Chtistmas message

December 18, 2016

Just to wish all my loyal readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’ll be back blogging in early January – next year.

My Favourite TV shows of 2016

December 18, 2016

These are twelve of my favourite TV shows of 2016. Here they are in no particular order:

National Treasure


American Crime

Silicon Valley


The Americans

The Crown



OJ: Made in America

The Night Manager


I could also have included:

Black Mirror

Happy Valley

American Crime Story: The People Vs OJ Simpson

Deutschland 83

Halt and Catch Fire

Line of Duty

Better Call Saul

Blue Eyes

This would make a top 20, although I’m sure I must have left a few out.


Noise, damned noise and leaf-blowers

December 11, 2016


A few centuries ago, someone invented a brilliant device: a long pole with bristles attached to one end. They called it a broom. It has been refined over the years, but it serves the same purpose for which it was designed. It sweeps up fallen leaves into nice neat piles so they can be collected and dumped elsewhere. Leaf-blowers cannot do that.

The clue is in the name. They blow leaves. They redistribute them. They shift them from one place to another. In fact, they are extremely good at that. If you are a little leaf just lying there quietly you stand no chance. You and all your companions will be swept up into the air with great force and deposited somewhere else.

What they cannot do is blow the leaves into nice neat piles so that the what they cannot do is blow the leaves into nice neat piles so that they can be taken away. For that you need a broom or, if we’re talking grass and borders, that other ingenious invention: a rake. John Humphries writing in The Daily Mail

Let’s find the guy who invented the leaf blower. Let’s follow that guy to a peaceful spot he loves and then let’s blow some fucking leaves. Bill Weir, ABC newsreader in a tweet.


Last week’s No Such Thing as a Fish podcast featured this fascinating fact about leaf-blowers:

Running a leaf-blower for 30 minutes creates more emissions than driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck 3800 miles. According to the Fish panellists, enough to get from Covent Garden, where the show is recorded, to Jerusalem. I didn’t know whether to call this a fact or factoid. It does seem to be barely credible. I ought to send it off to the BBC’s More or Less podcast to be fact-checked, as is the fashion these days.

The Fish fact came from James Fallows, national correspondent for the prestigious magazine, The Atlantic Monthly.  Fallows, has led an ongoing campaign against what he calls “the Leaf-blower Menace.” Leaf-blowers certainly provoke strong reactions. BBC journalist John Humphries is not alone in his opprobrium of these devices. Brian May, the Queen guitarist protested about “leaf madness” after being woken and disturbed by blowers in his Kensington and Chelsea borough. Rock stars never used to complain about blowers in the sixties, but I suppose May is 69 now.

The anti-blower community is extremely active on social media. Facebook has groups such as Ban All Leaf-blowers, Death to Leaf-blowers and Million People Against Leaf-blowers. What strikes me about all this is how impassioned the language is. One critic invoked Satre: “Hell is other people, with leaf blowers”, whereas another went for the Freudian angle: “Give a guy a leaf blower and he wields it like an oversized penis.”

Being a bit lazy myself, I can see the attraction of leaf-blowers; I think convenience is a good thing. However, I am sceptical about their value, but I can’t say that they make my blood boil. I live in a flat in Madrid, so my neighbours don’t tend to use leaf-blowers. What we do have are the municipal workers who do visit our street of a morning. How can we explain the rise of this machine?

Wikipedia defines a leaf blower as “a gardening tool that propels air out of a nozzle to move debris such as leaves and grass cuttings.” It is basically a reverse vacuum cleaner, blowing instead of sucking. They have traditionally been powered by two-stroke gasoline engines. It must be said that leaf blowers aren’t the only garden tools that use a two-stroke engines; many lawn mowers also rely on this technology.  Although you now have what is known as a blower vac, which can suck in leaves and small twigs via a vacuum, and shred them into a bag.

The first recorded example of people using air pressure to remove leaves is said to come from Japan in the 19th century. Gardeners employed bellows to clean up the mossy ground of their landscape gardens. But, for the modern machine there is some uncertainty about who invented it. According to Wikipedia, the leaf blower was invented by Dom Quinto in the late 1950s. It had originally been introduced to the United States as part of an agricultural chemical sprayer. But the manufacturers soon discovered that many consumers were removing the chemical dispensing parts from the device, leaving only the blower. The manufacturers realised it had a lot of potential as a common lawn and garden maintenance tool. The Wikipedia entry does say “citation needed”, so we need to be cautious. Indeed, The New Yorker claims leaf-blowers originated in Japan, in the 1960s as a tool for dispersing pesticides onto fields and fruit trees. I side with the online encyclopaedia in this dispute, but I thought I would put it out there. Curiously, when they first started becoming popular in the 1970s, leaf-blowers were seen as an environmental godsend in California, as drought conditions there meant that the use of water for many garden clean-up tasks was banned.

It is true that they are faster than using a rake. But, there are far more downsides. First is the noise. They are incredibly loud and the noise has spikes, which makes it more irritating. Then you have the pollution. The use of fossil fuels is, as we saw above, profligate. Fallows claims that around one-third of the petrol that goes into this sort of engine is spewed out, unburned, in an aerosol that has been mixed with oil in the exhaust.  This leaves a horrible stench of petrol in the air. They are needlessly blowing dust, allergens, toxins, pollutants and pathogens into the air we all breathe, especially harmful for small children or those with allergies.

I’m no technophobe, but I can’t really defend leaf-blowers. Maybe in the future they will be quieter and more eco-friendly. For professional gardeners and landscapers there is the Mean Green Blast Battery Powered Backpack Leaf Blower. With the blower and the battery the backpack weighs over eleven kilos. They lithium battery, which takes three hours to charge, gives it an autonomy of 65 minutes. They claim it is super quiet, which is 56 db. It creates zero emissions and requires no gas and little maintenance. What’s not to like?


The price – it comes in at $1,695.95. Maybe we should indeed go bake to the rake and broom for the moment.


December 11, 2016

Loyal readers will remember I am a big fan of put downs and have done a couple of posts: Famous put-downs and Famous put-downs #2. So, I was pleased to see that Matthew Parris has updated his book Scorn: The Wittiest and Wickedest Insults in Human History for 2016. There are loads of put-downs for your delectation. Here is my selection:


Paddy Ashdown is the only party leader who’s a trained killer. Although, to be fair, Mrs Thatcher was self-taught. Charles Kennedy

Is there no beginning to your talents? Clive Anderson to Jeffrey Archer

It is fitting that we should have buried the Unknown Prime Minister by the side of the Unknown Soldier. Herbert Asquith at Andrew Bonar Law’s funeral

My dear McClellan: If you don’t want to use the army I should like to borrow it for a while. Yours respectfully, A. Lincoln  Abraham Lincoln to General McClellan, accused of inactivity in the American Civil War

He’s so dumb he couldn’t tip shit out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel. Lyndon Johnson on Gerald Ford

Winston had devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches. F.E. Smith on Winston Churchill

A sheep in sheep’s clothing. Winston Churchill on Clement Attlee

I always think he looks like somebody has put their finger up his bottom and he really rather likes it. Anna Soubry on Nigel Farage

A triumph of modern science – to find the only part of Randolph that wasn’t malignant and remove it. Evelyn Waugh on Randolph Churchill after an operation

An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened. Attlee got out. Winston Churchill on Clement Attlee.

A ‘semi house-trained polecat.  Michael Foot’s description of Norman Tebbit

How can one best summon up the exquisite, earnest tedium of the speech of Sir Geoffrey Howe in yesterday’s South African debate? It was rather like watching a much-loved family tortoise creeping over the lawn in search of a distant tomato. David McKie on Sir Geoffrey Howe

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life. Jeremy Thorpe after Harold Macmillan’s 1962 Cabinet reshuffle

Like being savaged by a dead sheep. Denis Healey, referring to the attack by Sir Geoffrey Howe on his Budget proposals, in the Listener

Attila the Hen. Clement Freud on Margaret Thatcher

With Tony you have to take the smooth with the smooth. Anonymous senior Labour politician on his leader

I wouldn’t vote for Ken Livingstone if he were running for mayor of Toytown. Arthur Scargill

No one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac? Barack Obama on producing his certificate, whose authenticity Donald Trump had publicly called into doubt

If you only read one thing this year … then you’re probably the kind of person who’ll enjoy this. Amazon review of Nigel Farage’s The Purple Revolution

The prigs who attack Jeffrey Archer should bear in mind that we all, to some extent, reinvent ourselves. Jeffrey has just gone to a bit more trouble. Barry Humphries

My advice is quit while you’re behind. Tony Blair to William Hague

He has something of the night about him. Tory MP Ann Widdecombe on her former boss and Home Secretary Michael Howard, 1997

All the attributes of a populist except popularity. Bruce Anderson on Michael Howard

Ed Miliband is like a plastic bag caught in a tree. No one knows how he got up there and no one can be bothered to get him down. Bill Bailey

The Grand Hernia himself, Nigel Farage. Camilla Long

I have read that there are some people – probably the type who are thinking of defecting to Ukip – who present themselves at A&E with barely credible injuries sustained through vacuum cleaner abuse. Boris Johnson

Cecil Parkinson, you’re director of a fertilizer company. How deep is the mess you’re in? Jeremy Paxman’s first question to former Conservative party chairman on the BBC’s 1997 General Election results programme

He has the face of a man who clubs baby seals. Denis Healey on John Prescott

An enigma wrapped up in a whoopee cushion. Will Self on Boris Johnson

Reader, suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself. Mark Twain

Satire died the day they gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize. There were no jokes left after that. Tom Lehrer

It’s the sort of thing parents might chant encouragingly to a child slow on the potty-training. Christopher Hitchens on Barack Obama’s campaign slogan of ‘Yes we can’

They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge. Thomas Reed, Speaker of the House of Representatives on members of Congress

 Arianna Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision. Donald Trump

 Calling Jeffrey Archer’s fictional characters cardboard is an insult to the British packaging industry. Peter Preston

Red pillers and the manosphere

December 4, 2016

This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Morpheus, The Matrix


In the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 film, The Matrix, the main character Neo has to choose between a red pill and a blue pill. By taking the blue pill he would remain in the matrix, living in a pretend world. The red pill, on the other hand, would allow him to escape this fantasy world and join reality, however hard it may be. This idea,  that some people are able to see reality, while the rest are living in a make-believe world is also explored in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. However, in the wrong hands it can be dangerous, and is the staple of many an outlandish conspiracy theory.

The idea came to mind as I listened to a podcast of the BBC Radio 4 programme Out of  the Ordinary that took a look at fringe groups. A couple of weeks ago they examined the manosphere, a loose network of sites on the internet that focus on men’s issues. Many in this movement actually call themselves red pillers, the enlightened men who realize that it is men, not women, who are oppressed. Yes, they argue it’s true that men do occupy the commanding heights of power, but the vast majority of men don’t enjoy this power. If you take away the higher levels, women actually have it better. Women have large and powerful support groups, while men don’t. some of the concerns are rather prosaic.  A woman can get the man to pay for drinks or a meal. Men hold the doors open. Other parts of the men’s rights’ litany are more profound. Women are charged less and receive less severe sentences in court . Ultimately more men commit suicide.

These blogs, forums and websites can be seen as a reaction to feminism, or, if you prefer, a vile outpouring of misogyny. It is a disparate movement. There are some common ideas, especially that feminism is their enemy and that this pernicious ideology has upturned natural biological differences. What is needed is for men to return to their traditional uber-masculine gender role. They are strongly opposed to male circumcision; protests have involved men in boiler suits with fake blood, actually red acrylic paint, symbolizing “the damage and trauma from genital cutting. They put it on a par with female circumcision, which would seem to me to be a gross exaggeration.


In Out of the Ordinary one speaker who seemed to be claiming that there is a cot death conspiracy. SIDS, Sudden infant death syndrome, is more prevalent in males, with a consistent 50% male excess in SIDS per 1000 live births of each sex. And finally one website had this claim:

Women fucking predominantly young underage men at schools has reached epidemic proportions.

Who is in the manosphere? You have pick-up artists, PUAs, who, according to Wikipedia is “a movement of men whose goal is seduction and sexual success with/access to women”. This pseudoscience might appear cheesy and offensive, but it can also be downright sinister. This is the case of Daryush Valizadeh, AKA Roosh V, a blogger of Iranian and Armenian extraction. Roosh is behind Bang Guides, a collection of series of country-specific pickup guides, such as Bang Iceland, in which he writes:

While walking to my place, I realized how drunk she was. In America, having sex with her would have been rape, since she couldn’t legally give her consent. It didn’t help matters that I was relatively sober, but I can’t say I cared or even hesitated.”


This is more like a guide for date rape – Roosh does not see the word no as something that stops him. And in one blog post, “How to Stop Rape“, he went even further, proposing the legalisation of rape if it takes place on private property:

If rape becomes legal under my proposal, a girl will protect her body in the same manner that she protects her purse and smartphone. If rape becomes legal, a girl will not enter an impaired state of mind where she can’t resist being dragged off to a bedroom with a man who she is unsure of—she’ll scream, yell, or kick at his attempt while bystanders are still around. If rape becomes legal, she will never be unchaperoned with a man she doesn’t want to sleep with. After several months of advertising this law throughout the land, rape would be virtually eliminated on the first day it is applied.”

On being confronted by BBC presenter Reggie Yates, Roosh said that the post was meant as satire, a tactic straight from the Donald Trump playbook.

Roosh lives in the States, but the men’s rights movement has also gained a toehold in the UK. In the mid-2000s Fathers 4 Justice, British paternal rights group achieved notoriety with their stunts, which often involved scaling public monuments dressed as superheroes. But these days the organisation that has come to the fore is Men Going Their Own Way, which is shortened to MGTOW (pronounced migtow) Their idea seems to be that men should disengage from women completely. Feminists typically say that the personal is political. This also seems to apply to miggies, as members of the organisation are sometimes known, who seem to have suffered traumatic experiences with women. The sceptical website, RationalWiki, says that they claim to be victims of:

  1. False rape accusations
  2. Divorce, alimony & child support (even when it’s not his child)
  3. Job loss after a women’s complain

Here is a video from one prominent miggie:

After investigating this unfamiliar world I do feel like a shower. I was aware of the hatred that exists against women. In a post about trolling I mentioned how Caroline Criado-Perez had been threatened with rape for suggesting that Jane Austen be put on the Bank Of England £10 note. But, I must admit I wasn’t aware of organisations like MGTOW. I suppose it isn’t surprising, and there is some overlap with alt-right movement, which I mentioned a few weeks ago. I can see that there is a crisis of masculinity, confusion about new gender rules. And I certainly disagree with feminism about a number of issues. Nevertheless, it is a reminder that social progress, unlike scientific progress, is not linear. We can, indeed, go backwards. And in the manosphere we have a small but dedicated group of men who want to just that.

The manosphere: a glossary

December 4, 2016

Rather like feminists the men’s rights activists have their own vocabulary, which gives a fascinating insight into their skewed worldview. The sceptical website, RationalWiki, has an excellent manosphere glossary. Here are a few of the entries:

AWALT All women are like that -In direct opposition to not all women are like that, the assertion that all women are like that means that females are hard-wired to respond to certain situations in a certain way; and that, more specifically, if given the opportunity, they will tend to behave as manipulative, abusive, sociopathic, destructive, drama-oriented liars. To the extent that women differ from one another, it is in how and to what extent (rather than whether) they manifest these traits when they are allowed to do so.

Divorce rape refers to the alleged harm inflicted upon a male after his wife (unjustly) ends their marriage. This term refers primarily to financial harm, such as the divide of marital property, child support, and (rarely) alimony.

Feminazi is a self-explanatory snarl word for extreme feminists, popularised by Rush Limbaugh.

Frivorce is the portmanteau of “frivolous” and “divorce,” and is used to describe almost all divorces initiated by a female, regardless of cause.

Game or gaming is the (rather sleazy) art of seduction peddled by pick-up artists. Game involves manipulatively applying various conversational (and often pseudopsychological) “techniques” which are intended to break down the resistance of the target female (no, really) in order to make her more vulnerable to otherwise unwanted sexual advances.

A mangina is any pro-feminist male, or any male who is seen as collaborating with the perceived matriarchy. It is frequently expanded to include any male who isn’t stereotypically macho enough or doesn’t share the MRA movement’s hostility toward females.

Paleomasculinism views male domination and female submission as part of the natural order of things, and is held by many red pill adherents. Paleomasculinism as a movement seeks to distance itself from the men’s rights movement and PUAs/gamers

A unicorn is a perfect, loving, faithful girlfriend or wife (usually attractive and non-“slutty” to boot). Obviously, such women do not exist.