 'purity rings' is banned at girls' school

A school has banned Christian pupils from wearing rings that symbolise the teenagers' belief in chastity until marriage.
Doctor: Teen pregnancy is nature's way

One of Britain's leading fertility doctors says teenage girls who get pregnant "behind the bike shed" are just obeying nature's law.

Beat the Heat

When swimming pool meets liquid nitrogen. A cool video in both senses.

Seeds of Doom

620 miles from the North Pole, Norway is establishing a seed bank that it hopes that will ensure that some three million varieties of plant life will survive any future apocalypse.

At least we know that no matter how bad things get, Mad Max will have a nice little herb garden to come home to.

China Moon

From Reuters:

A top official in China's space program has set 2024 for the country's first moonwalk, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on Monday, cementing its position as a new space power.
As a strong supporter of manned sapceflight, I am always pleased to see progress being made in the field. However, as someone who knows how profoundly difficult, expensive and profitless Moon missions are for anyone except a superpower with money to burn, it is good to see a Communist dicatorship embracing bankruptcy just to put itself fifty years behind the times.

Wild Bear Continues to Prowl Bavaria: Police Baffled

A wild brown bear, the first seen in Germany since 1835, continues to roam the countryside. How? Perhaps this excerpt from the Telegraph contains a clue:

Germany's only wild brown bear gave hunters the slip yesterday when it wandered into a lakeside resort in Bavaria and sat down in front of a police station before disappearing into the woods. (emphasis added)
A bit of advice to the Bavarian police on capturing this wily bear: Try opening the blinds.

A Cry for Attention

With all the concern about Iran preoccupying the civilised world, North Korea is determined to show that there's more than one suicidal megalomaniac on the block (and that all those jokes about Kim Jong Il having No Dong are not funny) by test launching an ICBM capable of reaching the United States.

Where is Team America when we need them?

Fishing for Truth

I spent yesterday enjoying Father's Day with some quality family time fishing at a trout farm where I learned some valuable truths:

  1. If you buy Daddy a new fishing pole and box of tackle, then Emma must have a Barbie fishing pole as well.
  2. The Red Devil is still the best fishing lure ever conceived by the mind of man.
  3. Fresh trout hot off the grill are proof that God loves us.
  4. It is amazing how familiar I can get with a new casting reel after I have dismantled and reassembled it a dozen times with a leatherman after the line has jammed.
  5. Monofiliment fishing line has the power to tangle itself into impossible knots just by sitting still.
  6. Ospreys can not only nab fish straight out of the water, but they have the bad grace to do a victory lap around the pond to rub it in.
  7. Bullfrog tadpoles are bloody enormous
  8. Three-year olds have profound difficulty mastering the art of casting.
  9. Said three-year old with a hook is a hazard to life and limb.
  10. Three-year olds have the powers of invisibility and teleportation.
  11. If I have caught half a dozen fish and my wife has caught none and she insists on swapping poles with me, I will a) catch a fish with her pole inside of five minutes and b) when I fix the jammed reel on my rod and do a test cast before handing it back to my wife, I will immediately get a strike.
  12. My wife does not see the funny side of No. 11.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Patriotism? Pffftt!

The Dixie Chicks take careful aim at their own foot again.
The entire country may disagree with me, but I don’t understand the necessity for patriotism,” (Natalie) Maines resumes, through gritted teeth. “Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country ... I don’t see why people care about patriotism.
That flushing sound you hear is the career of one country western group going down the toilet.

Brokeback Krypton?

Is the recent "Is Superman gay?" kerfuffle a put-up job by Warner Brothers to attract the Pink Dollar? If so, it may backfire.

Assimilation Is Not Absorption

Charles Moore marks the 350th anniversary of the return of the Jews to Great Britain and comments on the success of Jewish assimilation thanks to their recognition of secular law:
Without this understanding, people do indeed "swallow one another alive" and - one might add in the era of suicide bombings - swallow themselves in the process.
Read the whole thing, as the kids say.

Bringing a Rocket Launcher to a Knife Fight

During Britain's recent (and slightly daft) knife amnesty, someone turned in not a knife, but an American-made M-72 rocket launcher.

I've done it myself, and let me tell you, it is sooo embarrassing!

Happy Birthday, Ma'am II

It's Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's official birthday today, as opposed to her actual birthday, which was last April. Well, you can't expect people to celebrate in the rain, can you?

Happy 80th again, Ma'am.

Chechen "Rebel" Killed

This is becoming almost routinee. The Chechen rebel Jihadist leader Abdul-Khalim Saydullayev was killed by Russian security forces today. This has been hailed as a major setback for the terrorists, though the BBC still hasn't figured out a way to turn it into bad news for Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair.

Friday, 16 June 2006

Serious Cooling

PC running a bit warm? Need to find a better way to keep the electronics cool? Fans not up to it? Forget weedy little half-measures; you want jet engines.

New Companion for Doctor Who?

Rumour has it that Freema Agyeman has the Doctor's new companion.

Mind you, this comes from the Sun, so I'd take it with a liberal grain of salt.

The Tantalus Jar

Brilliant or damn cruel, depending on your point of view.

Trying to cut down a bit, but lack the will power? Then put your chocolates, cigarettes, hard drugs, or Lost DVDs in the Shockolate Vault Jar, set the timer, and you won't be able to get at them again for up to a day without getting an electric shock as well.
People with shallow learning curves need not apply.

Bleak Situation

The battle for Iraq is all but lost and withdrawing may be the only option.

For the Coalition? No; Al Qaeda.

Defining Modern Art

From Reuters:

One of Britain's most prestigious art galleries put a block of slate on display, topped by a small piece of wood, in the mistaken belief it was a work of art.

The Royal Academy included the chunk of stone and the small bone-shaped wooden stick in its summer exhibition in London.

But the slate was actually a plinth -- a slab on which a pedestal is placed -- and the stick was designed to prop up a sculpture. The sculpture itself -- of a human head -- was nowhere to be seen

Can't tell the difference between a work of "art" and the stick that holds it up. I am not in the least bit surprised.

Update: Mark Lawson over at the Groaniad tries to defend the con game with the hoary old "anything is 'art' so long as you call it that and then wrap it in a thick coat of double-talk" argument.

Flame-Throwing Robosapien

You want one. Admit it.

Plastic Food

Plantic of Australia has developed a starch-based edible plastic.

In other words, lunch trays you can eat-- though from the pictures, there seems to be a long way between "can" and "want to."

The £30,000 Question

After a fortnight of pounding their chests and crying police persecution, the two brothers taken in the Forest Gate anti-terrorist raid now face the awkward fact that the authorities found over £30,000 in cash in the house where they were arrested, which puts everything back to square one.

Moral: Never play the victim card unless you know what is in the other guy's hand.

Did You Hear the One About...

The late former prime minister of Ireland, Charles Haughey (80), nicknamed the Great Houdini for his penchant for dodging scandal, was laid to rest today with a state funeral.

An Irish escape artist. Sounds like the start of a joke.

Headline of the Day

From the AP:

Britney Spears pleads for privacy
I firmly believe that anyone who even thinks about embracing that diseased entity called the Cult of Celebrity should be forced to read this.

Quote of the Day

Victor Davis Hanson on media bias in Iraq:

Most weary Americans want at least a moment to savor the death of a mass-murdering Zarqawi, without having to lament that he might have been saved by quicker medical intervention.

Abandonment Issues

For those of you who have been wondering why no new radio plays have been added and why Tales of Future Past hasn't been updated lately, I assure you that I haven't abandoned the rest of the site. If you missed the first post on the new, improved Ephemeral Isle, I suffered a massive hard-drive crash a few weeks back that took out the source files and the backups for the entire site and I've been hard at work reconstructing them-- and that is no small task.

So, be patient. Once the damage control is complete, will go forward with its usual updates, new Tales of Future Past sections, more classic radio plays and a few surprises-- all with a streamlined navigation that will make exploring the site easier.

And I might get this boulder to the top of the hill as well.

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Iranian Doublethink

From the Jerusalem Post:

Iran's defense minister on Thursday vowed that his country would "use nuclear defense as a potential" if "threatened by any power."
I take it that would be a defence using the nuclear weapons that Iran claims it isn't trying to develop.


Air America: Crypto-rightwingers

Two anti-war protestors go on Air America and when they don't get an open mike, they realise that they've been taken in by The Man.

I still haven't decided whether this is true or simply the best bit of parody that I've read in years.

A Hit, A Palpable Hit

A beautiful reposte via Instapundit against an MSM Baghdad correspondent who offered "Chairborne Rangers" a bed at his hotel so they can do some "real" reporting.

Hello Cesar,

I'd take you up on the offer of "the spare bed in the Baghdad bureau" but this Chairborne Ranger is currently embedded in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I'll head back to Iraq for the second time this year after I make my next stop in the Horn of Africa. No doubt Michael Totten and Michael Yon, two other notable Chairborne Rangers, have similar plans.

You should also ask another group of Chairborne Rangers, such as Smash, Greyhawk, OpFor, and the other military bloggers who did their blogging from the combat zones to see if they need a rack. Oh, and I'll be bypassing Baghdad to go outside the comfort of the hotel, so you can keep the spare bed.

Best wishes, be safe and enjoy the pool!
As Glenn Reynolds says, "Ouch."


Chez Szondy is moving next month to new premises. It's a beautiful place out in the country with lots of trees, open spaces, fresh air, hardwood floors and, I have just learned, no broadband cable or DSL Internet access!!!!!!!!

56k dialup! Oh, the humanity!

Update: My wife assures me that we will be better people for learning to live off the land, and my three-year old daughter says, "There, there, Daddy."

Super Faith

First there was speculation about whether or not Superman is gay, now the question is whether he's Jewish or Methodist.

Guess which story gets more play in the press.

Washington Governor Puts in Her Two-Bits

Dull story, but it's an excuse for the two-bits joke.

Rose Tyler RIP?

Companions on Doctor Who rarely last more than three seasons (after all, you can only say "what is it, Doctor" so many ways before you go mad), so it isn't surprising that Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) is due for the chop. What wasn't expected is that the BBC is going to do it with extreme prejudice-- if the Sun is anything to go by.

Meteoroid Strikes Moon

And NASA has the video to prove it.

The Beginning of the End

Perhaps not, but from the benefits reaped from the info taken after the Zarqawi raid, this is most certainly the end of the beginning.

I have no idea what that means, but I never pass up a chance to paraphrase Churchill.