Friday

Zen 1075: Mystery of the giant North Korean soldier mourning Kim Jong Il

In amongst all the Photoshopped footage of Kim Jong Il's funeral is this apparently genuine oddity - an eight foot soldier at the end of a line of mourners. At this height, he'd be on for the tallest living man, but no-one seems to know who he is. Maybe he's some sort of mutant super soldier carefully positioned to rattle the Capitalist Yankee Running Dogs.

In Communist North Korea, even the mourners are on a heroic scale.





Zen 1074: What are you doing New Year's Eve?

...ask Zooey Deschanel and chum Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Why? Who knows. I don't think they're planning on inviting you round. But, hey, they make a good sound, so what's not to like?

Monday

Zen 1072: Not ronery anymore - a bumper year for dead bastards as Kim Jong Il checks out

According to official reports, he poked it due to "mental and physical overwork". Whatever the real reason - more likely the product of years of overindulgence as millions of North Koreans died of starvation - the important thing is that the world is one pampered pigmy fuck short this morning.



A Kim top 10. He really was a proper fruitloop.



And here's North Korean TV treating his death with a big more reverence than I have.

Saturday

Zen 1071: So this bloke comes running up to me and says: 'My mate wants to fight you...'

I was walking back to my hotel, it was about midnight and I was mildly hammered.

I took my headphones off.

"What?"

"My mate wants to fight you," says the lad. He looks about twentyish. Judging by hairstyle and dress, he is probably an estate agent.

I look back up the road to where his mate is standing. I look at the estate agent.

"Well, I don't want to fight your mate."

The estate agent looks offended, like I've turned down an offer of hospitality.

"What's he saying?" says the mate up the road.

"He says he doesn't want to fight you."

I start to walk off, but the estate agent steps in the way.

"Look, I really don't want to fight you either, so if it's all the same could you just fuck off?" says me.

"How much do you weigh?" says the estate agent.

I'm wondering where he's going with this but decide that talking is probably preferable to fighting. It's been a long night.

"I'm about 17 stone."

"What's that in kilos?"

I am exasperated.

"About a hundred and something."

"Ah Jesus," says the estate agent, "He's too big."

"He's too big. More than a hundred kilos," he shouts to his mate.

"He's never," his mate shouts back, "He's lying to you."

"Have you two finished?" I ask.

"Yeah. I suppose," say the estate agent, taking an executive decision, "It's a shame Shane's not here."

"Yeah," says I.

"Goodnight mate. Happy Christmas," says the estate agent.

"Yeah," says I.

Belfast is a strange place.

Wednesday

Zen 1068: UPDATED: UVF 'B' Battalion welcomes you to South Belfast, and all for a Hello Kitty Cool Cardz maker

Back. Still have kneecaps.

Here's a tip for urban survival: Google "Starbucks" then navigate back via. Safe as houses. Posh, even.

********************

I thought it would be a nice thing to do. My little girl wanted some ghastly branded plastic tat and I found a shop on the Interweb which said they had it on the shelves. Naff all else to do, so I walk the three miles to the shop. Only, the thing is that postcodes in Belfast sometimes don't even manage a passing flirtation with the place you're trying to get to. One dodgy estate full of sectarian graffiti and an altercation with some evil looking geezers in a knackered Sierra later and I finally get to the shop. No Hello Bastard Kitty Cool Cardz Maker. By this point, rational considerations had departed and getting the damn cat had become an article of faith. Happily, an excellent fellow in a red polo shirt sensed my air of manic determination and basically turned the store over until he found one. Hail fellow, well met. I have my gaudy plastic tat. Now all I have to do is make it back again.

And bloody Santa Claus is NOT getting the credit for this one.

Zen 1067: Never mind the god particle, CERN used Comic Sans in their presentation, the losers

NMA World Edition treats the latest report from CERN on their hunt for the elusive Higgs Boson 'god' particle in the way that only NMA World Edition can. The funeral scene in particular is a lesson in popular newscasting that the BBC would do well to learn. Who says science communication can't be fun?

Tuesday

Zen 1066: I can't begin to express how much I want one of these

Frankie Zapata is the man who invented this thing. He calls it a 'Flyboard', despite it not being a board and having more to do with diving. I don't care. It looks like an amazing way to hurt yourself.

In translation, the girl is saying: "Zis sing is making me hot in ze pants for crazy Frankie Zapata ... like French women in all ze films, ah 'ave an irrational attraction to men 'oo step outside ze cultural norms, especially if zey smoke Gitanes and treat me like sheet."

To which Frankie replies: "Bof. Zut Alors. Ennui. Citroen Picasso."

Zen 1065: Bye bye Jonny, we'll miss you

Legend.





Monday

Zen 1064: You know what? Fuck pandas. They are the vegans of the animal world and a gift to creationists.

Pandas are bloody annoying. Normally, I'm in awe of majestic Nature and particularly in awe of the elegance of evolution, a principle of breathtaking simplicity that nonetheless describes the complexity of every living thing that ever was and ever will be.

Yeah, yeah, cute. Now do everyone a favour and die the fuck out.
Well, every living thing with the possible exception of pandas. I suspect only an intelligent designer could come up with something as flawed and utterly pointless as a panda. It's the Ford Edsel of creation. The fly in evolution's otherwise perfect ointment. It openly and brazenly defies Darwin.

The defects of the panda are well rehearsed. It can only mate on one-and-a-half days a year, and then only if it's within range of a receptive mate, which is itself a slightly rarer occurrence than someone with taste and decorum winning the National Lottery. (Seriously, when you're relying on a handjob from a Chinese guy in a lab coat to save your species, wouldn't dignity be telling you it was time to throw in the towel for the good of you both?)

It's slow and lazy. So lazy, in fact, that when confronted with one of the very few predators that can harm it, it will only attempt to escape if there is a downhill slope and it can frankly be arsed to fall down it. And the camouflage. What the hell? I live in a forest. It's very green. Sometimes its brown. Therefore I will adopt a coat that will conceal me only if hiding on a pedestrian crossing or in footage shot before the advent of colour.

But perhaps the most wilfully ridiculous thing about Ailuropoda melanoleuca is its diet. It eats bamboo. Nutritionally speaking, bamboo is in the same category as Samuel Johnson's cucumber, namely, it should be "well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing." The stupid animal has to eat tonnes of the stuff to even approach the amount of calorific intake a creature of its size needs to absorb.

And here's the kicker. The panda has roughly the same dentition as other bears, which means it could be chowing down on juicy flesh, or rummaging through the bins for leftover doughnuts and chicken wings. In other words, it could be eating well and as Nature intended, but it chooses not to. I know what you're thinking. It's a fucking vegan. So frankly, the sooner it shuffles off into oblivion and lets the fundraisers get on with saving proper animals like tigers and elephants and blue whales, the better*.




* No, polar bears do not need saving. They are about as endangered as you are.

Zen 1063: I am on UR internets degradin' UR language with my apathy and ignorance: An academic guide to LOLspeak

A really super very jolly good little chat about the emerging linguistics of LOLspeak. It has much to do with cats and deliberately mangled grammar, and little to do with witless noobs who end every status with LOL (!!!). Observe.

Saturday

Zen 1062: Europe veto - it's irrelevant why, there was only ever one option

Lots of fluff in the papers today about David Cameron grovelling to his rabidly Eurosceptic backbenchers in vetoing a new EU treaty designed to save the Euro, thereby sacrificing Britain's place at the top table and forcing us to watch from the sidelines as they stride into a brave new future.

Cameron maintains he was protecting Britain's interests by seeking guarantees that would protect the City, which, like it or not is very important to our future financial health, even if they are largely responsible for fucking everything up in the first place.

Just to recap, the proposal he vetoed was a wholly undemocratic lurch to a federal Europe using existing treaties as the instrument of change, with absolutely no guarantee that it will work. It required a massive and far reaching surrender of sovereignty, the like of which hasn't been seen since the last time Germany marched on Paris.

Frankly, it was a rubbish plan. It really wouldn't have mattered if Cameron vetoed because he believed it was a plot by space aliens. Or because he's a crypto-fascist in league with the Illuminati. Or because he was feeling peaky and just wanted to get off home quickly for a lie down. He had no other choice. The point is moot. The dice were loaded from the start. If you can prove any different, I'll give you a multi-trillion Euro bailout.



Thursday

Zen 1059: Wooden ties. Well, why wouldn't you?

Ties are stupid. Why not make them out of something stupid? Hence wood ties from woodthumb.com. Wood Thumb aren't stupid. But their ties are. Because ties are stupid. See where I'm going with this?




Zen 1058: Join the petition to pardon Turing, the man who saved Britain, invented the computer and described artificial intelligence

Alan Turing was beyond brilliant. In 1936 he wrote a paper called 'On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem' which described a simple machine that could do any calculation as long as it could be represented algorithmically. This is the theoretical basis of the computer and represents such an astonishing and utterly original idea that this alone would place him in the pantheon alongside the likes of Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

During the Second World War, he worked as a cryptanalyst in charge of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park. The machine he created to work out Enigma cyphers - the 'Bombe' - arguably shortened the war and prevented Nazi Germany from choking off the convoys between Blighty and the United States. Not only that, but the basic components of the Bombe are still essentially the basic components of any modern computer. It's the forerunner of the whole shebang. He did a bunch of other stuff as well, but for the full skinny on him, you're better off going here: Wikipedia: Alan Turing.

The reason you may not have heard of him is, bluntly, because he liked boys. This was still illegal back in the early Fifties, so when Turing reported one of his lovers to the police for burglary, the police charged him with gross indecency. Rather than go to prison, Turing agreed to 'chemical castration' - treatment with female hormones designed to kill off his 'dodgy' urges. It might seem a backward and stupid thing to do to such a fine servant of his nation, and you're right. It was. Monstrously stupid. But also monstrously tragic, in that Turing ended up killing himself with cyanide in 1954.

In 2009, Britain's answer to Dick Nixon, Gordon Brown, actually did something right as prime minister and apologised for Turing's "appalling" treatment. But it would go a small way to correcting a terrible wrong if he were actually pardoned, hence the epetition currently under way. To add your name, click on the link below.

e-petition: Grant a pardon to Alan Turing [LINK]

Zen 1057: Bum, baccy and tinsel: Merry Christmas from the sailors and airmen of HMS Ocean

Sent away for seven weeks training, HMS Ocean was redeployed for Libya and is sailing back to the UK seven-and-a-half months later, just in time for Christmas. When the crew found out, they made this video. Mariah Carey apparently tweeted was the best thing she'd ever seen, thereby immeasurably elevating her in the estimation of millions. Outstanding. Especially the sailor in the bath. Aye aye.

Wednesday

Zen 1056: Critics' choice: Lyne and Longcross School redefines theatre with daring Nativity

The theme was traditional - a children's fairytale exploring the traditions of Christmas. The production, however, was a searing Brechtian polemic that dwarfed the limited creative space and permitted the actors to wrestle with their immediate environment even as they grew beyond it.

More waiting for Godot than waiting for Jesus
One does not invoke the unquiet ghost of Brecht lightly, but here there is little doubt what the directors - a quite deliberately raggle-taggle cooperative that achieves every creative decision through painstaking negotiation with the cast - were seeking to achieve.

Like Brecht, it is their absolute determination that you should never be in any doubt you are watching a play. No coy flights of artifice and illusion here. From the sparseness of the set - nought but stage blocks and a humble tin foil star suspended above - to the homemade feel of the costumes, one never truly leaves the here and now, even if one is occasionally transported to another, perhaps surreal, place by the performances. Indeed, the actors constantly wrestle with their costumes, ceaselessly fidgeting and fretting as if to escape even these small concessions to theatrical tradition.

But the Epic Brecht is also here, fervidly wringing the immense tract of history from every gesture and utterance. The themes are prosaic enough. The innkeeper cannot sleep. But this is no introspective story of the fleshly travails of the insomniac. Here, insomnia is the vehicle upon which is laden the collective burdens of humanity.

Why can the innkeeper not sleep? He cannot sleep for the seemingly endless procession of visitors at his door; sinister in their nocturnal perambulations and yet strangely naive in their humble requests, first for board and lodging, later for directions to a mysterious "new arrival".

More than a nod is given to Beckett, such that this is less Looking for Jesus than it is Waiting for Godot. Consider the weighty, excruciating pauses; the broken dialogue; the sotto voce mouthing of one another's lines; and the uneven delivery - sometimes frighteningly blank, at other times wrought with violent emotion. "Round the back!" roars the innkeeper as yet more strangers assail his door in the depths of night.

What do these strangers want? What does it all mean? I am but a humble critic, but I would hazard that this play is about nothing less than world peace. Humanity is constantly roused from dumb slumber by the interjection of conflict. But it is the slumber itself - the somnambulant failure to deal proactively with the base, warlike instincts of men - that is the metaphorical elephant in the room.

Seasoned theatre-goers may find such lofty ambition too idealistic - nay, trite even - for their blood, but for the extraordinary denouement. For, in the end, the innkeeper and his long-suffering wife (here played as a withering satire on the changing-yet-permanent roles of women in post-industrial society) succumb to their curiosity and do go "round the back".

For a moment, you are dangled in suspense. What will they find? Some hellish Bacchanal; a bloody injunction against the interventionist, militarist tendency in Western political discourse? A crashing termination of hope on the altar of intolerance? The void?

No. Rather, the play discerns a brighter future for us all through the power of collective will. What this play says is that all it takes for war to end and dictators to fall is for us to join together and speak the words. There is an unspeakably powerful moment at the finish when the marvellous ensemble cast join together in a song, some waving to individual members if the audience; all smiling; inviting you, the passive viewer of the piece to interact; to leave your innkeeper-like slumber and feel the awesome potential of this theatrical Arab Spring.

It is rare indeed that this hardbitten theatre critic finds nothing to criticise, but let it be said that this production, so deceptively simple yet so breathtaking in scope and ambition, was nothing short of perfection. Bravo.

Tuesday

Zen 1055: 'Do you have any daddy butter?' - shopping for idiots

I found the Michael Stipe guy's habit of laughing a bit irritating to begin with, but stick with it - they nail it in the end. Use video 1 as a sort of "concept setter" before moving onto videos 2 and 3. Stove Babies?  A Teeny Weeny Mussolini? Dr Normal's Condoms for One? You're in the right shop.





Monday

Zen 1054: Santa trumps God, Spiderman and the Spanish Inquisition - the definitive proof

You can't say it ain't so. It's so so.

Zen 1053: Charlie Chaplin's speech from the end of 'The Great Dictator'

It's probably a bit melodramatic for modern tastes, but Chaplin's speech is one of the greatest moments in cinema. The movie was released in 1940, with the US still uncommitted to the fight against fascism, and features Chaplin in dual roles as the eponymous dictator and the oppressed Jewish barber who, in a case of mistaken identity, ends up making this eleventh-hour speech. Not bad for a boy from Bermondsey.





Zen 1052: Lovely compilation of one-in-a-million shots

All done by some guys called A Normal Day with apparently no trick photography, which is cool. I love the studied boredom.




Friday

Zen 1051: Satanic Mack, the devil dog

According to ancient lore, if you rub a Wire-haired Vizsla on a German, you can raise the Beelzebub. And no, that's not a euphemism. Although they do both look quite happy.



Zen 1050: Bobby McFerrin literally plays the audience to illustrate a point about the pentatonic scale

You'd have thought that, musically speaking, crowds don't come much tougher in singalong terms than a starchy academic audience at a psychology conference, but Mr McFerrin (yes, he of 'Don't Worry Be Happy' fame) succeeds in rocking the room.

Wednesday

Zen 1047: Must watch - utterly inspired Nando's 'Last Dictator Standing' ad really upsets Mugabe

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a guilty secret, but I really like Nando's. After seeing their latest South African ad campaign, crisply titled 'Last Dictator Standing', I now sort of love them.

Predictably, the Chipangano, Mugabe's gang of assorted pubescent lickspittles and psychopaths, has threatened boycotts and violence against the chain. Nando's Zimbabwe has quickly - and perhaps wisely - distanced itself from the campaign, calling it "insensitive" and "in poor taste". Apparently they didn't know anything about it, but since TV from South Africa is also available in Zim, things are looking Mild to Hot, with Extra Hot available if you're feeling brave. (See that. That's a Nando's in-joke. Right there. Giggity.)


Zen 1046: Cracked Chinese dude sets fire to own mouth, seems to thoroughly enjoy it

Safe to say he needs to change the battery in his smoke detector.





Tuesday

Zen 1045: I'm no hairy-chested feminist, but there should definitely be some birds in the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist

The omission of women from the nominations for BBC Sports Personality of the Year would be questionable at the best of times, but in a year that boasts triathlon world champion Chrissie Wellington, world champion rower Kath Grainger and world champion swimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Rebecca Adlington, you'd have thought they would have had ample excuse to go cock-light and squeeze in some sheilas.

The shortlist, for the record, is Mark Cavendish (cycling), Darren Clarke, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy (golf), Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss (cricket), Dai Greene and Mo Farah (athletics), Amir Khan (boxing) and Andy Murray (tennis).

That's Chrissie Wellington. Don't pretend like you knew.
It's hard to argue with Cavendish, Strauss, Cooke, Greene and Farah. Each has achieved excellence in his field. Each one is a Proper Fucking Legend (see Zens passim). But three golfers? Really? I mean, really really? As expounded at length before (Zen 426: There is no excuse for golf), there is no objective measure that qualifies golf as a real sport. Golf has more in keeping with a parlour trick or a novelty game than a sport. If we're going to include golfers, why don't we make space for the man who can juggle burning skittles, or lift heavy weights using nothing but his scrotum? Why, indeed, don't we throw it open to the dancing dog community, or your drunken uncle who can play the William Tell Overture on the spoons while belching Rule Britannia? Why indeed.

Then there's the boxer. Boxing only narrowly qualifies as a sport these days, although purely because punching people in the face is a notable and entertaining feature of other, proper sports, such as rugby, ice hockey and crown green bowls. In fact, the only really competitive element to modern boxing is the whoring and grafting that goes on between the promoters. Sporting titan? Amir Khan? Meh.

And last, but not least, we have the hilarious inclusion of Andy Murray. It's fair to say that 'Sports Personality' is an oxymoron at the best of times, but this poe-faced Jock ball-slapper takes it to hitherto unrealised heights. He is to charisma what a black hole is to light. Not only that, but he's won dick all. OK, he might have raised the silverware at the South Bumblefuck Festival of Grunting and Gurning (*sponsored by Shorts That Ride Up Your Arse) but he hasn't beaten anyone that matters and he still hasn't won a major, which means he can be safely disregarded on both counts, 'sports' and 'personality'.

Of course this isn't the BBC's fault, since Aunty doesn't choose the nominees, a coterie of 30 cigar-toting ex-Taliban regional and national sports editors does. Even so, they are supposed to know their job and it should be apparent, even to the lay-man, that the likes of Wellington and Payne have achieved more and are more deserving of recognition than half the shower of shit they actually ended up choosing. Solidarity sister.

Thursday

Zen 1041: England's failure was down to the fact that Martin Johnson was basically a big girl's blouse

The slew of leaked reports following England's shambolic World Cup campaign makes entertaining, but very ugly reading. Neither the Rugby Players’ Association, the Rugby Football Union or Premiership Rugby offer the current set-up much in the way of a get-out or redemption. It was a cock-up, pure and simple.

Between the venal, boozy and lazy senior players and the coterie of pampered, golf-obsessed, tactically inept coaches, only two figures come out of this dung-spattered fiasco not trying to whittle cow shit out of their ears. One of them is Graham Rowntree, the scrummage coach, who is apparently a Proper Fucking Legend and conducted himself impeccably throughout.

The other - bizarrely - is Martin Johnson, who the players seem particularly reluctant to implicate. But then that, right there, is the essence of the entire problem: misplaced loyalty.

As a player, Johnno laid waste to all comers and hoisted the Webb Ellis Trophy in possibly the best final ever, and on Australian turf to boot. Proper Fucking Legends don't come much more Proper than that. Get ye gone hence anyone who dare besmirch or degrade Johnno the Player. He is immaculate and untouchable.

But as a manager, he inherited a national set up where the coaches were all his ex-Leicester mates and the senior players were all his muckers from the England glory days. Confronted with this gaggle of pleading, doe-eyed, familiar faces blinking myopically through the stardust at him, he took one look around the room and, frankly, bottled it.

As the gaffer, he should have been looking at every facet of the England machine and engineering it to deliver the one and only thing that matters: glory. His sole goal in life should have been to hone a collection of 20-plus titanium-skinned killing machines with the express intention of stuffing Graham Henry's head so far up his arse on Final Day that it popped out the top again, with Johnno applying the Dirty Sanchez as a coup de grace.

Whichever way you look at it, he didn't come close. He clearly and emphatically lacked the heavyweight spuds required to look trusted colleagues in the eye and say: "Sorry mate, it's not personal, it's business" just prior to putting a metaphorical cap in his ass. Sadly, Johnno was always more Donald Duck than Don Corleone. More Good Samaritan than Goodfella. More Swiss Tony than Tony Montana. You get the picture.

In summary, England failed because Johnson was too much of a sissy girl to do the job he was paid to do. Everything else is secondary.

Wednesday

Zen 1040: Crazed strongman act goes beserk as horrified talent show hosts look on? INDIAN!

These are the Warriors of Goja, a Sikh strongman act appearing on India's 'The Ultimate Talent Show'. Marvel as they fuck up themselves, the studio and the minds of the audience with total abandon. And the bit where they wheelspin while running a guy over in a car, then get a motorbike to run over his head isn't even the finale.

Be-turbaned mentalists? INDIAN! (I think the host actually says as much at the end.)

Tuesday

Zen 1039: FENTON! FENTON! Jurassic Jesus Christ

It was only a matter of time.





Zen 1038: I wasn't going to write about it, but that John Lewis Christmas ad is too horrific to leave alone

I don't even know if 'vomitorious' is a word, but if it isn't it should be. There's no better adjective to describe the mixture of superb production values, nifty scripting and excellent acting in this £6m festival of arse-retchingly cynical bollocks, in which a podgy-faced hobbit whiles away the hours to Christmas, pining for the moment he can dash past his own grotesque, towering, stocking-shaped monument to mammon so he can deliver his White Stuff-wanker parents a box containing the severed head of a dog. OK, that last bit is unproven, but, as Charlie Brooker pointed out, John Lewis haven't denied it. I simply stuffed the word 'meritorious' up the gaping turkey orifice of 'vomit-inducing' and came up with 'vomitorious', my own personal contribution to the English language. You don't have to thank me.

I have to admit to being a bit of a latecomer to this one and was going to leave it where I found it, steeped in the howling derision of those who quite rightly find the idea of a grown adult human person sobbing to this trite tit-wash only marginally less offensive than stumbling in on your granddad knocking one out to the Killing Fields.

But then I watched it. Holy fucking Christ. And to think that an entire Brad Pitt fan club's worth of of drippy-eyed cast-offs from Loose Women are declaring that advert the greatest achievement in cinematic art since Battleship Potemkin. It's been generating the sort of positive feedback ad execs like to stroke themselves to tumescence over when they're not snorting coke and drowning hamsters in acid.

It was at this point I realised that our entire nation has sold not only its soul, but its critical faculties, its sense of shame and any semblance of taste and sophistication to Goldman Sachs. Or the Devil. I forget which is which. I offer no remedies, but instead invite you, Britain, to look yourself in the eye and answer the following question: if you have become such a barren husk that it takes the shallow pleadings of a haberdasher to ignite a spark of sentiment in your chip-fat clogged soul, do you really deserve Christmas? Do you? I thought as much.







Zen 1037: Gorgeous, mesmerising Earth, as seen from the International Space Station

Stunning timelapse video of the Earth shot from the ISS. Watch it embedded here, or better still in all its full-screen HD glory over at Vimeo. Either way it's a stunning joyride through natural and man-made spectacles, from phosphorescent cities to cosmic rays streaking through the paper-thin atmosphere. Forget double rainbows. This is oh my god ... oh ... WOW ... intense. What does this mean? It's so beautiful (sobs inconsolably ad nauseam)*.



Second reference to double rainbows in two days. For those not aware of this popular meme, here's the skinny:



And here's the inevitable autotune remix. You get the picture.

Monday

Zen 1036: Crazy French dudes mash up 40 internet memes in one epic medley

If you get them all, you're a freak, but be sure to watch out for Nyan Cat, Keyboard Cat (a bit 'Dutch rudder' this one), Trololo Guy, Rick Rolling, Rage comics, Friday Friday Gotta Get Down It's Friday, Dramatic Chipmunk and the Whooooooooooooooa - Double Rainbow. God bless you internet. You never let us down.

Zen 1035: Bloody hell. Could it be the Tories were right?

First, the Conservative Party spent some of the Eighties and most of the Nineties tearing itself to pieces over Britain's place in Europe. One of the outcomes of this internecine warfare was that Britain didn't join the Euro and secured a series of opt-outs that the other major political parties and a good chunk of its own members voted against. Even Blair's Cool Britannia Party (or whatever it was called) was in favour of joining the Euro in principle. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this hard-won Tory Eurosceptic opt-out looks rather inspired.

Second, when the Coalition came to power it announced immediate and stringent cuts to government spending. Everybody got up in arms about Osborne and Co "killing the fragile recovery", including that fatuous wind-filled bag of toss Ed Balls, the man with a greater chunk of responsibility than most for getting us into the massive shit-caked debt chasm that we currently inhabit. Bearing in mind that Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain have all flirted with default after huge runs on sovereign debt, it seems like the height of fiscal responsibility to ensure that sovereign debt (cutting of) is right at the top of your list of priorities, especially with Italy teetering on the brink and France next up for walking the plank.

Naturally, many will read this and assume that because I've said that one party got a couple of things right, I buy into every last decision it ever made, including all the really nasty and divisive ones. So much for nuance.

Friday

Zen 1034: 'Your chubby lass can be belle of her class!'

How do you mitigate the horror of having a fat kid, 1957-style? Why, with Chubettes of course! The sensitively named fashion range for the child raised on Belfast sandwiches.


Zen 1033: When they make you a sandwich in Belfast, they don't screw around

Yes, that's a full-sized dinner plate. It cost a fiver. I've still not finished it. In fact, I may never. Epicosity in sandwich form




Thursday

Zen 1032: Drinkify - a website that suggests what you should drink with the music you're listening to

Spend a diverting 5 minutes working out whether they were right to mix wheatgrass and gin with Snoop Dogg or bourbon, bitters and Red Bull with Guns 'n' Roses. My favourite is The Clash - a straight mix of Grenadine and cocaine. London's Burning all right.

Drinkify [LINK]

Zen 1031: Teutonia - the downhill skateboard race where anything under 70 mph is for sissies

This is a refreshingly low-octane and rather beautifully shot mini doc about one of the fastest downhill skateboard events in the world, at a place called Teutonia, Brazil. With place names like this it makes you wonder how Simon Wiesenthal didn't find all those old Nazis sooner.

Tuesday

Zen 1030: Nigel? Nigel? Is that you Nigel?!?

Strange incident. At work, looking for a meeting room. Encounter two middle-aged women, both looking a bit pinched and ferretty.

First woman: "Nigel?"

(I look over my shoulder for Nigel. Nigel is not there. I realise that they must mean me.)

Second woman: "Nigel? Is that you Nigel?"

Me: "Errr, I'm not Nigel..."

First woman: (Looking unaccountably annoyed) "Well he's very late."

Me: "I'm sorry, but I don't even know Nigel. I think I'm here for a different meeting."

Second woman: "Well, if you must."

Me: "I'm sorry?"

First woman: "You could have been more helpful."

Me: "What, by being Nigel?"

Second woman: "I'm sorry, but we have a meeting."

Me: "Yes. With Nigel."

First woman: "Yes."

Second woman: "Yes."

I think I just walked into a Samuel Beckett play.





Monday

Zen 1029: Lego Ninjago birthday cake

Thing One. Seventh birthday. Requested: Lego Ninjago birthday cake.

Yeah. So proud I blogged it. I'm all man.




Zen 1028: Han Solo's 'Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs' gaffe revealed not to be a gaffe at all

As any fule no, Han Solo's brag that the Millennium Falcon "did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs" doesn't make any sense, because parsecs are a unit of distance not time. Turns out that Han wasn't such a chump after all. Apparently his boast refers to the Kessel Run spice route that flirts around the edge of a black hole cluster called 'the Maw'. The Millennium Falcon was so quick that it was able to skirt closer to the Maw than other ships without being sucked in, thereby cutting the standard 18 parsecs required for safe passage down to 11.5.

I love the fact that someone took the time to come up with this story. However, it's sadly balls. The original novelisation of 'Star Wars: A New Hope' corrects the mistake, referring instead to 'standard time units'. I like the black hole explanation better.

Source: Wookieepedia [LINK]

Zen 1028: Han Solo's 'Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs' gaffe revealed not to be a gaffe at all

As any fule no, Han Solo's brag that the Millennium Falcon "did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs" doesn't make any sense, because parsecs are a unit of distance not time. Turns out that Han wasn't such a chump after all. Apparently his boast refers to the Kessel Run spice route that flirts around the edge of a black hole cluster called 'the Maw'. The Millennium Falcon was so quick that it was able to skirt closer to the Maw than other ships without being sucked in, thereby cutting the standard 18 parsecs required for safe passage down to 11.5.

I love the fact that someone took the time to come up with this story. However, it's sadly balls. The original novelisation of 'Star Wars: A New Hope' corrects the mistake, referring instead to 'standard time units'. I like the black hole explanation better.

Source: Wookieepedia [LINK]

Thursday

Zen 1027: It's like this clip was created for Kayte...

An understated, modest, but likeable foreign man with tremendous talent plays an obscure musical instrument while displaying musical virtuosity of a hitherto unimagined variety. All that's missing is a photograph of an Asian dictator on the wall and an obscure reference to idiomatic English.

Wednesday

Zen 1026: Perhaps the pithiest, most rational explanation of the Euro crisis I've read

From former UK ambassador Charles Crawford's Telegraph blog:

"The whole point about the crisis engulfing the eurozone and European Union was that it was essentially a political, not economic event. Europe’s politicians had borrowed too much money and had set up policy arrangements of such complexity that they were unable to weather difficult times and now no longer looked credible. ‘Markets’ were not some mysterious, zombie-like formation attacking us from outer space, or a cruel scalpel in the hands of a cabal of cunning bankers. Markets were the savings of people in the UK, China and everywhere else around the world looking for a sensible investment.

In short, global funds were asking the EU a simple question: “Are you a safe investment?” Since the answers coming back were increasingly ambiguous if not downright weird, the world’s fund managers were deciding either not to invest in the EU space, or to charge the eurozone space higher rates of interest for borrowing money.

In other words, it was highly desirable for the markets to ‘control’ governments – and anyone else – in this way. Markets represented honest business dealing. What if things were the other way round and governments controlled markets? That was not a recipe for success, as the USSR had showed us over 70 years."

It's definitely worth a read of the whole thing: Do markets threaten democracy? [LINK]

Monday

Zen 1022: 'He cut it right in the two wonderfully!' - Modern Samurai does incredible things with his flashing blade

The unbelievable skills of the Modern Samurai (who at one stage cuts a pellet from a BB gun in two mid-flight) meets fabulously terrible subtitling. It's perfection from start to finish. Horizontal cut!

Zen 1021: So it turns out the toppest Top Gun at the US Top Gun academy was a Brit

Sometimes people have to die for us to find out about this stuff. Brigadier General Dick Lord finally got his wings of the celestial variety in October this year and the ever brilliant Telegraph Obits does him full justice. Rather brilliantly, Lord was the most senior of a handful of Fleet Air Arm pilots who went over to the States in 1968 to teach the Americans how not to get shot down by the North Vietnamese.

It turns out that Lord and chums were instrumental in developing the techniques that make the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, a.k.a. Top Gun, one of the pre-eminent naval aviation schools in the world. So influential was Lord that he co-authored the US Navy’s Air Combat Manoeuvring manual.

Not that the Septics give him any credit for it. Bearing in mind the fact that Hollywood airbrushes the Brits out of it even when the Americans weren't even there (see 'U571' in which the Americans recover the Enigma machine, or stumpy alien-chaser Tom Cruise winning the Battle of Britain single-handed in 'The Few' ) it's hardly surprising that there is no Limey component to 'Top Gun'.

Even so, Lord came up with an ingenious way of making sure the Americans knew exactly who the daddy was. While instructing at Top Gun, he insisted, at all times, that his call-sign in the air should be 'Brit 1', which meant that any American pilot flying with him had to be 'Brit 2'.

Zen 1020: Tug Toner - revolutionary new exercise system to give you forearms like Popeye

Is this the ultimate Dutch rudder*? Discuss.



* Don't Google this term at work.

Friday

Zen 1019: Check out the cojones on these guys - Brazilian police ram a plane - a PLANE goddamit!

Apparently the dialogue goes something like this:

Cop A: "I'm gonna do it. I never rammed a plane before!"
Cop B: "Are you crazy man? That's a goddam plane!"
Cop A: "Boom! Suck on my big hairy balls, motherfucker!"
Cop B: "Sheeeeeet. That was so intense I have a hard-on. Let's kill these guys!"

Tuesday

Zen 1017: Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld in video short I am at a loss to explain

You have to admit, Gates is pretty damn good in this. It's a funny Microsoft ad. I think.



"I have so many cars, I get stuck in my own traffic."

Monday

Zen 1016: The Royal Family - a fly-on-the-wall documentary nobody is allowed to show EVER AGAIN EVER

In 1969, documentary maker Richard Cawston was invited to film a fly-on-the-wall documentary of the Royal Family at work and play. At the time, it caused a sensation and was watched by three-quarters of the British population. It was the subject of endless repeats on both the BBC and ITV, but before the end of the year it had been hoiked from public view and locked in a dingy cupboard, never to be seen again.

BBC controller David Attenborough (the same) said it was "killing the monarchy" by revealing them to be on the one hand stratospherically posh and therefore a bit weird, while on the other hand terribly prosaic and quite a lot like normal human beings. That wouldn't do at all.

Buck House quickly decided it had all been a hideous, hideous mistake, and withdrew permission to ever show it again to anyone. Such is the disdain for the doc that the National Gallery only squeaked out 90 seconds worth of footage for a major retrospective of the Queen's portraits earlier this year. Pretty much the entire 90 seconds is artfully cut into this film looking back at the experiment.

The Queen comes across as funny and charming; Prince Philip looks quite suave and relaxed; Anne is confident, yet highly conscious of the camera; but Charles looks like a Toby jug beamed in from another planet. He spends so much of the time blushing you fear he might induce a stroke. He's like a one-man study in social discomfort, to the extent you almost feel sorry for the massive, wonky-gobbed, over-privileged, expensive-biscuit-flogging bastard.

I never knew this existed and couldn't really give a fig for the Royals, but this  - I simply have to see this. Somehow. Some way. Watch this space.

Zen 1015: But for the stroppy daughter of the chairman of Vickers, the Spitfire would have been called the Shrew

Annie Penrose has just died, aged 100. She was the daughter of Sir Robert McLean, who was the chairman of Vickers and a key player in the creation of the Spitfire.

Annie with her husband in the 1950s
The Spitfire's designer, RJ Mitchell, was a design genius but rubbish at names. He wanted to call one of the most beautiful and fearsome fighters ever to take to the air the 'Shrew'. Silly bugger. Thankfully, McLean stepped in and suggested the nickname he had for his 'spirited' (read stroppy) daughter, Annie - Spitfire.

The Air Ministry didn't like it at first, but it was McLean's plane and he was brooking no argument. Air Ministry's hash duly settled, the iconic plane had an iconic name. And such are the small margins between greatness and crapness, my friends.

Zen 1014: If this doesn't make you laugh you have no soul

Come on. It made you laugh, didn't it? It didn't? Jesus, what do you do for light relief? Beat children with a stick?





Friday

Zen 1013: Is it bad to think that fewer people going to university might be a good thing?

University applications are declining following the raising of the cap on tuition fees. This has been decried by many as a universally bad thing. I'm a great believer in education. It's a terrible curse to go through life batshit ignorant. Just watch X Factor if you don't believe me. People should learn. It's what differentiates us from the beasts of the field.

I think the problem might be with our definition of education. Apparently, in order to get a proper one you must study for a degree, even if that degree is a 2:2 in Tennis and Media Studies from Neasden Polytechnic (formerly World of Leather).

The fact that your degree will leave you with crippling debt, incipient liver disease and just as ignorant as the day you started appears to be neither here nor there. I see an awful lot of graduate applications in my line of work, and a significant minority of them feature expensive qualifications that suggest the money would have been better spent taking three years off to travel the world, stopping on the way back to pick up a fake certificate in Thailand with the same garbage written on it, but only costing a fiver.

Perhaps the rise in tuition fees to nine grand a year might have a positive effect. Maybe - just maybe - people might start demanding a quality product, or seeking out a better standard of degree to study in the first place. Certainly the lack of a decline in applications for medicine, law and engineering would suggest as much.

At the risk of sounding like the Daily Telegraph, could it be that the thought of £27K minimum debt at the end of it all might see the death of David Beckham Studies (OK, it was a module, not a degree, but real all the same) and a swing back to 'serious' subjects like science?

And maybe - just maybe - it might give people pause to think twice and critically examine whether a degree is really what they want, or were they just drawn by the idea of three years of lash and shagging?

Perhaps one of the jobs of a proper education system is to make sure people understand that there's no shame in not getting a degree, and to give them quality alternatives. You can get the lash and shagging anywhere if you know where to look.



Zen 1102: Omnitouch turns any part of your body into an iPhone, but you have to wear a Kinect sensor on your shoulder

At this stage, it's just a prototype. What they're actually developing is a cyborg eye that replaces your real eye and will eventually allow you to acquire a target and shoot it with the laser you've had installed in your hand.

Wednesday

Zen 1101: Shark Pool - this film looks friggin' AMAZING!

Oh, the humanity.

Zen 1100: 'Hyperland' - an absolutely inspired Douglas Adams doc on the internet, made before it was even there

It really is quite astonishing how prescient this was. Everything from touch screen to suggestion engines; hyperlinking to rich media; data driven applications to platforms. (At least I think that's what the DNA tangent was getting at.) It even has Tom Baker as a prototype Clippy, and a nod to concepts like Second Life and Kinect. And of course it's Douglas Adams, so it's well written and thought-provoking to boot.

It's not spot on about everything of course ("Are these children playing a computer game?" "Oh no, they're far too old for that.") - how could it be - but it's pretty damn good all the same. A quality geek watch.









Tuesday

Zen 1099: 'There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world' - mighty mighty quotes from Douglas Adams

I particularly like the last one. And the second one. And the one at the beginning too.

"There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be, but we have done various things over intellectual history to slowly correct some of our misapprehensions."

"If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat. Life is a level of complexity that almost lies outside our vision; it is so far beyond anything we have any means of understanding that we just think of it as a different class of object, a different class of matter; 'life', something that had a mysterious essence about it, was God given, and that's the only explanation we had. The bombshell comes in 1859 when Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species. It takes a long time before we really get to grips with this and begin to understand it, because not only does it seem incredible and thoroughly demeaning to us, but it's yet another shock to our system to discover that not only are we not the centre of the Universe and we're not made by anything, but we started out as some kind of slime and got to where we are via being a monkey. It just doesn't read well."

"The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened, it's just wonderful. And … the opportunity to spend 70 or 80 years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned."

Douglas Adams on Wikiquotes [LINK]

Monday

Zen 1098: Man up and stick your goddam tongue in it, you sissy

Very cool device. Very irritating narration.

Zen 1097: The amazing people of Japan show that nothing is impossible when you get off your arse and crack on with stuff

Earthquake? Check. Tsunami? Check. Massive uncontrolled radioactive leak? Check. But never mind all that. The good burghers of Japan's devastated northern prefectures don't have time to sit around mewling and feeling sorry for themselves. They have the serious work of getting on with their goddam lives to be getting on with. And don't you forget it.

Here's a great gallery of before-during-and-after shots that chart the extraordinary pace of change in a once-apocalyptic landscape. When these start on the business of recovery, they're not dicking around:

The Frame: Japans marks six months since earthquake, tsunami [LINK]



Saturday

Zen 1096: Nom nom nom - oh, it's so good - nom nom - this is like the greatest thing that ever happened - nom nom nom

Of course the great thing about this is that when the little fekker's done being cute, you can screw the lid on and toss him in a lake. Just kidding. Maybe.

Check out the old guy at the end. I bet he says "you smell like peanut butter" exactly the same way he says "you got a perty little mouth".






Friday

Zen 1095: Absolutely genius Masterchef dancefloor edit mash-up thing

This stuff is fiendishly difficult to do well, so when you see something like this (by a cove calling himself Swede Mason) which is done utterly superbly, you have to applaud, and maybe even whoop and cheer a bit. Splendid stuff*. (Via Dirty Kate, who according to small children round our way says 'fuck' a lot.)



* Caution advised. You'll now be humming the bastard all day. Still, nowhere near as bad as Nyan Cat.

Wednesday

Zen 1094: Aussie presenter interviews Sacha Baron Cohen's latest character, Lord Monckton

I thought his comic star was on the wane with Bruno, but you've got to give him full credit for this one. Just the right side of believable.

Zen 1093: Nobody likes Bill Gates, but I reckon his malaria vaccine trumps Steve Jobs' pretty consumer electronics anyday

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so far spent $1.75 billion - I'll say that again - $1.75 BILLION on the eradication of malaria, a goal they announced to an agog world press four short years ago.

The programme is already reaping benefits, with what will almost certainly be the world's first effective malaria vaccine - RTS,S a.k.a. Mosquirix - just completing final trials. It halved the number of African children who caught the disease, which means it's not a 'magic bullet' cure but still the most effective preventative yet developed.

And this against a backdrop of already declining death rates from the disease due to better public health programmes, again heavily funded by Bill, with mortality dropping from nearly a million people in 2000 to 780,000 in 2009. Bearing in mind the fact that many African nations find it hard to get beyond go in part due the damage caused to their human capital by this single disease, and you can see how this act of philanthropy is probably out of all proportion in terms of public good than nearly any other in history.

So sure, Bill didn't invent a pretty smart phone, or set up Pixar, or make a schmaltzy speech full of other people's quotes that seems to have been received in many quarters as the word of God, but he does qualify as a fucking good bloke deserving of some serious kudos.

And props to GlaxoSmithKline* for not profiting from the vaccine. Here's CEO Andrew Witty explaining why this is a very important development.



* Yeah! Corporations are bad!

Monday

Zen 1090: Dear All Blacks, we've made it as easy as we possibly can, so please don't stuff it up now

Dear All Blacks,

Yes, we know it's been a while. Twenty four years to be precise. Twenty four long years since you got your hands on the trophy that every New Zealander sees as their birthright. You never shut up about it. And now you're within 80 minutes of reclaiming the greatest prize.

But don't for one minute think you've done it all by yourselves.

At first, the other rugby playing nations thought it was funny how you guys turned up to each tournament at the absolute peak of your powers, having laid waste to every Test side in the world, only to collapse to yet another 'shock' defeat. You were so damn full of yourselves it was impossible not to revel in it, especially when you tanked out in the 1999 semis against possibly the worst side ever to grace the last four and basically handed the World Cup to Australia. That's got to hurt.

But then you kept on doing it. Oh boy, and how. Last time out you actually managed to bail in the quarters. The All Blacks. Barely making it out of the group stage. And suddenly you were the Jean van de Velde of international rugby. World class chokers for sure, but chokers nonetheless.

"Not again!" became the anguished motto of New Zealand rugby, almost as synonymous with the All Blacks as the Haka. The whining was indescribable. Something had to be done.

So at the end of the last World Cup, a cabal of Test sides put together a plan to head off yet another four years of mewling and soul-searching Down Under.

First, we arranged for you to meet your bogey team, the French, in the group stage. If you were going to beat those pricks in the knockout stages, you'd obviously need a warm up to get your eye in.

We also knew you'd never make it past two Tri-Nations opponents, so we tapped up the Irish to do a number on the Aussies for you. That gave you a tough semi, but given that the Wallabies haven't beaten you at Eden Park since Jesus was a boy, we reckoned the odds were on for you to get that choke reflex under control, just this once.

It wasn't difficult to drum up support. There's nothing worse in world sport than a winning Australian. It's like scrum pox without the redeeming features. Nobody wants to see the Green and Golds claiming a third title, so we arranged for them to field a Kiwi fly-half under a Kiwi manager, just to make you angry.

Now for the other half of the draw. The ultimate aim was to get France to the final. They'd undergone their usual meticulous World Cup preparation by pulling together a team of bitchy, underperforming prima donnas 'led' by a manager that everyone hates. Classic conditions for putting 60 points on a harmonious and well-drilled team of All Blacks, no doubt, but guaranteed to be just bloody awful against everyone else.

That's when Tonga went badly off message and nearly put them out of the tournament. A sniper with a tranquilliser dart gun was deployed to the stands to take out Tonga's cover defence in the dying seconds of the match, just to get France over the qualifying bar for the quarters.

England had carefully prepared the ground in the last eight by leaving their talented, in-form players on the bench while their mediocre manager indulged a sentimental attachment to a fly-half who couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. It was pitched to perfection, although Johnson nearly blew it by bringing on Flood and nearly causing the French to capitulate faster than if they'd smelled cordite wafting over the Alsace border.

Job done, France were in the semis, where Wales, who were in on the original plan, had suddenly got ideas above their station. I suppose it was the giddy anticipation born of having beaten not one, but two teams of South Sea islanders, followed by putting to the sword a group of Irishmen whose next stop is the knacker's yard.

Roll out the Manchurian candidate. We had to activate our French sleeper agent who dished out the necessary red card, killed the match and put the French through to the final. It was a high risk manoeuvre - come on, an Irish ref with a French name? - but incredibly no one clocked it. Even then, Les Bleues did their level best to cough it up. It's not easy rigging this stuff you know.

And so to the final. New Zealand - turkeys don't come plumper or more ripe for the slaughter than this one. This is France's third trip to the final, and they become increasingly more appalling with every incarnation. This time it's like Dr Who regenerated as the love child of Homer Simpson and Paris Hilton. You cannot - in fact, you must not lose, for the good of the sport and the future happiness of mankind.

It is a little known fact that the Webb Ellis Trophy in Paris is one of the harbingers of the Apocalypse. You don't want to be responsible for the Apocalypse do you? If you don't win this Sunday, you may as well just pull the plug on the North and South islands and let the ocean swallow you up. As much as I hate to say it, All Blacks, we need you now. Don't let us down.

Yours sincerely,

Otter Zen





Thursday

Zen 1089: 'It's not vandalism, it's real good artwork' - See No Evil project prettifies skanky backalleys of Bristol

Nelson Street in Bristol was a grey, brutalist thoroughfare that nobody but nobody could love. Soulless, blank and crushingly utilitarian, it's the sort of place that makes you want to find a 1960s architect and beat them to death with one of those heavy Gaudi coffee table books people pick up on citybreaks to Barcelona.

That was until Bristol City Council had an inspired moment of civic brilliance and allowed 72 graffiti artists from around the world to pitch up and do their thing. Twenty six scaffold towers, 325 litres of emulsion and 13,400 cans of spray paint later and you have a riot of incredible creativity to gladden the heart and make you wish you'd bunked off school and spent your early teens tagging trains as well.

The Turner Prize can go fuck itself. This is art.

Wednesday

Zen 1088: No No No Cat gets No Limits remix

The minute footage of this stupid cat made its way onto YouChoob, it was destined for Meme Greatness. It was apparently shot back in 2004 (the video, not the cat) and 'Marchioness' here was reacting to the invasion of its personal space by a small girl. It's taken a while, but has now blown up (the video, not the cat) to the extent that I just had to spoil your day with it. Props to R2 for Facebooking the No Limits remix.



No limits!



Amy Winehouse!



Autotune!



OK, sorry. I'll stop now. And you thought Nyan Cat was annoying.

Zen 1087: Alan Grayson's Occupy Wall Street smackdown on PJ O'Rourke, but it's still so badly thought through

Alan Grayson is a former US congressman known for being outspoken, but this had all the makings of a fit-up. He was the only 'left-leaning' (for an American politician) member of a heavily right-wing panel discussing the Occupy Wall Street protests. He'd barely said a word until PJ O'Rourke started to take the piss out of him. Once Grayson had finished, O'Rourke was left gasping and reeling like a playground bully who'd just been kicked shitless by the weedy kid in glasses. And to think I used to like PJ. These days he just looks more and more like a ... dick. If this is the quality of political debate on US TV, no wonder people are getting antsy.

Grayson neatly articulates in less than a minute exactly why people are so angry. He cites the main political parties being in the pockets of Wall Street, the lack of universal health care, unemployment, the destruction of America's wealth reserves by reckless bankers and the rising number of people stuck in negative equity. Sadly, what he didn't do was articulate what people want done about it, so his bravura performance did little to advance the OWS cause beyond its current 'passionate but pointless' phase.

He also inadvertently put his finger on why I find some aspects of the OWS protests so irritating. It's the 'they got us into this mess' angle. No they didn't. We got us into this mess. They just facilitated. We were the ones glutting ourselves on cheap credit and taking out mortgages we knew we couldn't afford. We had our snouts in the trough up to and beyond the moment where the entire house of cards came down. And it was our elected representatives, not least Bill Clinton and chums, who deregulated mortgage lending to the extent that the subprime crisis was not only likely, but historically inevitable.

Sure there was fraud - lots if it - and as Grayson says, it's a crime in itself that no-one has been prosecuted. But to single out a nebulous 1% as 'the guilty' while exonerating ourselves is basically dishonest.

And I hate the 1% idea too. It's an invidious mix of scapegoating and the politics of envy. It allows the unthinking vilification of a group of people, which is never a good idea, especially when that group is so poorly defined. "Those Jews are a bad bunch" doesn't have quite the same harmless ring to it, does it?

Consider that the 1% in many cases represents the brightest and the best we have to offer. It includes some of the greatest charitable benefactors in history. It includes the people who build and run the nasty corporations who make the cameras, clothes, social media, phones, luggage, transportation and food that make something like OWS possible. It even, until recently, included Steve Jobs.

So while we're taking about nuance and inclusiveness as the reasons for a lack of an agenda on the protest side, why are the same protesters indulging a total lack of nuance and inclusiveness when it comes to the people they're protesting against?

Confused? Not as much as they are.

Zen 1086: Nice little video explaining why the placebo effect is so weird and frankly inexplicable

Homeopathy? Faith healing? Reiki? Virtually any alternative therapy or remedy you can think of?

For purported efficacy, see Placebo Effect. It's very interesting. But it's also all in your mind.

Tuesday

Zen 1085: My bad - apparently Occupy Wall Street protesters are completely disorganised on purpose

It's their USP. They are deliberately resisting the temptation to simplify, or '"dumb down" their message so that all the disparate voices of the protest can be heard. Apparently they are "modifying their structure" to "maintain a level of horizontalism and inclusion" on purpose. They are resisting the temptation to make things easy "for the man" by refusing to set any clear objectives for "the man" to set himself against.

A cynic would say that they are post-rationalising a shambles. He would also say that if you want to spread a message, you make that message easy to spread, otherwise you'll never make that all-important jump from wafty hipster to mainstream. He might finally venture that otherwise the whole damn thing might fall down about your ears the minute this unseasonably warm October weather ends and it starts raining on your charmingly decentralised parade.

Here's Al Jazeera's take on things.




But whatever you think of the protests, you have to love it when a Fox News anchor gets run out of Dodge.

Zen 1084: What we really need is a gameshow featuring men in ladies clothes trying to climb an oiled staircase

Dammit. Those wily Japanese always seem to get there first.

"Look! He fell down awkwardly and may have broken some ribs. Laugh! Laugh, damn you! A ha ha ha ha haaaaa!"

Monday

Zen 1083: Why Occupy Wall Street protesters look like a collection of self-indulgent wankers

I'm all in favour of protest. The right to protest is one of the fundamental freedoms the good people in liberal democracies enjoy, and they should fully exercise that right whenever it's necessary to kick their elected representatives into line or get them to pay attention to something important that's being neglected.

A man announcing to the world what a colossal fucking
idiot he really is.
But the power of protest is nowhere more evident in places where people do not enjoy that fundamental freedom. Take, for example, the bloody-minded heroism of the Arab Spring and nowhere more so than Syria. There, protest could well mean getting shot in the face, or being apprehended by the security police and beaten to death in some grotty basement in Damascus.

Which is why the focus-free Occupy Wall Street protests in the US are basically a bit rubbish. Fine, occupy Wall Street, but be clear about why. Trouble is, they genuinely don't know. They have a mishmash of inconsistent aims, from free health care to bigger taxes on the super rich, which are, for sure, all valid and highly protestable issues. But if even the protesters don't know why they are there, how the hell are they supposed to articulate why anyone else should give a damn?

Occupy Wall Street comes off like a jamboree for over-indulged hipster twatbags who want to feel the frisson of excitement associated with 'being a protester' without putting any thought into what they want out of it. It's protest for protest's sake, which amounts to a childish abuse of a valuable democratic tool. There are genuinely huge things at stake here, not least a way of life that is built on an economic system facing its worst ever crisis. I fail to see how some prick in a fright wig carrying an 'ironic' but meaningless placard is helping.

Arab Spring? Yes. Occupy Wall Street? Piss of and come back when you've figured out what the hell it is you're protesting for.

Thursday

Zen 1081: Forget Halloween - it's JesusWeen!

I don't know what they think a 'ween' is, but it might be worth pointing out that Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows Evening, not Hallo Weiner.

Only they actually seem like a nice bunch of people, gently evangelising in a slightly cheesy and try-hard way, rather than attacking the idea of Halloween per se. As a marketing idea, it's almost Church of England naff. Ah, bless.

As one commenter put it: "If they leave Halloween alone, I’ll consider no longer referring to Easter as Zombie Jesus Day."

Zombie Jesus Day sounds amazing!







Zen 1080: Body-popping dude is so good he looks fake but isn't - he's real

Not fake.

No, really, he isn't. That sounded insincere, but he's genuinely real. Honestly.

Oh, watch the damn thing and decide for yourself. But he's real, I tell you. Amazing.

Zen 1079: Otter Zen: Newsnight meets Pete and Dud as Boris and Paxo go head-to-head

Interviews between Paxo and Boris are rarely dull. It's like a sort of highbrow Pete and Dud, with both constantly in danger of corpsing. Whatever you think of Boris, there's little doubt that Paxo seems him as a worthy opponent, with neither averse to descending into "playground stuff" to get one over on the other.

Paxo: "What's the difference between you and David Cameron?"

Boris: "I'm older than him. I'm considerably heavier. I beat him at tennis the other day."

Jeremy Paxman interview with Boris Johnson in full [LINK]


Apologies, but couldn't find an embeddable version. The fun stuff is about eight minutes in.

Monday

Zen 1077: Ren and Stimpy creator does weird and scary opening credits guest slot on The Simpsons

I'm sure I recall John Kricfalusi saying he despised The Simpsons. If he doesn't, then this is a very weird kind of love. I particularly enjoyed the bit where Homer pours beer onto his own exposed brain.



By way of an apology, here's a lovely opening credits gag compilation, made all the more brilliant by the fact they're all speaking Italian.





Thursday

Zen 1076: Thunderlolcats - caution: unexpurgated geek humour

There are so many web native gags in here your head might explode. And there's Nyan Cat. Well, Nyan Thundercat to be completely correct. I can't explain. Just watch the damn thing.







Wednesday

Zen 1075: Great footage of a missile blowing up a tank

Yes, the tank is ancient (it's a Soviet T72) and they've clearly salted the target with a heap of fuel and explosive to make the whoomp bigger, but it's jolly impressive all the same. That's a TOW-2B apparently, which gets overhead of the target and detonates a shaped charge downwards. I reckon the turret gets a full 60 feet of vertical.



In Soviet Russia, tank explodes you.

Zen 1074: New York Times slates Rugby World Cup as a one-sided non-competition - a response

The New York Times has written an editorial about the Rugby World Cup. While this is charming in its own special way - rather like a ladies' knitting circle discussing the pros and cons of monster truck racing - it's still a pretty terrible piece of journalism.

All Black Israel Dagg being tackled by some 'minnows'
First, rugby's appeal is not limited to the "old British Empire", unless I missed the bit in history where we invaded and successfully held Georgia, Romania, Russia, Japan, Italy, France and Argentina. (Actually, I suppose they might have a point with France, but then we're talking really, really old Empire.)

Second, the reason it's spread over seven weeks rather than the four weeks of the 'soccer' world cup is because rugby is an incredibly demanding contact sport, not a 90 minute hair-gel-and-amateur-dramatics mince-athon. It takes time to recover. In fact, the one valid, if unoriginal, observation the NYT does make is about the unfairness of the schedule on the minnows, who sometimes only have four days between matches. In footballing terms, that's barely enough time to adjust your guyliner.

Third, while there have been some colossal mismatches, you can guarantee there's not one player in one team who thinks they should be spared. What rugby player in his right mind is going to turn down the opportunity to test himself against England, South Africa, the All Blacks? Note to Carlos Tevez: rugby players don't refuse to play.

Finally, citing American football as a point of comparison is so ludicrous as to be embarrassing. "Super Bowls have been decided by scores of 51-10 and 52-17. But these results are generally surprising." Tell you what, if you got a scoreline like that in an RWC final, that would be beyond surprising - it would mean somebody machine-gunned one of the teams at half time.

And if we're talking about games with limited appeal, I'd suggest a better candidate is a sport that is only played seriously in the country where it was invented, requires more equipment than a space shuttle launch to play, wallows in more fatuous self-regarding excess than Caligula's 21st birthday party and is still manages to be fabulously, excruciatingly dull.

By contrast, rugby is a genuine global game and its premier competition is the third largest sporting event in the world after the Olympics and the Kissball. It brought unity to South Africa. It's played across the sectarian divide in Ireland. It's the fastest growing sport in Africa. You shouldn't be criticising the game, NYT, you should be nominating it for the Nobel Peace Prize.



Tuesday

Zen 1073: 'Governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world' - trader gives surprisingly frank interview, surprises everyone

Trader Alessio Rastani gives a wonderfully unvarnished version of the truth to the BBC, explaining how traders aren't interested in altruism, they're interested in making money. Apparently this is news.

To say his vision is Apocalyptic is putting it mildly - depression, Eurozone collapse, markets 'are toast', etc - but there is an up side and you can still make money if you do the right things.

By right, I mean 'most profitable' rather than 'most ethical'. If it's ethics you want, then frankly Gordon Gekko here doesn't give a shit.





Monday

Zen 1072: Take one cinema full of mean looking bike dudes and insert couple on a date...

I know it's an advert but it's still very good. I'm sure there's something interesting I could say about social conditioning and the need to conform, but it's Monday morning and nobody needs that kind of shit on a Monday morning.

Zen 1071: Fly-over of Earth from the International Space Station

Timelapse photography from the ISS. Just brilliant.

Saturday

Zen 1070: Oh bloody hell, I only went out to mow the lawn

This is what happens when you combine OCD, tools and a spare Saturday afternoon.

Still, at least the half tonne of rubble explains why the lawn never took. And I'm definitely fit to play.



Thursday

Zen 1069: Troy Davis was properly guilty and pretending he was innocent is completely missing the point

The US state of Georgia has just executed Troy Davis, a 42-year-old black man, for the 1989 shooting murder of off-duty policeman Mark MacPhail. The case became something of a cause célèbre as various luminaries, supported by Amnesty International, tried to get him off the hook. The case against him was presented as flawed and the sentence as a gross miscarriage of justice.

The victim on his wedding day - because I'm sick of looking at
pictures of the guy who killed him
But if you review the evidence, neither claim seems to hold water.

True, no murder weapon was recovered and no DNA linked Davis to the scene, but that's only relevant if those two facts are all the prosecution rests on.

In Davis's case, shell casings from the same .38 were found at the murder site and at the scene of another, earlier shooting in which Davis was also identified as the shooter. That's very good physical evidence by any standard.

And then there's the fact that he was positively identified as the shooter by nine witnesses. Much is made of the statistic that seven of these later recanted or were proved unreliable. But how important is this?

A witness who changes their testimony has, by definition, lied. It's up to the court to then decide where the lie occurred - at the original trial due to coercion or dishonesty, or later when the witness had a change of heart about sending a man to his death. Given the multiple reviews of the evidence by many and diverse legal bodies, I think we know the answer.

In fact, a total of 34 witnesses testified in the trial, repeatedly and independently corroborating the prosecution case.

Then there's the under-reported detail that Davis ran away after the murder and had to be brought back to Georgia. And a pair of his shorts speckled with blood were recovered from his mother's house, but ruled inadmissible on a technicality.

Davis was convicted of both shootings by a majority black jury. The case went through every possible legal review process and the safeness off the conviction was upheld at every stage.

What seems to have happened here is the manufacturing of the impression that the conviction was unsafe.

Why seems obvious. People oppose the death penalty and it's important for them that they fight it. But in this case, I'd seriously question the tactics. Really, it shouldn't matter a damn if the conviction is safe or not. Protesters shouldn't feel the need to hypocritically smear another man (Sylvester 'Redd' Coles) on the basis of no evidence at all just because he was there. They shouldn't feel the need to make Davis out to be a better man than he was, especially when beyond reasonable doubt he was a cold-blooded killer who for reasons known only to himself took the life of another man, making that other man's wife a widow and depriving his children of a father.

If the thing you disagree with is judicial murder, say that. Oppose it on the merits of your argument. Take up the cause of the other guy, executed the same day in Texas - a white supremacist who dragged a black man to his death behind his truck - and oppose his execution. He didn't deserve the first damn jot of mercy or consideration, but if the thing you believe in is the sanctity of human life, then say that.

Oppose it on principle, you jackasses, or don't bother opposing it at all.