Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Beau Bo D'Or Gallery

I haven't raided the consistently excellent Beau Bo D'Or (link to left) in a good while but he's saved me the trouble with a rolled-up 'rough animation' of some of his best-known images, complete with seriously bizarre music. Just sit back and - erm - enjoy!

The Lottery

I play the lottery on and off. I know it's a waste of money but I do. I've won the odd tenner but that's it. The lottery is generally a bad thing - a device for getting poor people to voluntarily pay extra tax. I rather liked the description of it as 'the desperation tax'. But that isn't the point I wanted to make. Last night I pottered into the living room just as the lottery results came up. The result was another example of the phoenomenon I call 'bunching'. There were three consecutive numbers, 33, 34 and 35 among the six balls drawn. This seems to happen fairly regularly - not necessarily consecutive numbers but sequences of two or three closely linked numbers. Conclusion: that the devices for juggling the balls before the draw are inefficient or the juggling is too short. Discuss...
Historical anecdote: after the Bill for the abolition of slavery was passed with an overwhelming majority William Wilberforce asked sidekick Henry Thornton “Well, Henry! What shall we abolish now?” Thornton replied, “The Lottery, I think.”
They did as well.
Random Thought: After Bill Clinton's performance at the DNC yesterday the question came to mind: why does he always remind me of the saying 'Sincerity! That's the thing! If you can fake that, you've got it made'.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Pinched from Earl

Now how weird is this? A couple of junior Damien Hirsts it seems...

Nice straight drive to slice cow in two as well.

The story that got buried...

You would have to be a pretty serious newshound to follow this one. There has been an israeli naval blockade of Gaza - a glorified holding pen - since Hamas inconveniently won the Palestinian elections. The resultant hardship includes - but it is not limited to severe shortages of medical materials.

The California based Free Gaza movement decided to try and break the blockade with two boats - checked by international monitors to make sure there were no armaments or dangerous materials on board - and a symbolic cargo of hearing aids and balloons (for the children). There were 47 crew members in the two boats, including an 81 year old nun and our very own Lauren Booth - but only one Israeli (I'll come back to that one). The boats set out from Cyprus - about a 30 hour journey.

Cue much Israeli huffing and puffing. 'A provocation' they whined. They were in a dilemma as to what to do. The military wanted to stop the boats by force and seize, interrogate and generally give a rotten time to the crew. This of course would attract huge international publicity and be public relations poison for the Israelis. So in the end they let the boats through and they arrived in Gaza to a rapturous welcome. Smart move by the Israelis, though. The story dropped off the radar. They made clear that this was a one off. The naval blockade remained and it ought not to be assumed that future boats would be let through.

A modest proposal: keep doing it and doing it with two refinements. Firstly, take actual as opposed to symbolic cargoes of medical etc supplies. Secondly, the preponderance of western activists in the crew makes it easy for the Israelis to dismiss the project as the usual western pro-Palestinians at it again. Maybe next time crew the boats with Israelis and Palestinians.

Then just watch...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Crap Hotels and B&B's...

The rabbit has been quiet of late - part of the reason is that I have been tearing about the Midlands plying my trade in assorted courts. Commuting is stupefyingly expensive on the early trains as well as exhausting (never an enthusiastic driver, I have sold my car - no regrets - and don't really do long distance hauls anyway). So, on an economy drive, I get the cheaper off peak trains and stay overnight in -erm - inexpensive hotels and B&B's (bed and breakfast accomodation for any overseas reader mystified by this acronym). I can tax deduct travel and hotel expenses but still have to find them upfront. I'm becoming some sort of expert on the cheaper end of the accommodation industry. Some thoughts...
The picture is very varied. Some cheap B&B's etc are actually fine - the odd one is very good value. The horrors are - well - horrific.
Let's call it the Fleapit Hotel, Stoke. I'd come up on the Sunday night and stayed in a very nice place a few minutes from the court at weekend rates. For weekdays the rate went up sharply so, remembering the economy drive, I rang the Fleapit Hotel for the Monday night when it became clear that my trial would go into Tuesday. They had vacancies - why am I not surprised? The Fleapit was at least secure. The front door key I was issued engaged in a battle with the lock just about every time. The interior was gloomy with the usual collection of rubbishy 'ornaments' on every available surface and fussy patterned carpets everywhere. The carpets had plainly seen better days and were apparently in the later stages of death by vacuuming. At least my room was clean and had plain white walls. Both room and bed were small but it was passable for one night. One particularly classy touch was the plastic mug supplied for in room tea/coffee. Presumably they didn't trust me not to break/steal a porcelain one.
I got talking to a guy who was also staying there. He was - I would guess - in his mid sixties.
'I've been put here by the council' He said. He'd just suffered relationship breakdown and had left his council place in Chesterfield and, coming from Stoke, had headed back there like an elderly homing pigeon.
'They're showing me a bungalow tomorrow. It's in a nice area. I'm going to take it. I've hit rock bottom. The only way is up for me after today'.
My heart really went out to him. He had no children and was a cancer survivor. I hope things worked out for him. It became clear that several of the residents had been put there by the council. Obviously this is done because the place is cheap but this seemingly guaranteed income stream provides whatever miscreant owns the place no incentive to improve it. One of the homeless persons was a friendly soul. I met him briefly in the evening and again at breakfast. He got up after eating his meal.
'One more beer and then I'll go to bed' he announced cheerily. It was about 8.30 in the morning. Another resident, a young man, looked as if he was in withdrawal.
I should say something about the surrounding area. Almost directly across the road from the Fleapit Hotel was a boarded up pub. They seem to do boarded up bigtime in Stoke with commercial and shop premises in various states of dereliction left, right and centre. I noted that 'Adult Shop' and 'Bargain Booze' seem to have survived this commercial holocaust as had a halal takeaway shop just down the road from the Fleapit. I had shish kofte and chips from there for dinner. It wasn't at all bad.
'See you later' said the duty staff bloke when I left in the morning.
'No you wont' I thought.
I moved on with much relief to Stafford and the Spittal Brook Inn - I've blogged on the Spittal Brook before and love the place and its gloriously crazy landlord to bits...
After a weekend back in London, it was Wolverhampton on Monday and a nice little earner. So up on off-peak train on Sunday night and, the economy drive still being on, a night in - let's call it - the Dog Hotel. I've looked at it online and comments by former guests are venomous. I copy and paste from the hotel website: 'All of our thirty-three bedrooms are en-suite, tastefully decorated and maintained to a high standard of cleanliness'. Erm, really??? A traveller review paints a somewhat different picture: 'Absolutely disgusting. Tiny, dirty and dangerous room. Stairway littered with broken plant pots, soil and dead plants (still there the morning we left). Reception area strewn with broken furniture and dirty bedding: an obvious health hazard and fire-hazard. 'Non-Smoking' room stank of smoke and had an ashtray near the bed. This was a week AFTER the smoking ban came into force, so clearly illegal. This hotel needs to be closed down before there is a serious accident there'.
Oh lighten up! Okay, the Dog is a dump but it is so awful it is pure comedy, unlike the Fleapit, which is just oppressive in its dreadfulness. I arrived to meet a very nice guy who seemed to be in sole overnight charge. The carpet in the foyer was waterlogged.
'We've had a flood' he explained.
'What caused it?' I asked.
'Just rain' he replied.
Righty... My room had a number of interesting features such as the wall mounted light which wasn't wall mounted any more but hung from the wall by its electrical cable. The en-suite had an interesting collection of cracked tiles. I thought at one point in the middle of the night that my bed was going to collapse. I wasn't doing anything energetic, just turning over. Usual nasty patterned flowery wallpaper and swirly threadbare carpet. Though as I say, the guy in charge was very affable and brought a late night beer to my room. Tuesday night, I stayed in a B&B in Leicester for pretty much the same price as the Dog Hotel. It was very nice indeed. Better than many hotels. I'm learning rapidly where to stay and where not to.
Quick change of subject - with hat tip to Downtown Guy (link to left) here is a list of top 50 dystopian movies, courtesy of something called Snarkerati
Parting shot - JoJo (again link to left) commented that Throwing Stones would be a more appropriate Dead song than Eyes of the World to go with my posting on Georgia. Here it is, then, complete with gnomes...

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Mostly Georgia...

The rabbit has been very much out of the loop lately. It seems that while everybody else is on holiday, the rabbit is being run ragged workwise and has just returned from a week out of town hopping from criminal court to the next criminal court and back to the first. Hat Tip is due to Ron Knee for the above image, taken at a motorway service station. Ronald was less than impressed by the service as was apparently someone else who took the opportunity to arrange the pen holder display so as to send out a message.

To the main business: I go away for a few days and a new cold war starts! Like the enormous majority of westerners, I knew next to nothing about Georgia but was suspicious of the news spin that seemed to portray Georgia as a latter day 'gallant little Belgium' of World War I fame. Fortunately, a friend who is a university lecturer and Russia specialist came to dinner last night. This is mostly his take on recent events.

Russia: the Russians have a overwhelming sense of national humiliation as regards the post cold war settlement of the 1990s (echoes of Versailles). They have some grounds for complaint as regards broken treaty commitments etc. They also have a deeply held belief that they are being encircled, particularly by NATO. The very pro US Poland in particular drives them crazy, principally as regards the possibility of US missiles being located in Poland. There have even been mutterings about placing Russian missiles in Cuba if this is done. They are seriously pissed off and intend to put themselves about, in particular in former satellite countries. Many of these countries have sizeable Russian minorities.

Abkhazia/South Ossetia: Stalin 'gave' these regions to Georgia in one of those arbitrary imperial line drawing exercises that has caused so much trouble subsequently when mutually hostile peoples with different and incompatible cultures/languages/religions/aspirations find themselves within the same borders. The South Ossetians for example are a tribal Muslim mountain people. They have nothing in common with the Christian Georgians and hate their guts. The general consensus is that if these regions were given a fully free and fair vote on their constitutional arrangements, Abkhazia would vote for independence with some form of association with Russia and South Ossetia would vote to become a part of Russia (and thus be reunited with North Ossetia, which is in Russia). The ceasefire following the uprisings in these regions in the early 1990s (involving Russian peacekeepers) held pretty well until Thursday before last.

Georgia: The Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili is incompetent, unpopular and hardly the paragon of democratic virtue he has been portrayed as in the west. He decided to boost his popularity with a military adventure to reassert Georgian authority over the dissident provinces. This has backfired badly on him as the unsuing disaster has made him even more unpopular than before.

What happened goes something like this...

1. 7 August - Georgian troops enter South Ossetia. This is entirely gratuitous and disturbs a status quo that had kept the peace.They meet resistance from the Ossetians and trash the Ossetian capital with rocket fire. They also attack lightly armed Russian peacekeepers. The timing is clever - the eyes of the world are on Beijing.

2. The Russians are predictably enraged and Putin hot foots it back from Beijing. A successful counter invasion is mounted. My expert informant expresses the view that if the Russians had confined their activities to occupying South Ossetia, driving the Georgians out and restoring the status quo, then he wouldn't have criticised them. But they didn't...

3. The Russians set about teaching the Georgians a lesson. Russian troops penetrate deep into Georgia proper. the objective - apart from punishment - appears to be to disable the Georgian military. Atrocities follow.

4. The unreconstructed cold warriors in the west (and particularly the US) think Christmas has come early. Much huffing and puffing from the State Department. There is talk about fast tracking Georgia into NATO and even the EU. The EU is split as to how to respond between Atlanticists on the one hand and the very worried Germans and French (and Italians - a little surprisingly) on the other. Ceasefires are eventually cobbled together. At least for now...

My friend pronounces himself deeply worried. Incidentally, he is an American and an Obama supporter. He thinks these discontents may play into McCain's hands as he hangs tough and plays on his military background and experience. We shall see...

I use he phrase 'eyes of the world' above. So as a parting shot and to lighten the mood, here are the Dead with Eyes of the World...

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Still crazy after all these years and updates

Quiet in blogworld at the moment, I notice. It's a seasonal thing. Real life interrupted blogging for the rabbit last week and will do so next, but this story is irresistible. Mention Joyce McKinney to a British male of a certain age and a gigglefit will ensue. For the unintiated, here is the story. We go back to 1977.

Joyce McKinney was a former cheerleader and beauty queen from - why am I not surprised - North Carolina. She had also been, despite her claimed virginity - a topic the great British public heard much of - a soft porn actress and images of her as such can be found on the web (wholly unsuitable for a family blog, of course!). She conceived a passion for a 19 year old Mormon missionary called Kirk Anderson and when he set off to England to do missionary things, our heroine cashed in her life savings and set off in hot pursuit. So far so passing odd, then it gets seriously weird.

Arrived in Britain, McKinney recruited a stooge called Keith May and kidnapped Anderson at gunpoint (okay it was an imitation firearm but bear with me), drugged him with chloroform and drove him to a rented cottage in Devon. What happened then was that Anderson - another virgin apparently - was chained, spreadeagled, to a bed, with several pairs of mink-lined handcuffs (nice touch, the mink lining), and over the next few days he was repeatedly required to have sex with McKinney. She later helpfully explained that she had been anxious to bear his child. By way of further explanation, she added that the handcuffing had been necessary as Anderson had a dominant mother and thus such aids were necessary for him to attain - erm - satisfaction.

Anderson managed to escape and McKinney and May were arrested. Court proceedings ensued. the great British public found the case the most hilarious news story in years - it just pushed so many British buttons. The tabloid press were drooling. Sympathy for Anderson: zero. There was only one court appearance, an old-style committal with evidence. McKinney unburdened herself in those proceedings of the following immortal line: "I loved him so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to." Quite so. At least she said nose. Her counsel summed up the national mood with the equally immortal line "methinks the Mormon do protest too much".

Unfortunately, the fun was spoiled when the dynamic duo were granted bail and took the opportunity to abscond to Canada disguised as mime artists. Don't ask, I don't know why mime artists either. End of story? Not quite.

Earlier this week someone called Bernann McKinney was in the news. She denied being Joyce McKinney but she obviously is. Her pet pit bull - erm - Booger has been successfully cloned by a team of South Korean scientists. I have no idea why this needed to be done but our heroine seems very happy with her collection of little Booger clones. Thus located, in theory, she could be extradited to stand trial for kidnapping. I don't suppose she will, though. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman commented when contacted by the press "I'm sorry. I haven't a clue what you're talking about." That was then. This is now...

A couple of updates on recent postings on this blog. The Israeli Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the rubber bullet shooting of his prisoner in Nil'in (postings 21/25 July) has been 'reassigned' and charged with 'unworthy conduct', a minor offence not carrying a custodial penalty. The sergeant who pulled the trigger has been demoted to private and faces the same charge. Apparently, penalties would be much more severe if they had been caught smoking a joint. Other events in Nil'in: a 10 year old and an 18 year old have been shot dead by the Israeli army (headshots as usual) and one person at least is in custody - the father of the girl who took the film footage that busted the shooting incident. He is under house arrest charged with something not very serious. Injustice prevails as usual.

One good news story: Majid Ahmed, the straight A student who was refused a place to study medicine at Imperial College because of an isolated and spent conviction for burglary when he was 15 (posting 3 July) has secured a place at Manchester University instead and can hopefully realise his ambition to become a doctor..

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Ian Dury, Noddy, CSA and Olympics

I suppose I had better start explanations with Noddy. There may be readers with so sheltered an upbringing in some remote corner of the world as to have been untouched by the dead hand of Enid Blyton, She was a prolific children's author over several decades and a gruesome old bat in real life (free legal advice - you can't defame the dead). One of her most ubiquitous and annoying creations was Noddy, a wooden toy who lived - unimaginatively enough - in Toytown. He drove a taxi, was big mates with some sort of gnome called Big Ears and was constantly in various low level trouble with the local constabulary in the form of PC Plod. That's about all you need to know.

I'm not sure how well-known Ian Dury is in foreign climes - it's not just that he was very English - it's more specific than that, he was very London. He led a rock and roll band, Ian Dury and the Blockheads but he was far from just a rock and roller. His lyrics are unique for their wit, verve, whimsy and imagination. He was a one off and one of those people you will never read a bad word about from anyone who met him. He suffered from the effects of childhood polio and managed to get his song - Spasticus Autisticus - written for the International Year of Disabled Persons banned by the BBC despite his credentials in this area. The above clip, Fuck Off Noddy, is one of his little pieces of whimsy and delicious revenge on behalf of anyone who had their childhood blighted by suchlike twee rubbish. Dury died in 1998 after struggling with one of those horrendous cancers that just recur all over the place.

Changing subject, I read that 20% of claims by women to the Child Support Agency for - well obviously - child support, are made against men who turn out not to be the father. I merely raise an eyebrow.

Changing subject again, not many days before the Beijing Olympics,does anyone acually give a stuff about the Olympics as a sporting event? Pretty much all coverage so far has (rightly) been about Tibet, broken promises as regards human rights and non-censorship of websites, the polluted state of the Beijing air and social cleansing of the occupiers of unprepossessing looking homes or business premises around the Olympic stadium. Usually the Olympics is simply an overblown nationalistic crap sport feeding frenzy (I except the athletics, which is okay, from the crap sport category) but this time around the story isn't the sports at all - it's the Chinese regime. They must be spitting nails. Serves them right...

Back to Ian Dury and a song from him in rock and roll mode - Sweet Gene Vincent. Bear with it for the ballady one and a half minute intro. It's worth the wait. If unfamiliar with him, have a little rummage about on YouTube for such gems as There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards (whimsy) and Plaistow Patricia (famous - or perhaps infamous - for its opening barrage of very rude words indeed).