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Electioneering

April 30th, 2008

In time for tomorrow's election, a few highlights of Boris Johnson's career might be in order:

  • Getting fired from the Times for falsifying a quotation.
  • Writing that "If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog."
  • As Editor of the Spectator, publishing this.
  • Oh, and writing this ("tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird").

Other candidates are available. Several – although, of course, not all – are, in my opinion, preferable. It'll be rather depressing if Londoners choose to elect a major based largely on choosing the candidate who has spent the most time on television.

Clown shoes

April 28th, 2008

This article is worth reading if only to marvel at the creative genius that caused the writer, when under pressure to produce a credible story of childhood angst within seconds rather than blow his cover, to come up with this:

"Hello," I said, taking a deep breath. "My name is Matt. My father was an alcoholic circus clown who used to beat me with his oversize shoes."

Also, it turns out that there's a demon of handwriting analysis. Who knew?

One brave MP

April 28th, 2008

Libel law in Britain is confusing and, it can be argued, unfairly skewed towards the claimant. Libel law in Russia, on the other hand, is now completely batshit. From an AP report, available everywhere:

MOSCOW, Russia (AP) — Russia's lower house of parliament voted Friday to widen the definition of slander and libel and give regulators the authority to shut down media outlets found guilty of publishing such material.

The bill's passage comes just days after a scandal involving a tabloid newspaper that reported Putin had divorced his wife and planned to marry a champion gymnast.

The legislation, passed by the State Duma 339-1, is the latest attempt by the government to squeeze the country's increasingly embattled news media.

The bill allows authorities to suspend and close down media outlets for libel and slander — punishment that is identical to that for news media found to be promoting terrorism, extremism and racial hatred.

It also expands the definition of slander and libel to "dissemination of deliberately false information damaging individual honor and dignity."

I can't find out the name of the one MP who decided to vote against the bill, but I hope he or she survives without any repercussions of the kind that have been seen to crop up when one criticises the Putin government.

You are what you eat

April 25th, 2008

From here:

The new advertising strategy follows the "Welsh miners" campaign, launched in 2006, which aimed to reposition the seedy image created by the "Slag of all snacks" and "Pot Noodle horn" ads for a more upmarket, health-conscious audience.

That's "upmarket" and "health-conscious" as in "drinking Special Brew and eating kebabs is more upmarket and health-conscious than guzzling four-star straight from the pump and licking grease from the pavement", presumably.

And sleep

April 24th, 2008

Spent most of today at Infosec, a big trade show for the computer security industry. Did I learn anything particularly interesting about computer security? Not really. Did I learn about some techniques for hypnotising people? Oddly, yes.

The most interesting has to be the handshake interrupt (page includes some good videos of Derren Brown using the method). Apparently – and I say this because I haven't tried it, and nor do I intend to – it's possible to put some people into a kind of trance fairly quickly by making as if to shake their hand and then, while their brain is on a sort of autopilot (take hand, shake up and down, let go) doing something unexpected. Something unexpected such as lifting their hand up to their face where it blocks their field of view, for example, or dropping to your knees (this is the "shoelace interrupt"). At this point, supposedly, one can issue a command with some probability that the other party will obey it. Clever. And a little disturbing.

I should point out really that I'm not a big believer in hypnosis. Or rather I believe that you can make people behave as if they're hypnotised, but that this is merely a decision on their part to, for whatever reason, do what you say. Whether or not this is a meaningful distinction, or even just a view based on a misconception of what hypnotism is, I'm not sure. Would I volunteer to go on stage and behave like a gibbon under the instruction of a stage hypnotist? No. Do I think hypnotism could help rid me of bad habits (like, say, drinking roughly a bathtub of coffee each day)? No. If someone suddenly grabbed my hand, shoved it in my face and told me to sleep, would I obey? Maybe. Who knows. Don't intend to find out. But, like a lot of these subjects (NLP, cold reading etc) it's somewhat fascinating.