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August 2009
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October 2009

A brief holiday, apparently

I seem to have entered a period of "bored with the sound of my own voice", which will revert to the normal spouting gibberish within... ooh. Hours, I'm sure.

Oddly, there's quite a lot of stuff I'd like to talk about including:

-The ethical consumer conundrums: a) The kettle b) Is it possible to source ethical leather shoes, if you're a vegetarian (to reduce your carbon output)

...I've got a feeling I've done kettle before though. I am a creature of a small but intensely held series of thoughts

Family updates a go-go.

Meanwhile, I have a tale of surprising positivity where Ikea is concerned. James' dust allergy appears to be having far more outward symptoms these days, which is sad. He wakes up sounding like he has a heavy cold every day, and about 20 minutes in to leche / story time, he will suddenly sneeze, twice, necessitating the removal of an enormous amount of heavy duty, dark green mottled snot. He's been breathing in dust all night, see. not to mention the red eyes and constant rubbing in the evenings.

So. Children's' stuff tends to be dust-trap-a-go-go, so after extensive research I found that Ikea's "Trofast" system comes with the potential for lids for all its bucket-like plastic slot-in shelving er... bits. Reducing available surfaces to flat, hooverable cover ups is far, far preferable to a random surfaced clump of god knows what ie: a load of old junk piled up in a corner or something.

Astonishingly, I found myself deciding to go to Ikea on a Saturday night, after the kids had finally gone to sleep and managed to get there at 10pm, 1 hour before closure. After racing (as much as you can do whilst pushing a huge wheely trolley) through the store, finding a total lack of colour choice and thus ending up filching as many plastic buckets (of varying sizes) from the displays as I could, afterwards  negotiating the utterly frustrating crap of dragging your arse through the 'market place' to get to the not exactly awful but nevertheless extremely tiring business of dragging enormous cardboard covered packages on to your trolley. On your own. At 10.40 at night... I did indeed manage to purchase our entire shelving solution. Sans lids! Not a single bloody lid in the place! The whole point: the very reason I'd chosen this system in the first place was missing. They'd all been gonded by shoppers braving the Sat afternoon scrum.

Two things happened subsequent to standing in the till queue at 10.50 on Saturday night:

1) They delivered all the goods at 7.45am the following morning. Less than 12 hours after I'd bought the stuff. Now that, I respect, I have to say. There is much wrong with the Ikea experience, so it's surprising to write something positive about them.

2) You can get the lids online! Wooo!

So, hopefully we should be able to organise the kid-crud, and maybe reduce James' symptoms. I hope so.

Oh, bugger. That's a post, isn't it! Well, er... it'll be ages till the next one, just you wait.

Nora's review of my talk at Interesting09

"Why didn't you say any jokes?"

A post about Arthur Jefferson will make its way to these pages in the next couple of days when I have the time to write it. The rest of the weekend just gone was spent tidying the house to continue the route to dust free living, sewing up James' trousers and all sorts.

I think I can say that it went "Ok" - which for a first time in front of an audience (except for times when you're unprepped, which I don't really count) in so long I'm actually having difficulty remembering when I last did it (if I have done it at all since leaving school) I'm guessing can't be bad. (Unless the people who politely told me it was good were all mortified and couldn't think of anything else to say! Argh - heh).

But anyway, here's an oddity. I met 2 people at my friend Kevin's 40th birthday drinks on Wednesday, and they turned out to be doing Interesting talks on Saturday. That is almost ridiculous. One was Dan Maier, who did an hilarious and quite amazing talk on Sir Francis Galton and the other was Leila Johnston, who was completely lovely on Wednesday night, and whose brilliantly nerd-friendly book, "The Enemy of Chaos" has just come out, published by a very small press, so it's worthwhile everyone telling everyone that the book exists, via their blogs, in case the publicity department can't afford to PR it that extensively. What were the chances of that happening? Well, fairly high, realistically.

What with looking after Nora and having to leave early, I missed quite a bit (still, missed less than last year, so it's a steady improvement), but for me, the real highlight of the day was the astonishing talk given by Josie Fraser about girls' magazines in the 1970's. So far so Bunty, right? How wrong can you be! It turns out that Pat Mills did an awesome job of trying to create a kind of female readership equivalent to 1950's apocalyptic science fiction magazines for boys in the magazine "Jinty" before going off to 2000AD. The covers were *incredible*. Here's Josie's post about the talk. I am in complete awe, and am left wishing I could find all the ex-Jinty readers and finding out the profound effects reading this crazy stuff must have had on its audience! Hopefully an Ebay search for "Jinty" will allow me to snap them up, I'm desperate to read these now!

Oh, yes, I forgot to say a thing. It occurred to me part way through the day that there were an awful lot of women doing talks. And I mean really cool women, too (not including myself, obviously). If you look down Roo's list, it's not just that there were a ton of women speaking, but that many of the topics women were discussing were predicated on having a particular female geekiness. If you had an all male conference, can you imagine anyone coming up with "Ponies I have loved, real or imagined". Completely and utterly wonderful to be in an eclectic, lovely atmosphere where anything genuinely interesting was welcome. More like this please. More more more ladies with horses and whacko sci-fi girls' magazines.

Watching home video of 9/11

I made myself watch "102 minutes that changed America" the other night, although watching it with the ridiculous number of advert breaks that it had made me feel queasy and slightly ashamed of Channel 4.

But then they stumped up for it, I suppose.

The film was a heftily edited selection, in timestamped form, of the whole of the 9/11 terrible saga, from a few seconds after the first plane hit. We were in France on that day, and only got hold of the news via me reading my email over a standard 56k modem, and saying "Er, there's a rumour that a plane has hit the World Trade Centre". We switched on the satellite news and I think we emerged, blinking in to the Catalan afternoon sun some 5 hours later.

Watching it, it surprised me just how long there were between the first and the second hits. There must have been a good ten, fifteen minutes and good god, the utter horror of the second hit - the sheer terror in the voices of the people who were videoing. Not to forget, obviously, that every so often, a person could be clearly seen jumping out and hoping for a swift death, rather than burning. The phone calls to desperate people in smoking and burning offices were there too. Sit tight, smash the windows if you have to, we're coming.

The handheld nature of the thing gave the film a screwed up, post-Cloverfield sheen, because of course it was New York. And to make matters even more emotionally confused, the viewer already knew the ending - they'd seen the spoilers and the inevitavle fall to earth hung like a spectre over the unfolding events. Waiting for the second plane to hit was unbearable. That shred of time felt real, and miserably unchangeable.

It is as important to bear witness to the events that take place in affluent countries as it is to listen, and watch, straight backed, to the horrors meted upon people by other people, or indeed natural events, in the developing world. There is no cynical response to the unbearable shock, grief and misery of that day. What came next could not be laid at the door of these New Yorkers, shaking with fear, trying to shield their children from what was going on, or burning alive, or being crushed to death. So many firefighters on video, I was left thinking  - How many of those guys are still alive now? Our friend Emma, who lived in Brooklyn at the time, had good mates in guitar bands who fought fires by day. She didn't see them again.

Watching it from that personal perspective through the shaky camera's untrained eye - how the hell can anyone who was there, and saw it happen, get over that day? Even people blocks away were covered with the volcanic dust cloud as the towers spread in to a dust storm across the city. They must still think of it, every day.

Bedtime crooning

Nice post #2:

Nora used to hum to herself in the bedroom before going to sleep. Particularly in the afternoons. Now we have James who will do the same. Given that we have begun to explore Tex Avery's cartoons*, is recent singing has been:





...over and over. One day, we will have to stop listening to them on the monitor, but it is very funny in the meantime. Nora saying "Shush!" every so often. Heh.

Now, Droopy Huckleberry Hound sang Clementine, but who sang "Whatsername"? I'm not sure that was in any Avery cartoons? I'm asking this out loud but a penny to a pound my brother, Stephen, is going to answer the question... I can't find out on Google because it's a bit too random.

Obviously I've virused the song by remembering the false ending from somewhere else.

*Having established it's not Droopy, I've a feeling it comes up in the "Poochini" cartoon or alternatively, I just sing it round the house ;)

Oh oh!

Time for non depressing, optimistic and lovely posts!

Post no.1:

Disney are re-releasing Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D! I'm not 100% sure what 3D will do for two films certainly not optimised for that format, but more  to the point - big screen again! Toy Story! 

Oh oh, Nora is going to go nuts for this. I really hope James can put up with watching it on a big screen too. I know he's only three but how many times in your life do you get to see the films you love on big screens, eh?

Admission: I adore Toy Story.

Bonus link. Here's Jim Hill (excellent blog for animation fans, by the way) posting Mr Lasseter talking about some swoon-worthy new Toy Story toys for the new 3D movie (very nervous about whether it's any good or not - nice trailer but... still. I'm sure they've been handling it with kid gloves).

Not that I'd advocate his idea of buying the toys twice mind you.

Start spreading the news

I read "Climate Progress" hidden behind my fingers given that they are always first with climate change research and so on, so my paranoid half is always worried about seeing the 'final news' when I click on my Bloglines (you know, the "It's too late, scientists confirm" type headlines). I don't think it's me imagining it... I do think that things have started changing more quickly this year, but helpfully, so has the majority news agenda which is now talking about reducing carbon levels 90% by 2050 and the like without making that sound like "What? Are these people mental?" i would recommend it though, for anyone with a strong stomach. I often think I *haven't* got a strong enough gut for what I read on there, but... I reckon, as long as I stay angry, I won't get too scared. We need more solid news stories that discuss big fat changes soberly, so that the huge legislative stuff won't shock the dunderheads who pretend it's not happening.

Anyway, before you head over there and never darken my towels again, I had a bunch of comments pop in to my head about some stories on there today, and rather than go straggling all over the interweb laying down trails that will never be followed up because I lose them all, here are a few thoughts on a couple of pieces from this news roundup:

Japan climate pledge conditional on China, India

Erm... is anyone surprised by that? I assumed it was a poker play and it's very much a bravura "come on guys, step up to the plate" type message. I still say good on 'em. Meanwhile, WSJ, get with the programme. 8% is "more realistic"? 8% was criminal, and almost as dumb as total inaction. If we have to work hard to help Japan (and everyone else) reach high targets, then that's what we have to do.

France mulls CO2 tax on citizens

Yes the ulterior motive is to reduce the national debt. Do I care? There are alot of interesting things to discuss here. road haulage is big business in France, which `don't forget, has a vast land mass with lots of small villages and towns dotted around. "J'aime mon village" is a typical wee sticker you'll see in shop and cafe windows out in the sticks. France loves to reinforce its own traditional culture. The Socialist Party is right, obviously it will hit the working class and those who 'need' to use cars. It could be that part of the revenue gained would be best spent introducing  some sort of wealth-related subsidy for moving toward electric? But my personal view is that this kind of tax is inevitable, in order to propel the market toward electric vehicles, etc as fast as possible. Don't forget that France is full of nuclear power plants - there's no shortage of electricity. Half the time they're selling their surplus to Spain.

Classic "We're all going to die" territory from The Guardian, which is really pushing the eco-apocalypse message to coincide with its promotion of 10:10.  I'm just pointing this out, I guess. The more scientific press tends to veer toward the "firm action is required" type of article headline. I think that's because they all sort of 'got' the big picture long ago, and are busy trying to focus, and not spread panic, unless it's a big fat urgent new piece of research. but those kind of headlines aren't juicy enough!

But this is the piece from CP that I really want you to read: "Fox News blurts out its agenda". Rupert Murdoch, current owner of Fox News, announced in May 2007 that he was going to green up his network's offerings, as well as reduce emissions operationally. Was this agenda only allowed if there was a Republican President? I always find it weird that Graydon Carter wrote / researched what was (to me at least) the most coruscating and viciously on-the-nose report in to Bush's first term ("What we've lost" - still well worth reading. count how many times you draw your breath in, shocked, per page). I think I wouldn't be exaggerating if I suggested Carter's overall agenda was to wave a bloody great notice flag to point at the Republican political elite (which obviously includes tobacco, oil and the medical industry as well as other key business influencers) and over and over explain that their moral judgment is flawed, that they are entirely self-motivated, and that they genuinely behave in a way that could be described as evil. Gore Vidal has some gorgeous quotes about Republicans but I can't find the one he said on video during an interview More 4 chopped up to use in its idents. Anyway, he said the same thing. But better. (Here he is with Jon Snow - "Remember that the Republican society is not a Political Party, it's a mindset" brilliant, brittle, wayward and almost anarchic).

But let's get back to Fox News. If I think of Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary of Great Britain, can you imagine the field day that Glenn Beck would have with his background? Unfortunately for Beck, Johnson's not black so he'd have to be criticising a white man, which no doubt would annoy him but holy cow. How many, particularly Labour Politicians have had radical pasts in the UK? Even those who were radical conservatives in their youth are taken on current-job face value (until they totally cock up). Beck seems to have the same radical, pathological hatred of anything with a wiff of 'left wing' about it that Thatcher had. And yet, as Jon Stewart pointed out a few weeks ago ,when he was a commentator on CNN, he displayed barely any of that right wing hatred. If he is in fact merely happy to parrot anything for the people paying him, I hope he manages to come to terms with who he is and make amends before he becomes a modern Marley's Ghost, crawling the face of the earth in self pity, for the vile excuse for a human being he is now.

Anyway. If I have a thought which I hope is worth capturing, as opposed to just (the usual) ranting, it is this. Do not be fooled by public figureheads of the right wing into believing that they are a bunch of disparate wingnuts: radical individuals who just can't stand not being in power. They are dangerous, ideologically driven by the desire for capturing wealth; they seek to exploit the American working class and government to increase that wealth, and they will stop at nothing to regain that position. In this respect, I think that they are smarter than Liberals, because by their very nature, the Liberals in the US believe in the fundamental decency of people. That is why they can't second guess the politicised and influential right wing - they have no idea just how far in to the filth the right wing will go to achieve their ends.

Fox News got one thing right. Van Jones is just the beginning. I believe they are treating this as a war.

Here's Tom with the weather!

Following on

...from yesterday's rant-fest, here's what the New Scientist has said today about what it calls Geo-Engineering:

Geoengineering is no longer unmentionable

Turns out that the NS did the research work with the Royal Society that I mentioned whilst using a loudhailer to swear as much as I liked yesterday. But, to my mind, whilst they're making a reasonable point, this is another fail. They've done some research with some focus groups who were asked if they knew anything about geo-engineering. not even bio-engineering (what's the difference? Presumably geo is talking about the whole coal thing? Storage of CO2 underground? God knows), and then asked if they thought it was a good idea to discuss it publicly! The emphasis here was: is the public going to be so swayed by talk of CO2-engineering (let's call it that) that they'll stop worrying in that guilty, fear ridden way about their individual commitments. Unsurprisingly, they all thought that CO2 engineering was a good idea.

Well. That was helpful research then, wasn't it.

At least they made it clear that the focus has to be on reduction, but it's not difficult to see how this kind of thing can be used by misinformers to lie to people. The most important quote from the piece is the last sentence: "And let's do it right now, as a high priority."

That applies across the board, rather obviously.

Should you feel guilt for not being green enough?

Just getting it off my chest again as usual. you can quit about half way down, if you bother reading it at all.

Yet another campaign has started: 1010. Reduce your carbon use by 10% by the end of 2010. Lots of companies are joining in and stuff. Rah.

The 1010 people commissioned a study to go with the launch, to try and gee people up and get us all going. The headline, subhead and first sentence of the piece written up in The Guardian, the biggest media sponsor for 1010 are as follows:

"Britain admits it's not green enough, reveals poll"
-Ok, so without the last two words, you'd think that might be Miliband 'fessing up, right? Wrong.

"The poll shows majority support for individual action, including fitting low energy lightbulbs or turning down heating"
-My heart is sinking already.

"Britain has become a nation of guilty greens – people who admit they do not do enough to fight climate change – according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. While almost everyone claims to have made some effort to live environmentally-friendly lives, almost two-thirds also say they could do more"
-Ok, I cheated. Two sentences.

If you take the time to re-read the quote from the man who is now President of the US (he wasn't at the time) that pretty much sums up how I feel these days. Making individuals scared, guilt ridden and powerless is one of the stupidest blind alleys we are pursuing as a society. A few people will fit lower energy bulbs? Woo hoo! Do you know why they will? Because older, energy intensive bulbs have been phased out through legislation. It took Govt action to force retailers to only stock lower energy bulbs.

Why do people now recycle their fridges, and their gadgets? Because there has been legislation enabling them to do so efficiently. Why are people recycling more? Because local councils are forcing people in to a position where they have to. Does anyone genuinely believe that the businesses which make these objects would do this voluntarily? Do you think it might be in big business's interest to deflect peoples' attention from the legislative process and focus on almost emasculated individual guilt and fear?

The upshot of 1010 is, because it's not centrally funded, and it has nothing to do with any legislative programme, the converted are made to feel that they must do more (despite for example, being vegetarian, biking to work, buying second hand, giving unused stuff to charity shops, switching off at switches at night, etc, etc, etc) and making the non-converted do bugger all, because if they haven't done anything so far, they're not going to unless they are forced. It's not as if the media has been silent on the global warming issue of late. If people choose to, they can understand fairly quickly what's going on, internet or no internet.

What the converted have got to do is stand together, and fuck negative, guilt inducing polls. We've got to get out on the streets in December, and before. We are running out of time. Individual guilt is a ridiculous distraction.

My second point here is obvious. It's unfortunate but true. A year ago we had a global financial crisis, which showed in glaring clarity the gross shortcomings of capitalism. A year later, and we seem to have forgotten this. The changes that must be made, on a global scale, can not be left to markets. They have to come via legislation. Strict, stringent, swingeing, lifestyle changing and SWIFT, please. To paraphrase the President, me putting up some insulating blinds is great, and assuages one person's conscience. Whoopdedoo. Well done me. Next week, I'll be purchasing my hair shirt, and be flagellating daily on behalf of mankind. Because my individual effort will make every difference. I promise!

Ack. This is a rubbish post. I get too angry about this phoney war. "Bio-engineering might work" says the Royal Society. What? Are you insane? Giant mirrors in space! That will solve everything won't it! Hey, I know, let's, er, open more coal mines, and using something called "technology", we'll suck all the carbon dioxide from powerstations underground, where it will all just, you know... 'stay' because we can, you know, we can develop it, so it works, and it's tested and everything all in 6 months. Sorry! I've never heard a bigger crock of shit in my life. CCC is the desperate plea of an industry that is going to be forced to die because it *has* to.

Just quit making individuals feel guilty, and start focusing your attention on big business and government. This is why I support Greenpeace, and continue to do so. Raise the price of petrol, force legislation through. We have to be forced to change. I'm not really interested in the "Buts". I'm raising my hand and saying that obviously I've joined 1010, to have that extra number on their books, in case it does make any impact but I have no intention in trying actively to reduce my carbon output by 10% by next year, because I have bugger all idea how the hell I could do it. The only way I could would be to purchase more products and throw out old ones, which would *increase* my carbon output, not decrease it. Either that, or I'd have to spend large amounts of cash that I don't actually have, because solutions have been left purely to market demand thus far, which means they're way too expensive. Still.

My least favourite blog read, Climate Progress, uses a frog in boiling water as its image when it's trying to make the point that things need to speed up, or that they've gone too far already, and we've ceased noticing.

Can you feel it boiling yet?

A year of cycling

There I was thinking that I'd started cycling to work in Sept, and it transpires I started on the 28th July, so my proud boast that I've done 2000 miles in a year is not quite true.

But still. Hey! I've done 2000 miles!

I'm now cycling the 5 day week, on a newly serviced bike, which has taken the cost of my journeys right back up to a current £2.32 each. Cheaper than the bus and tube but it had better be a while before I have to spend out again, that's all I can say.

My fervent wish last September was to be a comfortable size 14 by this time. Given the bizarre clothes industry obsession with flattering its customers, I seem to be anywhere from "Size 12-14" (cycling shorts, which are stretchy anyway, so you know, almost don't count); "Size 14-16" (those really nice satiny red PJ's, which James calls my 'slinky dinkies') or indeed, still slugging it out at size 18. Turns out that it's not just cycling you need to do, it's also the not eating cakes thing. Or, you know. Something like that. So in my quest to feel happy with myself, which I fairly well do at present, I shall attempt to, as if by magic, turn my occasional afternoon muffin in to a banana. I have also foregone butter on my sardines on toast. Christ, what a bloody sacrifice! Well, to be honest, not really, because the sardines come in a spicy tomato sauce so you can't taste the butter anyway.

I like butter, by the way. I shall not be changing to "I can't believe it's not trans fats" or any other ersatz products. I'm with Huge Whittingstall. I say eat real food, not processed crap. Just... eat less. A bit.

Anyway, back to the biking. Far more interesting. When the bike was serviced, the guy who did it lowered the seat a tiny amount, but it made an enormous and noticeable difference. My immediate reaction was that I felt a little bit like someone had squished me from above, and was a dwarf (sorry, I don't know what the sensitive term is - person of restricted height?!) bent double or something. My back shouted loudly at me for several days, worryingly, in an old spot of referred pain that had been reasonably silent for months. Then after it got used to the change, it shut up. Meanwhile, I discovered my ankle and knee pain had gone, and I was faster on the road (although that could also be due to the toe caps I now have fitted). I keep being able to sprint, particularly up a hill that's on a slight incline - it's lovely to really vavoom up the hill, giving your legs a really good stretch of pushing... and yet at the top, they're not tired, it's only my lungs working overtime. In short, I feel like I could do another 5 miles, easily, if not more. A single accidental change has made an enormous difference.

No near fatal accidents to report. No serious bumps and scrapes. A new steel back wheel and back kevlar tyre, which should keep me going for a year or two. Oh, and Autumn approaches apace. Balls.