30.7.04

UPDATED!
The keen-eyed out there will correctly identify this as the top of my head.

I know it's a sight some don't get to see that often, being as it is roughly 6'3" off the ground.

The reason I bring it into conversation is that today my hairdresser (I've never felt comfortable around barbers, for some reason, so for years I've been coiffured by women. My current is Chris, a Chinese Malay woman who tends to engage me in conversations about Premiership football) said I was going grey.

I strongly disputed this, saying that since birth I've always had a natural blonde streak at the back, and that must be what she could see.

But Chris was insistent. Definitely grey, she said.

And you know what? She might be right. Sure, centre of shot there's the blonde patch, all present and correct, and probably more pronounced because of the summer sun.

But the bit above it looks a different colour altogether. Kind of white. A definite ashen hue.

A chap could worry...

Update: A reliable source who has inspected said barnet confirms that the offending area is platinum blonde rather than white or grey. So that's all right. Not that I was worried. Not me. Oh no.

25.7.04



Hmm...  I want you to like it here. I wish we could stay here forever... and ever... and ever.

23.7.04

"I'm sorry. This has never happened to me before," I said, dumbfounded, struggling to understand what had just occurred.

"Don't worry," she said, offering a sympathetic smile. "It's okay. Really."

We'd attempted it this way and that, and she even tried something I'd never had done to me before. But it always ended in disappointment. Not even the nurse's uniform could help.

"But I've done it so many times, and never once failed," I pleaded.

"In that case, it's not surprising. It's about time this happened. Because it's not the first time I've seen it," she assured me. "It can happen to anyone, you know. We expect it occasionally."

"I'm just so sorry. I feel like I've let you down."

"Look it doesn't mean you'll never be able to do it again. You say you're feeling fit and healthy. I'm sure you'll be fine next time," she said.

But her kind words didn't stop me feeling shameful, guilty, less of a man.

There was no escaping the truth. I knew she'd have to let me go.

For the first time in more than 10 years' experience, my haemoglobin level wasn't high enough for them to let me give blood. I just missed their cut-off point by two measly points.

And it leaves me feeling emptier than you could possibly imagine.

I guess I'll just have to eat more spinach.

21.7.04

DangermooseMeet Dangermoose, my newest friend.

Another city has fallen to the bovine infestation that is Cow Parade and this time it's Manchester, as I discovered last week.

Yeah, I know he's only a fibreglass cow, and that any conversation would be pretty much a one-way thing, but he caught my eye, and I think we're going to get along fine. After all, we've both got the city's best interests at heart.
 
Shamefully it was my first trip north for a couple of years, ostensibly on grandson-type duties, but also giving me the chance to catch up with a few old faces from my early days at the Beeb, and see what progress had been made in redeveloping the city I'd seen virtually every day for almost seven years.
 
After meeting Dangermoose outside Piccadilly station, I wandered through the city centre. It was the first time I'd seen the redeveloped Piccadilly Gardens. And though I hate to say it, I can't say I'm impressed.
 
Although they've obviously tried to banish much of the mid-20th century civic planning nightmare that dominated the area, there are still visible signs of old, poor Manchester hanging around. The Gardens area still seems to be a magnet for some of the down-and-outs who populated it before the facelift.
 
And despite the lift the cows are supposed to bring to the city, most of them in this area seem to be on the roof of what appeared to be the new bus station shelter. Isn't that defeating the object? Call me jaded, but it's probably for their own good. One or two more accessibly situated in other parts of city are certainly showing signs of wear and tear.
 
It's not just the cows who are suffering. It used to be the case that you could walk a good distance without being offered a copy of the Big Issue, but the vendors seem to have multiplied. The afternoon I was there, I found four within a 50 metre stretch on Market Street. Surely that can't be a good portent.
 
I hate sounding down about the place - I have good memories, and good friends still there, and I know it's come a long way since the IRA forced the issue of refurbishing the Mancunian landscape.
 
But despite all the money that's been pumped into it since the '96 bomb, to someone coming back, the city still feels like it's struggling to shake the decay and deprivation that swamped places across the north throughout the 70s and 80s.
 
Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe a couple of afternoons isn't enough time to judge a city, however well you used to know it.
 
I just feel that there's something deeper haunting Manchester that won't be cured by a Harvey Nick, 100 trendy new bars, or even a herd of colourful cows.

19.7.04

Thirteen "classic" movies I've never seen (in no particular order):
Citizen Kane
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
A Clockwork Orange
The Godfather (or Part Two, for that matter)
Edward Scissorhands
Casablanca
The Shawshank Redemption
Apocalypse Now
There's Something About Mary
Arsenic and Old Lace
Akira
The Great Escape
The Exorcist

(plus anything by Bergman or Kurosawa)

The awful thing is that I actually own more than one of these.

15.7.04

caveat - noun - warning or proviso of specific conditions. ORIGIN Latin 'let a person beware'

Such is my anger and sense of injustice at the outcome of the Butler Inquiry, that I find it difficult to articulate.

But basically it boils down to this: Tony Blair's government deliberately misled the British people and the wider world about why war should be declared on Iraq. Yet he still fails to admit it.

Without retreading too much of what Lord Butler and his crew said (there are people better qualified and more willing than me to do that), the inquiry found that between leaving the intelligence services or the Joint Intelligence Committee and being unveiled to the nation by Tony Blair, important reservations and caveats were omitted from the text.

According to Butler, some of the intelligence gathered by spooks was "vague", "ambiguous", "unreliable", "open to doubt", "limited", "sporadic", "unproven", "patchy" and, of course, "seriously flawed". It would appear that MI6 and JIC were quite open about this. But making the case for war in September 2002, Tony Blair didn't let the caveats in the intelligence stop him being "satisfied to its authority."
 
In fact he didn't think to mention the caveats at all.

Why were they removed? It's not like a document of this gravity should need a low word count. But no one seems to think that we need to know why the misgivings and provisos were excluded.

After Butler Blair said,"No one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services."

This may be true. But what is also true is that someone, somewhere in the Blair regime deliberately took things out of the document that the intelligence services had meant to be there.

By removing the ifs, buts and howevers, someone significantly and purposefully changed the tone and meaning of the intelligence agencies' findings. As the former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said, "They put exclamation marks where there should have been question marks."

Someone decided the war would not have widespread support if any doubts were expressed by the government. Someone decided the British public could do without the full story. And so somewhere along the line someone - whether elected representative or political appointee - distorted the truth. Call me old fashioned, but isn't that pretty much the definition of lying?

And whether he knew about the changes or not, shouldn't Tony Blair be responsible for such gross malpractice within his administration?

The report vindicated BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan over his claim that the dossier on WMD was sexed up (even if a little of the detail was incorrect). It vindicated the Today programme's decision to run the story, and Greg Dyke's decision to back his man to the hilt. And it meant all the upheaval the BBC endured at the beginning of the year was unjustified in its origin, if ultimately good for the Corporation. The BBC was right about the dossier being sexed up, and the government punished it for its impudence.

Unlike Hutton (which you just know I loved), I don't think Butler was a whitewash. The committee was able to suggest that all was not perfect in Tonyland. It just didn't have the courage of its convictions when it came to deliver its judgment. When compared with the (reasonably) honest way in which America has so far dealt with fessing up to lousy intelligence, Butler makes me ashamed of my country and its institutions.

I'm sure I'll be accused of being hopelessly naive, but despite its old school tie, don't rock the boat mentality, I had hoped that there was a shred of honour left in Whitehall.

Obviously not.

There's a lot more that can be drawn from the Butler report, most notably Blair's style of decision-making, and the suitability of John Scarlett as Britain's top spy, but one truth is inescapable...
 
We've been lied to, folks. And no one's willing to take the liars to task.

11.7.04

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Seventh Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)Very High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Level 7? A little harsh, I feel.

Before taking the test, I'd reckoned limbo would be the worst I could hope for, what with me being a non-believer of even just the slightest bit of virtue. Even wrathful and gloomy wouldn't have been that bad. Sounds kind of cool, you've got to admit, although I have to confess I'd probably be most at home in the City of Dis on Level 6. Not too hot, but not too cold either.

But maybe it was the charities gag that consigned me to a fate worse than, err... well a very bad fate after death. Dante's obviously got me pegged as someone who'd get on with the multi-cultural society of usurers, blasphemers, sodomites and tyrants. How bad can these people be? After all, those names are just labels. It's not for me to judge.

So if you need me, I'll be looking for an apartment with a nice view of the river Phlegethon, not too far from the wood of the suicides, ideal for those lazy Sunday afternoon picnics.

8.7.04

One story doing the rounds today was that of the father of one of the little girls murdered in Soham two years ago. Kevin Wells, dad of Holly, was talking to the media in his capacity as the patron of a new charity established to help children cope with bereavement.

The name of the organisation? Grief Encounter.

Now I'm not seeking to make light of the tragedy that befell Kevin Wells and his family, as well as that of Jessica Chapman. Nor do I believe that the work of the charity in question is anything other than very valuable.

But I can't help finding it morbidly funny that the founders have chosen a bad pun on an iconic film for their name. It strikes me as wildly inappropriate, something that was dreamed up and passed during a meeting which had dragged on late into the night, and had gradually been fuelled by more and more booze.

Surely it was only ever a working title, an in-joke that accidentally made its way onto all the letterheads?

But more importantly could it start a trend for more new charities to follow?

The Born Identity and Foetal Attraction - two new pro-life groups?

Attack of the Clowns - a support network for coulrophobes

Bruise Almighty - haemophiliacs' charity

End of Daze - post-amnesia support group

Tomorrow Never Dice - anti-gambling network

The Hoarse Whisperer - promoting further research into throat infections

Apocalypse No - Council for end-time mythology counter-education

The Jungle Buck - African investment lobby

Fur t'go - speaks for itself, and affiliated to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Speaking of which, am I flogging a dead horse? :)

Unless anyone else can come up with some stronger suggestions, I think we'll just let the whole idea slide. Help!

7.7.04

Could Tuesdays be the new Fridays?

Since the brethren of the dear departed Tuesday Club championed the cause of early midweek drinking binges, the practice seems to have become a lot more common among the professional classes. Not that I'm claiming credit for the boys, but when such an influential group of individuals come together, there's got to be something in the way of repercussions.

These days my own Tuesdays are somewhat more sedate, engaged in a tussle with some of the toughest quizmasters in North London. More on the adventures of Team Albatross another time, save to say we came in a slightly embarrassing 7th last night, all the more regrettable considering we aced the first round to take a clear lead.

But last night, my quiz duties caused me to miss the BBC's party celebrating 50 Years of Television News. It's a big deal round here, and from some of the office chit-chat it sounds like it was a decent bash. With all the tales of general falling over, there must have been a few sore heads in the Corporation's newsrooms this morning.

Apparently there were one or two household faces (no names, sorry - I'd like to retain a little journalistic integrity among my colleagues, or at least my job) chasing miniskirts or throwing very peculiar shapes on the dancefloor.

Not that I don't love every minute I spend with the Albatross, but us mouse jockeys in Online so rarely get to mingle with the TV and radio lot that it would have been nice to get a taste of the more established broadcast media.

Still, it's probably just as well I didn't get along. After a few glasses of wine I'd have ended up hopelessly lusting after some on-air totty and gone home maudlin and miserable.

And trust me, none of you would have wanted that.

5.7.04

Jen had done this quiz (although in the interest of correctly attributed props, Jim apparently found it first). It branded Jen an evil genius, which was amusing, because she is. It just takes someone with cojones to tell her. So then I took the quiz, and this is what it gave me:

You are an SRCF--Sober Rational Constructive Follower. This makes you a White House staffer. You are a tremendous asset to any employer, cool under pressure, productive, and a great communicator. You feel the need to right wrongs, take up slack, mediate disputes and keep the peace. This comes from a secret fear that business can't go on without you--or worse, that it can.

If you have a weakness, it is your inability to say "no." While your peers respect you, they find it difficult to resist taking advantage of your positive attitude and eagerness to take on work. You depend on a good manager to keep you from sinking under the weight and burning out.


Online quizzes are rarely accurate. But this one is scary.

Now I'm going to start doing a little housekeeping around here. Maybe it's all the newness of the biscuit, but that blue-ish colour is suddenly looking a tad tired.

Oh, and NSB is back on bed duty. When will he return, I hear someone cry. All in good time, my dear, all in good time.

2.7.04

Greetings, fact fans, welcome to another dose of enlightenment with me, Nightshift Ben.

Coming up later, we'll be conducting experiments on Hollywood DNA, with disturbing results. But first, thanks for the memory...

Dear Jane, from behind the wall of Corn, writes:

My question relates to failing mental faculties which are a feature of the over-fifties as you will no doubt one day discover yourself. It is.... er... I've forgotten actually... Oh, yes. I remember. Is the human brain digital or analogue, and if so when will I be able to buy a new memory card for myself?

Hmm. Tricky one that, Jane dear thing. Much more your husband's area of expertise. If you plug it into Google, you get dozens of hits arguing one way or the other.

Much of the debate seems to centre on how one defines digital - whether it deals simply in on and off, zeroes and ones, or whether it's something more subtle, allowing room for shades of grey between the black and the white.

But reading the arguments makes my brain hurt - probably in an analogue way. After all, it's hurt more, and it usually hurts less. There's a scale. So I'm saying analogue.

Maybe if I just ignore the question, you'll soon forget you ever wanted to know the answer.

Time for a quick joke: There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don't.

Well, I still think it's funny.

Meanwhile, Paul, on a Godforsaken rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, asks:

How do you register a piece of writing/poetry for copyright and ownership purposes? Just to get the little symbol? Maybe… An Island waits…

Basically, dude, under British law (and that of most other countries) copyright's yours as soon as your poem, novel, song, whatever, is on paper (or whatever storage medium you choose), and you can use the © to your heart's content. Copyright stays with you until you die and for 70 years after, at which point your work enters the public domain and can be used freely.

Some might say "end of", and legally it is.

But say someone comes along, nicks your creation, and then passes it off as their own. You could try sueing them solely on the basis of your word against theirs... but you probably wouldn't get very far in court.

So, what to do?

There are two main options. The first is to register a copy of your work with someone like the UK Copyright Service for a small fee. They'll look after it for you and be an independent voice in your favour if a dispute should ever arise.

On the other hand, you could send yourself (or solicitor, or bank) a copy of the work by recorded delivery, taking care not to unseal the envelope it arrives in. The record of delivery should be proof enough that you wrote something when you did, thus defining you as the author in the eyes of the courts (unless, of course, someone produces tangible evidence that they created it first). The copyright registration people advise against this, but as they don't get paid this way, their stance on the DIY routine isn't exactly surprising.

Of course, if your work is ever published in book form, or on the web, or any other medium, any integrated copyright notice you have should be protection enough that you don't have to keep on paying the registration service.

And it's worth remembering that for the sake of the written word or artistic manifestation, an idea can't be copyrighted (which is why there are so many bad love, formulaic songs out there). In the event of you and another having the same great idea independently and concurrently, you've just got to remember that sometimes dumb coincidence bites you on the arse.

You can find out more at the UK Copyright Service site.

Finally, to Sam, who's getting something for which she's been waiting a very long time:

Where's the research into my original question on Tom Sizemore? You know, the top secret hush-hush stuff about him being the strange genetic clone mix thing offspring of George Clooney and Michael Madsen (which could explain the whole Heidi Fleiss thing)?

I've had a look into this and you know what? You might be on to something. After months working on DNA harvested from Ross and Blonde, my team of scientists has managed to cobble together this unsettling cloned mutant. I could have done better myself, but I have more important things than movie star genetics to concentrate on. The world doesn't run itself, you know.

Anyway, have a look for yourself. It's Tom on the left and weird Clooney/Madsen mutant on the right. Or something. Uncanny, no?

Cloosen creature Girlfriend beater











1.7.04

Hello campers.

You had me worried last night that your thirst for knowledge was so profound in my absence that you'd dehydrated and died. But fortunately Jim from the less than dry Pacific North West decided that asking questions was good.

Why must the company Wizkids taunt me so by making the Galactus Heroclix a summer convention exclusive, meaning they go on eBay for upwards of $200?

Just between you and me, there were actually a lot more of the Galactus Heroclix models produced, but while being shipped in from M64 (the labour's so cheap there), they were, somewhat ironically, caught up in a sneeze from the real Eater of Worlds himself. True story.

It is not, I repeat NOT, part of a cynical long-term marketing ploy designed to create a frenzied demand among Marvel fanboys for a vastly overpriced product to be launched in the not-too-distant future.

Mind you, this one is only at $10.50 atow.

Why is Guinness so tasty?
Because you haven't tasted Porterhouse Plain. Yet. Come to London. Then you'll know tasty.

Who thought up the idea of gay Republicans, and why don't they explode when they come in contact with themselves (like a matter-antimatter reaction)?
Gay Republicans don't actually exist. They're actors hired to make the GOP look good, like with all alternative or minority groups. Why do you think you can never get served at an LA restaurant these days?

Why is Football called Soccer, and vice versa?
Back in the day, there was only football. It was played with the feet. Hence the name. Then a young man from Rugby named William Webb Ellis decided he wasn't very good at kicking and would rather pick the ball up. Rugby Football was born. In order to distinguish themselves, the round-ball lot decided to call their game Association Football. As was often the case in those days of malnutrition and leprosy, people got tired when required to utter five-syllable words, so decided to shorten it to Assoc. Meanwhile rugby types had decided they were much happier being thought of as playing rugger. After a little more thought, someone over at Assoc HQ realised that their game had a silly name, and that something like rugger sounded much more with it. So they turned it on its head and got socca.

Now, can you tell me why American Football is known as Gridiron?

Why would people who travel thousands of miles across the country/globe want to go somewhere to see people throw fish around?

Because it's fun when you don't get it every day of the week. But I guess if you did your weekly shop at Pike Place, you'd just want your damn fish.

Why did Jennifer Garner star in a CIA recruitment video?
Because she stars as a CIA agent in hit show Alias, as I'm sure you know, and someone in the Agency's marketing department thought it would be a "pretty cool crossover, like life imitating art, yeah?". But for the most part it's because she's not too shabby on the eye. I'm sure even the CIA's top dog George Tenet would concede that in the sex appeal stakes, Jen's got him beat. And let's face it, the Agency's trying to recruit geeks for analysis, so I think they've got their target market pretty well sussed.

Sub-Question: Does the CIA really understand the difference between fiction and reality?
Judging by the presentation Colin Powell gave to the UN Security Council in the lead-up to the Iraq war (you remember - death, desert, weapons of mass destruction, dragons, and other dreadfulness), probably not, no. Perhaps, Jim, given your keen grasp of this distinction, you're pursuing your career in the wrong Washington.

Meanwhile Robin of Woking asks is it wrong/shallow/capitalist for me to be (if only slightly) happy that England are out of Euro 2004 because it means I have a good chance of making my bonus this year?

Bobs, your mother is, as usual right. Your treachery sickens me. You can not truly call yourself an England fan again from this day hence. If this seems harsh, Ben will be happy to adopt a more sympathetic position after having discussed it over several very expensive and potent drinks come year's end.

Any more for any more?