Why this Blog?

A place where I can lament the changing times; for eccentric comments on current affairs and for unfashionable views, expressed I hope, in cogent style; also occasional cris de coeur largely concerned, I regret to say, with myself.


I welcome your comments, so do please write. Please note however that all comments are moderated prior to publication. Whilst I fully appreciate that life can be frustrating, nevertheless, abuse, SMS language and illiteracy will not be tolerated!

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Wonderful Style: George Sanders

George Sanders. Image Source, here

For reasons I can only hint at, the late George Sanders is one of my favourite actors. I cannot remember when I last saw a film in which he appeared - you might say that it is simply a sort of cultural memory.
His appearance was part of it, but best of all it was his magnificent voice: I once had a girlfriend who would turn almost to a jelly when she heard him speak (I recall feeling pangs of jealousy as we watched the fim together).
For some reason I decided to research him a little today. I came across a site, salon.com, which included the following story, which to me epitomises my image of Sanders:

In "Memoirs of a Professional Cad," Sanders recalls an early movie called "Lancer Spy" in which, he writes, "I wore a monocle to some effect. As a result of this, when my next role came along, that of a pirate in a thing called 'Slave Ship,' I was again called upon to wear a monocle. It was useless for me to protest that at the time of this particular story monocles had not yet been invented. Such pedantry made little impression on the film's producer, and I duly became history's first monocled pirate."
One can scarcely blame the film's producer for making use of Sanders' capacity to carry off Cyclopean eyewear, however: as Time magazine noted, Sanders was "the only actor since Erich Von Stroheim and Charles Coburn who can wear a monocle without looking as if he is going to drop it into his soup."

The following delightful clip from "Jungle Book" provides an example of Sanders' wonderful voice when playing the character of Shere Khan, the tiger.

Sanders died in 1972, by his own hand. Depressed and with failing health he left the following note:

"Dear World. I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."

Stylish to the end.

Until the next time

Robotic Progress

Robots or "bots" as they are often irritatingly called, are frequently in the news these days. I have seen a variety myself, especially from Japan, where there are dancing girls and so on.

One of the silliest I have seen is this robotic barman - must do better I think:

Beer pouring robot at TMCO open house from beerorkid on Vimeo.

I suspect it will be some time before it can spin a bottle of orange juice in the air or make a proper Margarita!

However, as is well known there are more serious applications - some of which have been used for years in the manufacture of cars for example. And naturally as with all advanced technologies, the military have an interest.

The following video shows an extraordinary device: a robotic "mule" designed to carry equipment for soldiers in rough terrain. The version shown in the video is admittedly noisy, but incredibly agile I must say - and it can carry 150kg. The military is calling for a more powerful, faster and quieter model; I for one believe they'll get it too.

I have to say I am really impressed!

Until the next time

Sunday 26 October 2008

More HTM 'ell

In the words of Alice: "curiouser and curiouser."

As if by magic the link colours have returned to the orange they have always been. Any bets on how long it will last??

Until the next time

Wednesday 22 October 2008

In the Shit? Another one from the USA

Image Source: ABC

Just found a nice little story in one of my favourite publications: The International Herald Tribune.

This time the location is Scranton, Pennsylvania. The city of Scranton has paid a Dawn Herb (and I was still recovering from Ron Dicus!) $19,000 plus costs, following her acquittal of a charge of disorderly conduct.

The "disorderly conduct" charge arose because whilst Miss Herb was - quite reasonably in my view - swearing at her overflowing toilet, she was overheard by her neighbour, unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for Miss Herb, an off-duty police officer (obviously not Officer Dicus - he is in Ohio). An arrest followed; very neighbourly I must say.

The judge in the case found Miss Herb not guilty on the grounds that her swearing was constitutionally protected free speech. Miss Herb was fortunate that the American Civil Liberties Union took up her case as she could have been liable to a substantial fine or even jail!

Funny thing, the idea of "free speech." In a BBC radio programme the other day about political correctness, someone pointed out that in England, one can say "Brit" for "Briton", "Aussie" for "Australian", but say "Paki" for "Pakistani" and the Race Relations Industry will have your guts for garters.

Until the next time.

Moustache News

Toledoblade.com reports that a policeman, one Officer Ron Dicus (sic) based in the town of Sylvania, Ohio, has been suspended without pay for three days. The charge is insubordination. The reason for the charge? It is stated that Officer Dicus refused to trim his moustache.

From the article:

Because it involved insubordination, this is the way it had to be handled,” Trustee Pam Hanley said after she and fellow trustees took more than an hour in a closed-door executive session to make their decision.
“Insubordination is a very serious charge. This isn’t about a mustache,” she added.

Officer Dicus - After a trim. Source: Toledoblade.com

I would say that actually it IS about a "mustache", but then I do not know how such people's minds work! The regulations concerning moustaches in Sylvania, Ohio (and I daresay elsewhere in the U.S.A.) apparently limit the lowest extent of the facial ornament to "the crease of the mouth." The miscreant's facial hair reportedly extended below this point and further he is said to have refused to restore it to the required dimensions. The moustache was described as being of "George Custer type." Here is a picture of the general who famously perished at the battle of the Little Big Horn...

General George Armstrong Custer
Picture source: here

All this got me wondering if there is an upper limit to the ends of the moustache. Here are two examples:

Kaiser Wilhem II. Picture source: Here


A couple of ideas for Officer Dicus that will perhaps protect him from the wrath of his superiors!

Until the next time

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Chinese Foreign Policy

"China says kidnappings won't affect Sudan policy"

Thus reads this IHT headline today.

Nine Chinese oil workers have been kidnapped in Sudan. The identity of the kidnappers is unknown, although Sudan's government claims that they were carried out by a rebel group that seeks a greater share of oil revenues for local people.

China says that its "close economic ties" with Sudan will not be affected. Well I suppose that if the murder and displacement of hundreds of thousands in the genocide in Darfur cannot affect these "close economic ties", then I suppose that these kidnappings won't either.

In the usual spin, China also says that it is working hard for "peace and reconciliation in Sudan."

So that's all right then.

Very convincing isn't it? China buys 70% of Sudan's oil production.

Until the next time
Update 26th October.
Human rights groups apparently have charged China with doing nothing to stop the bloodshed and also with violating a United Nations arms embargo. More information on this story here

Monday 20 October 2008

Two Gentlemen

It has been said that one definition of a gentleman is "someone who can play the bagpipes but doesn't."
I have no information concerning the two gentlemen I am writing about today in this regard, and my awarding them the accolade - and indeed writing about the matter - is my whim of course; I should mention perhaps a third (but fictional) gentleman in this connexion since his family motto was "As my whimsy takes me."*

So, to my two real-life gentlemen.

The first earned his spurs (that is in my own experience) in 1982, when he resigned as British Foreign Secretary. This was following the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. The Rt Hon Lord Carrington, for it was he, took full responsibility for the complacency that resulted in the withdrawal of the minimal naval force in the area allowing the disgusting General Galtieri to proceed with the invasion which he hoped would distract the Argentinian population from his appalling regime. It is my understanding that Lord Carrington resigned on a matter of principle (as the Secretary of State responsible) and that it was in reality his underlings (the Ministers of State at the Foreign Office) who should have gone.
Lord Carrington. Picture Source: NATO

I have mentioned this 26-year old event because it was brought to mind today by another gentlemanly act (at least in the light of the information I have): the resignation of the President of the French Bank Caisse d'Epargne, M. Charles Milhaud.
M. Milhaud resigned following the loss last week of €600,000,000 owing to "unauthorised derivatives trading" by a team at the Bank. In his statement, M. Milhaud pointed out that these trades were made despite specific instructions to the contrary, issued by Milhaud himself and some of his co-directors. The bank is in no danger whatever of collapse, by all accounts unlike certain others not so far from France - that is until their government bailed them out (or effectively nationalised them).

However M. Milhaud after a 45-year career** at the Caisse d'Epargne opted to take responsibility; two of his fellow directors have also resigned.

It is true that we are living in exceptional times, but M. Milhaud's behaviour in this affair reminded me of Lord Carrington and contrasts pleasantly with some of the rather unattractive characters in certain banking communities that have cropped up in the news recently.

It would be depressing to discover that M. Milhaud was obliged by pressure from the French government to fall on his sword. I hope I don't.

Until the next time.
*Lord Peter Wimsey of course.
** Just imagine: a career banker in charge of a bank these days - I prefer this idea to some of those spivs running other institutions!
BLOODY HTML! The link to the picture source under Lord Carrington's picture does not appear. I have been obliged to place it above the picture. Apologies, but not my fault.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Mrs Sixpack for Veep?

Early in September, I had occasion to refer to Mrs Todd Palin, still the Republican nominee for Vice-President of the U.S.A.

I have been quite relaxed about her since that time, because she spouts mostly either platitudes or nonsense and although this is far from rare in any politician, she is rather an extreme example; in consequence, I doubt she has added to Mr McCain's election chances, which appear slim at present.

I was disturbed today though to read in an IHT article that she has strong support amongst certain sections of the American population:

All the while, Palin's stoutest defenders are often the Joe Sixpacks in her crowds, who shrug off her critics, ridiculers and perceived adversaries in the news media. They say they appreciate Palin for, above all else, how "real" and "like us" she is.

Image source: Here

Great. Mrs Joe Sixpack: as they say, a "heartbeat away from the presidency."

How very reassuring.

Meanwhile it has been reported that former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell has endorsed Mr Barack Obama's candidature. He gives a number of reasons for his endorsement of Mr Obama, amongst which, referring to Mrs Palin, he said "I don't believe that she is ready to be President of the United States."

That then is something that General Powell and I have in common, although I would add that I doubt that she will ever be ready.

Until the next time

Saturday 11 October 2008

Data Theft - Again

This one's an absolute cracker!

Imagine: the credit card machine at your local supermarket has a little added "extra"...

This little "extra" is jolly clever: it records your card details and your PIN and then obligingly makes a discreet phone call to Lahore in Pakistan, where the data are uploaded and the frauds can begin.

It's even more sophisticated: it can be programmed to pick certain types of card or even to "lie low" to avoid detection.

Apparently over 40 shops have been targeted in the UK alone - the likes of Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco.

As if money isn't going to be difficult enough! Read all about it in the Wall Street Journal (I assume that there is still a Wall Street!) or at Timesonline.

Until the next time

Friday 10 October 2008

And yet another one!

And this time with impeccable timing.

In the UK it is "National Identity Fraud Prevention Week" a worthy cause without doubt in a country that certainly needs to do something as anyone who reads this blog at least will know.

Unfortunately, once again, those in charge of data have been caught with their trousers down. This time it appears that the culprits are contractors to the Ministry of Defence, EDS who have "lost track of a portable hard drive."

There is a report in the International Herald Tribune, from which the following extract is taken:

The military confirmed a report in The Sun newspaper that contractor EDS lost track of a portable hard drive, but said it could not comment on the claim that it contains names, addresses, passport numbers and driver's license information of service personnel along with data on 600,000 potential recruits

The IHT continues:

The British government has struggled to get a handle on data losses even as it rolls out an ambitious national identification card program. Last year's loss of computer disks containing information — including banking records — on nearly half the U.K. population caught international attention. A steady stream of data blunders since then has kept the spotlight on the way the government handles — or mishandles — its citizens' information..

I read that following the world-wide financial crisis, sales of safes have soared. Perhaps in future someone might just have the idea that a safe is a good place to keep confidential records too?

Until the next time

P.S. HTM 'ell is up to its tricks again - sorry, I am utterly powerless to control this Frankenstein's monster

Thursday 9 October 2008

HTM 'ell Again

Sorry for the appearance of the last post here.

Once again the HTM 'ell spontaneously decided to fuck up the appearance about which I can do nothing.

Until the next time

A Technical Wonder

Kutztown University. Source: Wired

On 6th September, the Geoeye 1 satellite was launched; now the first image captured (yesterday) has been posted on the web and on seeing it, I was very impressed with the quality. Apparently the resolution provided to the public is limited by law to 50cm although the satellite can provide resolution of 41 or 43cm depending upon which report you read. The latter higher-quality images will be supplied to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency - a US government agency, whilst Google, 50% partner in the satellite will use images for the Google Maps programme.

In reading the Wired Report where I discovered the news, I had to smile at Geoeye's Mark Brender's "spin" on the phrase "spy satellite":

"This is the opposite of a spy satellite," Brender said in a phone interview. "Spies don't put info on the Internet and sell imagery. We're an Earth-imaging satellite, and we can sell our imagery to customers around the world who have a need to map and measure and monitor things on the ground."

Mr Brender's understanding of the word "spy" seems to be a little limited and his response a little defensive!

The Wired article states that US Intelligence agencies have had since the 1970s, spy satellites that "can read newspaper headlines in Red Square." This suggests very high resolution indeed; I wonder what they can read today?

Until the next time