• Another new blog

    Don't know if anyone's still got this in their RSS, but if you have I've started a new blog, just for Euro 2012.

    It's here.

    The Commonwealth Cup


  • New blog 2

    It's my new World Cup blog!

    Hope Joanna


  • New blog

    I've moved to a new blog. It's called Bounce.

    It's all about football. The new season starts today. Do drop in, it just wouldn't be the same without you.

  • Tests

    In my capacity as underemployed career failure, I've recently found myself undertaking any number of employment tests for temporary office admin jobs. Type this in as fast as you can, they demand.  How many spelling and grammar mistakes can you find in these documents? What's 17 x 7? No slacking now.

    All right. I've taken four tests. Look, four is quite clearly a member of the set of any number. If I'd been asked to undertake -7, 3.81 or pi tests, I could still have described it thus. Even the square root of minus one tests would have been within acceptable parameters. So there.

    I've learnt a few things about the wonderful world of work (the original www). Firstly, it is vitally important to stick to the script. If you've been told to circle the errors in a letter to an imaginary customer, they're not looking for you to identify sentences which despite being technically correct are perhaps rather infelicitously phrased. In fact, they don't even seem to appreciate having them pointed out.

    Next, don't overdress. These days, only management wear suits. Everyone else wears a shirt with a collar, but no tie. Far from conveying eagerness, dressing up too much smacks of lèse majesté.

    Don't be fooled though. Despite the lack of starch, there is a chain of command in these places. They are there to test you, and not the other way round. So far I have seen no suggestion boxes marked How could we design these tests so they aren't full of stupid errors? This is a valuable clue to the level of their interest in your ideas.

    Finally, be grateful. They've passed me as a medium Microsoft Word user. After fifteen years teaching it I certainly hoped I'd picked up the odd thing, but it's a boon and a privilege to have the fact confirmed by a pleasant young lady with trousers and a bun. And a nice smile. Maybe I reminded her of her father.

    In the end it's worked, and I now have fifteen hours a week of office drudgery at the top of a hill. The view is lovely, but I won't see it. No window seats for us minions. It beats selling the Big Issue, or reading it, but I can't say I'm thrilled.

  • Not just me going on

    Here is a post on the Ask the Atheists website.

    How to get out of going to Church
    3 years ago I came out to my mom that I am atheist and she has been fine with that but within the past year she has gotten a new boyfriend who is somewhat religious and making me go to church with them. If I don’t go I have been told that she will take most of my stuff away [clothing, computer, cell phone, and my camera which is my passion in life] and that I could not live with her anymore. Now I could go live with my dad but it would be very unsafe for me there because he is an alcoholic and he lives in another city. I know I could just go and sit there but I am really atheist and cannot stand the sight of a church much less attend a service. She has expressed to me that the most important thing for her is to get me to go to church, but I have also expressed to her that not going to church is something I am very passionate about more so than my camera. Help please.

    It's not the first such post I've ever read at that site. In fact there's been a steady stream of kids wanting advice on how to deal with their parents' threats.

    And here is a letter to the Guardian a few weeks ago.

    Your correspondents who are hostile to faith schools (Letters, September 3) are missing the point. It is a fundamental human right to be able to choose the education for your child which is in accordance with your religious beliefs. A society that takes away this right is an intolerant one.

    Secularism - the belief that religion has no role in public matters such as education - is itself a belief system. It is absolutely wrong that such a belief system should be given a state educational monopoly and religious believers denied their rights as parents.

    Andrew Nash
    Headmaster, St Edward's school, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

    So this guy thinks that parents - including, presumably, parents like the mother in the first extract - have a fundamental human right to impose their religious beliefs on their children's education.

    I can see why a religious person would claim that right - it's hard to see how religion could ever survive in the world without it - but it's vitally important for us to assert the right of children to a pluralist education in the face of people like him.

    See, this is why I go on about religion. It's because it's a political subject, as well as a philosophical one.

  • Punching Oasis in the face

    A few months back I wrote a short piece called Moving, in which I referred in passing to Cristiano Ronaldo. In the comments, I said that he still has the most punchable face in football. There should by rights be an award for it. The award should be a punch in the face.

    I stand by this on the ethical principle that some people should be punched in the face, just because. And now I've received support of a kind from the good people at Cracked, although they want to punch Oasis in the face instead. In fact they take the whole thing further than I'd ever thought to, outlining a series of inspired strategies for achieving their laudable goal.

    Who would you punch in the face, and how would you go about it? I think we should be told.

  • Autumn of discontent

    There's always a few little hints at first. I was in Tesco's the other day, and there was no filter coffee on the shelf. None. Just a couple of jars of that vile instant dried sludge they lay on for the disadvantaged. It was just the little Express Tesco near me, not the big one, but still.

    Now we've all seen disaster films, so I expect you're thinking the same thing I'm thinking, namely that's how it begins. There has to be a minor mishap or two at the beginning, just to set the scene. They're usually trivial in themselves, but when you put them together an ominous pattern emerges. Unexplained tremors in the suburbs of San Francisco. Ice sheets cracking under Dennis Quaid's feet. Electrical problems in a new tower in San Francisco (San Francisco again. Such a terribly dangerous place, yet gay people thrive there. God must really love them).

    I think that's what's happening in the real world. Minor mishaps. At first.

    Mark my words, the mishaps may start small, but they escalate fast. This week there's no decent coffee. Next week there might not be any cakes, and that's it for elevenses.

    Other meals could go the same way. Foot and mouth would take down the steak houses, and there wouldn't be much call for chip shops if potato blight cut down the nation's tubers.

    Suppose the farming malaise spread to other key sectors, like oil or football. City centres would be gridlocked as cars ran out of petrol. Staple goods would be even more expensive. Previously reliable players like Lee Johnson would start to make basic defensive errors. Believe me, it might happen.

    Farms, factories and takeaways are repossessed (no more pusillanimous conditional tenses now, I'm hitting my stride). Ministers resign. Gary Johnson gets a new job at Rovers, and takes all our best players with him. Demagogues take over the streets, as Abu Hamza and Martin Amis duke it out for control of the Finchley Park crack trade. London burns, and being by the river somehow fails to help.

    A sign appears outside the Ivy - Meat Curry, £5 a bowl. Only the A-List can afford to pay. Fern Britton waits tables for scraps, but Judy Finnegan's got none to spare, and somehow Bill Oddie's got owl feathers caught in his beard.

    By now we're into the final stages. Famine, plague, religion. The seas rise, comets appear from nowhere and the last boy kills the last girl in a fight over the last gnawed bone.

    A pessimistic vision, you might think, particularly as it turned out they'd moved the coffee to a different shelf. How little you understand.

  • The numbers game

    We had our first home game of the season on Saturday. It was like finding a comfortable old sweater you'd misplaced for a few months.

    We drew 1-1 against Derby, who were really quite poor. We dominated the first half, went a goal up from our promising new striker Nicky Maynard, then fell apart after the break and gave away a soft goal from a shocking defensive error by our best midfielder. Honestly, it was just like watching England.

    So now we're seventh, with 4 points from six games. If I said that a last minute winner would have made us third while a last minute loser would have made us fifteenth, you can see how little placings mean so early on.

    Paul Wilson, meanwhile, has been writing about Championship attendances. It's often said that the Championship, although only the second most popular football division in Britain, is the fourth most popular division in Europe. Wilson points out that this is only true if you judge it by total attendance, which is higher in the Championship because there's 24 teams playing 552 games, whereas other leagues have perhaps 20 teams playing 380 games. Measured by average attendance, it's only the eighth most popular division. Even the German second division comes higher.

    Excuse me, but I said this months ago. Received wisdom in general is almost reliably wrong. Birmingham doesn't have more miles of canal than Venice. The Pope isn't 'special' somehow. The moon isn't about the same size as the sun. Neil Warnock isn't actually a warthog, he's something far, far worse.

    The significance of attendance figures depends on what aspect of the game you're considering. So why might we be doing this? Not why are we asking pointless questions about numbers? - wash your mouth out with saline solution for ever saying such a thing. No I'm asking what pointless questions exactly are we trying to answer from our data?

    So let's consider the options. If we're wondering how big it 'feels' to be at a game, then obviously average attendance is the crucial factor. But if you're wondering how much money teams can afford to spend on players, then total attendance across the whole season (and ticket price) is the name of the game. That's why clubs play meaningless friendlies at the beginning of each season. They have to give the teams a runout anyway, so they might as well extract some revenue from it. And it's why baseball can support such huge salaries on such cheap tickets. If players play 162 games a season, their cost per game is almost reasonable.

    If you're asking how football-mad a place is, then you have to ask what percentage of the population go to the games. By that measure, there can't be many leagues to compete with the Championship. Take Sheffield. About 9% of the population of Sheffield went to United or Wednesday's first home game. Bristol doesn't quite match that, but you can't expect people in East Bristol to have to go and watch Rovers. There is such a thing as cruel and unusual.

    Meanwhile, City have drawn Crewe away in the next round of the Carling Cup. Nicky Maynard's old club. Should be fun.

    And after my previous post, my ads have gone all soapy. Lotion pump, soap foam pump, liquid hand soap, foamy delights, soft creamy unction, soapy tit wank ... actually I may have made a few of those up. Frankly, I get quite enough of that kind of thing in the junk mail.

  • Products

    When it comes to shampoo, I'm a ' supermarket own brand' kind of a guy. I've even experimented with washing up liquid. But on my sister-in-law's last visit she waved grandly across her hair products and said "now you will use these up, won't you?", and it would be rude not to.

    I start with the phial labelled Shampooing. I'm gambling that shampooing the participle means basically the same as shampoo the noun or verb, and the evidence suggests that it does. It takes three applications to get my hair clean though. I guess it doesn't have the kind of industrial-strength gunkstripper they ladle into every bottle of Tesco's own brand.

    Then I turn to the Bain et Douche. My schoolboy French tells me this means bath and shower, the gloop in the bottle looks like a kind of gel, so I put the two together and treat it as bath and shower gel. It works well enough, although the Tesco's one smells nicer. When I see the price tag, I resolve to seek work as a translator, because whoever translated bath and shower into bain et douche must have got thousands for it.

    The next bottle in the queue is labelled Acondicionador. Honestly, she's such a travel queen. You could run a language class on the stuff in her bathroom. It must be conditioner. I pour some into my hand, rub it into my hair, leave it for a minute and rinse. Nothing happens. Yes, it's conditioner.

    Then I come to the Aqua parfumé, which I translate again, as perfumed water. I splash it all over. I now smell like a woman. A posh woman. A hundred posh women. Hang on.

    On closer inspection, the bottle is actually Aqua parfum, with no é. I now more accurately translate this as a very, very smelly perfume called Aqua, despite the fact that aqua is Latin for water, which doesn't smell at all, ha ha caught you out, you foolish boy. I have doused myself in posh perfume. If you set me on fire, I would smell like Barbara Cartland being cremated. It's like Home Alone, but without the excuse of being ten.

    I can't believe they have safety campaigns for fireworks and drunk driving, yet anyone can leave toiletries lying around unattended. It's been a few days, and the smell seems to have worn off. I'm just glad I didn't have any classes. Still, at least it stops you smelling anything else, which in Bristol is a blessing.

    Be warned though. Toiletries are like email attachments. If you don't know what they are, don't open them. The Backlash - it makes the obvious errors, so you don't have to.

  • Around Africa in a Phoenician boat

    It may be necessary to explain a few things about this story first. The Phoenicians were a Mediterranean sea-trading civilisation of the first millennium BC. They founded Tyre, Lisbon (probably), and Carthage. The word Punic, used to describe Rome's wars with Carthage between 264 and 146 BC, comes from the word Phoenician. Famous Carthaginians include Hannibal and Dido. No, not her. The other Dido. When I first saw the word dildo, I thought that word looks a lot like Dido. Not the other way round, you may have noticed. What kind of preparation for life is it when they teach you about mythical Phoenician queens before they teach you about dildoes?

    Incidentally, there's a place called Dildo, in Newfoundland. There's a headland there, called Dildo Arm. At the other end of Dildo Arm - Dildo Cove. I kid you not. Next to them is Dildo Island, and once a year the whole area celebrates Historic Dildo Day. They've even got a mythical hero of their own, called Captain Dildo. I find myself thinking of John Barrowman for some reason.

    Herodotus was a Greek historian of the fifth century BC. In his Histories, he tells the tale of the wars between the Greeks and the Persians, with some backstory over the whole region. In the backstory, he casually refers to a Phoenician ship which had apparently sailed all the way round Africa, and back to the Mediterranean again.

    You're now ready to read the BBC article referred to in the heading (Around Africa in a Phoenician boat). To paraphrase for the ninety per cent of you that couldn't be arsed, some latter day Thor Heyerdahls are going to try and recreate this voyage, in a ship built to a Phoenician design, but mainly crewed by British volunteers like John Bainbridge. It's about how you get on with people, that's the most essential skill, he said.

    I'm not so sure, myself. I would have said the most essential skill was the ability to control an ancient Phoenician sailing ship. And they probably ought to read their Herodotus more carefully. He says the original crew took three years, and had to stop off twice to plant and grow some more food. Good luck doing that in the Congo.

    They don't think that's going to be necessary. They think they can do all 17,000 miles in nine or ten months. By my calculations, that's about 60 miles a day.

    I reckon that's a bit tight. According to the BBC article, the ship has a top speed of ten kilometres an hour, which is six and a bit miles. That's 150 miles a day, at top speed all the time.

    Which means they're expecting to average 40% of their top speed. Day and night, for nearly a year. Not including stops to take on provisions, days when there's no wind, or it's blowing the wrong way, or you have to put in to avoid bad weather.

    Good luck to them though. And here's their website (The Phoenician Ship Expedition). You can track their progress here.

  • First day

    So I turn the telly on yesterday, and blow me if it isn't the Olympics. Honestly, they could have given us some notice.

    Incidentally, because it actually is the Olympics, that means you don't have to blow me. In fact, I positively forbid you to. So there.

    Of course the Olympics isn't like one of those sordid commercial sports events you sometimes see. Here, it's the taking part that counts. It must be, because it certainly isn't the watching. I've never seen such crappy spectator sports in my life.

    Take judo, for instance. Judo just looks like two adults trying to playfight with a child who's crawled off and left them playfighting each other instead. I'm surprised no-one in the audience shouts all pile on! It did give us one thing, though, the return of an old friend - that classic commentator's phrase, and the British athlete has got a lot to do. Normally it means the British athlete is about to be overtaken by that Malawian guy who's never run on an actual track before, but in this instance it means the British athlete has just been forcibly reshaped into a rhombus for the fifth time. Go team GB, I'm sure we're all tremendously proud. Well, at least you haven't been taking controlled substances. Not helpful ones, anyway.

    And then there was the women's weightlifting. So that's where Beth Ditto's been. Look, she's lifted loads more than Jeanette Krankie. And there's the swimming. And the cycling. And the standing and waving. Oh no, that's just a medal ceremony. Sorry, it all blurs together after a while. Still, well done Beth. I never knew you were Korean.

    Back in the world of real sport, it was the first day of the football season as well. And City won, 1-0 at Blackpool. Starting as we mean to go on. And Rovers lost. Not that half of you care. To you, it's about as meaningful as the Olympics.

  • Augurs of the coming times

    For Dave, who says he misses my little offerings.

    In the supermarket they have a section for stuff that's past its best, but isn't actually against the law yet. I always check it out - with judicious timing and a willingness to adapt, I can save myself a fistful of florins on a good day.

    It used to be a polite forage, but these days it's a scrum. I guess maybe people are that much more appreciative of a bargain in the current climate. I expect in garages they're all clustered round the pump with last week's petrol in it. It may be slightly stale and there's a worrying smell of benzene, but it's quite good enough to get you to the children's party with the cheap toy off the market and the fig rolls you don't want to risk on your own kids. It's tough times out there, and we're all cutting corners we never wanted to, or thought we'd ever have to.

    There's no queueing at the cheap counter, the only place in England where this is true. I don't push, I'm not prepared to push, so sometimes it takes a while to get in. I was quite pleased last week when I managed to pull out a free range chicken and some rolls before being edged out by keener appetites. I was hovering round the fringes like one of the smaller chimps, waiting for a chance to nip back in while the alphas were hurling dung at each other, when suddenly someone grabbed both items out of my shopping basket, then dropped them back in again. If there's one thing worse than having your bargains stolen it's having them not stolen, and I was about to remonstrate with the non-thief when I realised it was the shelf stacker, who up to now had been amusing himself by throwing yellow ticketed tidbits into the melée as if they were buns.

    He'd made my items even cheaper. They were already reduced, but now I had a whole free range chicken for three pounds. This is unheard of. It's also an odd strategy from the point of view of the supermarket.

    I thanked him and he smiled. I think he just did me a favour, for no advantage to himself and at some personal risk. It's the little acts of resistance that warm your heart. They're the real augurs of the coming times.

  • Not the best cake in the world

    Damn straight.

    Because this is.

    Thanks Bug Girl, as ever.

  • Can I be the first to call it the grassy Knol?

    Apparently not. It's still a conspiracy though. Yes it is.

    I refer to Google's new Wikipedia ripoff, which they've called Knol to suggest knowledge, I suppose. It's got a few hundred articles by experts, apparently, and now we can add our own. Once we've added them we can allow Google Ads if we want and keep a slice of the earnings from them.

    The difference between Knol and Wikipedia is that in a Knol you keep editorial control over your article. If other people think they can improve on it, they have to write their own. The competing articles then fight it out for hits. The more hits you get, the higher you come in the rankings. In itself, it's not a terrible idea.

    There's a scandal brewing, though, which is the placing of Knol articles in Google search rankings. Danny Sullivan of the blog Search Engine Land has done some research, and it seems like they're doing suspiciously well. Almost as if Google was biasing its search results towards knols, and therefore giving them an advantage over similar Wikipedia entries.

    I'm going to write one on Ovid (probably the one single topic in the world I know a little bit about), and see what happens to it. I'll keep you posted.

  • All kinds of stupid

    Last time we wrote about the American Family Association, and noted what a special kind of stupid they were. There's all kinds of stupid, though, and it isn't all horrid and mean. Some of it is stupid like a big, happy dog that wants to lick you all over till your critical faculties dissolve into uncritical enthusiasm.

    Take Kevin Kelly, for instance. Writing in Wired magazine, he's all breathlessly enthusiastic about the future. Never mind Web 3.0, he gushes. The next stage in technological evolution is a single worldwide computer. This projected entity is to be collated from all the existing devices that connect to the Internet - PCs, laptops, palmtops, mobiles, etc. As an increasing number and variety of devices are lashed to one another via the Internet and other communication systems, they form the components of what we might call the One Machine.

    Well, yes, Kevin, we could call it that. We could call a field of daisies The Great Superdaisy of Cosmic Oneness. The question though is whether there's any point in calling it that.

    As if calling the Interweb the One Machine isn't bombastic enough, he then goes on to compare synapses with hyperlinks, apparently for no other reason than that both connect to other things, and goes on to state that as waves of links surge around the world, they resemble the thought patterns of a very large brain. This is too much for Chris Edwards at the excellently named Hacking Cough, who is piqued enough to refute the argument point by point.

    He expertly demolishes the analogy between synapses and hyperlinks, but the crucial point to my mind is that the Internet would only be like a brain, or like a machine come to that, if the different parts of it shared a common goal. If it doesn't, and it doesn't, then comparing it to minds or machines is just rhetoric.

    It's not that I'm uninterested in the future, you understand. Apart from anything else, it's got the whole of next football season in it. I just think that when you argue through analogy, it's incumbent upon you to define the extent of the analogy as precisely as possible, or your argument just dissolves into an amorphous hippy gloop. And frankly I had enough amorphous hippy gloop in the Eighties. You just can't flush that stuff away.

  • There ain't 'alf been some stupid bastards

    You do get the odd dimwit on the Internet. Not in here, obviously, you're all unlauded Wittgensteins. No, it's those other places I'm talking about. The American Family Association, for instance. They're dim enough when they do it on purpose, for instance by calling an article Newt Gingrich offers common sense solution to energy crisis. Say what?

    But here's Ed Brayton explaining how their grasp of the medium can sometimes actually exceed the vacuity of their message. AFA's Search/Replace function works perfectly, he calls his post, and I think he's right.

    They have some very strict policies on language at the AFA, and one of them is that instead of gay they should always say homosexual. Presumably they think gay sounds too sympathetic. If you're the kind of website that would rather cut off its own dick that sound sympathetic to gay people, you might well think it a logical step to add a replace command which corrects this liberal faux pas automatically, but top American athlete Tyson Gay may well beg to differ.

    I'm sure my lovely readers can fill in the blanks. To be fair, it's not the AFA's fault there was an athlete called Dix in the next lane.

    Thanks also to The Bad Idea Blog, long-term chronicler of the online dimwit phenomenon for the benefit of future generations, for bringing this to our attention, along with the proposed Republican amendment to the United States Constitution. If passed this would make gay marriage unconstitutional by defining marriage as a legal bond between a man and a woman, so you have to wonder why they chose Larry Craig and David Vitter to propose it.

    The Larry Craig who was arrested for trying to have sex with an undercover policeman, you wonder? The self-same. It's obvious, when you think about it.

    Well, at least David Vitter's straight. Just ask Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who used to organise prostitutes for him. The DC Madam, they used to call her. That's short for Washington DC, and not AC/DC, in case you were wondering.

    Fortunately there's apparently virtually no chance of this amendment even making it to a vote, never mind passing. Which means we can afford to laugh.

  • Savaged

    The other day I was going round Totterdown putting flyers through people's doors advertising my services as an IT home tutor, when I got savaged by a dog.

    Yes I did. Don't give me that tilted head look. I was savaged on the finger. Savaged on the finger by a dog.

    It wasn't a normal dog. Normal dogs just want you to go away. When they hear you by the door, they bark. It's an evolutionary strategy designed to deter, without the need for conflict.

    This one was quiet as a mouse. The first and second last sign of its presence was a sharp pain in the finger, then it hit the door a tenth of a second later. Doors being generally stronger and smarter than dogs, our interaction ended with the finger-savaging foreplay, rather than moving on to the bone-crunching main event. In fact, I've no real grounds for asserting that it was a dog at all. It could just as easily have been Chucky, or a sensor-activated stapler mounted on a bolt gun.

    It wasn't the only problem I met on my rounds. The flaps on some people's letter boxes are on the kind of hinges you'd use to seal fuel intakes on space shuttles. One of them bit me worse than the hypothetical dog. If NASA had got letter box manufacturers to design their O-rings, Christa McAuliffe would still be teaching.

    And it would be nice if I got some kind of response, after the zero responses I amassed last week. Half the people who live in these houses have signs offering reiki or homeopathy. I refuse to believe people like that already know everything about computers they need to know. Perhaps they rejected my leaflet because the evidence I offered for my tutoring skills wasn't rigorous enough, or maybe they were worried in case repeated exposure to computers had made me radioactive. Either way, nobody except the stealth dog was biting.

    You do learn stuff though. One thing I learnt was that houses on main roads are far more likely to have been converted into flats. I think this is because main roads were considered desirable before the onset of modern traffic, so they got the biggest houses, but now that wealthy people don't want to live on them they have to subdivide them to make them viable.

    Another thing I learnt was this. It clearly makes more sense to do one side of a street, then the other, rather than criscrossing constantly, but in a hilly area (and Totterdown has the steepest roads in Bristol) that means you have to go up and down twice as many hills. How steep does a hill have to be before crisscrossing becomes the most economic approach? Surprisingly steep, but when it comes to steepness many Totterdown streets are surprising enough.

    This strategy had better work, anyway. I've sat down and done the spreadsheet, and if I don't get any extra income the first standing order to bounce will be the mobile phone bill on July 16. How annoyingly common to be broke in the middle of the same recession that's breaking everybody else.

  • Cycle city

    I know I promised you some stuff about history, and I did try, but it turned out to be dull as shite, so I gave up on it. It seems an odd metaphor, dull as shite, but I suppose I've never seen it sparkle.

    Instead, here is news that Bristol has been named as Britain's first cycle city. They want there to be twice as many cyclists in three years. The BBC thought it was so important, they asked Sean about it.

    Sean, accurately pigeonholed as the very opposite of a lycra-clad fitness fascist, was so enthusiastic about cycling he managed to talk for several sentences without once mentioning the vital importance of everyone in the world converting to Linux, which may be a first.

    I tease, for it is the job of friends to be teased, but he made some valid points, pointing out that the council wasn't as pro-bike as had been implied, and that cycle theft is so prevalent he always rides bikes that aren't worth any money because the nice ones used to get nicked all the time.

    If they really want to be pro-bike, I've got a few suggestions.

    1. Do something about car showrooms behaving as if they own the roadside next to their forecourts. The Mitsubishi place near me has a fleet of cars constantly parked there, and it forces cars on the road into the cycle lane just as I'm trying to turn off. I suspect this one might be popular with car drivers too.

    2. Stop the council constantly coming up with schemes to turn our cherished cycle routes into multi-lane superbus freeways. Apart from anything else, if you force us onto the roads we then slow down traffic far more than buses do.

    3. Bring in a congestion charge, but give exemptions to people who share cars. That way the kind of people who won't ever act out of any kind of collective solidarity with their fellow citizens will be forced to do the right thing despite themselves.

    4. Reverse car safety laws. These days cars are like little fortresses, with their cages and their airbags, and it makes people complacent. If you made safety belts for drivers illegal and required all cars to have a six inch spike sticking out of the steering wheel, road deaths would decline to virtually nothing overnight. An oldie, that one, but a good example of thinking outside the envelope. Or whatever the expression is.

    5. Landmines. Just think about it. Every year thousands of people die in road accidents. Enough randomly scattered landmines would kill a few people, but drive everyone else off the road, with a massive net reduction in road deaths. Plus, instead of having to jet off to Africa or somewhere Geri Halliwell could protest landmines right here in the UK, which would save massively on air miles.

    So, six inch spikes, landmines and a congestion charge. I'm just kidding, obviously. There's no way people would go for a congestion charge.

  • Midway

    Isn't football just great? Just go and find the highlights of the Holland-France game the other night. Yeah baby, that's what I'm talking about. Which is an entire sentence containing no actual new information at all. Why on earth do people talk like that?

    You may remember that with the technical assistance of my good friend xoorx I made an entire blog about the 2006 World Cup. Unfortunately I haven't been able to take time off work for Euro 2008, which means I've had to choose between watching it and writing about it.

    I'm sure this can't be right. Whenever it's bloody Christmas or something we get paid holidays, yet we're expected to work right through major international tournaments. I've given up complaining because whenever I bring the subject up people think they have the right to be scathing, but it's yet more evidence that football never gets the level of attention that it so clearly deserves. I'm just glad I've got you to discuss it with, because I know you'll understand.

    And just to show I still care, here's a halfway roundup, group by group.

    Group A

    Portugal are the winners, after seeing off Turkey and the Czech Republic. They play the already eliminated co-hosts Switzerland in the last game in the group, while Turkey and the Czechs compete for second place.

    In the event that teams have the same number of points after three games, placings are decided by results between those teams, then by goal difference. This means that Portugal are guaranteed to finish top, because Turkey and the Czechs can only equal them on points, and they've already beaten both of them.

    Incidntally, this method is another thing that surely can't be right. Apart from anything, it reduces the drama. If goal difference was considered before results between teams, then no team in this group would be sure of their place. Portugal would still be facing the possibility that they might lose to Switzerland, in which case the other teams could still beat them by winning their last game by a hatful.

    If Turkey and the Czechs draw their game, they will have the same number of points. Because the game between them was a draw, the decision would be on goal difference, but they've both scored 2 goals and conceded 3 so far, so they'd be equal on those grounds as well. This means that the placing would be decided by penalties - the first time this has happened in the group phase of an international tournament. Isn't that exciting? Well if that's your attitude your life must be very dull.

    Group B

    Croatia are guaranteed to finish top after beating tournament favourites Germany 2-1 the other night. Germany just need a draw against Austria in their last game to take second place, but if they lose they're out. In that case, Austria go through unless Poland beat Croatia, in which case it would go to goal difference.

    Group C

    Holland are the winners, no matter what. If they beat Romania, and France and Italy draw, then the second place team would go through on two points. Unless Holland score a hatful, this would probably be Romania. It is a remarkable fact about four-team groups that it's possible to go through on two points, and also possible to be eliminated on six. Yes it is remarkable, which I have of course demonstrated simply by remarking on it.

    If Romania beat Holland, and remember this would be a weak Dutch team because they're already the winners no matter what, then they finish second and go through.

    If Romania lose or draw and the other game isn't a draw, whoever wins, France or Italy, go through. If both games are drawn, Romania go through.

    Group D

    Spain have definitely won, and Greece are definitely out. Second place goes to the winners of the Sweden-Russia game. If they draw, Russia go through on goal difference.

    So now you're properly informed on the permutations, but I can see other gaps in your knowledge, and I know how desperate you are to have them filled in. What's the history of the groups? Which ancient rivalries are being played out? Who were the empire builders and who had empires built on them? Whose roads echoed to the hobnailed sandals of Roman legionaries, and where did the janissaries of the Ottoman Sultan pass? Coming soon, the stories the mainstream media didn't dare touch.

    Incidentally, if each game has three possible outcomes, win lose or draw, and there are six games, that means there are 729 possible permutations in the four-team group format. Which means it really is interesting. So there.

  • Amo amas amat

    There are times when I almost feel like a citizen. First they make cycle lanes, then they let pubs open later, and ban smoking in them. Now, no less a figure than the Mayor of London is bigging up Latin to the youth.

    As a solution to knife crime, apparently. More declensions, less dissension, he reckons. I think there's a huge amount we can do in London by promoting the learning of languages including Latin, said Boris. I couldn't agree more. I conjugated my first Latin verb over thirty years ago, and since then I haven't stabbed anyone.

    That's Boris Johnson, in case you were wondering. I do try to cater for all the members of the Backlash diaspora, scattered as you are from Sydney to Frankfurt. He's a conservative British politician who won the mayoral election quite recently. His schtick is to carry on like a buffoon so nobody notices how ruthless he is. It's worked for him so far, but now he's mayor of London he's right in the public gaze, where we can all watch him crash and burn.

    And if the pluperfect subjunctive doesn't do it, there's the gentlemanly art of pugilism. This is what he says about boxing clubs.

    They take kids off the streets and they not only teach them to enjoy the pleasure of belting seven bells out of each other but they give them an opportunity to get qualifications and an education
    , he reckons.

    What a guy. The veneration of the classics, the utter alienation from the real world, the way he turns his apparent shortcomings into a winning formula. Does he remind you of anyone? And just think - have you ever seen us in the same room together?

    He's missed a trick though. Why not put the two themes together, and bring back gladiators? Not Gladiators, gladiators. Named for the gladius, the short stabbing sword of the Roman legions.

    It's a win-win solution. The young folks get to stab people in front of an audience, which they seem to regard as an important part of the stabbing experience, and the rest of us have something to watch between the end of Euro 2008 and the new season. Everybody wins.

    And they've even got a venue. For what is the Millennium Dome, if not Britain's Colisseum? Vastly over budget, it was built to save a ruler, in which task it entirely failed. The next leader along took it on instead, and wished he hadn't. All it needs is some blood in the sand, and the likeness would be complete.

    I think I may be getting the hang of this politics thing. Vote Backlash for the next London mayor. Gladatorial combat, Bristol City as the official team of London and solar panels all over Buckingham Palace. You know it makes sense.

  • Houses are work

    Here's yet another one I wrote a few days ago and then forgot to take out of draft. And to think I teach people how to use computers for a living.

    I've moved into my brother's house, as you know, and I've spent half this last week cleaning my own house for the tenants, who move in next week. I've no desire to be a landlord, but I was caught in the crash in the housing market and couldn't sell the place.

    It's been a surprisingly satisfying experience. My usual analysis of undone domestic tasks goes like this. My floor is festooned with crud/a tile has fallen off in the kitchen/there is a weed. How does this affect my enjoyment of Ovid or the match? On observing that it doesn't, I can then simply return to the more interesting activity. Every now and again the chaos builds up to the point when my enjoyment of Ovid or the match is actually threatened, and at that point I get busy, but any resulting sense of achievement is usually undermined by the knowledge that as fast as I sort out one bit of the house another bit goes off.

    Now, though, I'm cleaning an empty property, and then leaving it to go and live somewhere else. When I return, everything is exactly as clean as it was. It's as if entropy has been banished from the place. And every time I do a room, the next time that room has to be done it won't be my job.

    I still haven't been able to face the garden though. I have a horror of gardening, brought on by a bad experience a few years ago. I was writing something about the similarities between cybernetics and chaos theory, and took a break to go and do some weeding. Half an hour later, I returned to my writing, only to find that I was unable to carry on at my previous level.

    Which proves something I should surely have guessed. Gardening makes you stupid. I guess that accounts for Gandhi.

    I've also started cycling again, as the journey to work is now long enough to justify it. It turns out that if you don't do any cycling for three years, when you start again it's almost instantly painful. The motions involved in walking and cycling are so dissimilar that it doesn't matter how much of the former you do (I don't drive, so I walk quite a lot), it doesn't prepare you for the latter at all.

    The Huns were known for walking bandy legged, because they spent so much time in the saddle they couldn't walk properly. I think I've got the opposite problem.

    It sorts itself out after a while. The trick is to get fit enough so you don't reach the pain barrier until after the endorphins have kicked in.

    Still, cleaning, cycling, and I've improved my diet. Onwards and upwards, or some such crap.

  • Reconnected

    I'm back!

    Gushing thanks to Sean for fixing my computer and bringing me back to reality. Just imagine being stuck in that awful bland world with all the atoms in it for an entire week, and I'm sure you'll understand the depths of my gratitude. Cheers mate, expect an imminent visit from an Amazon.

    So now I'm free once more to wander wherever the cyberseas carry me, my palpitating thighs wrapped round Google Reader's salty flanks like Orpheus riding the dolphin. For a while back there I was almost reduced to using my own imagination. Now I can use all of yours' instead.

    But it's important to give something back, apparently, so here's something I wrote about City's Wembley defeat eight whole days ago. I'm feeling a little better now, by the way.

    Frankly, anyone who says ‘never mind, you had a great day out’ can kiss my red and white arse.

    Yes, it’s a grand spectacle. The arch looms over you like something out of Halo Jones, the escalator to the top level seems to go on for ever and I’ll never forget the sight of 40,000 Bristolians packed in around and below me. But if you really think any of that makes up for losing, you’ve obviously never done the Grim Trek Home.

    My personal dark night of the soul came on the train back to our car in Uxbridge. Only about five per cent of City fans had parked there, but five per cent of 40,000 is a lot of people, and we all turned up at the station at half past five and crammed onto the only train.

    Never mind waterboarding, if I was the CIA I’d be stuffing insurgents into a metal shoebox with several hundred miserably disappointed people for company. Trust me, it’s cruel and unusual enough for Amnesty to take an interest. And the precisely modulated squeaky wheel was a masterstroke.

    It’s two days later now, and I’m coming to terms with the sense of anticlimax. We actually played quite well, it’s been a great season, and Gary Johnson is still the best thing that’s ever happened to us. There’s no way we’d ever have got this far without him. It’s been brilliant watching the team mature under his guidance.

    And we’re reaching people we’ve never reached before. On the bus to the ground last March, I met some students going to a game for the first time. They’d obviously never been that way before, because when we went past St Mary Redcliffe one of them said ‘look, Bristol’s got two Cathedrals’.

    I hastened to explain. Bristol is a city of unities, I said. One cathedral, one harbour, one football team. I was being facetious, of course. There’s the Catholic Cathedral as well.

    Good times for City, then, but we’re still sad. It’s our travelling fans I feel for the most. No trips to Manchester and Liverpool now, they’ll have to settle for Swansea instead. Just have a look at the Championship table and tell me honestly – football aside, has it got you thinking about weekend breaks?

    I’m guessing probably not. I've been in the Tourist Information Bureau in Coventry, for instance, and you have to admire their heroic struggle against appalling odds, but there’s only so much you can say about Lady Godiva. There aren’t that many sightseers heading for Burnley or Watford, either. Just our poor away fans. Talk about looking for a good time in all the wrong places.

    It’s alright for Premiership fans. They get five games in London next season. You could take football-loathing partners and leave them in the Tate Modern for a few hours while you swan off to Stamford Bridge. There’s even a Canal Museum. Imagine having so many places of interest you can afford to devote an entire museum to canals. Someone opened a museum in Watford once, but they shot him.

    Home fans will suffer too. Now we have to have Neil Warnock back again (not Ian Holloway though. Ha!), and Nottingham Forest, who got promoted. Something in the soul wilts and dies at the thought of Forest coming back.

    Of course, fainthearts say we’d have foundered and died in the Premiership. The likes of Rooney and Ronaldo would have just dismembered us, they reckon. It would have been like promoting a team of fauns into a division of meat processors.

    Which is missing the point. Rooney and Ronaldo dismember everybody else as well. It’s the games against Middlesbrough or Fulham that really matter, and I reckon we could have held our own.

    It would have been nice to find out, anyway. Never mind, there’s always next season. Don’t go telling us that though. Not till August, anyway.

    I sent this off to Venue in the hope they might pay me for it, but they said thanks but no thanks. One reader has expressed disappointment that I was 'prostituting myself' to corporate ghouls. I can only agree, and point to the economic factors which traditionally drive people to such lengths. If there's one thing worse than being a media whore, it's being a failed media whore.

    The good news is, Gary Johnson says he's staying. We love him.

    And don't go thinking you're excused wall-to-wall football. Euro 2008 starts next week.

  • No broadband

    I think this one explains itself. The problem is being resolved, so expect something about Wembley soon.

    We lost, by the way. So don't expect upbeat.

  • Moving

    I'm moving. Literally. Not as in I have a velocity which when multiplied by my mass gives my momentum, but as in my possessions are in transit. Or on transit, in this case, the vehicle in question being my brother's flatbed truck.

    So my schedule is this.

    Wednesday. Move. Teach for a couple of hours. Don't play chess. Rush to be done in time to watch Champions League final.

    Thursday. Two classes, both in the same place but annoyingly separated in time. Arrange my possessions pleasingly, or at least turn them all the right way up. Write about final, if moved to.

    Friday. Wave brother and sister off to Greece, try not to trash their house for the next six months.

    Saturday. Go to Wembley, watch City beat Hull and get promoted.

    Not a lot of writing time, I'm afraid. I'll write about City though.

    Click on this link at 5:30 on Saturday, to know if I'm happy or sad.

    BBC Interviewer to Gary Johnson: And now you're ninety minutes away from playing Ronaldo. Johnson: Yes, that's if we don't buy him. That's what we've needed, a manager with chutzpah. And look how far it gets you.

  • Now that's sex

    It's got football, it's got statistics, and if it doesn't actually make you come I'll want to know the reason why.

    It's the Football 365 stats page.

    Here's the Bristol City page. Best viewed large, and at length.

    I still haven't moved, by the way. It's now happening on Tuesday. Yes it is.

    And it's Hull.

  • Bristol City 2 Crystal Palace 1

    It's not quite chiasmus, but there's a pleasing symmetry between this title and my second last. Merge them, and you get the composite title Bristol City 4 Crystal Palace 2. It could just as easily have said Crystal Palace 2 shit goals from defensive errors, Bristol City 4 belters. 4 being higher than 2, we win.

    It could all have gone horribly wrong. After dominating the first half, we'd conceded a stupid goal from a poor headed clearance, and they were much better after the break. It took a penalty miss from their top striker to get us to extra time. We did hit the bar twice, mind. I wouldn't want you to go underestimating us.

    For all my American readers, extra time is just like overtime, and the scores are totalled over the two games. We'd won 2-1 at their ground, which combined with their 1-0 after ninety minutes made it 2-2. In any other competition, we'd have gone through on the away goals rule, where the team who's scored the most goals at the other teams ground wins, but rather annoyingly that rule doesn't apply in the playoffs.

    I say annoyingly, but actually it gave us the opportunity to witness two brilliant goals. Firstly Lee Trundle scored another cracker, from a loose ball on the edge of the box. This was just before the turnaround (15 minutes each way in extra time). Then Michael McIndoe hit a great one from a well worked free kick. That's seven goals in three games, and six of them wondergoals.

    After that Palace lost heart, and we just played out time. Our fans were briefly confused about how many we were winning by, and decided to ask the opposing manager if he knew. Warnock, what's the score? Warnock, Warnock, what's the score? I'm fairly certain he knew, but he wasn't letting on.

    The whole experience was unknown territory for Neil Warnock, who'd won all his previous playoff semi-finals. Mind you, he'd never had to play us before. He also lost the Dignity and Composure as a Playoff Manager in a Press Conference to Gary Johnson, by a shocking margin. Yes, that's our Gary Johnson. We love him, you know.

    And boo! to the last bus, which left so soon after full time I didn't have time for a drink. I had to come home instead, and settle for some cans of Guinness and a bag of Minstrels on my own instead. The chocolates, you understand. I don't like troubadours any more than the next man, but I'd never be so needlessly cruel.

    So what now? Now we play one more game, at Wembley, against Hull or Watford. Hull won 2-0 in the first leg at Watford, so it's probably them, but we find out tonight. The winner plays in the Premiership next season, the loser stays in the Championship. Promotion is generally reckoned to be worth about £60million in revenue, making the playoff final the biggest game in world football, when considered from a financial point of view.

    Incidentally, did you know the Championship gets more spectators every season than the top league in Italy? OK, there's 24 teams as opposed to 20, so 552 games against 380, but even so that's a remarkable fact, and testimony to the popularity of football beyond the world of oil gangsters and galacticos.

    And it says something about City as well. Most weeks we get 15,000 or so, and we're playing teams whose home gates are 20-25,000. So everything we've achieved has been done against teams with much bigger budgets than ours. Hooray, hooray, hooray for us. Especially, hooray for Gary Johnson, the best thing that's ever happened to City. How do we feel about him? I think you know.

  • Eat my meat

    The evocatively named Hermione Eyre does the TV review in the Independent on Sunday. Writing about Clarissa Dickson Wright's documentary about Richard II's fourteenth century kitchens, she says this.

    She also managed to reel off a list of medieval kitchen staff with an (almost) straight face. Quite a feat given they sound like the habitués of a particularly debauched nightclub. At work in Richard II's kitchen were: mincers, boners, spit boys, and roasters. Bona butch jobs indeed.

    Ooh-er, what a carry on. I wonder why sex and meat have such a similar language.

  • Crystal Palace 1 Bristol City 2

    First off, let's hear it for Teletext. Slow and uninformative it may be, but when your computer crashes with five minutes left in the biggest game of the season so far it's refreshingly reliable.

    Society moves on and finds new technical solutions, but sometimes they falter, and when they do you may need to go back to the old ones in a hurry. I keep my old VCR plugged in for precisely that reason, and on my bookshelves there's a Bible, just in case science, humanism and basic human decency all fail simultaneously. Yes, I do always have to go too far. If you don't go too far you haven't gone far enough, if you ask me.

    Of course, there's going too far, and then there's being frankly rather silly. Like Europe's sports administrators, who have been trying to get the European Parliament to classify sports matches as performances. If they got their way results would become a form of intellectual property, and we might lose Teletext, BBC match reports and other vital emergency services. There's a report here (MEPs deny sports 'intellectual property' landgrab). Thanks as so often before to striqun for the link.

    The article is confusingly worded, but it turns out they've failed, on the grounds that sports events, unlike plays or concerts, aren't predictable.  I guess MEPs don't follow the Premiership, which gets the same top four teams every year.

    Frankly, I'm surprised they thought it was worth even trying. Who's going to win the support of governments, the people who organise soccer games or the people who run television? How deliciously disconcerting to find yourself on the same side as Rupert Murdoch.

    However that may sit with us, at least we the people can carry on finding out scores without having to pay Trevor Brooking a tax. Today, for instance, it was 2-1 to City. Which means that as long as we win or draw in the return game on Tuesday, we're off to Wembley in a couple of weeks.

    Here's the BBC match report, with interviews with both managers. Your homework is to listen to both and tell me which manager is the manager with dignity and composure, and which is the ignorant oaf.

    I think you'll find the finer qualities residing in the Bristol City dugout, in the person of Gary Johnson (we love him). Truly a prince among men. If I was a lady in waiting he'd get my rosette every time.

    And he's getting noticed in the national media. Last week he was in the Observer, now he's in the Guardian (Johnson takes his low-key methods to new heights). They say it's remarkable that Gary Johnson is so relatively unheralded, and they're not wrong. Well all I can say is, I'm doing my bit.

    Beyond football in Bristol there are other games, with other rules. Do you know the best thing about sport? Apart from Gary Johnson. It's the seasons. Every season builds to a dramatic climax, in every division and in every country. And because the seasons vary from one sport to the next, there's always something happening somewhere. Every second of every day. It's like being on a miniature train, endlessly riding the same route round an ice cream factory. Had enough mint chartreuse flavour? Never mind, there'll be some raspberry whipple along in a minute.

    Are you anti-sports? Are you waiting and waiting for the off season? Then it's as if you dwell on a planet which orbits many suns, all of them far too close. You yearn for the night, but it never comes, and meanwhile the heat of the day goes on and on and on, and the shelter and relief that you crave is forever denied you. Good. Now stop whingeing and get with the program.

  • The floods time bomb

    You all remember last year's floods. Some (well, one) thought they were God's (perhaps slightly underplayed) response to gay marriage. Others (also one) suggested that they might trigger a canal-based renaissance for Somerset. That was me, and I was drunk. The Bishop was depressingly sober.

    And you've probably heard they're building housing estates on flood plains, and tutted at their criminal folly. Well it turns out they're felons of an even more foolish ilk than we'd realised.

    For not only are the lowlands of old England dotted with Barratt homes, they're also full of power stations and sewage works. The BBC has a report here (Flood risk fear over key UK sites).

    So if you live on one of the new estates, the problem isn't just boring old floods. It's electrified floods with millions of human turds floating in them.

    Way to go, British Government. I think you've missed a trick though. What you should be doing is seeding water meadows with shark eggs. Then you could purge the countryside of people entirely, and make it safe for junior ministers' weekend getaways with their secretaries, without the hoi polloi hanging about.

  • End of the season

    But not for us. We're in the playoffs, and we've got Crystal Palace, while Watford go to Hull. The winners play each other at Wembley in a couple of weeks. I'll keep you posted, although I'm moving this weekend, so don't go expecting epics.

    It's all been enough to earn Gary Johnson, henceforth known as Gary Johnson (we love him), a profile in the Observer (Fanfare for people's man fashioning a Bristol boom). I'd like to become the first manager to go from the Conference up to the Premiership through promotions, albeit with two different clubs, and hopefully we're four games away from that, he says. He's too modest to mention it, but that would be four promotions in six years, two with City and two with Yeovil. When you think of the mess he inherited in his first year at City, when the team was bottom of League 1 at Christmas, that's an even more remarkable achievement.

    Before that, he was manager of Latvia. He's still honorary president of the Latvian Football Association, so when we say we love him, we means everyone with any connection with City no matter how tenuous, plus a whole country.

    And for the first time in ages, we played really well on Saturday, beating Preston 3-0. This kind of thing never happens. We never score three. We never take the lead then kick on, we take the lead and fall back to hold on to our gains. We never shoot from distance, we certainly never score from distance and we never play with such flair and élan.

    The much maligned Lee Trundle is showing the kind of form he's never showed for us before, and David Noble scored the kind of free kick we never score from. For the second goal, Trundle and Michael McIndoe managed a neat little one-two in the opponents' penalty area. Even in the kind of game where things that never happen happen, this is unprecedented.

    In other news, it's St George's Day in Bulgaria. I don't think they'd be keen to learn he was Turkish either.

    In more recent yet even less important news, I've just found a letter on the doormat. An apology, it's headed, and there's a Royal Mail logo on it.

    If they've started apologising, it's hard to know when they could ever stop. I open it. I know you didn't ask me to write to you.[...] You're probably just thinking "oh dear, not another charity asking me for money". If that's the case, then I'm sorry. [...] the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

    They've touched my heart, with their diffident approach. I shall write to them immediately, and forgive them.

    On a less wholesome note, here's Bug Girl. Not her, she's a constant delight, but the subjects of her post, I have pubic lice in my mailbox. If that sounds like a euphemism, it isn't, she says, and we all breathe a sigh of relief for her. Until we read the piece, and begin to worry about the world instead.

    And just to make up for my little tease, this is the website of the NSPCC. Give them some money, they do good stuff.

    You probably won't hear from me again until I'm in Totterdown. It's a fifteen minute walk and a whole world away. Can't wait.

  • The death of Hofmann

    That's Albert, not Abbie or Dustin. Abbie killed himself in 1989 and Dustin's still alive, which after Meet the Fockers is definitely the wrong way round. One F and two N's in Albert Hofmann, apparently.

    Mrs Tilton mourns his passing, which brought it to my attention. Turns out the old guy made it to 102. So now you know the secret of long life - be Swiss, and invent a psychedelic drug.

    I've written a little about my acid experiences before, or more accurately their imagined aftereffects. To cut a long story short, I thought I was experiencing mild flashbacks, but it turned out the world was just a little weirder than I'd realised. Well, if it wasn't for Dr Hofmann none of that would have happened, the highs or - well, actually there weren't any lows. So just the highs, then. Thanks Bert.

    zombizi celebrates his legacy with this picture. For today's competition, please explain why. This competition is open to everybody called zombizi, and the prize is another post by me about football.

    Just to fill the ball-shaped hole in the meanwhile, Ronaldo's been caught with some transvestite prostitutes. That's the Brazilian Ronaldo, not the Portuguese one. Apparently he knew they were prostitutes, but didn't know they were transvestites. I'm not quite sure why he thinks that sounds better.

  • Tense

    It's a tense business, being a football fan, and sometimes the last bit is the worst.

    There are times when the other team is all over you and you're hanging on for the final whistle, knowing that one goal could snatch it all away. I swear, at times the clock goes backwards. I've sweated it out for City often enough, and it's no different for fans of other teams.

    So congratulations to lowly Chester, who eked out a 0-0 draw against Stockport tonight, and secured their survival in League 2. Rarely can a team have failed to score at home against Stockport and made their fans so very happy. The Shropshire Union Canal will be awash with Carlsberg tonight. Commiserations though to Mansfield, who now get relegated to the provinces instead. League 2 teams are only just full time professionals, so going down threatens jobs as well as reputations.

    The evening's other game was quite a tense affair too, but Man United scraped through against an unlucky Barcelona to earn a place in the Champions League final in Moscow on May 21.

    Both teams in the final will be English, as Liverpool and Chelsea settle the other semi-final tomorrow. Bearing in mind that Liverpool knocked out Arsenal, this means that no English team has been knocked out this year by non-English opposition. This is unprecedented.

    Not that there's any cause for nationalistic fervour. It's all about the money, you see. English teams are rich rich rich because of TV rights for the Premiership, so they can afford to buy the best players. Contrary to popular opinion, it isn't actually the warm beer that tempts them over the Channel, but the cold hard cash.

    Should be a good final though, whichever team wins tomorrow. I'm just glad I don't work for a Russian airline. Imagine trying to fly two such antagonistic groups into the same city separately. And then there's the fans to worry about as well.

  • Football again

    No news is rarely good news in blogging, and you may have guessed from my extended silence that the Stoke game didn't go entirely as hoped.

    We lost 2-1, and as a result they're sitting pretty in the automatic promotion spot which we just don't seem to have the bottle for (here's the Championship table). If we'd won 2-1, we'd be sat there instead of them. But we didn't, because we were crap.

    It's an fine example of the mind-body problem. Because minds ascribe meaning to the precise location of footballs, thousands of tons of human flesh encased in millions of tons of metal will most likely be hurling themselves along the motorway to Stoke next season, rather than Bristol. 32 small panels of plastic are stitched together to form a sphere and booted round a field, their location, vector and velocity act upon the cognitive pathways in our brains, and months later the coaches roll. 150 years after the birth of Max Planck, it's still not obvious where the momentum comes from.

    Not that we should be jumping to any dualist conclusions, partly because Descartes' solution to the mind-body problem is a total crock but mainly because the promotion race isn't quite over yet. If we win both our last two games and Stoke lose both of theirs, or lose one and draw one, we can still beat them. Alternatively, there's still the playoffs.

    As long as we can amass two whole points from our last two games, anyway, or failing that as long as the other teams carry on being as shit as we are. Otherwise, we could still finish the season as low as eighth. Which we'd have been thrilled at if we'd known at the beginning of the season, but which hardly seems adequate now.

    Saturday is Sheffield United away, then we've got Preston at home for the last game of the season. We could go into this game still hoping for automatic promotion, but we could also go into it one defeat away from falling out of the playoffs.

    Oh yes, and a happy St George's Day to you all. Did you know he was Turkish? And his mother was Palestinian. Now you know, you surely ought to go outside, find a drunken, flag waving patriot and burst their xenophobic bubble for them. You know it makes sense.

  • Away days

    I'm off for my first away game on Saturday, as you all know. Assuming my lurgi clears up by then, anyway. It got me thinking about what it might mean to be a Bristol City away fan.

    If you'd been to all this season's away games you'd have been to eight games up north, another eight to the east or south east and five in the Midlands. You'd have had five trips to a big city, but otherwise would have been visiting small cities or towns.

    You'd also have had comparatively short trips to Plymouth and Cardiff, but there have been no proper local derbies this season. This is because all our supposed rivals are rubbish, and have failed to achieve our levels of success. Last year we had league games at Yeovil, Swindon and Cheltenham, plus a two leg cup tie against Rovers, but not this year. Who won the cup tie? I don't recall.

    Despite all this hopeful travel, you'd be looking at the Championship table a long time before it got you thinking about weekend breaks. I've been in the Tourist Information Bureau in Coventry, for instance, and I'd like to pay tribute to their heroic struggle against appalling odds, but you can only get so much mileage out of a new cathedral and the bombed out ruins of the old one. Not that any of their staff are off to Colchester or Stoke, though. Unlike the poor away fan. Talk about looking for a good time in all the wrong places.

    And you'd have precious little hope of tempting friends or family onto the coach with the promise of non-sporting treats. No matter how hard you hyped the pre-Christmas shopping opportunities in Watford, you would surely have found yourself sampling them alone. And that romantic Christmas trip? To West Bromwich? Perhaps not.

    But the hardest sell would have been Scunthorpe. On a Tuesday night. In February. Well, at least we won.

    This could all change, if we get promoted. Just have a look at the Premiership table, and you'll see what I mean.

    Oh, you'd have the occasional trip to Sunderland or Portsmouth, but it's still a huge step up. Five trips to London. That's the Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern, the Hayward, the British Library and some shops. The season after, some other places. I'm flipping through the A to Z of Inner London, and I've yet to find a page with nothing worth seeing on it.

    Did you know there was a Canal Museum? That means London is a place with such a superfluity of charisma it can afford to devote an entire museum to canals. Someone opened a museum in Scunthorpe once, but when they found out they shot him.

    And twice to Manchester. And twice to Liverpool. OK, once to Reading, but the train links to Reading are excellent. It's the easiest journey since we last played Crewe.

    And what a treat for fans of all the other teams. For they'd get a rare trip to lovely Bristol, replacing the less enticing one to relegated Derby. As long as we get promoted. They must be praying for Stoke and Hull to blow it.

    Incidentally, by way of apology to the much maligned people of Scunthorpe, here are the local council information pages for the North Lincolnshire Museum, full of fossils which show how important the area was 200 million years ago, the 20-21 Visual Arts Centre and the Plowright Theatre, named in honour of local girl Joan Plowright. Midge Ure's coming, you know. That's the real Midge Ure, not some tribute artist. And they do food. Think food, think Plowright, it says, and I'm sure she'd agree.

  • Endgame

    This is another one I wrote ages ago, but never got around to actually publishing.

    I've been telling you for ages that religion isn't inevitable, you know. You have to remember that it's a sociological phenomenon like any other. Such phenomena are characteristic of the societies where they occur (talk about tautological arguments -  I can't believe I ever wrote something that banal), but once the society changes, they can come to seem - well, perhaps rather quaint.

    Religion has been a dominant theme in most times and places throughout human history, it's true, but that's also true of other ideas whose time has been and gone. The idea of the divine right of kings, for instance, much invoked by Charles I, was upheld by royalty across the world and across the ages. The worldly and heavenly powers attributed to the monarch/deity tag team varied from one benighted tyranny to the next, but the principle itself remained solid for millennia. Similarly, human sacrifice has been a constant in human history outside the monotheistic era (in which it was banned for blasphemy, not for cruelty).

    And now there's some evidence which suggests religion might be about to go the same way. Let's start with Britain. According to the Times, Over half of Britons claim no religion (full UN report here). We are now no longer a faith community, no longer even a patchwork of different faith communities, but a faithless community.

    This data fits with the Guardian survey of December 2006, but not with the census data from 2001. In that survey, 72% of respondents identified as Christian. Although the generation who were raised in a solidly Christian country during and after World War 1 have been dying off in the last six years, I suspect that the main cause of this change is something else.

    I think that when people said they were Christian, what they meant was C of E. In other words, they'd been baptised in a Church of England church, maybe they'd got married in one, maybe they'd buried people in one.

    Since then, religion has become a political issue. Obviously Islam has been in the news almost constantly since 9/11, but also militant atheism has been in the media a lot, and people have become more polarised on the issue. As a result, people who don't believe in God no longer get their kids baptised, they no longer get married in church, and they no longer say C of E on official forms.

    And when Richard Dawkins turns up on the telly and says religion is a pile of cack, the majority of people in Britain think you know, I think he's right. And when some wanky old bishop or Madeleine Bunting or somebody starts going on about how extreme he is, most people think who the fuck are you? At least science is a proper subject. Your specialist subject is like Santaology. Not a small cabal of militant rationalists. Not just the educated, not just the articulate. The majority.

    This simple fact provides the context for Rowan Williams' recent remarks about sharia law. The Church has realised that the only way they can hang onto special status is by extending that status to other religious groups. Even with Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Jedis on board they're still in the minority, but at least that ad hoc theistic caucus gives them control over the Labour Party, which is what matters for lawmaking.

    Globally, religion remains mystifyingly popular, but even there we can see encouraging trends. Here's an article in the Atlantic. And if that's too much to take in, here's the same thing in a nice picture.

    It can rapidly be seen that there's an inverse correlation between material comfort and religiosity. Standards of living are rising across the planet, so the implication is that secularism should infect everywhere. Other inversely correlating factors are material security (eg health care, pensions, unemployment benefit), political freedom, education and geographical mobility.

    So as you can see, it all comes down to the coming global crunch. If we can get through global warming, adjust our economies to sustainable practice and make a world where everyone gets a slice of the pie, we can wave goodbye to bishops, imams, pastors, shamans and the whole sorry gang. If we can't, and if the vision of a decent standard of living for all turns out to be a mirage, then they'll be back, and looking for vengeance. I don't want to get all Churchillian on your ass, but what do you want - broad sunlit uplands or the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted religion?

    Cheer up, it might be our finest hour.

  • Links to old stuff

    I wrote this about a month ago, but when I hit the Publish button I forgot to take the tick off Draft. As a result it's been sat there tantalisingly out of reach for you all, if you can really be tantalised by something you don't know isn't there.

    First off, the Great Tantra Challenge. Nothing to do with Sting, this was the showdown between magic and rationality. In the blue corner, barking mad tantric magician Surinder Sharma. In the red, Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International and my personal hero for the day [in fact, my personal hero for March 20th - Ed].

    The challenge was for Sharma to kill Edamaruku with tantric black magic. In India as in Glastonbury and Totnes, self-proclaimed magicians earn a good living from the fears and desires of the credulous, and Edamaruku wanted to show one up on TV across India.

    It's a fascinating tale, well worth the reading, but Edamaruku suffered no ill effects (obviously), and the world is now fractionally less gullible than it was. Well done.

    Ben Goldacre of Bad Science has been at it as well. He linked to this video explaining the physics behind homeopathy. When I say explaining, what I mean is saying things like "Well, you know that Energy is equal to mass times the speed of light. But as a friend explained to me, the whole mass of the universe could actually be fitted into a space the size of a bowling ball, so that equation actually reduces to Energy is equal to the speed of light."

    I paraphrase. I have to, because the video has been taken down. Presumably it was just too embarrassing. So, Goldacre and Edamaraku. Who said there were no more heroes any more?

    And now the fuckers are gonna get explained. It's the worst thing we could possibly do to them, and the best thing we could possibly do for everyone else.

    But what's that, in the distance? It's the sound of whining. Once you've taken away religion, magic, quack science, what's left? What is there that makes life worth living?

    Well, dog robots, obviously. Thanks to Zooillogix, for staying on top of this stuff so I don't have to.

    [And because you're only getting this now, it gives me the chance to add in Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss in conversation].

  • Thirded

    You'll want to be sitting down for this one.

    Bristol City aren't top any more. We're not even second. We're third.

    After a dismal defeat in Southampton and a home draw against Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers, not a pack of wild dogs), we've been overtaken by West Brom and (again) Stoke.

    As previously explained, only the top two teams get automatic promotion, so falling to third is cataclysmic. If we don't beat Stoke next week, the playoffs are a near certainty.

    I went into a deep sulk for about three hours, then Sean cheered me up. Have you seen this week's Venue? he asked. You're in it.

    And so I was. In the list of Bristol's best blogs. They've listed twenty, in no particular order, and I'm one of them.

    I'm touched. The last time I made a shortlist for anything it was 1985, and the shortlist in question was an injunction. It was only a snippet (in Venue, the injunction was quite detailed), but it's all grist to the mill.

    Jon Eccles talks about religion (which he's against) and Bristol City FC (which he's all for), it says. Both assertions are true, but what happens when they conflict?

    I found out the other day. Our goalkeeper, the peerless Adriano Basso, is a born again Christian, and rumour has it he's been taking Bradley Orr to services with him. They're two of our best players.

    Dave told me about this at work, and what were the first words out of my mouth? Well if that's what it takes, I said. I can't believe I was willing to write off two human beings to the ignominy of medieval superstition, just so we can get promoted. Never mind throwing the Christians to the lions, I was fully prepared to countenance throwing two of our lions to the Christians. The shame of it. How can I go back on the Richard Dawkins website now?

    But as if to refute the very notion of karma, the universe has forgiven my grubby little lapse and granted me a new superpower. I just put the lights on in the living room, and one of them didn't come on. I reached into it to change the bulb, grabbed the old one and twisted it to remove it. Instead of popping out, it lit up.

    The power of electricity, at my fingertips! Just one touch, and dormant light bulbs spring back to life. I might use it to give our front line a bit of a jolt. Pour encourager les autres, that's what I say.

  • Server farms

    Last weekend, I was discussing server farms with my good friend Glenn. In particular, we were wondering about their energy consumption. He sent me a link about Google server farms in the week.

    Apparently Google have about 450,000 servers, globally scattered but locally clustered. According to the article, that number of servers would have an energy consumption roughly equal to about 200 megawatts.

    A watt, of course, is one joule per second. Even the biologists in my readership know that. The point is that it's a way of averaging energy consumption over time. My lightbub says 100W on it (you can't use the energy saving ones with the dimmer switch in my lounge, unfortunately), which by my calculations means Google are costing the planet about two million full strength lightbulbs.

    Is this right? Because it seems like bugger all, amounting to 1/2500 lightbulbs per human, and I'm sure Google must be more evil than that. You'd think it would take that much power just to monitor all the dissidents for the Chinese government. If anyone can fill in my uninformed prejudice with something more considered, this is the place to do it.

    Also, who else runs an equivalent level of server farms? Flickr? Yahoo? Actually, that's the same thing. Which reminds me, Sean says you should all stop using Flickr, which he describes as the MacDonalds of photogalleries, and start using Gallery instead.

    Also also, is it the case that server farms can basically be anywhere? Because if so, surely they could be where it's windy, wavy or sunny. With the obvious benefits thereof.

    You tell me.

  • Spend, spend, spend

    It's the headline all fans dream of. City chairman promises to spend, it says.

    For a Championship team, being promoted is worth about £40m. That's for extra TV rights, a share of the gate at the big stadiums, increased sales of merchandising and so on. Steve Lansdown says £30m of that would go on players.

    I'd like to offer my services right away. I've been standing aloof for so long now, quite literally cheering from the sidelines, and it's time for me to throw my hat in the ring. I wouldn't need the whole £30m, that would be unfair on the other players and contrary to my egalitarian values. A third would be fine.

    But what would I bring to the team? I found out the other week on Match of the Day. One of the old Arsenal back four, who seem to have metamorphosised into the BBC front four, was talking about what it would take to stand up to Man Utd. You'd need a good, solid defender to sit on Ronaldo from start to finish, and take him out of the game, he said.

    And there you have it. My USP. I could guarantee to sit on Ronaldo for as long as required, and frankly we aren't just talking about taking him out of the game. I just hope the little urchin's got tough ribs, or I'll take him out of the whole season.

    But we need some points, or none of this will happen. Starting with three at Southampton tomorrow, ideally.

  • Stoke away

    Exhaustive calculations have revealed that the earliest date Bristol City could possibly be crowned Champions of the Championship, an official and euphonious title to add to their unofficial one of Queen of all our Hearts, is Saturday April 19. On that day we travel to Stoke for one of this year's most crucial games.

    I can hear the crass taunts from my less mature readers now. We're going to Stoke? You're going to Stoke with them, are you?

    Yes I am. Yes I am going to Stoke. Four of us have tickets for the game, and we're all going up in Dave's car. So ha! to you, jejune readers, and may you wallow in the juice of your own contrition for all time, or at least until the end of the season.

    It's my first away game, and I'm quite childishly excited about the whole thing, especially now I've realised I could witness our grand instalment as lords of all we survey. Admittedly the odds against it are in the order of 450 to 1, but still. We could also guarantee a top two place, which means automatic promotion. The odds against that are only about 80 to 1, which is a comparative certainty.

    So mark it in your diaries, and bookmark the page you need. You'll have to go BBC Sports Championship live scores for the crucial facts, at about 19:20 GMT. It's particularly important for all my American readers, as your news channels will be busy covering the buildup to some dreary election, and won't have time for the real news.

    I'll be no use, because there's a 1 in 80 chance I'll be dead drunk. Expect an avalanche of slightly late match reports, gossip and unsubstantiated speculation over the next few weeks though.

  • But what does it all mean?

    I'm sure by now you all know Bristol City are top again, but many of you will be unsure what that actually means. Inter alia, it means these things.

    The division we're top of is the Championship. Each team in the Championship plays 46 games. You can see from the table that we've got 5 games left. There's three points for a win and one for a draw, we've got 70 points now, so our maximum total is 85.

    Apart from West Brom, no other side has a higher maximum than us. The top two teams are automatically promoted to the Premiership, the Major League of English soccer for my American readers (welcome back Major League, by the way), so if we win all our remaining games no-one can stop us. This situation is always described by players and managers in interviews with the following sentence. It's in our own hands. It's kind of the law that they have to say that. Especially managers, who have to toe the rhetorical line in case they lose the dressing room.

    At the end of the season, the clubs placed third to sixth play off in their own little miniature tournament, and the winner gets promoted with the top two. The three bottom teams in the Premiership replace them in the Championship. The word for this is relegation, which originally meant being exiled from Rome to somewhere a bit more basic in the provinces, as happened to Ovid. This captures the sense of the event very nicely.

    Of course, smartarse commentators predict exactly this for City next season, should they be so impertinent as to actually get promoted. In fact, they regard this as so likely it's considered hardly worth our playing the actual games. They forget one thing though.

    They forget that it actually doesn't matter so much that we're highly likely to get dismembered by Man Utd and Arsenal, because Man Utd and Arsenal dismember everybody. They're the giant hornets of football, cutting all the lesser teams apart with mechanical efficiency.

    So as Dave pointed out earlier in the month, survival isn't about those games. It's about doing well against Middlesbrough, or Birmingham City. It's also about beating the teams that come up with us.

    For let us be frank, the Championship hasn't produced any world beaters this season. To see this, compare our division with League 1 and League 2. The top teams in those divisions have 82 and 85 points, as compared with our 70. No-one in the Championship has dominated. As a result it's still very exciting, but it's made some people think the promoted teams will go straight back down again. This ignores the poor quality of football being played at the lower end of the Premiership, where the number of points needed to avoid relegation this season may well be the lowest number ever.

    It's a sign of the narrow range of teams in our division that we're top, despite having a goal difference of only +2. We've scored 49 goals, but we've let in 47. The bottom team, Colchester, has actually scored more goals than us, 55. It's just that they've let in 76.

    Some ignoramuses have tried to argue that this shows we've been lucky. How shallow they are. In fact, it just shows the brilliant success of the City gameplan, as orchestrated by our managing wunderkind, Gary Johnson (I love him).

    For the typical City game goes like this. Lots of effort and attacking play in the first half an hour, a goal up, but hanging on until half time as the midfield run out of puff. The half-time tea and cocaine make for a zestful resumption, but then they come down, and it's all hands to the hatches until the final whistle. In the rare event that we're not winning, a big rush in the last five minutes to grap a last ditch winner.

    Not that I'm recommending cocaine for sporting endeavour, you understand, and this is one reason why. Thanks to Glenn for the link.

    The point though is that somehow, week after week, we scrape out of games with a narrow victory. Unfortunately, we've lost a few away games by three, four or even five goals, and that's what's done for our goal difference. What might at first glance appear to be a sign of vulnerability, when understood more deeply can be seen as a testimony to Johnson's almost magical ability (don't start - I said almost) to extract the best from his squad.

    So who's going up? Well, the team with the easiest run in is Watford, but they've been in terrible form recently. Wolves are down in sixth, and play four of their last five games against teams in the top half of the table, so can probably be discounted. That leaves three from four. My guess is West Brom, Hull and us, with Stoke missing out, but then again I've got a terrible record in these matters. Last World Cup I predicted a final between Brazil and Argentina, only to see both eliminated in the next round, and wrote off losing finalists France early on.

    Incidentally, inter alia just means among other things. It's a literal translation which adds nothing to the phrase at all, and I could just as easily have said it in English.

    Which is a statement of intent. I've decided it's time to relax my eternal vigilance against the least hint of bombast, and start to indulge myself a little. I'm sure there are times when you weary of my constant obsession with plain English as much as I do. From now on I'm going to cut my prose loose from its quotidian moorings.

    Why just say things are turning red, when you could have them rubesce? It isn't even a word, but rubescent is, and I know I can trust you to work it out. In fact, I may just skip the Renaissance middle men altogether, and start posting entirely in Latin. It's not like I've got a dressing room to lose. Just my lovely readers, and you're not going anywhere, are you?

    Vale, amice. Plus pila quam primum.

  • Retopped

    Now before I start, I need to make alternative arrangements for some of you, who may just be a little bored by the subject of football.

    So here's a link to a page that's all about camera lenses. It discusses every camera lens in the fucking world in the most exhaustive detail possible, so there's absolutely no danger of anyone being bored in any way.

    Still here? Then you must surely care that Bristol City are top again, after a dramatic winner against Norwich in injury time. Good old Stevie Brooker headed his first goal for City in a while.

    For he's had a difficult time over the last year. After a short prison sentence following a fracas in a nightclub (it isn't just Premiership players that do moronic things), he had a nasty injury, and recently he's been on loan to Cheltenham, which is surely enough karmic retribution for anyone. He's been banging them in there, and Gary Johnson's brought him back for the promotion push in the last few games.

    You can see the table here. Or, for those who are only able to engage in anything if it's first passed through the medium of a photographic website, here it is on Flickr.

    Best viewed large. I think I might submit it to DMU.

    In other football news, players and managers have been struggling to express themselves through the medium of words. Russell Brand in the Guardian, watching Fabio Capello being interviewed after the France game, noticed that he was clearly understanding questions in English because he started to answer before the interpreter translated, but still chose to give his answer in Italian. Ray Wilkins on Sky was on hand to explain. "With foreign", he said, "you can understand it but you can't speak it". In my experience of foreign it's the other way round if anything. I can rattle off a form of foreign known as French at ten to the dozen, but I still need French speakers to go slow and e-nun-ci-ate.

    Rio Ferdinand, meanwhile, has the much rarer skill of taking English and making it sound like foreign, explaining in a recent interview that after Gary Neville's injuries stopped him being captain, "Giggsy's come in and taken up the mantelpiece". Barney Ronay picked up on this, and goes on to speculate about the directions the football DIY metaphor might go in. Worth a read.

  • Photography and art, part 5

    This is the bit where I tidy up loose ends. In the process, I'm going to have to talk about photography, which is a bit of a challenge for someone who's never owned a 'proper' camera. I have to though, because I'm responding to this.

    ... photography is about time and place and moment and occurrence and coincidence, and revealing banality, and so on, in a way that previous mediums (such as painting) aren't. If we use or consume photography simply as (for example) painting (as the photo-secessionists did), we are missing the point of its uniqueness.

    I'm really not seeing why painting can't be just as much about all of those things. Or sculpture or verse, for that matter. Striqun says photographs capture, better than most media, moments in historical time. I don't see why it captures them better. Of course it captures them more realistically, and of course that realism has its virtues and its possibilities, but I don't see why a photograph of a Parisian couple kissing in the street in Paris is a better capturing of a moment than Bernini's Apollo and Daphne.

    There is one supreme virtue that photography has, which is its democratisation of the image. He refers to this when he talks about having a personal record of ageing, and I take his point to be that everyone can have a liftime of photographs of themselves, whereas only Popes and Chancellors get to have a lifetime of painted portraits.

    He mentioned the photo I have on my living room wall as a perfect example of what photography can do. There's a tale that goes with that picture. My friend Gary went travelling round Cuba, Guatemala and Belize, and he took his digital camera with him. He also took one of those miniature hand-held printers that do you a photograph in a couple of minutes. He took loads of pictures of people, and everyone he photographed got a copy. Lots of his subjects had never had a picture of themselves before. Now that's how to democratise the image. His online gallery is here at gallery 2C, by the way.

    So Striqun's right about that. And it makes absolutely no sense to limit photography to the painterly style. Yet apart from the early photo-seccessionists, I'm not sure who does. Certainly not photographic artists.

    And anyway, what people do on Flickr, that's not photography. It uses cameras, but it's not photography as Striqun means it. Except for the ones that run their own little Flickr-secessionist movement, futilely protesting against the intrusion of Photoshop into their homages to Cartier-Bresson.

    For what's happening on Flickr, and in other places, is new. Back in the Eighties many of us got quite excited about the graphic novel. Some of you probably still are, and I wouldn't disrespect the form. That thing where people take pictures, put them on their computer, muck about with them loads, a bit or not at all and then hang them out in cyberspace for the world to comment, that's the graphic novel of our age. I just tried to type that's a new art form, but it came out as that's a new fart form, and I thought maybe my fingers were trying to tell me something. You know what I mean though.

    Although it still does all the stuff he said. It's still a democratising medium. That's why so much of it is rubbish. It's also a record of people's lives, and so on. I use it in class, actually. Say I've got some Somali students in the group, I might get them to search Flickr for pictures of Hargeisa or Mogadishu. They see places they know, and click on the link to see who took the picture. It's usually somebody else from the Somali diaspora, in Belgium or Canada or somewhere, and I explain how to get in touch with them.

    This conversation arose when we were talking about zombizi's exhibition. He does all those other things too. When he does ophelia, it's a moment in time, and a snapshot of a human life. It's just got other stuff going on as well.

    But the art is the thing with him, and he's actually very good at it. I'm seeing through a glass darkly with his work most of the time, but I can see there's stuff there, even if I'm not always quite sure what it is. I'd find it easier if it had more Romans in it. I think he deliberately avoids the whole subject of ancient Rome just to annoy me.

    While you, striqun, you do this. Why isn't this art?

    That'll do on this, now. I'm getting bored with it, and rumblings of discontent in my audience have reached me. Yes you, on Smeaton Road, I'm talking about you. I see and hear all you know. Yea, ye shall know the fear of me, and thou shall not come out of the fire, that ye shall taste of my vengeance.

    I'm sorry, that's the Qur'an coming back. I keep pushing it down, but it keeps popping out again. Tomorrow, football.

  • Photography and art, part 4

    So, the Metamorphoses. By Ovid.

    There are fifteen books in the book (don't start), and the theme can be summarised as moments in classical mythology when a being changes into something else. A book is about 800 lines, so the whole thing is about 12,000, which in terms of readability is a lot less than it sounds, and well within your scope.

    The most famous metamorphosis in the book is probably the story of Apollo and Daphne. Apollo is struck by one of Cupid's arrows, and Daphne has the very bad luck to be passing at the time. The river god Peneus saves her from his unwanted attentions by changing her into a laurel tree, this change being the metamorphosis in the title. The myth is famous because of the Apollo and Daphne statue by Giovanni Bernini.

    There's lots of this kind of thing, by which I mean people metamorphosising. Animal, vegetable, mineral, they'll change into anything at the drop of a hat. Things must have been more fluid in the olden days. Ovid moves from the creation myth, through Hercules, Theseus and so on, and on to the Iliad and the Odyssey. After that the action moves to Italy, through Aeneas, the mythical survivor of the fall of Troy and ancestor of the Romans.

    In the final book, we meet Pythagoras. He makes an eloquent plea for vegetarianism, which striqun would like, before going on to talk about the inevitability of change. Seasons turn, rivers flow (famously, you never step twice on the same piece of water), people age, and so on. And yet within change there is continuity. People die, but the people persist. Summer fades, but always returns. The water in a river Meanders down to the sea, but the river itself is always there.

    At this point you realise that the whole book, with its constant repetition of metamorphoses, has been building up to this. People change into laurel trees, dragon's teeth become warriors, the gods capriciously take against you, then (sometimes) relent. But hubris always leads to disaster, love always leads - well, to disaster, apparently, and the gods, representing the implacable forces which govern human lives, go on for ever. A book which appeared to be nothing more than a collection of charming vignettes turns out to have philosophical depth.

    But the scheme of it's a bit cock-eyed. It's Pythagoras talking, but the idea is from Heraclitus. And the timeline is askew. Worse, this should have been the climax. Instead, the action moves on into Ovid's own time, and ends up with a calculated grovelling to Augustus.

    For Ovid wasn't popular with Augustus, who thought his poetry was too licentious, and lacked patriotism. For us these are the best things about it, but in the political climate of the time Ovid felt it necessary to use the ending to the Metamorphoses to help him get away with the rest of it, and had to accept the artistic damage this did to his verse.

    It didn't work. A few years later, he was exiled from his beloved Rome to a remote settlement at Tomi (modern day Constanta, on the Romanian coast), for the rest of his life. Two thousand years before Mick Jagger, Ovid was the original butterfly, broken on the wheel.

    So how is all this connected with the argument? Fairly loosely, frankly. I just wanted to write about it. But inasmuch as I have a point beyond just saying Ovid! Go and read some Ovid!, it's in response to striqun's comments on art. For me, it is a cultural category, dominated by class issues, knowledge-as-power, and straightforward careerism and commodification (in its actual practice, and even more so in its critique and collection). From that point of view, I have a personal dislike of art.

    That's not art though. That's the bullshit that surrounds art. Art is when you've read fourteen and a bit books of poetry, and suddenly a passage in the fifteenth book rocks you back in your chair as it turns the others upside down. Art is when a sculptor shows the violence in a myth by carving a hand grasping a thigh so firmly you can see the force that's being used in the way it presses down the flesh. Imagine having that kind of skill with solid rock, or for that matter with fluid words.

    We all should bow the knee, and I do mean all of us.

    Striqun: If we accepted your definition of art, my feeling those things would become an act of cultural imperialism. For you, there seems to be no actual art in art at all.

    Art has to share the world, and to that extent it's always compromised. Ovid's art was compromised by political power. Like Shostakovich with Stalin, he had to edit his work to please a cultureless thug with no idea what he was really doing. He might as well have called the book A Roman artist responds to justified criticism.

    As well as threats, art is also vulnerable to blandishments. Creative decisions are inevitably influenced by the marketplace, and artists who are willing to trim their sails with the prevailing wind will have longer careers than artists who aren't.

    But that isn't a definition of art, any more than Roman Abramovich is the definition of football. It's just the cess you have to wade through to find the pearls.

    I haven't addressed your whole argument yet, I know. Next time, I'll talk about photography, which is a subject I know virtually nothing about. Should be fun.

  • Photography and art, part 3

    Right, let's get to the meat of the argument.

    Striqun says this. But what I find important is that talking and thinking about 'artistic' photography distracts us from the far more interesting, innovative, and culture shattering stuff that is photography; something that has only existed for barely more than 150 years and has a profound, and truly revolutionary effect on us.

    He talks about the Photo-Secession movement, and says they started off disguising the photographic nature of their photographs in various ways in order to protect their status as art, but then came to realise the power of photography in itself.

    I wasn't familiar with their work, so I've just looked them up on Wikpedia, and it must be said that the authors of the articles on Photo-Secession and Alfred Stieglitz don't see the dichotomy between art and photography that he describes. Instead, they say the movement helped to raise standards and awareness of art photography, and Stieglitz was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an acceptable art form alongside painting and sculpture.

    And I'm not really seeing the rebellion against art in striqun's description, either. It sounds to me like an artistic movement which changed direction, rather than a movement which renounced art. Certainly, Stieglitz took hundreds of pictures of his wife, the painter Georgia O'Keeffe, which are considered quite artistic enough to earn him a V&A exhibition. A photographer, publisher, writer and gallery owner, he played a key role in the promotion and exploration of photography as an art form, they gush on their website. He also helped introduce modern art to an American audience.

    I do think you're right that photography freed art from its responsibility as the best form of realistic depiction available, and enabled it to move into new territory, but I don't think there's a huge gulf between the two genres.

    Neither do I agree that Photography as art is backward looking. In particular, and this is the trigger for our whole debate, I don't think that the new art form of digital images on the Internet is backward looking, but I'll say more about that in another post.

    Your second email is very good on the virtues of photography, but again I'm not seeing why any of that stands in conflict, or even contrast, with art.

    In your third email, everything becomes instantly clear with your personal definition of art. For me, it is a cultural category, dominated by class issues, knowledge-as-power, and straightforward careerism and commodification (in its actual practice, and even more so in its critique and collection). From that point of view, I have a personal dislike of art.

    I think you are missing the point about art. To explain, I'm going to talk about Metamorphoses, a book of poems by the Roman poet Ovid. I'm using this as an example because it isn't painting or photography, and stands far enough from modern debates to offer some perspective on them.

    That's a total lie, actually. I'm using the Metamorphoses because I've just re-read them, for reasons too tedious to recount, and I'm just dying to go on about them at length.

    Tomorrow, though. Gird your loins.

  • Photography and art, part 2

    I said I'd reply to striqun's argument. It's been a rather drunken Bank Holiday weekend, but now I'm ready.

    First off, can I just say what a nice change it makes to have a civilised debate? Normally I'm arguing with godbotherers, warmongers or homeopaths. How very convivial to be able to assume a certain amount on the part of the other participants. It comes as a particular relief after several weeks spent knee deep in the Qur'an. I feel almost - cleansed.

    Cleansed, and baffled. For suddenly I find myself constructing an argument without needing to insult anyone, and I'm really not quite sure how to proceed. Typically my opponents come strutting up with their inerrant texts and their only too errant capitalisation, there's a brief flurry of adverbs and spite and they withdraw to pull my barbs out of their bleeding haunches and look them up in the dictionary. It's nice to swap my halberd for an armchair and a glass of something soothing, but it does leave me in need of a way to break the rhetorical ice.

    Ordinarily I'd start by defining terms, but that would leave me defining art, a notoriously futile activity. As Louis Armstrong said about jazz, if you gotta ask you ain't never gonna know.

    But perhaps I should bite the bullet, brave the inevitable brickbats and pick out some of the features of art which are relevant to this debate. I must emphasise though that these are neither necessary nor sufficient. In other words, you could perfectly easily have art which doesn't meet any of these conditions, and you could have artefacts which meet all of them but still aren't art.

    Firstly, art is an intention rather than a thing. It's art because whoever made it says it's art. By this definition, coral reefs, though beautiful, are not art, but if I made a coral reef identical to the real thing and said it was art, it would be.

    Secondly, art has stuff going on under the surface. It refers to things, including itself. Dali's droopy clocks aren't just droopy clocks, they symbolise Einsteinian time. Or something. Ovid's Metamorphoses include explicit and implicit homages to the Iliad.

    Thirdly, art shows, rather than tells. Picasso's Guernica is political, but it's political art, because it isn't just an explanation of why bombing is bad. zombizi's pictures are about stuff like mortality, or human relationships in the age of the Internet, but they don't explicitly say so. He's probably a bit ticked off that I've said so, so I won't go on.

    Fourthly, art has structure. Symphonies come in movements. Novels have chapters, paintings have frames. And digital images have pixels. For all the images we see on the Internet are written in 256-256-256 time. Or something similar. You get the idea.

    Your homework for tonight is to think of exceptions to these rules, and add them in the comments. Tomorrow, the main argument.

  • Expelled

    Just a quick one. There's a film out in America called Expelled!, which is made by the big and scary creationist movement over there. The film apparently claims that evolution is a plot concocted by Big Science, and that academics who tell the truth about it are persecuted for their beliefs. It's not the first Christian lie about persecution, incidentally - in the time of the Roman Empire, the death toll from persecution of Christians went up after the Empire became officially Christian itself, because many of the sects of the time were now defined as heretics.

    But in the minds of the film's backers, they're making a brave stand for free speech. So it's perhaps a little odd that they've got security guards on the venues where it's being shown, whose job is to keep out anyone from the opposing camp. PZ Myers, author of the Pharyngula blog, was expelled from the movie theatre himself yesterday.

    They didn't notice his guest though, who got to see the flim in its entirety, and join in the debate afterwards. Honestly, you'd think they'd have recognised Richard Dawkins.

    But we don't want to descend to triumphalist catcalling and juvenile stereotyping. So repeat after me. Only some religious people are stupid. Only some religious people are stupid. Only some ...

  • Photography and art

    My good friend striqun has emailed me with a debate. This happens to me a lot. I'm already debating the Qur'an with the Guardian, the improvability or otherwise of humankind with the magnificently named pippy longstocking (no website, so no URL) and that's before I've even started on the usual everyday badinage. Yes, my last girlfriend did leave me. How did you know?

    So you all have to help. Not with my last girlfriend, that's all done and dusted. With this.

    Here's what he's written. It's about the relationship between photography and art, and follows on from the great zombizi exhibition. Please bear in mind that I haven't edited it, except for a little minor tidying for posting, so don't expect it to be structured like an essay.

    Email 1:
    Photography isn't art any more than writing is. Writing can be everything from a shopping list to an epic poem. And whilst some people might want to get into that murky realm of defining some writing (and seriously, only a very tiny fraction of it) as art, to talk about writing and art together generally is nonsense. It's a special case, if at all.

    Equally so for photography, and I'm sure you wouldn't disagree with that. But what I find important is that talking and thinking about 'artistic' photography distracts us from the far more interesting, innovative, and culture shattering stuff that is photography; something that has only existed for barely more than 150 years and has a profound, and truly revolutionary effect on us. It has transformed our physical and our mental environments in fundamental and pervasive ways - our relationship to what we think we see, and most importantly, how we see ourselves (indeed, it was, in any significant sense, the first time we could see ourselves, and we've not looked back since).

    Photography as art is tedious in comparison; conservative and retrospective.

    At the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, the Photo-Secession movement struggled very hard to earn photography the status of 'art', working hard to disguise the fact that they were taking photos, by performing all sorts of weird processes to their negatives and prints (like some people use Photoshop). With a few very notable exceptions, their work was not memorable.

    Eventually even the Photo-Secession movement 'leader' (Alfred Stieglitz) rejected this approach, as he and everyone else began to realise that their medium provided something unique, and very powerful. So good in its own right that no one needed to bother about 'art' - they needed to concentrate on realising the full potential of their medium.

    Photography as art is backward looking. In fact, because photography provided such (apparent) realism in its reproduction, art itself was freed from having to pursue realism, and in this sense photography enabled art to move forward and develop into the realm of the unconscious, and so on.

    Email 2:
    ... so pursuing the idea that photography is a special medium in a class of its own, we need to remind ourselves of its unique ability to freeze a moment in time. Whilst photography can be used for still life (and very beautifully too), it's at its best when it's presenting you with a privileged view into an otherwise unrecognisable 500th of a second: unstaged smiles, unfolding tragedies, strange or banal coincidences, beginnings ends and in betweens. Life, death - our mortality - is acted in time, not static.

    Similarly, photographs capture, better than most media, moments in historical time. Because they apparently capture what is presented to them, they have the ability to take us to other times. As I said yesterday, photography allowed us to see ourselves 'objectively' for the first time, but far more radical than that, they have allowed us to watch ourselves age. In that sense, even the most humble family snapshot informs us far more emphatically and poignantly about our mortality than almost any other medium can (including graphic art ;-) ). Of course, you're welcome to define family snapshots as art, but in that case everything and anything is, in which case, nothing is.

    So, so far I stand by my assertion that photography-as-art is actually the less interesting sub-genre of something so new, so pervasive, so radical (rarely in a good way) that it defies pre-existing categories and demands new ones of its own.

    Email 3:
    Pondering all this further, I've decided it may be more helpful to separate out my arguments. The whole argument about art is a very difficult one, because it depends so much on what you define art as. For me, it is a cultural category, dominated by class issues, knowledge-as-power, and straightforward careerism and commodification (in its actual practice, and even more so in its critique and collection). From that point of view, I have a personal dislike of art.

    Now, whilst I still think the two are linked, my distrust of 'art' isn't entirely pertinent to my other argument; that photography is a unique, revolutionary and very powerful medium that needs to be understood in different ways to other mediums (artistic or not).

    As I already said, photography is about time and place and moment and occurrence and coincidence, and revealing banality, and so on, in a way that previous mediums (such as painting) aren't. If we use or consume photography simply as (for example) painting (as the photo-secessionists did), we are missing the point of its uniqueness.

    So, my arguments about art and about photography are linked, in that there is still a temptation to wrongly treat photography in the same way as one of the older 'arts' (hence my assertion that photography is not art); but of course, others might acknowledge that photography is a unique medium but may nonetheless still be art; a new art.

    If anyone has anything to say, perhaps you might like to add it in the comments box. I shall post some remarks of my own over the next day or so.

  • Untopped

    I'm looking at the Championship League Table. It's beautifully balanced in its composition, teams artfully arranged in order of excellence. If I sent it off to the Royal Academy they'd hang it in their summer exhibition without a second thought.

    It's yesterday's table. I was looking at it a mere 23 hours ago, before the game. With a sigh, I hit Refresh.

    What a monstrosity. Honestly, you couldn't get a Turner Prize for it. It's particularly ugly just at the top, precisely where it was latterly so elegantly formed. Stoke, it says, baldly and artlessly.

    Well I've been to Stoke, and it isn't even a proper place. It's just a bunch of smaller places which, having bumped into each other, needed some kind of collective noun. The nerve of it.

    So let's reconsider. Bristol City are second in the Championship, and the only team above them are from a place which isn't even a proper place. Therefore, Bristol have the highest Championship team of any place.

    So after you correct for erroneous data, City are still top. I thank you.

    And apart from our actual game, it wasn't a bad weekend. Stoke and Watford, our two nearest rivals, drew, while West Brom lost a supposedly easy game against Leicester.

    And Rovers lost as well. To Cheltenham, and a goal scored by Steve Brooker. A striker on loan to Cheltenham from - yes, you've guessed it, Bristol City.

    But I can't even celebrate that. Because of this. Twats.

  • Why City are so great

    Regular readers will already be aware that there are two football teams in Bristol, and that one is massively better than the other.

    No this isn't an outrageously unscientific claim, because in football, as opposed for instance to painting or cookery, success can be measured by a precise yardstick. To be a good football team, you have to score many goals compared to the number you concede, win matches, and progress to as high a level as possible.

    Because City are top (I said We! Are! Top-of-the-league! etc etc) of the Championship, the second best division, and Rovers are 17th in League One, the third best division (I said They! Are! Seventeenth-in-a-shit-league!), therefore my statement is simply true, in a way that similar statements about Tracy Emin v Damien Hurst or chicken vindaloo v pasta carbonara are not true. People who dispute this clear statement of fact are thus comparable to people who maintain that life was created in 4004 BC in their sheer bovine, obstinate wrongness.

    And now we know why. Scientists at Plymouth and Durhan Universities have analysed team results, and have concluded that teams in red do better than teams in blue. The precise causal relationship is unclear. In other words, they don't know whether playing in red helps you to win in itself, or whether the redness attracts more fans, which means more money, which means the club can afford better players, staff and facilities.

    I have a third hypothesis, which is that teams do better in red because on some visceral level they feel they're connected to Bristol City. Teams in blue, on the other hand, feel unnerved at the possibility that other people might confuse them with Rovers. I can certainly imagine feeling both those things, and by the standards of the religious that makes it definitely true. So now you know.


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