Friday, 27 March 2009

Friday 27/03/09

You know those clickable sweetener dispensers? Doesn’t it annoy the hell out of you when you get one that chews up the sweeteners rather than popping them out whole?

Belgium – anyone know what it’s for? I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the country isn’t simply split into two and handed over to the Netherlands and France. The Flemish and the Walloons detest each other, so why stay locked in a relationship? De Gaulle claimed that Belgium was invented by the British to annoy the French. The Flemish are basically Dutch, having all the usual Dutch virtues, whereas the Walloons wish they were as civilized as the Dutch, but are really French, possessing all the usual French sins. Won’t go any further for fear of offending someone (but since when has that stopped me?).

Here’s a funny one. Earlier this month 300 square kilometres of the Southern Atlantic was experimentally seeded with six tonnes of dissolved iron in order to trigger a bloom of phytoplankton. It was fully expected that the phytoplankton would extract carbon dioxide from the seawater and drag carbon down to the seabed once they died. The bloom doubled its biomass within two weeks, but the plankton didn’t have time to sink. Instead the bloom attracted a swarm of famished shrimps who snaffled up what for them was a free lunch. Seems it’s back to the drawing board as far as trying to seed the oceans to to turn them into a carbon sink. Could be a great way of catching shrimps though.

I sometimes take a look at the geography of my readers via the FeedJit thingummy and wonder how accurate it is. I simply can’t believe, for example, that one of my readers lives in the middle of the Kingston Bypass in Wimbledon, or that another is looking at the blog from St Thomas’ Hospital in Lambeth. How about Heathlands Rd in Liskeard? Would that be you Brian? Someone is apparently viewing from the middle of a railway track in St Helens. However, the Pièce de résistance is the reader in Russia, which if FeedJit is to be believed is sitting slap-bang in the middle of the Kremlin.

Put your hand up if you live in 18 Horseshoe Bend Rd in Gympie, Australia. No takers? Nah – I suppose not – who would want to own up to living in that district! How about Lakeshore Ave in Oakland California? Nepian Street Ottawa anyone? I once worked for a company based in Ottawa – weird setup; my boss was in Ottawa and my staff were in Ottawa too, but I was based in the UK. Played havoc with my daily routine.

The UK government has again said it may take action on very cheap alcohol, as a report shows high levels of teenage binge drinking in the UK. The only countries in Europe worse than the UK are Bulgaria and the Isle of Man, where everyone is pissed all day long. The key age group identified is those between 15 and 16, which obviously comprises kids that are still at school.

Now in order to gain access to alcohol, these kids must be using something we experts call money. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that their likely source is parents, in the form of pocket money. There is a possible argument that they can be earning the money through weekend jobs, but I would argue that a teenager who can actually raise him or herself from their bed and hold down a weekend job is not typical of those who will blow it all on booze. For the sake of argument let’s agree that pocket money is the main source – then I wonder whether researchers who suggest a minimum price of £0.50 per unit have ascertained the average level of pocket money and worked out whether that level of pricing is going to make any difference whatsoever. Even if it does, I’d hazard a guess that kids would just put pressure on their parents for a raise.

Of course the other way of tackling this is to enforce existing legislation. It’s illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18, so why not simply close down any pub or off licence found selling to under-age drinkers, along with imposing stiffer penalties for those kids found in a drunken state in the streets? Something like several weekends of community service in old people’s homes. That should be enough to put them off. I would propose they get remission for informing on their supplier.

A conservative MEP’s speech addressing Gordon Brown in the European Parliament has gone viral. However, if you listen to the speech it doesn’t add much to the debate and is merely someone having a rant (albeit eloquently) at Gordon without any evidence to back up his claims, which is very easy to do. It’s just more sound-bite politics. Don’t get the impression that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter – I’ve never voted Labour in my life. What I do realise as I get older is that no single political party has a monopoly on the truth and all parties, just like religions, are subject to dogma. Politicians are trained by the system to see things in either black or white – and they rarely are.

Speaking of dogma, there’s going to be a crucial vote today by the Texas Science Board of Education as to whether Texan children should learn about creationism in science lessons. There are eight pro-evolution members and seven creationists on the board. The chair of the board is one Don McLeroy, who is a young earth creationist, meaning he’s totally bereft of any semblance of rational thought and it’s actually criminal he’s on the board in the first place. It’s a bit like having an astrologer setting climate change policy. He states that the US National Academy of Sciences statement on evolution is a "theft of true science" and neglects "other valid scientific possibilities". He believes there are weaknesses in the theory of evolution, but given the overwhelming evidence for evolution, his belief is simply a dogmatic denial of scientific fact, and a position of faith.

While on the subject of religion and right-wing attitudes, I heard a rather ridiculous comment from the Daily Mail this morning while listening to the Today programme on the way into work. Gordon Brown and Buckingham Palace have discussed plans to change the rules of succession to the throne, primarily the 1701 Act of Settlement, which bars heirs to the throne marrying Catholics. The Daily Mail is quoted as saying: “Removal of the Act of Settlement would threaten the position of the Church of England, England's state religion since 1534, when Henry VIII broke with Rome. It would be a further blow to Christianity and leave a major constitutional problem.”

Firstly, as far as the Daily Mail is concerned, Catholics are obviously not Christians (and probably don't even qualify as life as we know it). Secondly, the Act of Settlement is discriminatory and as such has no place in the 21st century. Thirdly, at a time when neither the monarch nor the church have any real power, does it actually matter who the heir to the throne marries, as long as it’s not someone who is French?

The Act of Settlement actually bars the monarch from being an atheist, as it says the monarch "shall join in communion with the Church of England".

It’s all a load of pretentious bollocks anyway, as it never ceases to amaze me how many people will change their professed faith when the offer of a number in the queue to the throne is dangled in front of their eyes.

I hear Madonna is going to adopt another child from Malawi. The woman won’t be satisfied till she’s adopted every damned child in the country. She’s clearly a few Hobbits short of a Fellowship.

17 comments:

  1. I would love to comment on your blog with razor-sharp insight and wit, but the truth is, I'm not truly awake. But the thought was there. Maybe one day my wit will match my blogging hours...
    Love the switch to Google Ads, now promoting Marine Phytoplankton, Dutch Bicycle's (with a curiously placed apostrophe - that can't be right, surely?), Dutch Airlines (no apostrophe) and oh, Scientific PR just to round up the rest of your topics...
    No link to New Smoke? Did I miss something? I wasn't sleeping, honest.

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  2. Got a hangover this morning, so excuse this rather banal comment, I truly can't think of anything eloquent, deep or witty to say either. Liked the post (0/10 for originality)

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  3. Regarding Belgium, I have not one but THREE good things to say for it -

    Tintin
    Hercule Poirot
    Chips and mayonnaise

    and of these three, Tintin is the greatest.

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  4. Kabbalah: Just spotted an ad for a Dawkins symposium. At least AdSense works.

    HtD'sM: 0/10? That's not much of a mark!

    PG: There's René Magritte too - as well as the singing nun and Jean-Claude Van Damme (originally Van Vaerenbergh).

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  5. Sorry I've not posted for a while - I've actually been busy at work.

    I quite like this new popup comments system - it's quicker and easier to use than the old method, and means you dont have to reload the page. It also means I can go over what you've written, as I often have something I want to say, but completely forget what it is by the time I reach the end of your post!

    In my experience, AdSense can work quite well for raising a few extra pennies, but if I recall you need to earn around $100 before they send a cheque out to you, which can take an age depending on your readers, so I wouldn't give up your day job!

    (Incidentally, I use Firefox with AdBlock Plus installed, so I can't actually see your ads.)

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  6. Dom: At this rate I'm only goinf to have to wait a year to get my cheque then.

    By the way, do you find AdBlock Plus any better than Botox?

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  7. Jezza Clarkson the other day quipped that Belgium was invented as a place where Germany and Britain could duke it out...

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  8. SORRY - that was my mark for MY comment - 0/10 - not for your post. Oh bugger! I told you I had a hangover this morning, shouldn't have bothered commenting. I wonder how many more people I've upset due to my poor sentence structures.

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  9. Lou: A variation of De Gaulle's statement. Jezza is losing his originality.

    HtD'sM: Too much bloody Bordaux, was it?

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  10. Nobody's wandered into the Creationism argument I see - thankfully - That might lead to us duking it out in Belgium after all. Although I agree with you holy, Sir! Or wholly...

    As for Belgium, my Top 3:

    Fabulous Chocolate
    Wonderful, and copious selection of beer
    Pieter Paul Rubens

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  11. I see I'm now attracting ads for:

    Easter GCSE revision,
    Soylent Green,
    A dipsomaniac website, and
    KLM Airlines.

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  12. Woman: The beer, yes, the beer!

    Ever been to Reubens' house? Wonderful place. Much prefer Antwerpen to Stad Brussel.

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  13. And they have a very stupid Prince in Belgium.
    I've learned a new word today: dipsomaniac. Lovely.

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  14. Carolina: Hang around and you'll learn a whole new lexicon.

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  15. Poor little Belgium! My adopted country for the past year; a funny little place - you are either Wallon (Frog speak) and therefore think yourself superior or Flem (Dutch speak) and just buckle down and get on with the job. If you don't speak Flemish (like me) when you venture into the Flem part of Belgium, you are better off speaking English even though the Flems speak perfect French. Although there are four languages in Belgium (French, Flemish, English and German) the Wallons don't seem to speak very good Flemish - probably because they think it is beneath them. In our business we deal uniquely with Flemish companies - far more efficient and hard-working.
    And of course in the European quarter, everyone speaks English as there are just too many languages!
    Want a terrible joke?
    Q: What is the difference between a French kiss and a Belgian kiss?
    A: The Belgian kiss has more 'Flem' in it!
    Yuk! Geddit?

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  16. Loved Rubens house in Antwerp, Sir, loved the city of Antwerp, felt it was very 'cosmopolitan' and cool - Have only spent one day in Brussels ever, and much preferred Antwerpen, Brugge and even Oostend...

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