Thursday, 25 December 2008


Having just re-read last year's Christmas blog entry, I feel a paucity of ideas for this one. Oh, there'd be plenty to write about, but my thoughts this season have been mostly to do with my own shortcomings. It's a little like a reverse-Festivus. But I try not to treat the blogosphere as a confessional, even if I do engage in the occasional curmudgeonly rant.

So, if I don't share what's really on my mind, what's to write about? I queued, I stewed, I gave/got presents and ate lots of food?

Certainly I did all of the above. Hardly earth-shattering.

I'll admit this much publicly: I am very aware of my failings as a son, brother, uncle, friend and partner. And I loathe those failings. If I were writing this under the influence of too much Christmas cheer, then I suppose it could be written off as mere lachrymose drivel. Even with only early morning coffee and cigarettes under the belt it's still ripe for accusations of maudlin self-indulgence.

But, as someone told me recently, Christmas is as much about reflection and introspection as it is about commerce and gluttony. I'm pretty sure they couched it in less cynical language, though.

It's not that I'm unhappy. Whenever I think that might be the case I think back to the years prior to 2005 and count my blessings. But part of the comparatively newfound and hard-fought happiness has come at a cost, and it's at Christmastime when that cost stands out in very sharp relief.

So, on to Christmas itself. Christmas Day is great...all that commerce becomes worth it and the gluttony is rare and rich. But Christmas, thanks.

It's my fault, I leave it too late. Why I don't know. Perhaps it's a futile effort to forestall the inevitable. The more likely reason is this: if I leave myself two hours at the end of the work day and shopping season to buy presents, I'm forced to rush around like a drooling, sweating, gasping berserker and a Christmas shop that COULD have taken a leisurely five weekends is over in two hours.

This approach comes with attendant problems, not the least of which is the sight of a man on the cusp of middle age tearing around the CBD in a T-shirt bearing the slogan 'Your a Idoit' looking like a drooling, sweating, gasping berserker.

Then there's the loss of clarity. Unless I plot each stop carefully beforehand, I usually end up sitting in a park quietly cursing Jebus and his fucked up cut-up of a holiday.

But the worst of all is...the commerce. Constant readers will be aware of my mobile phone-buying adventure earlier this year. A similar thing happened Christmas Eve while trying to buy Loolee her present.

I went to a few stores looking for a digital photo frame. None of 'em had what I was after, which was in itself disappointing until I had the brilliant idea of getting a portable DVD player (it seemed brilliant at the time, but now I wonder why the hell I was going to buy Lou a digital photo frame in the first place).

With the clock running down I made a beeline for an electronics/gaming and DVD/CD store. Let's call them...oh I don't know...JC Hi-Fi. Most everything in these stores is in a locked glass cabinet, so you have to hunt around looking for someone with keys, preferably someone who isn't suffering the ills of slack-jawed pubescence.

No luck. The only guy I could see was attending to a Vietnamese man who was trying to buy a camera. I waited for about ten minutes (in actuality, probably two) and rushed upstairs to get Loolee a DVD. This was an optimistic move. At this point I must have been convinced that the purchase of said product would be as simple as:

Man: Can I help you sir?
Me: Hello, I trust you are well. Yes indeed you may indeed help me indeed. I wish to purchase a product from your extensive line of electronic audio/visual items, to wit, a portable DVD player. It must be a) reasonably priced and b)in good working condition.
Man: (producing a portable DVD player)Does this one suit, sir?
Me: Yes. Here is my money.
Man: Here is your DVD player.
Me: Thank you. Goodbye.
Man: Goodbye.

I grabbed a copy of 'The Notebook', a real weepy-weep that Lou loves, and made my way back downstairs to try my luck. More aggressively this time. I collared a 'sales person'. He'd been doing nothing but standing there perving at young summer boobies but when he saw me advancing, he must have remembered a matter of great import because he almost shouted: 'Oh! One minute!' and waddled off in 50km walk style.

Cue Muttley Grumble .

I stood at the glass case a little longer. There were three players I had my eye on, but only one was turned on, so I wanted a little demo of the others. Meanwhile, someone approached the 'sales person' and to my annoyance (but not surprise) the fucker actually began to attend to this guy.

I merely stuck my hand up and said "'Scuse me..." gave him the quizzical frown (you have to be a Doyle to get this right every time, I think) and he came over.

Man: Yes?
Me: I want to have a look at these three DVD players please.
Man: Well, this one is 169 doll-
Me: Is it okay to open the door and turn 'em on? I just wanna see what the picture's like on 'em.
Man: (annoyed sigh)

He opened the case and fuddied around, turning on one player. They were all linked up to the one that was turned on, playing Shrek.

Me: And this one?
Man: (annoyed sigh)
Me: Thanks.

I looked at 'em for a few seconds.

Me: Does this one have-
Man: None of these are in stock.
Me: What?
Man: They're all sold out.
Me: Then why do you have them on display?
Man: They're for a catalogue sale.
Me: You have absolutely nothing in stock.
Man: No.
Me:(pointing at display) What about these ones? I'm happy to buy one without a box.
Man: No, they're on display for the catalogue sale.
Me: But-...wait, Boxing Day sale?
Man: Yup.
Me:(a little piqued) So...your Boxing Day Sale is more important than your customers' Christmas.
Man: Wait...we might just have one left in stock.

Within 30 seconds he was back with what he claimed was the last portable DVD player in the place. I bought it, and Loolee is very happy with her Christmas gift.

How on earth can retailers justify this? Imagine going into a supermarket to get something you needed in a hurry, like aspirin or tampons. You see the last pack on the shelf and think 'Huzzah!' only to be stopped and told 'Sorry...display only'. I think 'fuck' and 'off' would be words floating near the tip of your tongue.

Consider this. A car salesman turning down the chance to sell something they had in stock? Not bloody likely, guv'nor.

This is why I should probably give away the berserker approach to Christmas and start buying in...I dunno...March.

By contrast, Christmas Day was, as it often is, lovely. We were lucky with the weather (29C/84F, though sticky) which is half the battle won. For anyone in the Brisbane area who says 30 is too hot for Christmas Day, I have this to say to you: 2001.

Now it's Boxing Day. Day two of four days off, the first four in a row I've had for 18 months. Once upon a time I'd be in front of the telly, beer in hand at 11am, watching the first day of the Boxing Day Test. I might pass an eye over it at some point today, but I just want to read, write and make sammiches with my new sandwich press .

It was my late brother Sean's birthday on Wednesday. He'd have been 51. It's my late mother's birthday today. She'd have been 81. Happy birthday Mum & Sean, and Happy Christmas and New Year to you all, with love.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Mike Connell Story.

Let me begin this one by saying I'm not a huge fan of conspiracy 'theories' or their adherents. The faked moon landing/s, the 'false flag' of 9/11, the Jonestown/CIA mind control experiment...they are all big loads of poo. I'll admit a propensity to believe that Lee Harvey was not the only person firing shots at JFK that day, but apparently recent analysis casts doubt on even that (my knowledge of physics is not even such that I could be classed a neophyte).

There seems to be a conspiracy theory in the making, though, and it's well worth investigating.

A few days ago Internet strategist and GOP consultant Michael Connell was killed when his plane crashed three miles from its destination in Akron, Ohio. Connell was flying his single-engined Piper Lance Saratoga home from Maryland.

Connell was apparently responsible for designing and implementing an alternative communications system for the GOP.

Last September, Connell, the CEO of a company called GovTech Solutions, was subpoenaed to appear in a federal case to give evidence surrounding his involvement in the Republican party's alleged manipulation of the outcome of federal elections.

Using a similar strategy (though not reason) employed by Karl Rove to avoid appearing in front of a House judiciary committee (refusing point blank, citing investigators' 'ready access' to public information and and inability to tesify for reasons of confidentiality - Rove cited executive privilege and left the country) Connell successfully avoided the subpoena for two months.

In November he gave a deposition, during which he was accused of rigging results. He was set to appear again.

There have been reports floating around (mostly on 'non-mainstream' sites) that Connell had been warned against flying and that protection had been sought, due to fear for his safety.

The conspiracy nuts are already having a field day. Some are saying that Connell cancelled two flights because of suspected sabotage and some are just coming right out and saying that Rove had Connell murdered.

It's no secret that I'm not the Bush administration's biggest fan, but there are a few things about this embryonic 'theory' that concern me.

If Michael Connell were that worried for his safety, why would he be flying his private plane at all? If you were a qualified pilot who thought the powers that be were trying to kill you, would you maybe consider going commercial for a while?

If the powers that be wanted to 'off' Connell, would they not have increased their chances of success by arranging some kind of problem on takeoff, when the tank was full of gas, rather than three miles out from the plane's destination?

I think we've all heard the stories of the terrible cold that has gripped the United States in the last little while. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that Connell's plane might simply have succumbed to the cold and ice?

Lastly, I'd like to bring up the 'Kennedy curse'. There was John, murdered. Bobby, murdered. Michael, skiing. John Jr., plane crash. I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones that come instantly to mind. Some people take these incidents as proof that the family is cursed.

But (putting aside John & Bobby's untimely deaths), is it not possible that the reason Michael died skiing was because a Kennedy is more likely to do a lot more skiing than you or me, and the reason John John died piloting his plane was because a Kennedy is more likely to be piloting a plane?

Look at it this way. Is it reasonable to suggest that John and Bobby died because they were the victims of murderous loathing and/or mental illness...and that Michael and John died because they were living the life of the privileged rich...or would you say it's more logical to say that all of these men died because of a mystical curse?

Likewise, is it not possible Michael Connell died in a small plane because of simple law of averages and probability? He was flying a small plane in crappy weather...or...the tyrants devised an elaborate plot to have him killed.

Having said all that...Connell's death does require investigation. I'm completely unconvinced to this point of any nefarious action by certain people, but by the same token, I do not dismiss the ability of these people to commit nefarious deeds.

I'll leave you with some of the 'fresh from the funny farm' conspiracy bits and pieces (and ACTION!!!! news articles that have sprung up in the last few days:

I love ACTION news!!!

Links to allegations and scuttlebutt here.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Homeopathy...less than a drop in the ocean.

Main Entry: ho·me·op·a·thy
Pronunciation: \ˌhō-mē-ˈä-pə-thē, ˌhä-\
Function: noun
Etymology: German Homöopathie, from homöo- homeo- + -pathie -pathy
Date: 1826
: a system of medical practice that treats a disease especially by the administration of minute doses of a remedy that would in healthy persons produce symptoms similar to those of the disease.

Homeopathy was introduced to the world by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th Century. It has its basis in an alleged 'law of similarities', which, when applied to this purported medical science, states that 'like cures like'.

It's easily confused with vaccination, but there is a simple, crucial difference: vaccination is the introduction of dead microbes into the system to stimulate the immune system into fighting a disease.

The basic thrust of homeopathy is that maladies and ailments can be cured by introducing small amounts of substances that produce the same symptoms as the ailment. For example, if you have a skin condition, a homeopathic remedy might be to introduce the body to a diluted mixture of a mineral or botanical substance that causes skin conditions, like sumac or poison oak. If you have an acidic stomach or an ulcer, the homeopathic remedy would include acids.

By 'small', I mean...infinitesimally small, and by diluted...really diluted. There are standard symbols for measuring dilution, represented by the Roman numerals X & C. 'X' is for dilutions of 1 to 10, 'C' for 1 to 100. The standard homeopathic preparations is '30C'. This is equivalent to one molecule of the curative substance diluted in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of water.

According to Stephen Barrett MD writing on the Quackwatch website, "this would require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth".
Robert Park of the American Physical Society, to whom Barrett refers in his Quackwatch article, says this:

This is the point at which we are all supposed to realize how ridiculous this is and share a good laugh. But homeopaths don't laugh. They've done the same calculation. And while they agree that not a single molecule of the active substance could remain, they contend it doesn't matter, the water/alcohol mixture somehow remembers that the substance was once there. The process of succussion is presumed to charge the entire volume of the liquid with the same memory. Is there any evidence for such a memory?

The homeopathic fraternity acknowledges the above dilution to be correct, but rather than accept the truth of homeopathy, they engage in the same kind of sunk costs fallacy that afflicts devotees of the practice. How? They claim that water has a memory.

Now, while this sounds completely outlandish, science has been doing its part to do what science does best: test.

While no proof yet exists of water's ability to remember past molecular inahabitants, a Swiss chemist, Louis Rey, has conducted experiments in which he hoped to challenge conventional thinking on the subject.

I'm more than sceptical about the veracity of homeopathy as a valid treament; I think it's downright nonsense. But rather than expound too much further, I'll let Richard Dawkins and James Randi explain it all far better than I can:

What really intrigues me about the whole thing is that, as with astrology or tarot or faith healing or psychic power or an Abrahamic god, people subsume or even discard the more likely truth in favour of 'how it makes me feel'. And worse, presented with overwhelming evidence to refute the claims of 'horoscopists' or the religious faithful, these people use 'how it makes me feel' as their buffer against critical thought and the potential for learning.

Worse, I'm firmly of the belief that engaging in the fallacy of sunk costs is more damaging to people than biting the bullet and accepting the possibility of a different truth.

On that note, I don't feel so good. I need a glass of water.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Farewell to the Yahoos...

After 10 months of contribution, I have decided to bid farewell to Yahoo! Answers. Over that period I'd answered nearly 9000 questions and accrued a couple of little Top Contributor blobs along with about 37-38000 points (and a little notoriety).
Yesterday my account was terminated due to some unnamed infraction, most likely a succession of 'violation notices' culminating in the use of the word 'boobies'.

Most Y!A regulars have lost an account or five, and they just sign back up under another name and keep at it. Not me.

I'd been a regular contributor to their Elections and Religion & Spirituality sections, but with the US election over, and the content and tenor of those sections resembling a kind of online Groundhog Day, I've decided to say goodbye.

It's been a bit of a giggle, really.

Between those who think that charity & compassion = communism and bananas are proof of's been a hoot.

To any Y!A Elections people who come here spoiling for a's over kids. Y'lost.

All others welcome. Take a load off, listen to an alt/country tune...

By the way, the photo at the top doesn't really relate to anything. I made it a few years ago when at a loose end...I had a few loose ends back then.

A few days ago I sought the advice of a successful writer who gave me some handy tips. I've been writing over 1000 words a day for a while but, in a place like Answers, it's completely wasted. So leaving Answers be will hopefully allow me to maintain the 'words-per-day' habit while helping me to channel it in a better way.

Of course, I might just end up looking at boobies.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Vale Geoffrey Perkins.

It was with shock and a little shame that I learned yesterday of the death of Geoffrey Perkins, one of the most important figures in comedy in the last 25 years.

Geoffrey died on August 29 when he was hit by a truck in Marylebone High Street in London. He was 55.

Many of you mightn't know the name, but trust me, all of you have been provided with much laughter, thanks to this man's work. Among many other fine programs, he was responsible for producing, developing and/or writing:

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Spitting Image
The Man From Auntie
Harry Enfield's Television Programme
Father Ted
The Fast Show
Big Train
The Royle Family
Coogan's Run
One Foot in the Grave
Operation Good Guys
The Catherine Tate Show

My first real awareness of Geoffrey Perkins' comedic abilities came not from TV, but from a book my brother gave me when I was about 15, called 'The Uncyclopedia of Rock'. Perkins co-wrote it with Angus Deayton and Jeremy Pascall. I still have it and it's still pissfunny.

There's not really much I can say about Mr. Perkins, other than the fact that the work he was so influential in creating still makes me laugh on a daily basis. And I am sorry I did not hear of his passing sooner; he deserves much more recognition for his immense contribution to comedy. If he'd been in front of the camera instead of mostly behind it, this small appreciation would have been written in late August.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Sickie McComputer.

Apparently the computer at home is until I can get it fixed, I'll be offline. This is probably a small sign that it's time for a laptop.