Derby By Night

The Strand

After going to Fraz’ new night at Red, me and PaulKeith went for a wander round the rainy, lovely Derby streets.

Everywhere was film-set rainy and wonderfully deserted. I think Derby looks gorgeous at night. The best time is between 4 and 5am but that’s getting pretty light now so I’m glad I managed to get these snaps when it was properly dark. Click the pic above for the gallery.

I’m a sucker for reflections of streetlights on rainy streets. 😀

The Devil Is Picking Your Politicians!

John Jacob

A candidate seeking the Republican nomination for a Congressional seat in Utah has blamed the devil for problems with his campaign.

John Jacob, a businessman aiming to oust Republican incumbent Chris Cannon in a party primary this week, told The Salt Lake Tribune that since he had decided to try for Congress, the devil had disrupted his business deals, stopping him investing $1m (£550,000) in the race as he had hoped. “There’s another force that wants to keep us from going to Washington DC,” he said. “It’s the devil.”
(Source: The Independent)

To be fair to the Republican nutter, he does frantically backpedal. But I fear the damage is done now he’s said, on the record, that Old Nick was doing his darnedest to keep him out of office.

All politicians wave the God flag. Look at how Butcher Blair has wrapped himself in Christ, why it’s almost impossible to see where Christ’s blood ends and the blood of 100,000 Iraqis starts. I actually hope he’s lying about being a Christian because the alternative, that he truly believes a giant ghostie wants him to bomb children, is far more insane.

Jacob isn’t atypical, he seems entirely too typical of the current Republican party. Maybe that’s why some old-school Republicans are leaving? Jacob certainly has the typical Republican grasp of reality:

Jacob had said that 40 percent of the inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility were illegal immigrants. Christine Mitchell, deputy state corrections director, said they made up 8.4 percent of the Gunnison prison population.

Jacob acknowledged the error, and declined to say who had told him it was 40 percent because he didn’t want them to get into trouble.
(Source: KSL.com)

Of course, we all the source of that inaccuracy: it was ole’ Red Eyes. He’s out to pervert our wunnerful democracies, I tells ya!

I’d love to see more UK politicians coming out as atheists or, at the very least, agnostics. But I guess that would be a brave move since the majority of their electorate does believe in goblins and Thor. Or something similar, anyhow.

Zahid Mubarek – Still No Justice

Zahid Mubarek

The inquiry into the murder of Asian teenager Zahid Mubarek by a racist cell-mate will this week name at least two officials who have since been promoted and highlight a ‘lack of accountability’ over the killing, The Observer can reveal. Sources who have seen the report by Mr Justice Keith said it goes into detail about individual errors or oversights and criticises management failures.

The former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, yesterday denounced the way the incident was handled. He said that, instead of resisting an independent inquiry until ordered to hold one by the House of Lords, the government should have ‘suspended a number of the relevant staff at once’, including the people who had placed Mubarek in the same cell as a known racist. The officers responsible at Feltham young offenders’ institution, west London, where the murder took place, should also have been suspended.

Having earlier issued stinging criticisms of Feltham, where Mubarek was murdered hours before he was to have been freed in 2000, Ramsbotham said: ‘It was a tragedy waiting to happen.’ He added: ‘I find it totally extraordinary that no one has been made accountable.’
(Source: The Observer)

It’s six years now since Zahid Mubarek was murdered by his cellmate. His killer, Robert Stewart, was a known racist. Why were they placed in the same cell the night before Mubarek was due to be released?

I doubt it was simply an oversight.

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to live in and pay my taxes to a country with an institutionally racist police force and legal system, a country quite happy to take my money but not so eager to accord me the same rights as its white citizens. A country where, if I were arrested, I could easily die in the manner of Zahid Mubarek and the people responsible would be rewarded with lovely promotions.

Increasingly, I can’t think of a good answer.

Ultraviolet: Are You Mental?

Ultraviolet

(WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN X-MEN3 OR ULTRAVIOLET!)

I’ve just been to the cinema to see Ultraviolet.

And I want my money back.

It pains me to type that. I try to keep negative reviews off Bzangy because there are far too many blogs that are moanathons. It’s lazily easy to moan, to always find fault with everything. So I steer clear. Normally.

But Ultraviolet was bad. It was Avengers bad, Daredevil bad, Alien V Predator bad, Armageddon bad, Ecks vs. Sever bad. Sky Captain bad. Hurt your head bad.

I feel sad saying that because the writer and director, Kurt Wimmer, also made Equilibrium. Now, that was a cool little film. It was basically the story of a future totalitarian government who had banned all art (perhaps they thought it encouraged terrorism?) and the lone man (Christian Bale) who switches sides and kicks their arses. Okay, it was “influenced” by Fahrenheit 451 but it created its own fun little world of Gun Katas and hyperbolic action. Lots of guns, swordplay and glistening, post-Matrix costumes. I enjoyed the film and Bale turned in a great, nuanced performance. It got slagged-off when it was released but I ignored the critics and I’m glad I did.

This time I wasn’t so lucky.

Firstly, they’ve put a horrible smoothing effect on Milla’s face, a moving image version of the extremely airbrushed doll-like images you can find in some magazines. On a woman so naturally ravishing, why? Then the plot… well, that’s about a future totalitarian government and the lone woman (Milla Jojovovich) who kicks their arses. Lots of guns, swordplay and glistening, post-Matrix costumes. Hmmm… so far, so familiar. But the action scenes veer quickly into the ridiculous, Violet keeps getting surrounded by hundreds of heavily-armed assassins and each time kills the lot of them. With her victories coming so easily, there’s no tension so, essentially, no point to the fight scenes. My favourite scene is when the meant-to-be-very-scary Chinese gangsters just shoot the crap out of each other instead of her. Wouldn’t one of them have said, after the first two or three bought it, “Hold on, lads! We’re shooting each other! Let’s all stand in a straight line and shoot at her!”

But wait – Milla’s character, Violet, is a haemophage, some kind of vampirey strand of humanity that resulted from an escaped military gene tweak. Okay, I’ll go along with that. She ends up rescuing a small boy. This boy has, in his blood, the key to the world’s problems: a cure for the haemophage mutation!

Brilliant! Great twist… but… hold on. This seems slightly familiar!

In X-Men 3, there’s a small boy whose blood holds the key to the worlds problems: a cure for the mutation of humans!

Then I looked at the lad playing the role in UV and…

IT’S THE SAME BLOODY KID!

That’s right, same plot device, same scrambling around and the same “This isn’t a cure! We don’t need a cure!” and they even got the same boy to play the role. The only difference is that this time he’s got hair.

No doubt you’ll see him soon in another major motion picture as The Small Boy Whose Blood Holds The Key To The World’s Problems. Blimey, talk about typecasting, poor little bleeder.

So the question is – which came first? Did X-Men3 rip-off Wimmer or vice-versa. Or is it a case of parallel evolution? If it’s the latter, it’s even scarier because it reveals the scraping of barrels in Hollywood writer land.

Well, there are twists and turns. A lot of people get amazingly easily killed by the heroine. Jojovovich does the best she can with some decidedly un-flowing dialogue. William Fichtner and Nick Chinlund turn in good performances but it can’t save a film beset by incoherency, wooden words and some of the clunkiest CGI I’ve ever seen.

Again, writing the above doesn’t make me happy. I know that Wimmer can do better, he’s obviously got talent. And films are so subject to committee interference that maybe the movie he had in his head got butchered before it got on the screen.

By the end, Matt Biba and I were just laughing, when we should have been crying. There’s a major confrontation with the Top Baddie and he looks at Violet and shouts:

“ARE YOU MENTAL?”

That kind of sums up this film for me.

Sorry, Ultraviolet cast and crew. You may have been aiming at a fantastic film but that’s not what I saw. Let’s hope you all do better next time.

Counting Electrons

Single Electron Ammeter

Physicists in Japan have made a device that can detect individual electrons that are flowing either forwards or backwards. The device — the most sensitive ammeter to date — allows currents to be measured in the attoampere range for the first time. Dubbed a bi-directional single-electron ammeter, the device could be used for a wide variety of applications, including nanoelectronics, calibration devices, quantum computation and biology (Science 312 1634).

“The single-electron counter should be useful for detecting extremely small current in various applications,” say Fujisawa and colleagues. “It should be especially useful for studies on nanoelectronics (which seek to examine electron transport through nanostructures), single molecules, and biological cells.”
(Source: PhysicsWeb)

Wow. The implications for nanotech are enormous. I’m also intrigued by the mention of investigating biological processes with this kind of accuracy.

Really, there’s not much else I can add apart from another wow.

Goodbye TOTP!

Top Of The Pops

The BBC’s flagship pop music programme Top of the Pops has been cancelled after 42 years, the BBC has announced.

“The time has come to bring the show to its natural conclusion,” said the BBC’s director of television Jana Bennett.

In a statement, the BBC said the weekly programme could no longer compete with 24-hour music channels.

Top of the Pops was first broadcast in 1964, from a converted church in Salford, Manchester. The final edition will be shown on 30 July.
(Source: BBC News)

Well, it was inevitable. The show has been declining for at least a decade now, probably longer. That’s one of the reasons I refused to go on it when I was number one, it was already a ghost of the programme it used to be.

To people under twenty-five, TOTP must be something of a curious anachronism – what’s the point of a chart show when you can flick on your own niched, tighly genre-bound 24hr music channels? Why sit through piles of rubbish to see maybe one band you like, if you’re lucky? Hence the plummeting viewing figures.

But if you’re closer to my age (or over it), TOTP was a huge part of growing up. The same as hovering over your cassette recorder on Sundays, waiting to tape your fave songs. I remember going into school the day after TOTP had featured debut performances by people like Adam And The Ants, Madness and Soft Cell. It was all kids talked about. It was part of 20th century mass culture, millions of people watched it.

And that’s why it’s gone. It belongs in the 20th century. There’s as much place for it in the 21st as there is for handwritten letters, phone boxes and 35mm film. We cling on to those things, like we’ve clung onto TOTP, out of a warm nostalgia for when we were little. But if there’s no social basis for a part of culture, you can’t prevent it withering away. The pop video was the first thing to chisel away at the importance of a show like TOTP but even though it kept limping on, it couldn’t adapt to our changing pop music cultures.

We don’t care about the chart, we each have our own charts. And even if we do glance at the “official” chart occasionally, it’s now always crammed with major label dross and fabricated authenticity like Sandi Thom. Unlike in the ’70s and ’80s, singles never build now, they’re hyped into the upper reaches and then drop like bricks. The official chart has been compromised and rendered irrelevant by the actions of major labels so why would we watch a TV programme based around it?

I would love to see a BBC programme that featured pop music, one that wasn’t as worthy and middle-of-the-road as Later but not as frothy and inconsequential as the MTV fare. But I’m not sure if that kind of programme would get the mass audiences TOTP used to, I think those audiences are a thing of the past. At least in the Western world…

Goodbye Top Of The Pops. Goodbye C.C.S, Yellow Pearl, Jimmy Savile, hapless dancers, wobbly sets and questionable video effects.

Pan’s People, we’ll always love you!

UPDATE!
Click here to hear a former presenter’s opinion on the death of TOTP.

The Truth Behind Blair’s Lies

A leaked cable from the US embassy in Baghdad signed by the ambassador paints a grim picture of Iraq as a country disintegrating in which the real rulers are the militias, and the central government counts for nothing.

The cable, signed by the US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and sent to the State Department in Washington on 6 June, is wholly at odds with the optimistic account of developments given by President George Bush and Tony Blair in their recent visits to Iraq.
(Source: The Independent)

Click here to read the full memo.

How Capitalism Is Your Friend

Avastin

A major drug company is blocking access to a medicine that is cheaply and effectively saving thousands of people from going blind because it wants to launch a more expensive product on the market.
(Source: The Guardian)

The myth of the free market is that it is the most efficient economic system. People’s needs and desires become demand which is then serviced by competing vendors. Competition drives vendor prices down which then benefits the consumer and produces lean, incredibly efficient suppliers. Thus, we end up with a marketplace of demand and supply, with the available resources being dynamically, flexibly allocated. None of the wastage, lag and inefficiency of command economies like Soviet-era Communism.

But there’s a problem with this golden vision: it all relies on the motor of profit.

If there is no profit in a service, then it will not be done. If there’s no profit in taking care of elderly, poor people then they will be left to rot in a free market system. If there’s a world of shoeless children but none of them have the money to buy shoes then they will remain unshod in the free market system. In the free market system, a business can simply say that there is no demand for shoes:

Demand is the quantity of a good that consumers are not only willing to purchase but also have the capacity to buy at the given price.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Note the linguistic sleight-of-hand here. If you or I were in a field of starving, penniless peasants, we’d say that there was a huge demand for food. A free marketeer would not because those people can’t afford to buy food at the price offered. Hence there is no demand for food. Those people become invisible to the capitalist system since they have no money. Their need for food ceases to exist.

Furthermore, in the free market system, if a business can increase its profit by price-fixing, it will do so. Or perhaps a business will deliberately produce shoddy products in order to keep you buying replacements – hardly a great allocation of limited resources but one that makes absolute sense under capitalism. This Avastin furore is the tip of a huge iceberg, the distortion of our whole world by the profit principle.

Ophthalmologists around the world, on their own initiative, are injecting tiny quantities of a colon cancer drug called Avastin into the eyes of patients with wet macular degeneration, a common condition of older age that can lead to severely impaired eyesight and blindness. They report remarkable success at very low cost because one phial can be split and used for dozens of patients.

But Genentech, the company that invented Avastin, does not want it used in this way. Instead it is applying to license a fragment of Avastin, called Lucentis, which is packaged in the tiny quantities suitable for eyes at a higher cost. Speculation in the US suggests it could cost £1,000 per dose instead of less than £10.
(Source: The Guardian)

Capitalism doesn’t care that you can’t afford to buy medicine: there is no heart to capitalism, it’s all about profit. In fact, if one drug company started being “caring” and not seeking to maximise its profits, it would quickly be subsumed by its more ruthless and “efficient” peers.

Think of that difference in costs: £1000 per dose instead of £10. Think of that money coming out of your bank account, either via taxes and the NHS or directly if you choose private healthcare. Remember, that difference in cost isn’t to guarantee your safety, it’s pure profiteering.

Then, as capitalism steals your money out of your pocket or leaves you blind when you could have sight, think of how good a friend it is to you.