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Saturday, 4 September 2010

In praise of Taschen

The deep shelves behind me house an entire row of Taschen's art books. Acquired when I was much poorer than I am now, at the rate of perhaps one or two a month, they helped turn my monochromatic appreciation of the stuff hanging in our galleries into a technicolour experience of powerful expression.

A friend, an editor at Thames and Hudson, has always jealously pooh-poohed the print quality, the quality of colour rendition of the plates and the erudition of the scholarship, but my constant reply was that I could afford Taschen's £10 books; I could never afford the same £120 edition from his firm.

Taschen are the Everyman Library of our day. All praise to Benedikt Taschen, who picks his favourite publishing moments in the Indie today.

Blunkett's stupidity still haunts us

David Blunkett is a man whose ambition was never remotely matched by his ability. His tedious, laboured and clumsy prose is indicative of a mind pushed beyond its comfort zone, not accustomed to original thought and not at home to any degree of endogenous principle. He was always struggling too hard to be successful, the struggle of a mediocre man of mediocre ability amongst those brighter and more able than himself, to pay much attention to his ministerial brief. Emotionally vulnerable, and the subject of a cruel experiment by a sophisticated and immoral woman, it was perhaps only Blunkett's blindness that prevented his colleagues long ago from quietly persuading him that he was just not up to the calibre of cabinet rank.

As Home Secretary he could have been taking his brief directly from the editor of the Daily Mail. He simply didn't have the intellectual strength to do otherwise. As a consequence, he oversaw some of the most repressive legislation to which the people of this nation have ever been subject.

His cautious misgivings now in the Mail about his signing away of our defence against vexatious extradition cuts little ice. This was an act of unbelievable stupidity, an unforgivable erosion of our most fundamental rights. This, together with our caving in, under the terms under which the European Arrest Warrant is empowered, to every tin-pot Balkan village magistrate, Greek Anglophobe or Spanish fascist, have undermined the most fundamental raison d'etre of the State - to defend its citizens. Blunkett and his like have abrogated this duty to the lesser breeds without the law, and in doing so have betrayed their own people.

Whether Theresa May is the man to reverse or limit this iniquitous perfidy remains to be seen. But Cameron's government will be judged not on its fiscal nous but on the extent to which such repressions are lifted from our backs.

Friday, 3 September 2010

'Brown will help poor nations for free'

"Hullo? Hullo? Is that the President"

"Yes Mr Brown; I'm sorry I missed all your previous calls. It's the Yam harvest haha and the people expect one, you know .."

"Look, I'm ready to fly out and fix your economy. First we need to increase taxes for everyone who owns more than three goats, and send the army in to dig up those silver Maria Theresas they've got buried under their hearths for retirement, then we can sell your mineral reserves off to the Chinese, introduce a new market stallholders tax, charge 30% duty on home-brewed Millet beer and seize all cars under three years old in private ownership and sell them to Yemen ..."

"But why? What will we do with all the extra money? Presuming the people don't storm the palace and saw my head off first .."

"Then we can make the people healthier. It's the right thing to do. Look, your life expectancy is just 38 years and half the people have limiting long term sicknesses. We can employ healthy lifestyle co-ordinators to get them walking more, for instance .."

"But our people are starving; 20% already have to walk six miles a day to get clean water"

"Salad. Salad's the answer. We'll give a free salad to every child and mother. Lettuce. Cucumber. Tomato. We'll fly the salad in from Holland. We'll employ Salad Officers with powers to force-feed Celery to delinquent children"

"Mr Brown, you must excuse me ... pressures of State, you understand .."

"No! No! Don't hang up please, listen, we can install CCTV cameras in every Kraal .. Damn! Operator? This is Gordon Brown. Get me the President of, let me see, Mali please ..."

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Polly, love, the word is 'betrayal' not 'treason'

Predictably, Lady Toynbee is first on the barricades screeching 'Nous sommes trahis!' and perhaps she really does believe that the Labour Party IS the State and that to act against the Party is 'treason' - in any case, that's her accusation against Blair.

Polly, love, Blair's betrayal of his Party is just betrayal. It's his betrayal of his country that's treacherous.

Always answering the wrong question

That scientific double act, Hawking and Dawkins, are both without doubt clever chaps, but sometimes one regards their cleverness in the manner of a dog that dances, or a goat that can do addition with its hooves. Somewhere I encountered the tale of a primary school teacher who would ask her pupils 'What is the best colour?' to which the correct answer was apparently 'blue'. Hawking and Dawkins have spent substantial parts of their careers trying to answer the theological equivalent of asking 'What is the best colour?' to which the correct answer is apparently 'not God'.

Hawking and Dawkins are both in their own ways trying to devise an SI unit to measure love. Well, if one can measure mass, velocity, brightness and loudness, why not love? How many mountains can 105 units of love (lets call them 'Joys') move? What's the peak reading of a Western teenager during the heights of their first 'crush'? Well, let them continue. It does no harm and keeps them busy, always trying to answer the wrong question.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The dreariest and longest journey

The beaten road
Which those poor slaves with weary footsteps tread
Who travel to their home among the dead
By the broad highway of the world, and so
With one chained friend, perhaps a jealous foe
The dreariest and longest journey go

Blair belongs amongst the dead. His continued presence in the world of the living is an affront, an insult to life and joy and goodness, and yet even death seems reluctant to claim his lie-raddled corpse. Every further word of lies, every self-pitying self-justification, each deluded post-hoc self justification, every falsely pious homily, every deluded narcissistic encomium to his own greatness heaps insult upon insult and affront upon affront.

Take this putrescent little gobbit away from our sight and hearing.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Polly stirs the ordure

Lady Toynbee, fresh from Summer in her Tuscan villa, returns to the Guardian to excoriate Blair and Mandelson as 'vain, venal has-beens' for voicing anti-Ed opinions. But no condemnation, not even a hint, of those public pro-Ed opinions from those other 'vain, venal has-been' Labour dinosaurs Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley. Thus demonstrating again that Polly's idea of equality has always been to boost one faction at the expense of another regardless of balance and fairness.

Meanwhile Balls is complaining that he's not getting any column inches at all. Or would be if there were any journos attached to his campaign to write it down.

The press have decided it's a two-horse race and Labour will never miss an opportunity to create a deep factional split in the Party, so expect more bitterness, and even more distortion, omission and misrepresentation from Lady Toynbee as the contest goes into its last knockings.

What fun!

OED and Shock and Awe

The nearest we've seen to warfare between technologically advanced nations was the air assault on Baghdad in 2003. Amongst the ordnance directed at the city were a number of NNEMP or non-nuclear electro-magnetic pulse devices. These generate a very intense pulse of electro-magnetic energy that knocks out electronics; cellphones, vehicle engine management systems, radio and communications equipment, computers, TVs and even some toasters and other kitchen appliances. EMP weapons are the future. Baghdad was the first real chance to test the new weapons, and you can bet over the past seven years the results have inspired many useful improvements.

Until recently, our rail network was proofed against EMP weapons, giving us substantial national resilience. This was because the signalling system was not electronic but electro-mechanical. Both my boat engines are EMP proof, having not a single electronic between them.

And EMP devices may also be used by a government against its own population; I'll bet North Korea, Iran and similar simmering nationlets are already considering the option of knocking out all civilian communications capacity if things get too sticky, and I'll bet some dissidents are already keeping spare devices inside Faraday Cages or lead envelopes. The security services are also conscious that it's relatively easy for terrorists to construct and detonate an EMP device at the heart of a crowded city; imagine 7/7 if police and ambulance radios were knocked out, and central London's cellphone network rendered inoperative.

The point is, electronics and electronic records are uniquely vulnerable. Unless you store binary data on a punch-tape at the bottom of a salt mine, it risks remote damage. If the OUP decides not to publish a paper edition of the 3rd Edition of the OED they are taking a big risk for a small gain. English is the world's greatest language, the apex and apotheosis of human civilisation. We should accord it the value it deserves.