ME e-petition update

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to get the Health Service and medical profession to accept the WHO classification of ME/CFS as an organic neurological disorder and not as a psychosocial syndrome.

The above petition is now closed. During its life the closure date appeared to fluctuate, but it finally closed on January 22, with a dismal – and shameful – 8,476 signatures, out of a potential quarter of a million or so.

Speaking as someone with ME, in my opinion, those of you who didn’t sign, or who didn’t get their carers and families to sign, deserve to have your arses kicked. Illness is not an excuse for brain-dead apathy. Even if you were too ill to do it yourself, you could have got someone to do it for you.

Sadly, though, all those of you who were too apathetic to be bothered will now drag down the rest of us, and I’m ashamed to be sharing an illness with such pussies. The government can now see clearly that most people with ME don’t care how it’s designated, so why should they bother doing anything about it? Ever.

WMP10 Forced Upgrade to 11…

If you are happy with Windows Media Player (WMP) Version 10, and don’t want to upgrade to Version 11, then be warned – Microsoft are now forcing this upgrade upon unsuspecting users.

I got a “Media Player wants to access the Internet” warning from my firewall – this usually indicates an update, so I gave it permission. As has so often happened lately, the download froze, or so I thought – it was actually glacially slow. I got fed up and cancelled it, then tried to go back to what I was doing with Media Player. It gave me a message, refusing to open until I had restarted my computer, to install WMP11!

Now, I didn’t want that, and there’d been no indication that what I’d been offered wasn’t just a WMP10 update, not an upgrade! The only way to go, then, was to use System Restore to go back to the last Restore Point before the update, which was yesterday evening.

So be warned, if you’re offered an update for WMP, and you can’t see exactly what it is, cancel it immediately. If you have Windows Automatic Updates set to update your computer automatically, then you could suddenly find yourself with WMP11 installed against your will. If you do, go here you’ll find instructions on how to revert to Version 10. It’s not hard, but it is tedious – read the instructions through first, then follow them to the letter and you’ll get your old Media Player back.

Letters to the editor..

On occasion, I get the urge to write to newspapers, usually The Guardian or Observer. They often edit letters, usually when you ramble on too long, but they used to do it with skill, reducing the number of words but keeping to the spirit of the original. They seem to have lost that skill (and looking at some of the ill-written crap that appears in their online paper, it’s a plague that’s spreading).

Last week, I wrote this, in response to a restaurant review in The Guardian’s Weekend magazine:-

Matthew Norman (Weekend, January 19, at the Griffin Inn), banging on about pan-fried this, and pan-roasted that. Pans – so much better for frying and roasting, I always think, than a plastic bucket, or a top hat. Yes Matthew, it’s a restaurant, they use pans – we know!


Ron Graves.

I mean, it’s short enough, but they still cut it – badly – when they published it:-

Matthew Norman bangs on about pan-fried this, and pan-roasted that (Restaurant Review, January 19). It’s a restaurant, Matthew, they use pans.

Ron Graves

OK, the plastic bucket and top hat bit is just me being a smart-arse, and could have been cut without too much damage, but if they’d just have left the final – we know, it would have been better than this. The tone, now, is all wrong, it just looks snarly rather than slightly witty.

A few weeks ago, they cut another one so much it was meaningless, so that they had to insert a few lines of their own in explanation. When I wrote to them about the futility of editing so badly they then has to explain – which took up the same space as my original would have – I just got back an email full of confused, incoherent drivel. I can’t say I was surprised – levels of literacy at the Guardian have plummeted of late. I think the problem is that the editorial staff are getting younger and they – even with the benefits of a university education – just don’t have the facility with language that their elders have. No-one there, for example, seems to know the difference between partake and participate, seeming to consider them interchangeable and opting for the former. Unless, of course, they are only confident in their spelling with words of seven letters or fewer…

Heath Ledger

Preserve me from the meeja. It’s being reported, with varying degrees of “shock, horror”, that Heath Ledger had 8 prescription drugs in his possession – the thinly-veiled implication being that he was an addict. Complete bollocks, of course, at this stage of the investigation.

When I die, they’ll find 18 prescription drugs in my flat – so what? I can see the report in the local paper, though – loner found dead in flat full of drugs!

It’s bullshit, and so is any speculation about Ledger.


Right, now I’ve got your attention…

China shut down 44,000 websites and arrested 868 people for “unhealthy” internet pornography last year, according to state media.

So healthy porn is fine. That’s a relief…

Reaping the whirlwind…

Right now, in the British media, there’s a lot of breast-beating about the increasing violence of British teenagers, and debates on why, and what’s to be done.

Lets look at the question of knives. I grew up, in the fifties, at a time when everyone carried a pocket knife (and yet, we conspicuously failed to slaughter each other), and, indeed, I still carry a knife – ever tried opening a new CD without one? The huge difference between knife-carrying kids then and now, is that modern-day youths are mind-bogglingly violent; a knife, to them, being nothing but a weapon, when to earlier generations it had simply been a very useful tool. Sadly, though, if I’m ever caught with my very useful tool, it’s likely to get me five years in jail, despite the fact that it’s too small to be useful as a weapon anyway. The current wave of teen and sub-teen violence, which makes Alex and his Droogs look like a bunch of pussies, in which knives feature largely, although often they’re just happy to kick people to death. It has no easy-to-define causes – and no simple answer. I don’t claim to have either – just opinions.

A major factor is the total lack of discipline these days. At school, teachers have no way at all of enforcing discipline, in the absence of corporal punishment. (I actually typed “capital” – wishful thinking!) If a child transgresses, he (yes, I know it’s not a gender-specific problem, but typing he/she is going to get very old very quickly), may be given lines as a punishment, which he refuses to write, so he’s given detention and doesn’t turn up. And so it goes throughout their school careers, and those with the mindset to capitalise on this will very soon learn that they can do just as they like, when they like, without any punishment at all. We are now reaping the whirlwind sown by all those fuzzy-minded liberals who pushed through legislation banning corporal punishment in schools.

I went to school in an era when corporal punishment was the norm. Most normal kids learned very quickly the consequences of transgression and, apart from occasional lapses, toed the line. Yes, corporal punishment was painful and degrading, it was supposed to be (and woe betide you if you shed a single tear after a caning, you’d never live it down), but by god it instilled a healthy respect for authority, a respect that these days it totally absent. A couple of years ago, I was confronted by a youngster I found mooching around the car park at home. When I told him to clear off of, he stood up to me and told me he could go where he liked. He wasn’t a day over 5! If anyone is going to be in need of a remedial thrashing it’s this brat. Can you imagine, unchecked as he will be, what he’ll be like by the time he’s 18? Assuming he makes it that far; he clearly has a death wish…

Even at home, parents daren’t physically chastise their own children without running the risk of being accused of child abuse, and far too many of them simply don’t care what their kids get up to, just so long as they’re not around.

Then we have the video culture, where ultra-violence without consequences is the norm – kill as many as you like, as horrifically as possible; no-one cares at all, and there’s no comeback. No pain either. Exposed to this from a relatively early age, the idea that you can do absolutely anything you like to anyone who gets in your way (or even anyone who happens to be handy), very soon becomes a firm mindset, and it’s a very short step from there to kicking to death the man in Warrington, whose only “crime” was to try and defend his own property. If he’d have gone out with a baseball bat to defend what was his, he’d probably still be alive – and probably in jail. He did the decent thing, and asked what the hell they thought they were doing – and they killed him for it in front of his family.

We now have a generation raised entirely without any meaningful discipline, steeped in an online culture of mindless violence without penalty – other than losing an entirely notional “life” – and while, fortuitously, the majority are perfectly normal, we should not really be surprised that a large proportion have zero respect for authority, property or life.

We have bred a sizeable population of youngsters who are worse than animals – animals, of course, don’t kill for fun – and I can see only one sensible solution. All my adult life I have been utterly against capital punishment, simply because it has never been a deterrent (because offenders never expect to get caught), now though, in the light of the current situation, I’d be happy to see it return, simply to excise these scum from the skin of the planet. They are so subhuman they’re not worth the expense of keeping them in jail.

Hell, right now I’d be happy to see a cull!

Capital of Culture…

As the newly-revised old joke has it, when they steal your car wheels in Liverpool these days, they now jack up your car of stacks of books. Ho. Ho…

Anyway, how many of you knew that this is NOT just Liverpool’s gig? Certainly not me, and I live just a few miles away, and definitely not anyone visiting their CofC website. It was, in fact, a joint award with Stavanger, in Norway, a fact that seems to have been pretty much suppressed here.

The Stavanger “Norwegian Wood” project, the almost inevitable name for the competition for new timber constructions, aims to have completed a dozen building projects in the region, including 400 living spaces, two bridges, a kindergarten and a mountain lodge by the end of 2008. The £15 million invested in Norwegian Wood will be one visible legacy of the Capital of Culture long after the fireworks have faded. Quite an achievement for a city the size of Stavanger.

Liverpool, of course, conspicuously failed to build an addition to the Three Graces, as the Liver, Cunard and Mersey Docks and Harbour Board buildings are pompously known these days (I lived and worked in Liverpool for 30 years, and at no time did I ever hear anyone refer to the “Three Graces” until very recently). Hell, the Cunard Building doesn’t even have much architectural merit, unless you like your buildings shoe-box shaped. Anyway, Liverpool needed another office building about as much as it needs another cathedral, and the proposed building, that luckily got the thumbs down, was an abortion that would have dominated the famous waterfront for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve searched Liverpool’s CofC website to find out what projects they’ve completed, or have planned, and rather come up blank. Blank, too, was the result of my attempt to find the slightest reference to Stavanger (mainly due to the absence of a search applet, though The Guardian confirms the fact that Stavanger is ignored), whereas Stavanger goes out of its way to make it clear that this was a joint award with Liverpool. Somehow, I’m not entirely surprised…

It seems Liverpool is expecting 2.5 million extra visitors this year – I just hope none of them want to park a car, because even at the best of times this is difficult.

I sincerely hope none of them want a pee, either, because public toilets in Liverpool city centre are non-existent, and they’re likely to find “friendly” Liverpool publicans take a very dim view indeed of people slipping in to relieve themselves without buying anything (of course, the fact that someone desperate for a pee really doesn’t want to buy a drink escapes them). When Blair came to power, he vowed to open up public house toilets to, erm, the public. Never happened. On a night, or day, out in Liverpool, you’ll wish very much that it had. Of course, if they’d had the foresight, they could have rounded off the CofC by publishing a guide to the most secluded doorways, alleys and bin areas suitable for al fresco urination. Well, it’s a thought… And speaking as someone who’s been caught short there more than once, it’s a heart-felt one!


I’ve just been listening to a Japanese spokesman making his country’s “case” for the slaughter of 900 minke whales. The reason they have embarked on this morally reprehensible and totally unjustifiable campaign, apparently, is to kill the whales to look at their ear wax to see how old they are, and also to count the population (900 less that before, you dumb pillock!). Never in my life have I heard such mind-numbingly dishonest bollocks!

It was perfectly clear that the spokesman believed not a single word that he was saying, which makes me wonder – is this the official line of the Japanese government and, if so, is it sanctioned by the Japanese people who, after all, are the end-users?

There’s no doubt that there’s a substantial market for whale meat in Japan, so presumably the whale-eating public is quite happy for their representatives to foist the most egregious garbage on the rest of the world, who see the true horror of whaling for what it is – insanely barbarous and utterly pointless.

The thing is, though, Japan is a very wealthy country – they don’t need whale-meat, because although the market is large, as a percentage of the country’s total food intake, it’s a drop in the ocean. It’s also very expensive, given what it costs to acquire. But that, of course, may be the point – whale meat has gone from a staple food, as it was, apparently, during WW2, to an elitist luxury, the consumers of which, as is the case with caviar, couldn’t give a shit about the cruelty or unsustainability of the trade.

It’s high time the international community declared whale-hunting a crime, and sent warships to sink the whaling ships. Yes, there’d loss of life – but they’re only whalers. Poetic justice, in a way…

Oh bugger!!

Oh Joy!

Got up this morning to clear blue skies and sunshine – the first time in months. Come nine o’clock, and yep – raining again. It’s getting ridiculous – I can’t recall when we last had a dry day, never mind a sunny one.

OK, down south, along the Severn, they have it far worse, flooded again before they’ve even managed to get their homes dried out and repaired after the summer floods, but god, constant rain is demoralising, even if I am in no danger of flooding. And the car is sprouting moss as there’s no point in paying a fiver for a car wash only to have it muddy again before I’m home. Moan, moan moan!

I’m trying desperately to get to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Martin Mere, Lancashire, before half-term, and a dry day would be nice, though it’s looking increasingly as if I’m going to have to bite the bullet and go regardless of the weather if I want to catch the winter migrants before they head of back to their summer ranges (birding fits in with my disability – something I can do that keeps me outdoors now my greatly impaired walking ability has consigned hillwalking and backpacking to history).

Amazingly, though, despite the winter being mind-bogglingly wet – snow and frost have just been blips on the rainfall graph – people are still in denial when it comes to climate change. I’m not sure whether this is due to stupidity in the face of the facts, or to fear – acknowledging it would make it real. I wonder if sacrificing Jeremy Clarkson to the weather gods would help? Got to be worth a try…

Books #3…

The Burning City, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

The Burning City is a novel of epic proportions. Set 14,000 years ago, in the region that would later become the California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Niven and Pournelle take the sketchy legends of the Mayan and Aztec peoples, flesh them out and insert them into the tale of Whandall Placehold, Lordkin warrior in an age when magic and gods were still very real, who would become possessed by the fire-god Yangin-Atep, thus becoming a legend in his own lifetime.

The Lordkin are a race, not quite of giants, but of tall, heavily-muscled, inherently violent people who are also longer-lived than normal, while the Kinless whose town they usurp are, apparently, normal humans. The two can, though, interbreed.

Whandall was born, and lived, in Placehold, his clan fortress in Tep’s Town, and would rise to prominence in one of the town’s many Lordkin gangs, Serpent’s Walk. Inter-gang warfare is a major feature of life in Tep’s Town, as in it’s modern-day counterpart, Los Angeles. 200 years previously, Lordkin, under the command of their Lords, conquered Tep’s Town, taking it from the people who lived there, whom they dubbed Kinless. Promised the spoils of war by the Lords, the Lordkin extended this idea seemingly into perpetuity, and lived by “gathering” the goods and chattels of the Kinless – sometimes their women, too. (Note: I’ve not been able to figure out if the Lordkin are related to the Lords, or whether the name is a diminutive.)

The Lords sensibly went off and established Lord’s Town, where the Lord’s own Kinless dwelled, safe from Lordkin thievery, and their own fortified enclave of Lord’s Hills, well away from the incendiary events of Tep’s Town, where, periodically, Yangin-Atep would possess one of the Lordkin, who would then fire the town. Magic, a potent force in the outside world, didn’t work in Tep’s Town, owing to the influence of Yangin-Atep, who took the magic into himself.

Whandall, having risen in the ranks of Serpent’s Walk, where the gang members all had serpent tattoos, pesters a wizard, a survivor of sunken Atlantis, for a tattoo of his own. The wizard, Morth, eventually relents and gives Whandall a huge, gloriously-coloured, sorcerous tattoo of a winged, feathered serpent, that ran from his left hand to cover his shoulder and the left side of his face, to the ultimately disastrous (for them), envy of his peers.

Eventually, Whandall is, himself, possessed by Yangin-Atep but, instead of burning down his own town (though others, latching on to the early manifestations of his power, do it anyway), suppresses the power and uses it to burn his way out of the semi-sentient and hostile redwood forest surrounding Tep’s Town, in the company of Willow, a tight-rope walker whom he eventually marries, and her cousins, who are also ropewalkers, but of the rope-making kind, in a wagon drawn by a Kinless pony.

Emerging from the forest, they enter a whole new world, where bison-drawn wagon trains trudge up and down the coast between towns, villages and cities, trading and carrying news and stories (stories are a valuable trade item in an age before literature). Unicorns exist, too (though to tell you how would give away too much), and have a use in verifying the virginity of prospective brides. (For those who don’t know the legend, only virgins can control unicorns – probably explains why there aren’t any now!)

Whandall Placehold, who would soon become Whandall Feathersnake, joins the Bison Tribe wagon train, sires the daughter of the god Coyote, marries Willow, and goes on to found first his own wagon train and, ultimately, a powerful trading dynasty, under the Feathersnake banner, that eventually stretched from Great Hawk Bay, which will, 14,000 years down the line, become San Francisco, down into Central America, bearing into history the symbol of the feathered, winged serpent…

I hope, then, that I’ve managed to give you a flavour of the life and times of Whandall Feathersnake, though the narrative is so detailed and complex, it’s difficult to avoid giving away major plot elements (OK, I’ve mentioned that Whandall sires the daughter of Coyote – the how you will have to find out for yourself), and I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It kept me up reading until the early hours, and that doesn’t often happen.

I haven’t given away any secrets by disclosing that Tep’s Town will eventually become LA, or Great Hawk Bay San Francisco, as it’s perfectly obvious from the outset. There’s a neat twist in the afterword, too,regarding the future of Yangin-Atep, but I can’t reveal that without spoiling it, and I’d suggest not going to the back of the book and reading it first!

There is a sequel – called either Burning Tower, after the eponymous central character, the daughter of Whandall Feathersnake, or The Burning Tower, depending on which version of the book you get hold of. This latter title is quite wrong. I was going to say that it slightly lacks the grab-you-by-the-throat immediacy of the first book, but on reflection, perhaps it’s merely familiarity with what was, initially, an alien landscape and people. On the other hand, it does make you care about the characters, and is no less engrossing than The Burning City. It features the Terror Birds first encountered with the Bison Tribe wagon train in The Burning City, and proto-Aztecs, busily refining their heart-removal habits. Read both books – you certainly won’t regret it.

At the time The Burning City and Burning Tower were written, Terror Birds and humans had been thought to occupy the same time frame, as recently as 10,000 years ago; more recent opinion suggests not. In the future opinion may swing back – who knows? – so having them feature strongly in Burning Tower is quite legitimate. The website linked to, above, contains this statement, regarding Terror Birds:- “This also shows the last known occurrence of Titanis in the fossil record and reflects its extinction.” This is about as wrong as it’s possible for a scientist to be – the last known fossil reflects NOTHING but the fact that it’s the last known fossil. What is still unknown may be entirely different.

I’ve a feeling that Niven and Pournelle aren’t yet done with the story of this age, and it’s people – I do hope not, as there’s scope for at least two more books.

Note: Niven and Pournelle have a habit of listing the characters in their novels at the front of the book. In some cases this can be worrying, as the list in Footfall runs to over 400 dramatis personae. To date, this has put me off reading it, but I really must make the effort, and just hope too many of the 400 don’t turn up at once!