UK Uncut is NOT Above the Law

Missive to the Independent in response to Andreas Whittam Smith’s piece:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/andreas-whittam-smith/andreas-whittam-smith-is-it-wise-to-criminalise-respectable-protest-groups-2257654.html

Sirs,

Andreas Whittam Smith shows a blinkered naiveté about UK Uncut second only to Johann Hari.

He seems to be oblivious to the direct connection between the “peaceful” but still inconvenient and illegal trespassing on property by UK Uncut and the violent behaviour that others who claim similar aims engage in.

There can be no question that the kind of civil disobedience that UK Uncut uses has directly inspired the violent acts against the same targets, and they have to bear some responsibility for it.

Obstruction and trespass are offences, and people who behave like that should expect to be arrested, especially when they are quite rightly seen as being part of a wider occurrence of illegal activity at the time.

If they want to push at the boundaries of acceptable protest, then they should expect there to be consequences. There were a half million of us who protested, legally and peacefully on Saturday and the mindless self-promoting tactics of UK Uncut and the splinter group’s violent action has totally diluted what could have been a very strong message.

… and bless ’em, despite it being contrary to a lot of their correspondents’ messages, they published it almost unedited:

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Brian Cox doesn’t dumb-down science. He does worse. He makes it disposable.

A couple of decades ago, when I was half of a failed long-term relationship (technically, a marriage) at its point of rupture, I clung desperately to all my security blankets – favourite books, CDs, DVDs, clothes and even my favourite TV – as a means of reassuring myself that despite the emotional turmoil I was going through, there could be continuity and reassurance.

When something similar happened again some 15 years later, my attitude had changed. It was an opportunity to dump all the meaningless dross that I had collected like flies around a cow-pat. The local recycling centre had never been so busy as books, old IT and other electrical gear, everything from the loft and shed and God only knows what else ended up in their tender care. It was remarkably easy to label previously important stuff as trivial and disposable. So, although it took 45 years to learn, these days I have a well-developed sense of what “disposable” means – trivial, unimportant, sidelined. So…

In today’s G2 supplement to the Guardian, TV presenter and former unknown member of the band D:Ream Brian Cox gets all hot and bothered at people who accuse him of dumbing down science. (link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/mar/24/brian-cox-wonders-of-the-universe).

He is right to be bothered by the accusation, because it’s not true. It’s not the science that has been dumbed down but the role of the presenter. Beautiful, long, lingering slow-motion shots of Brian in a desert, Brian standing on a mountaintop staring off into the sky while a camera helicopter circles overhead and the sun sets behind, Brian posing with his legs akimbo like his testicles need more air than those of the rest of us due to the heat given off by his brain, and Brian chatting to us like a mate in his hire car. We get it, Brian, the entire universe revolves around the massive black hole of your ego.

Cox has single-handedly turned the fine art of science presenting into a Katie Price impersonation competition. Me, me, me, it’s all about me.

But as a result of that, he has morphed science documentaries from the brilliant Horizons of the seventies and eighties and the still excellent Attenborough efforts into trivial, forgettable and worst of all, disposable parodies of reality television. “I’m a scientist, get me out of here”, if you will.

I don’t WANT to be Brian Cox’s mate in his car, I don’t WANT to be impressed by the skills of his helicopter pilot and I certainly don’t want to witness the airflow around Cox’s gonads. I want an authoritative, interesting and informative science documentary which conveys its message without me having to see the presenter at all. Just like they used to be, but so rarely are these days.

The thing about those is that they’re a lot more difficult to write, and can’t be rattled off in a few weeks like most pop science books or TV series. A lot more thought, skill and time is needed to put them together, and time is something a modern media whore has very little of these days.

I worry for the future of science on television if this is the direction it’s taking. When it comes to science, if the presenter becomes more important than what’s being presented, then the plot has been well and truly lost.

Dealing with Spam Email

I got the following email this morning:

On 19 Mar 2011, at 05:52, “Judith Alexander”<judalx1@aol.com> wrote:

Dear,
Help me carry out my last wish. With your help, i want to donate to the needy, the poor and
motherless baby’s homes. I am very sick suffering from breast cancer. Reply if we can work together.
Regards
Judith

Which according to the header originated in Brazil (“Received: from User ([87.219.138.188]) by EXFE04.hostedexch.locaweb.com.br”). Now being a kind-hearted soul and not remotely cynical, I thought I would help, so I replied as follows:

Dear,

I am sorry, but I do not run a needy, poor and motherless baby home, and as much as I would like to accept your very kind donation, it might be better being sent to the Barnardos Organisation who have been doing this kind of work for many decades.

You can send your very kind donation to them here: http://www.barnardos.org.uk/donate.htm

I hope you are able to do this before you get too sick and die from your breast cancer.

Thank you for your letter, I enjoyed working with you.

Regards

Paul

I wonder if they can read between the lines as well as I can? <grin>

UPDATE 1

Apparently they not only cannot read between the lines, but cannot read either. I received the following by the next day:

My Dear friend,

Thanks for your mail and your concern. I hope my first e-mail did not embarrass you? If it did, I apologize for this. I am  a 56 years old woman from Salzburg, Austria. I am a new Christian convert suffering from long time cancer of the breast. My personal physician told me that I may not live for more than six months. My late husband and son were killed during the Gulf war. My late husband was very wealthy and after his death, I inherited all his business and wealth. I am willing to donate the sum of Eighteen Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars ($18.5Million) to the motherless baby’s homes, needy poor, charity homes and widows too. I want you to assist me in making this my last wish realistic.

It is for this same reason I have randomly searched through the internet email directory to find somebody who has the predisposition to accomplish the task of passing on a privately kept fund of this sum to charitable organizations as he or she deems fit, since I cannot do this myself due to my failing health. It was this random search that yielded your contact email address with which I sent you my first email. Note that this was just a probing move to establish  contact, because I am sure you know as well as I do that most people  would snatch at the offer considering the large amount involved and  more also since the disbursement of this fund would be entirely in  the hands of the claimant.   For this reason I felt that after our initial e-mail communication I should be able to determine if we can proceed based on certain indices as well as intuitive feeling I would deduce.

The fund in question is privately kept and I wanted to put it in capable hands for disbursement. Other such funds that I left to my relatives to disburse to charity were all plundered and used for their personal purposes. for this reason I have decided that within the confines of my hospital room and the privacy of my computer (to which I have internet connection) to look for a suitable person to transfer ownership of the deposit to, and after claiming the money, disburse 90% of the total fund to various charitable organizations of your choice in various countries and then retain 10% of the money for your effort. The money is in physical cash in $100 and $50 dollar bills packed inside two metallic trunk boxes deposited in the security vault of a private finance/security company in South Africa.  This is not a business proposal and I do not expect any returns or share of the money.

I am dying and I have distributed most of my earthly possessions to various individuals, groups and organizations.

If you would be able to help me fulfill this last living request, I would be very grateful even at my grave.   Please get back to me on the following.

1) That you are in a position to be trusted with such a large amount of fund, and that you have a heart for charity.
2) That you would not have any problems locating the right charity and human aid groups to disburse the fund to. It would be nice to know what charities you have in mind to donate the money to.
3) That you will be Godly enough not to put the funds to your personal use to the detriment of its intended purposes
4) That you are willing to contact the security company holding the deposit to discuss the terms of releasing the trunk boxes.
5}.That you are prepared to travel to South Africa (if need be) to personally handle and oversee the release of the funds to you.
6) That you fully understand this transaction up to this stage and you are ready to proceed under these terms.

Please get back to me as soon as possible or you can as well finalize with Allied Security Company.

I wait to hear from you,

Ms. Judith Alexander

Being a caring and deeply charitable person, I felt I could not ignore this plea for help from an obviously desperate and god-fearing dying woman, so I responded immediately:

Dearest soon to be dead Judith,

Thank you for your reply, which given your very poor state of health,
I did not expect so quickly. I am pleased that your physician has
given you six months to live, as I suspect this will be a long and
interesting conversation. Or maybe not.

I note with approval that you have extended your wish to include
widows, charity homes and the needy – is there no limit to your
generosity? I am truly humbled by your kindness in thinking of others
as you approach what is almost certainly going to be a long, lingering
and painful death. You are an example to us all.

I am gratified that your random search of all three billion internet
users has shown my email address to be worthy of your benevolence,
though I am a little confused at your apparently lack of awareness of
my gender – Paul being a well-known male name, I wonder why you felt
it necessary to say “he or she”. I put this down to your advanced
ill-health.

I am concerned that you have all of your charitable gift in the form
of cash, so I have contacted the British Embassy in South Africa and
asked them if they could arrange to send an armoured vehicle to your
location just outside Johannesburg (according to your IP address which
is 197.170.247.162 – in the general area of Douglas), and collect this
money. I am sure you agree that this is the safest way of moving your
very kind donation from your current location to the worthy causes you
so desire to benefit from your imminent demise. It being collected in
an official government vehicle will also reassure you of my good
intentions.

If you could please let me have your exact address by return of post,
I will let them know where to send the vehicle and its attendant
well-armed security force and collect the money. If you like, I can
ask the South African telecommunications service to supply the exact
location of your IP address if for security reasons you do not want to
send it by email. Please let me know which you would prefer.

Once again, I thank you for your extreme generosity in what must be a
very difficult time for you, especially as your family seems to be
made up of complete scumbags who have made off with the money you have
already asked them to donate to charity. May the fleas of a thousand
camels infest their private parts.

I await your reply with interest, as do the South African security
services who I have copied this email to.

Regards

Paul.

Midsomer Murders – Are White Folk Embarrassing to Watch?

Brief letter to The Independent after a lot of media fuss about the TV programme “Midsomer Murders”. The producer was asked why the entire cast was white and replied that it wouldn’t work in its very rural setting if it wasn’t. With all the predictability of a wet bank holiday, this has the unelected politically correct mob up in arms:

Sirs,

I really am not sure that I understand the fuss about Midsomer Murders. There are programmes and entire networks that are explicitly black and Asian, what’s wrong with having a programme that’s explicitly white?

While the question concerning the ethnicity of the cast was not answered particularly well, I genuinely do not understand why it was necessary to ask it in the first place.

Paul Harper

Japan: Nobody’s Panicking Except the Media

Missive to the Independent:

Sirs,

I am getting increasingly irritated at the breathless – almost mindless – TV news coverage we are getting of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It doesn’t seem to matter how many level-headed nuclear experts the BBC call upon, all of whom are consistent in their appraisals of the lack of a need to panic, they send back reports citing the “panic in the eyes of the people”.

No there isn’t! The Japanese people are being what they always are, calm, upset without being hysterical, and focussed on recovery and rebuilding. The only people running around like headless chickens are our own media people who seem to be hindering things out there rather than helping.

Coverage from the US on Friday was so breathless it was hilarious. “This will be the biggest event to hit the west coast in your lifetime” they repeated hour after hour until the three-foot wave gently washed ashore.

They all need to take a lesson from the Japanese people by getting a grip on reality and calming down.

Paul Harper

Battle: Los Angeles – Undiluted Bowel Water

Before I start, I have to make the terms of reference clear on this piece. What I am about to say is based up just the first hour or so of this movie. At that point, both I and my boyfriend were giggling out loud at totally inappropriate points and decided that we’d had enough. We left.

So if the movie suddenly became a classic post-modern analysis of the America psyche worthy of Dostoevsky or Orson Wells, then I unreservedly apologise and withdraw my application for a refund of the 19 quid the two tickets cost me. However, since the hour that we did see made Skyline look like Citizen Kane, I suspect that my apologies will not be needed.

So. How bad was it. This can best be summed up by listing the stereotypes that were so freely used:

  • The ageing senior non-commissioned officer – a staff sergeant in this case – who has a “history” and wants to get out of the service because he’s done his bit. Tormented by his past, just a little sexually ambiguous and beyond his best but willing to put his saggy, greying balls on the line for his country just one more time. Not Aaron Ekhart’s finest part.
  • A group of marines, containing a couple of gung-ho types who you know aren’t going to make it beyond the first half hour (think Star Trek red shirts and you’re spot-on), a virgin, a barely-disguised gay guy with beautifully managed eyebrows and moustache, an unseen “on leave” sergeant who will need to be replaced by the guy above, and a neophyte “lootennant” fresh out of US Military McCollege who’s as keen as mustard but inexperienced, ready to be guided by said ageing sergeant.
  • One of our group of seven mental dwarf marines had a brother who was killed while serving under the sergeant’s previous care. This leads to inevitable tension. At least, I think it was supposed to lead to tension. I was busy tutting at the inevitability of it all.
  • They meet aliens within ten minutes of the start of the movie, but don’t really get to see them at all.
  • Aliens have already wiped out Tokyo, London (shown in a 2-second TV clip in the background, a clip that I suspect gets changed to whichever territory the movie is playing in just to keep the locals happy) and assorted sundry other coastal cities. This information is provided in around 30 seconds then dismissed like an unwanted US geography teacher.
  • BUT! They’re after LA next. Cue much chest-beating and drawing of arbitrary lines in the sand: “We can’t let them get LA. We won’t let them get LA, hell no…” (giggles from the Brit audience). No explanation as to why LA is so special – from what I’ve seen it’s a shit hole and would benefit from a few thousand angry spaceships levelling it, but I digress….
  • All shots of aliens, aliens landing, alien ships, large expensive explosions, ruined landscapes and the like are through TV images. This allows the special effects people to save time by rendering all their shots in crapo-resolution rather than multiple-thousand lines required by decent film stock. A cheap trick that fools nobody with a functioning brain stem.
  • Our (by now beloved) heroes are despatched to a police station where an unknown number of civilians are thought to be hiding from the beasties. There is a time limit on this before Santa Monica is blown to kingdom-come in the usual US Military display of subtlety to get rid of the aliens. The time limit is mercifully short as by now the cinema audience is ready to offer themselves as sacrifices to the aliens…
  • During one of a seamless series of gunfights with clouds of smoke (see cheap special effects mentioned earlier) a small group of lost marines join our heroes. One of these new people is a ballsy lesbian marine who bears a remarkable likeness to Michelle Rodriguez because a) it’s her playing the part and b) that’s the only part she ever gets to play. Looks of brief confusion from the cinema audience as they tried to figure out if they were watching Battle: LA, Lost, SWAT, Resident Evil, Fast & Furious, Aliens (mistaking her for Colette Hiller) or Aliens vs Predator (mistaking her for Cynthia Dale Scott). Sadly this confusion is insufficiently distracting as…
  • They shortly come across the civilians. “Anybody there?” “Yes” “How many?” “Five, three are children” thus neatly capturing the attention of the mums who’ve been dragged along to this testosteronefest. Now there are kiddies in danger, it’s a family film with some potentially moving death scenes. Hopefully all three kids and hopefully quickly…
  • One of the civilians turns out to be a veterinarian, which is useful as it allows her to say “I’m a veterinarian, can I help” when they finally manage to capture a nearly-dead alien and they want to find out what makes it tick. It is, of course, well known that all aliens have exactly the same internal structure as your average Fresian cow, so how lucky was it that she was there to help?!

Plot-wise, this is where I have to stop, because we couldn’t disguise our laughing as coughs any more so we left. We don’t know if they saved LA, or the kids or the vet. Nor do we care.

Overall? Crap. Not just crap, but crap photographed using a hand-held camera managed by a cameraperson who seems to suffer permanent epileptic fits with their hand on the zoom button. More time was spent looking for the person who’s supposed to be talking than anything else. The whole impression was that the film was an exercise by a first-year media studies student who saw Skyline and thought they would do another one but with a few recognisable faces this time. They would have got a D- for this effort. Really REALLY badly photographed, a token effort at a script, jingoism that the Argentinian Junta would have been proud of back in 1982 and no characters that anyone other than a 13 year old boy would care about, I wonder what the executive that green-lit this was smoking at the time.

I really hope that this undiluted bowel water doesn’t represent some sort of trend for US sci-fi films, because they just died if it does.

Paul.

Leona Lewis: Most Influential UK Woman of Last Century

http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/showbiz/news/a307748/leona-lewis-tops-most-influential-poll.html

Bwahahahahahaha!!

Leona’s a lovely lady. Really nice – kind, gentle, superb singer and all round good person. Honestly – not being sarcastic there, she’s great.

BUT – on the day that is supposed to be “International Uterus Day” (or something like that) a poll in the Metro newspaper came up with her name as the most influential woman of the last century. Not just since the last series of X Factor, but the whole hundred long, conflict-filled years.

Of all the women who have achieved anything of influence in all that time – it’s Leona’s name that bubbles to the top.

Girls. Sit down. Inequality is real. It’s an oppressive, smothering and restricting force that holds back genuine achievement. By all the forces at your disposal it should be opposed.

But when you’re looking for a target to aim at when fighting it, may I suggest that you give us poor boys a rest for a change and look within your own ranks for the brain-dead, puerile, uneducated and unambitious people who think that Leona is a worthy recipient of this title.

You have many hard battles ahead of you in your fight for a level playing field. Most of your opponents are around you. Good luck.

Paul.