Bits and Pieces

Saturday, May 29, 2004


Finally, I have a car, and not a moment too soon. I spotted an N reg. Fiat Punto in the Autotrader, and got my Pop to drive me out there. It's a nice little 5 door metallic grey beauty. Unfortunately it turned out to have no road tax, so I couldn't drive it home. Now I have to sort out the insurance, make the time to get to the Post Office to get a tax disc, and then drive out to Yorkshire to pick it up. The only problem, of course, is that it has been 5 years since I've driven a manual car, and I'm fairly sure I've forgotten how to drive. I was sitting in the front seat revving the engine when I realised that if I had to take it for a spin I'd almost certainly stall. I'll have to ask my little brother if I can take his car for a spin tomorrow.

Anyway, today is my sister's 17th birthday, so I must leave you all and take her out for some underaged birthday drinks. Adieu.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Cell Phone Customer Service - As A Race, We're Pretty Much Screwed

Steven Taylor over at Poliblog has a problem with cellphone provider customer service (hat tip: James Joyner's traffic jam). It's a problem we've all had at one point or another.

I use O2 here in the UK, and on the whole they provide a good service - great coverage and reasonably priced service. The only problem is when I come to pay my bill. A result of my financially-strapped college years, I had my Barclays Visa cashcard replaced by a Visa Electron card that can only be used at ATMs (to prevent me from exceeding my overdraft limit by writing cheques and paying for stuff over the counter). The problem is that a lot of companies won't accept the card, so every month I have to pay my little brother cash so that he can pay the bill on his card. This usually means that I spend at least one week out of the month with no phone service (laziness on my part, and the problem of getting hold of my brother while the customer service lines are open).

Trying desperately to pay my bill on time one month I learned that the O2 customer service line is actually based in the floor above me in my building. And here's the problem: the people on the other end of the phone aren't cellphone experts eager to answer your every question, but rather underpaid salespeople who can't hack it on an outbound cold-calling campaign, relegated to taking payments and occasionally cross-selling bolt-on additions for cellphone customers.

The problem lies with the cellphone providers. They outsource all their customer service work to companies like the one I work for - sometimes as far afield as India. It's much cheaper than doing their own dirty work because my company can put asses in seats quicker than they can. As a result, product knowledge is minimal and the computer systems are simplified to the point at which a monkey could operate them. The operator only has one or two options during a call (i.e. take payment, arrange Direct Debit). They couldn't help you even if they understood your requests, as the systems aren't flexible.

The only solution to this is to make sure that, when you call, you don't have any kind of technical question that would require a functioning mind to answer. After 8 hours on the phones, these guys can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. Go easy on them, though. It ain't their fault. Inbound telephone work is mind numbing to a degree that the average person couldn't grasp. Seriously.

*Update* Speaking of customer service, Kevin Drum explains why I spent the last half hour trying to load up my site without success. Blogspot, if you weren't free I swear I'd shove you in a cloth sack and throw you in a canal.

Market Fire

Huh. My bus to work was diverted away from Ashton town centre this morning. I could see fire crews working at the bottom of the street. Turns out the market building, a huge listed building hundreds of years old, had been burning since 3am. The market hall was the focus of the whole town, and now only the outer walls remain. Ashton will seem very strange from now on.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Blogger Quiz

I'm gonna find this a little tricky, but I'll try to take this quiz (hat tip: tony pierce)

1. Which political party do you typically agree with?

None (sorry for the copout).

2. Which political party do you typically vote for?


3. List the last five presidents that you voted for?

I'm 22 and live in the UK. I've never voted in any election.

4. Which party do you think is smarter about the economy?

Neither main party has anything like a sensible economic policy. I can't remember a party that ever did.

5. Which party do you think is smarter about domestic affairs?


6. Do you think we should keep our troops in Iraq or pull them out?

We have little choice but to put more in. Bush can't say we didn't warn him.

7. Who, or what country, do you think is most responsible for 9/11?

No particular country. Terrorists don't suddenly stop at international boundaries. There's probably a hell of a lot in Saudi Arabia, though.

8. Do you think we will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Yep. We've opened the door and invited them in. There weren't any prior to 2003, though.

9. Yes or no, should the U.S. legalize marijuana?

I don't touch the stuff, but I've got no problem with you guys using.

10. Do you think the republicans stole the last presidental election?

I don't think it was entirely fair, no.

11. Do you think Bill Clinton should have been impeached because of what he did with Monica Lewinski?

Did it diminish his ability to perform his job? As long as he kept the country together he could chase as much tail as he wanted, as far as I care.

12. Do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good president?

I dunno. Worth a try.

13. Name a current democrat who would make a great president.

He or she isn't currently working in politics. It's some average Joe who hasn't been tainted by tailored suits.

14. Name a current republican who would make a great president.


15. Do you think that women should have the right to have an abortion?

Of course. Once. If you don't learn the lesson the first time, you're having that kid and you better make a damn good job of it.

16. What religion are you?


17. Have you read the Bible all the way through?

I can never read a book when I know how it ends.

18. What's your favorite book?

Oh, God. Don't make me choose. It's probably something by Bill Bryson.

19. Who is your favorite band?

There are so many. I'll abstain.

20. Who do you think you'll vote for president in the next election?

If I was American, it'd probably be Kerry, if only because the idea of 4 more Bush years scares me.

21. What website did you see this on first? + busblog

Also, Tony notes that the Madpony girls haven't posted for over a month. Madpony was probably the first blog I ever read. It'd be a shame if they've given it up.

Music To Sit In Traffic To

What with buying the new car (which is proving more difficult than expected), I'll be needing to download from Kazaa legally purchase some upbeat summer music.

I'm famous for my lack of shame when it comes to music. I freely admit to owning a copy of Hanson's Mmmmbop. The first CD I ever bought was The Bee Gees 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'. Once, while driving through the suburbs of Melbourne, we came across a group of skater kids at a set of traffic lights. Trying to look cool, we turned up the volume on the CD player and pressed play, to be met with a deafening rendition of Shania Twain's 'Man, I Feel Like A Woman'.

Suggestions, please.

Blogad Survey Results

I was surprised to learn that only 1.6% of blog readers hail from my fair isle. In fact, I've never spoken to a fellow Brit who has a clue what a blog is. It's amazing that in a nation of around 60,000,000 only a few have stumbled on this section of the Internet.

Hey, maybe I'm missing a trick in not covering UK politics. I must be one of very few 'on the spot'. It's just a shame I find British politics so dull.

*Update - Matthew Yglesias ponders his demographic.

Palm d'Or

I like the French. I love the language; I love the food; I love playing boules in the shade of a tall tree on a warm day. I have fond memories of family holidays to Nice, Ile D'oleron and Carnac in my boyhood - six of us piling into the car to take the cross-channel ferry from Dover to Calais; driving out to the local hypermarket to buy sweets and biscuits you can't buy in England (for good reason - they sucked), and then retiring to a hammock by our palatial tent to play Biscuit Russian Roulette.

I love the slow pace of things over there. The French go about their day with a lazy indifference to serious matters, as if to say 'If your country was this beautiful, you wouldn't worry either' There's a good reason that 'laissez-faire' is one of the best known French phrases, God love 'em.

Over the past few years, though, the French have become much maligned. Renaming French fries 'Freedom fries' was childish at best, cruelly racist at worst. Chiraq has been painted a traitorous coward, in league with those who seek to destroy us: terrorist-by-proxy. 'French' has become a by-word for coward, appeaser, scum (OK, they have always had something of a reputation, but in the last few years even more so). Most of this I ignored.

However, I'm beginning to feel the pressure. The idea of Michael Moore accepting the Palm d'Or before a crowd of cheering Frenchmen just rubs me up the wrong way. I'm gonna have to get a baguette and some decent cheese to remind me what I love about France.

Monday, May 17, 2004


Woohoo. After 5 years of cobweb-gathering for my drivers licence I've just picked my first car. It's a dirt cheap ten year old Fiat Punto, but it seems to be in good nick. I'll go get it next weekend, and probably crash it within a few hours.

Hangovers Are Bad (dredged from the 'stupidly obvious statements' file)

Ouch, what a day. I made the mistake of drinking too much last night, and so got about 4 hours sleep before work. Unfortunately, today was the day we flew in a crazy 'merican guy to tell us all about the Wall Street Journal. I didn't get a chance to get my bacon sarnie and hash browns (my usual hangover remedy) and had to sit in a conference room all day playing the WSJ version of Family Feud (I'm fairly sure that's the US version of Family Fortunes, but I kind of zoned out so I can't be sure).

If it wasn't for the presence of the insanely hot girl who sits next to me (more accurately known as 'insanely, unbelievably hot girl who also has a really great personality and counts Playstation and shooting pool among her hobbies', but for the sake of brevity shall be known only as insanely hot girl) I would have just doffed my complimentary Wall Street Journal baseball cap and fallen into a deep coma.

Anyway, this evening will be spent filling myself with fatty food and watching TV. Maybe some blogging, if this headache fades.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Thanks Skippy

I have a little Skippy-lanche going on. Not quite an Instalanche, but welcome all the same. Anyway, you visitors from Skippy should feel free to make yourself at home. Don't put your feet up on the couch, though. That really pisses me off. Anyway, I'm off car shopping, so see you all later.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Nick Berg Again

Another post relating to the Nick Berg video (hey, I missed the rush, but I'll be damned if I don't get at least a little traffic surge from Google. Nick Berg, Nick Berg and Nick freakin' Berg). I'm offering up my dignity to the altar of Google.

Anyway, it struck me while my colleagues were watching the video how the Internet has made it acceptable to watch this kind of stuff. Ten, fifteen years ago you wouldn't see millions of people desperately channel surfing to find a show that was airing a video of a real-life decapitation. OK, you'd get a good few disturbed teens filled with a morbid desire to watch snuff, but it wouldn't be anything like the phenomenon that swept the blogosphere.

There's something about the Internet that allows people to watch horrifying stuff at one remove. It depersonalises the world, takes away the emotion. I wonder how the people who spent this week searching hundreds of sites for a download would respond to an offer to actually sit in the room and watch as Nick had his head slowly sawn off, hear the screams and see the blood live in Technicolor.

I won't watch the video for the same reason that I didn't want to watch my grandmother die last year; the same reason I didn't want to watch my old cat Muffet die when she broke her back; the same reason that I wouldn't have wanted to see my old school friend Michael die when I was in college (seatbelts save lives, by the way). Death is horrible, and just because you watch it sitting in a comfortable chair behind a 17-inch monitor doesn't make it any less so.

It baffles me that some people are able to watch something like the Berg video without feeling sick; how they can see pictures from Abu-Ghraib and think 'well, that's not too bad'; how they can accept death so casually. A statement I hear a lot is 'well, death is just part of war'. Maybe, but it doesn't mean we should be so blase about it.

My First Wheels

A mere 5 years after getting my drivers licence, I'm in the market for my first car. Since I'm a guy, I'll carefully consider such factors as fuel efficiency, insurance premiums and safety features and then buy a car that goes fast and makes a really loud growling noise.

But seriously, I've chosen a 2001 Ford Focus. A friend at work recommended a guy who sells ex-fleet cars at ridiculously low prices, so I'm looking at a car with a lot of miles on the clock but a good clean service history and a well-tended engine.

I never thought I could afford a car, but after looking at my budget it appears that I spend almost £80 per month just on Diet Coke (seriously). That's a little more than ridiculous, so I'll have to become more acquainted with the water cooler at work and dump the 3 bottles of Diet Coke (and 1 Cherry Coke) in favour of the clear stuff. Apart from the Coke I spend £400 per year on public transport, so at the end of the day, I'll just be able to scrape the money together. It'll cut my daily commute by 2 hours, so cutting out the caffeine is a small price to pay.

*By the way, that '£' symbol is supposed to mean Pounds Sterling, but Blogger doesn't seem to understand it.*


Bill over at INDC Journal has an, ahem, interesting chat with Glenn Reynolds. I was halfway down the page before I got the joke.

On a more serious note, I'll be posting an interview with the ever-funny Frank J of IMAO fame sometime soon. I already have one question answered, but what with fighting the Babe War, dealing with two rival fan clubs and plotting to steal the job of Jonah Goldberg we may have to wait a while.

Approval Ratings

Kevin Drum posts an interesting collation of Bush's approval ratings since Jan 2001. It's interesting to see an overview of ratings from 13 sources in graph form (hey, I'm not that smart a guy - pictures help).

It does seem that if the polls are accurate then Bush may be screwed. Across the board his approval fell gradually since November 2001, until the start of the war in Iraq early last year, when his approval soared to a little over 70%. Since then the trouble in Iraq (who didn't see that coming?) and the general crappy state of the economy has sent his ratings back down below pre-2001 levels. Only the capture of Saddam stopped the downward trend, and even that was only a temporary 10-point fix.

Which brings me to my point. Kevin suggests that only a fourth 'crowd pleaser' could save the election for Bush, and ponders what that might be. The obvious one would be the capture of bin Laden or a similar high-ranking terrorist. However, since the capture of Hussein only resulted in a fleeting 10-point gain (even after his depiction by the administration as the pinnacle of all evil), it is uncertain whether even bin Laden's capture would have any kind of long-term effect. bin Laden was relegated to second class terrorist status during the Iraq war. Saddam was elevated beyond him in order to drum up support for the war. I'm sure his capture would be a great coup, but it may not be the electoral lock it once was.


Arsenal Football Club just made history by completing an entire season without a single defeat. Wow.

Nick Berg

I have the worst luck with timing. I decided to take a few days off from blogging just in time to miss the Nick Berg story. Millions upon millions of hits generated, millions of people scrabbling for somewhere to download the video, millions of fresh readers, and I didn't get a sniff. Ah well. For most of us, life goes on.

I couldn't bring myself to watch the video. I can't imagine ever being able to watch it. I can't understand why anyone would want to. A group of colleagues saw it at work: most in disgust, some obviously enjoying it. I won't pretend that my employer attracts the most decent people. Many of my colleagues are career criminals (they make the best salesmen). Car thieves and drug dealers; turn up with a broken nose and bruised knuckles on a Monday morning - should've seen the other guy, though; 20 years old and two kids to different women. You probably know the type.

The thing about criminals, though, is that they just don't care about people. They can't care, or the guilt of what they do would crush them. There's something in their mind, something damaged, that blocks empathy. That's what made it so disturbing to watch them watch the video. It was worse, much worse, than the regular morbid rubbernecking; watch-through-your-fingers, hand over mouth. These guys watched with smiles. I heard laughter. It was entertainment. They watched it twice, three times.

I just don't understand some people.

*Update* - Rich Marotti has an open letter to the people who found Seldom Sober while searching for the Nick Berg video.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Revolving Door

Kevin Drum talks today about an article over at TNR about the tendency of Bush's counterterrorism chiefs to quit in disgust. I don't know if I'd say 'disgust' (having not actually asked them their reasons for quitting) but it does seem odd that nobody can seem to stand the job.

I've often questioned the wisdom of Bush's strategy. Moving away from the pursuit of bin Laden and devoting all his resources to Iraq was a really, really stupid idea. There have been wrong turns after wrong turns, PR disasters and, well, more PR disasters. Either these counterterrorism experts are either really stupid, or really ignored. Who'd want that job?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Melbourne, Part III

I've been saving this for a while, and with the Iraqi torture stories flooding the blogosphere I think I'll continue with my occasional series about Australia. I left you hanging last time in Melbourne, playing football and drinking impossible amounts of Carlton Cold with my brother, Scott, and our friends Jonny, Olly and Dom.

I'm sure the majority of you care little about what I did on my holidays, but this is written both for my own benefit and for the friends I travelled with. If you are interested, you can see the beginning of the story here and here.

This time we move on west of Melbourne, onto the Great Ocean Road. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

The Great Ocean Road, as is hinted in the name, is a stretch of road that meanders along the Victoria coast west of Melbourne. It starts around Torquay in the east, around 60 miles from Melbourne, and stretches to Warnambool in the west - all in all a touch less than 200 miles of pristine coastline. The road was built to create jobs for returning Australian soldiers after WWI, and by God they did a good job of it.

We'd decided to tour the road a week or two earlier. Things can get a little overcrowded in a one-bedroom apartment filled with five guys, and I wanted to see a little country before going home. And so we rented a Nissan X-Trail, a beast of a 4x4, for the weekend. The youngest of the group, I was only 20 and not eligible to be insured on the Beast, which may have been a factor in the excessive sweating the lads did when I drove (though it was more likely due to my erratic, 'speed limits are for wimps' driving).

We set off from Melbourne early on a Friday (hey, noon was early to us), and dropped by a friend's apartment to pick up some CD's for the drive (we later learned that a Shania Twain CD had slipped in. The horror). We'd decided to drive inland along the Princes Highway to Warnambool in a day, and then slowly make our way back to Melbourne along the Ocean Road for the rest of the weekend.

Anyway, we sped along the highway, stopping only once at Colac for snacks and beer (if only England had drive-thru liquor stores), and realised we'd left it too late in the day to make it to Warnambool. Leaving the highway, we headed south to Port Cambell, where we found lodgings in the excellent Twelve Apostles Motel, just off Booringa Road (if you're ever in the area I recommend it).

Leaving the lads to unpack their gear, me and Jonny took the car and set off in the fading light to race down Booringa Road, a 5km sand track, straight as an arrow. Pausing to put Crowded House on the CD player (stop laughing, it's the law in Australia), we screamed down the road at, er, lets just say inadvisable speeds and leave it at that, for the next half hour. I hadn't driven since passing my test 3 years earlier, so I may have pushed it a little too far (the melting needle on the speedometer was my first clue).

In the morning, after teasing the motel's pet pig with an Aussie Rules Football, we set off for the Twelve Apostles, a set of limestone stacks jutting out from the ocean. We have stacks on the coast of England, but nothing as spectacular as these. I took a few good photos, but they are currently Blu-Tack'ed to my cubicle at work, so I can't scan them in.

Most of the day was spent driving and stopping, driving and stopping as we'd reach other erosional landforms and stand, staring, until one of us pointed at their watch and noted that we'd have to be getting off if we wanted to make it to Apollo Bay for the Night. The sense of freedom you experience along the coast is incredible. You are totally alone (unheard of in UK tourist attractions), and you can just stand there and take in the view, feel the spray from the crashing waves of the Southern Ocean.

Ah, Apollo Bay. Elusive haven. Jewel of the coast. Let's just say it took some searching to get there. We'd broken off from the coastal road in the late afternoon to visit a set of waterfalls called the Triplet Falls on the Aire River. To this day we don't know what we did wrong, but we somehow ended up in the middle of the Otway National Park, a vast sprawling area of dense rainforest, on an unlit dirt track littered with fallen trees.

Now let me assure you that there is no use of hyperbole here. There were literally felled frikkin' trees across the road. And it was dark. Very dark. And it was raining. Really raining. It turned out later that this part of the state had no electricity due to the storm we were driving through. That explains the trees. If you can imagine the scene in Jurassic Park when Dennis Nedry tried to deliver those dinosaur DNA samples (remember the scene? Pouring rain, wrong turn, and an untimely death at the claws of that freaky spitting dino?) you'll have a good idea what we were up against. Except no dinosaurs. We had swamp wallabies, but they can be pretty damned scary when they jump out of nowhere in front of the car. You could see in their eyes that they'd kill and eat us the minute we turned our backs.

To cut a very long story short, we made it out of the forest after a couple of hours, during which time we had to get out no less than three times to clear trees from the road, while Jonny looked out warily from behind the steering wheel for hillbillies wanting us to squeel like pigs. In short, the lights of Apollo Bay were a sight for sore eyes.

Apollo Bay - a fantastically grungy little tourist town, packed to the rafters with travellers and surfers. We arrived around 8pm, and found the only remaining lodgings available. The town was packed because of the storms. It was the only town along the coast that still had electricity, and almost every family in this part of the state had booked into the motels. We dumped out things and set out for the nearest pub.

Understandably, my memories of the following hours are a little hazy. From what I have pieced together in the following years, we found ourselves in a little bar with a very talented acoustic guitarist singing away at the back. We joined in the singing, but I can't remember if everyone sang or if it was just us five. I do remember a lot of angry looks from the clientele, though.

At the end of the night we got chatting to a group of about ten Aussie lads, who demonstrated the various methods of kicking an Aussie rules football. I remember something about a 'spike' and a 'spiral' kick, but that's about it. They invited us to join them at a house party in the suburbs, and so we all piled into a minibus. I was the least drunk of the lads, and I remember feeling something was wrong about all this. Sure enough, we arrived after 15 minutes at our destination, a darkened house in a quiet suburb. We were the first out of the minibus, and it finally clicked that something was amiss when I heard the sound of an engine gunning. I turned in time to see their laughing faces through the back of the minibus window as it sped off down the road. Bugger, we'd been had.

We were lost. Drunk and confused, we had no idea which direction was the coast. Myself, my brother and Jonny chose to go back the way we had come, and Olly and Dom insisted the coast lay in the other direction, uphill. And so we set off on our respective routes: we found the coast after about an hour. Olly and Dom, on the other hand, found themselves in a forest. More precisely, back into the Otway National Park. They finally got home at about 5am, raving about the possums and wallabies that pursued them through the trees.

Olly woke up Sunday to the worst hangover imaginable. I had to pull over four times to allow him to vomit at the side of the road. By midmorning, thankfully, he had semi-recovered, and we had lunch in a surfers town named Lorne, before driving on through Anglesea and Torquay, the official end of the Great Ocean Road. We drove on to an animal sanctuary in from the coast, where we saw koalas, kangaroos and emus.

We decided not to head back to Melbourne through Geelong, and instead opted to take a ferry across Port Phillip Bay from Queenscliff, on the Bellarine Peninsula, to Sorrento, on the Mornington Peninsula. The ferry is a great way to sea the dolphins and seals living in the bay.

We finished up the weekend in Sorrento, a town I would gladly sell my soul to live in. It's as if the Victorian government rounded up all the beautiful women in the state and sent them to live together. The sun was shining, the dolphins were playing in the bay and we had ice cream. Really, what more can you ask of life?

Look At This Frog

If you want to read about tortured Iraqis and the sort, I'm sure there are one or two blogs mentioning it.

In the meantime it's the end of the week and I don't want to think about torture, so look at the little frog. He looks pleased as punch. Woohoo, look at the little guy go!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I Blog For Groupies

Dean has a few good pieces of advice on how to promote your weblog. I always enjoy reading articles about weblog promotion, even though they rarely contain any new information. The standard formula is always 'write often, write well'.

Meanwhile, James has a depressing piece of advice over at OTB.

Back at Dean's World one of the commenters, Lucy, has a suggestion for new bloggers:

Consider why you want to build Rome in the first place. Do you really want to rule a booming metropolis or would you be happier in a quaint little cottage at the beach? There's nothing wrong with either choice, but don't let the culture force you to default to the idea that bigger hit numbers will inherently make you happier.

For me the reward of writing is finding someone talking about one of my posts on their site. To write something that catches a reader's attention and makes them think is great. It rarely happens, though.

However, I must admit that I would prefer to have a thousand readers a day skimming the site than 50 readers who really pay attention. The frustrating thing about starting up is attracting first-time readers, and there is no tried and tested formula. It's a hard slog, and rarely rewarding, but eventually you might get your metropolis, or the cottage.

In all honesty, I blog for the groupies.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


This is a disturbing statistic (hat tip: Michael Totten)

We were all shocked when we heard reports of torture in Iraq at the hands of our troops. Well, actually, I wasn't at all surprised, but I tend to think the worst of people as a matter of course, so you probably shouldn't pay much attention.

What upsets me is the fact that there are at least 109413 people breathing my air who support torture. People supposedly on our side. And these 100,000+ are only those who took part in the poll. Who knows how many there are who didn't (or those who answered 'no' but were thinking 'yes' in their black little hearts)?

There are people in my country - the people who drive my bus to work, the people who make me my bacon butty in the morning, the people who pay my wage, who believe that it is justified to attach wires to the testicles of prisoners, and apply electrical current. They believe that we are entitled to deprive prisoners of food and water, lock them in a dark, rat-infested cell, abuse them physically and mentally, until they give up whatever information we think they hold.

There are people in my country who saw the pictures of tortured Iraqi detainees, and thought 'good'.

Whose side are these people on? If we're fighting to protect them, why?


There's gonna be a lunar eclipse here sometime within the next hour. The last eclipse I remember happened at some time around 4am. It's nice that the heavens occasionally schedule events to suit those of us with jobs.

*Update* Just had a look outside, and unless I can find my handy cloud x-ray machine sometime in the next hour I won't be seeing squat. If only the weather could play along for once.

Let He Who Is Without Blame...

Mark Hasty over at The Bemusement Park made me think:

I do not give a flying fig what John Kerry may or may not have done with his medals thirty years ago. I also don't care if George Bush was AWOL back in his Air National Guard days. I have come to decide that, strictly speaking, nobody deserves to be president--but somebody has to be. And I could not possibly care less what that person was like when they were in their twenties. We've had exactly two presidents in my lifetime who were morally qualified for the job, and they both bombed (Ford and Carter). Give me a lying, cheating, backstabbing clod any day of the week--they actually get things done.

And then a post that James Joyner just put up:

John O'Neill has delivered the promised "Kerry is unfit" argument, which is the WSJ op-ed page's Featured Article today. As expected, it has nothing to do with Kerry's service in Vietnam and everything to do with his anti-war protests afterward.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, made me think. Er... Oh yeah -

I'm 22 years old. This time about two years ago I had a fairly severe gambling problem. I won £4,000 in one night (not a problem), but lost £3,000 the following night (problem). Sure, I was £1,000 up, but overall I'm down over the lifetime. My gambling went on from the age of 18-22, and cost me thousands.

About 5 years ago I almost failed college after getting confused and missing an important biology exam. I was in bed.

3 years ago I failed an entire year at university, and had to stay behind an extra year to get my degree.

I've lied. I've cheated. Hell, I've even stolen. But I'm not a bad person. In fact, I think I'm a pretty decent person. I've learned from my many mistakes and come out clean on the other side.

What I mean to say is that if we are going to get in the habit of judging people by what they did in their youth then I might as well give up life now. Game over. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Not one person reading this can claim to have lived a blameless life. We've all done stupid things in the past, be it 'borrowing' your dad's car, doing drugs, throwing away your medals in a fit of idealistic pique, or skipping National Guard duties.

What matters is who we are today, not who we were decades ago. I'm sure if you met the 'you' of your youth you'd have a strong desire to punch him in the nose. I'd like to knock some sense into the 20 year-old me, and that was only 2 years ago (but he was in better shape than me, so he'd probably hit back).

To judge a man on who he was in his youth is to ignore all that he has learned in the ensuing years. You are judging a different person, a person half the man he is today. So what kind of person is Bush today? What about Kerry? You? Me? I don't think I have any right to cast stones, and I'm fairly sure you're the same. Let's stop arguing about the past. It's a fight none of us can win.

Crappy Bitter People

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. -- The coaches of a middle school basketball team who humiliated one of their players by giving him a "crybaby award" will likely face disciplinary action from district officials.

The 13-year-old boy's coach called him just before last month's team banquet and told him to make sure he attended because he was getting a special trophy, the boy's father said.

At the event, the boy watched as all of his Pleasantville Middle School teammates received trophies or certificates.

He was then called up to receive his award, and a coach told the crowd that the boy was being honored because "he begged to get in the game, and all he did was whine."

The trophy had a silver figure of a baby atop a pedestal engraved with the boy's name, which was spelled incorrectly. Family members said the teen -- an honor roll student -- was so embarrassed that he stayed home from school on the following Monday.

Edwin Coyle, superintendent of the Atlantic County district, said he would recommend that the unidentified coaches receive some type of punishment. He planned to address the matter at Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting.

"I was very upset and dismayed that our coaches would take an opportunity to belittle or lessen the self-esteem of our athletes," Coyle said.
(Via Protein Wisdom)

"some type of punishment"? People like that shouldn't be allowed around children. I had some great teachers when I was at school. They did nothing but encourage and bring out the best in me. As a result I went on to earn my degree. Every one of those teachers were, and are, dedicated to their jobs. They got into teaching to help kids achieve their ambitions. Teachers who belittle and humiliate the kids in their charge have failed both as teachers and as people. Nothing less than a pink slip should be accepted. Assoles.

The Draft

Kevin has an interesting article on the contingency planning on the SSS to prepare in case the US brought back the draft:

The chief of the Selective Service System has proposed registering women for the military draft and requiring that young Americans regularly inform the government about whether they have training in niche specialties needed in the armed services.

The proposal, which the agency's acting Director Lewis Brodsky presented to senior Pentagon officials just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, also seeks to extend the age of draft registration to 34 years old, up from 25.

....Some of the skill areas where the armed forces are facing "critical shortages" include linguists and computer specialists, the agency said. Americans would then be required to regularly update the agency on their skills until they reach age 35.

Forgetting for a moment the ludicrous idea that the draft is a sensible option for a developed country, the first thing that came to mind on reading that was a line from the episode of The Simpsons in which Bart gets sent to a military school to knock him into shape:

"Since you attended public school, I'm going to assume you're already proficient with small arms, so we'll start you off with something a little more advanced."

Anyway... I'm assuming, as Kevin does, that this planning is nothing more than a hypothetical, but it strikes me as ridiculous that the draft would even be considered in a hypothetical sense. If it was actually instituted it would be nothing less than political suicide for Bush, an admission that the war was a mistake. However, even as a hypothetical it must hurt the Republicans. It could easily be used as fodder for a Kerry ad. Deep voice, moody lighting: 'George Bush wants to send your children to die on foreign soil...' etc. etc.

Seems stupid to me.

Saturday, May 01, 2004


As I'm sure you've all seen, there's been a furore these past few days about reports of soldiers mistreating (and even torturing) Iraqi detainees (here and here, for starters). What surprises me is that so many people seem to be shocked by this fact. Do people not understand that some of those who join the armed forces may not be entirely stable? Obviously not.

Let me make myself clear. In my experience, the vast majority of people who join the forces do so with the intention of seeing the world and earning a decent living (lets not pretend that there is much thought of serving queen and country in this - patriotism is rarely sufficient motivation to risk life). Most of them are thoroughly decent people. However, there are a few bad apples in the bunch - the people who join because they didn't pay attention at school; people for whom the forces are their only chance of making a decent wage; people who are naturally violent. These are people who can't (or don't want to) grasp the difference between an Iraqi citizen and a terrorist, people who don't care about the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Incidentally, these idiots are the only people who seem to harbour any thoughts of serving queen and country on their application (with a generous helping of desire to fire a weapon and urinate on prisoners). Stupid people tend to get caught up with the idea of patriotism more than intelligent people (just look at football hooligans at the world cup. How many are wearing the George Cross as they kick a foreigner in the kidneys?).

That's why I can't bring myself to believe that the mistreatment of detainees is a systemic problem. Some people are just nasty. These people often find themselves drawn to the forces. I saw some of them last week when I attended an interview at the local armed forces careers office, kids who wanted to join the infantry. Most of them talked about looking forward to shooting people, and professed their interest in joining the SAS so they could use all the cool weapons. Most of this, I'm sure, was just big talk in an effort to impress their friends, but not all of it. Some of it was an honest desire to hurt and kill, because some of them were just damaged stock. A lot, I'm sure, will be filtered out during the application process (and probably end up in jail down the line), but a few sneak through and give the rest of the forces a bad name.

The bad apples should be discharged and put in prison for a long time. Their superiors, however, should not (unless the evidence suggests that they condoned the mistreatment). Anyway, I have to be up in a few hours, so off to bed. Night all.

*Update* Yes, this was written while intensely drunk, so I have corrected the spelling errors and slept a few hours.

Back in Contact

I had nothing special to do today, so I called my optician and booked myself in for a contact lens check. For those of you who have been reading for a while (yeah, both of you), I had to dump my lenses a couple months back after my optician, upon examining my eyes, said 'Jesus!' under his breath - not the most reassuring words.

Anyway, after two months of glasses my eyes are back to full strength, so back to the contacts (with a new sense of caution about their overuse this time). I've just put them back in, and boy do I feel dizzy (yes I do, for those of you who have difficulty with rhetorical questions). Everything looks huge, and I've been sitting here for the past five minutes staring at my hands while moving them closer and further from my face - a la stoner.
powered by web hosting provider