Twisted City by Chris Singleton - album sleeve

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A message from Bob

Those boffins at Sony BMG have come up with a rather good viral e-marketing campaign to promote the latest incarnation of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (must be at least the third Dylan greatest hits album they've put out, but there you go).

The viral is based around the famous Subterranean Homesick Blues promo clip, which features Bob standing behind the Savoy Hotel in London, holding up cue cards for his audience. These cards contain lyrics from the track, which he flips through as the song plays.

The viral microsite allows you to write your own message on each card that Bob is holding, and then he flicks through your message for your friends. So you could write something like 'Hi mate, I'm in Spain, shagging your girlfriend' or something equally inappropriate, send it to your mate, and Bob will do his thing with your message to the tune of Subterranean Homesick Blues.

My description of it doesn't do it justice - you should try it out for yourself at It's a good laugh, even if I can't imagine traditional Bob fans being too enthused by it. But then again, maybe it's not about traditional Bob fans - perhaps the record label are trying to expose Bob's music to a new audience. The only problem with that though, is that Subterranean Homesick Blues is not, in my view at least, one of his best tracks, and if I was coming cold to Dylan, I wouldn't be too turned on by the song. Also, I might not be familiar with the promo clip and wonder why a scruffy looking guy down an alley was telling me my friend was shagging my girlfriend.

I like it though.

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Ah come on now Gordon...

Alright Gordon, fairly decent speech today but no cigar.

Here are some ways you can get my vote back (not that it was going to the Tories, I'm probably going to abstain at the next election, in protest at all the parties offering more or less the right-wing fare).

1. Introduce a fair voting system -- PR. That'll stop the Tories winning 60% of the seats when only 40% of the electorate votes for them. Yes, that's right fellas, somewhat unbelievably Britain is, and traditionally has been, a left-leaning's just that the voting system is rigged to reward right-wingers with an incredibly disproportionate number of seats.

2. Bring the railways back into public ownership. I'm tired of paying daft money to travel for 45 minutes on a train. Paid £43 for a return trip from London to Oxford recently - nearly 50p a minute. Seriously. And while you're at it, please do something about the use of the word 'customer' on the railways. I am a P-A-S-S-E-N-G-E-R.

3. Stop privatising the Health Service. In Ireland, that little country to the west of Wales where I originate from, they rely on private operators to a silly degree for healthcare and the natives have to pay 60 Euros every time they see a GP. That is more painful than whatever they went to the doctor with in the first instance.

4. Stop foreigners buying British newspapers and slagging off, er, foreigners on the front page.

5. Ban Carol Vorderman (although admittedly Countdown kinda did that recently).

6. Buy my album.

7. Make Geoff Hoon do a humorous dance.

8. Make love not war.

9. Stop grumpy musicians from making lists (D'oh).

10. See point 6.

Etc., etc...just give us some decent Labour policies. While you still can, because you'll be out on your ear one way or the other soon. Feel faintly sorry for you, but I haven't forgiven you for Metronet and for letting First Great Western run anything. Particularly a train to Oxford.

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Blogger's block

I've been feeling a bit uninspired lately. Maybe it's because I'm too busy, maybe it's because I'm too knackered or maybe it's because my girlfriend has yet to buy a laptop, but I feel I've got the equivalent of "writer's block"...let's call it blogger's block. So I thought I'd write a blog about not blogging.

There are plenty of things I want to write about, but seem unable to due to lack of time or energy.

The things I want to wax lyrical about this month are:
  • Determinism: does free will exist?
  • David Cameron: why he is so wrong about the causes (and treatment) of poverty.
  • Musicals and why they are full of fantastic pop songs.
  • The lack of good signage in Ireland (seriously).
If you have any views on any of the above, do let me know as I may refer to your thoughts in the relevant post.

If I ever write it.

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Sarah Palin...and Ireland?

I read some interesting little posts about Sarah Palin today (the self-styled pit-bull terrier with lipstick, running for Vice President in the US elections) on the Slimming for the Beach and Maman Poulet blogs.

Apparently she's travelled outside of the United States three times. One of her visits abroad was to Ireland.

Now, being Irish myself, I was interested to hear this, and I was wondering where she went to. Giant's Causeway? Trinity College? Ring of Kerry? Glendalough? The Guinness Storehouse? Malahide?


Turns out, it was Shannon Airport.

That's where planes returning to the US do a stopover to refuel. Passengers get out of the plane for a little bit and get back on again.

Made me chuckle that.

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Dawkins and Darwin

I really enjoyed Richard Dawkins' recent television series about Darwin, The Genius of Charles Darwin. Dawkins is treated like a god by atheists (or at least a pope), and it's easy to see why. He's a very intelligent guy who is passionate about evolution as the explanation for the development of life, intelligent or otherwise; and he explains how it all works brilliantly. Not for him the creationism or 'intelligent design' theories propounded by many religious groups.

I'm sold on evolution as the explanation of how life developed, and even more so after watching Dawkins' series. The evidence for evolution is there in abundance - in fossils, bones and DNA - and Dawkins' presentation of it, despite my prior knowledge of how the process generally works, was illuminating. Dawkins described nature as it really is: an arms race between species, with only the winners getting to pass on their genes - resulting, over time, in the emergence and development of different kinds of creatures.

Above all though,  The Genius of Charles Darwin depicted how bleak evolution is. Natural selection isn't concerned with morality; it is all about effective mechanisms passing their genes on, regardless of what the mechanisms in question do. This is why parasites that feed on young children's eyes have evolved successfully, or viruses like AIDS. When you look at these horrendous examples of nature's handywork, it almost seems as though they in themselves argue against the existence of a creator, or certainly a benign one. What kind of creator, for example, would want to create cancer?

Looking at the biological evidence presented by Dawkins and other scientists, and the sheer brutalness of nature, I'm convinced that natural selection, not godly intervention, is the driving force behind the development of species.

What still confuses me though, is the context in which all this happens. Natural selection has to operate in accordance to the laws of physics: it can't circumvent fundamental laws/units or concepts such as matter, time, space, or gravity - regardless of how much a clever insect wants to pass on its genes. There is an order in the universe which all processes and entities have to obey. The apple must fall from the tree; the electron has to spin around the atom; a triangle has to have three sides. 

Which inevitably leads to that age-old question: why? I don't think Dawkins or Darwin, for all their brilliance, offer us an answer to that. Accepting the reality of natural selection - and it is very real - doesn't detract from the other reality, which is that we may be naturally selected, but we're still living in a very odd (if beautiful) universe with lots of big balls going round other big balls. I find this profoundly weird, and natural selection doesn't explain the origin of the laws of physics, or, let's face it, natural selection. Frankly, I want to know why the universe was created the way it was, and why its fundamental units facilitate natural selection.

It is nature's fundamental laws - for laws they are - that leave the door open in my mind to the existence of a creator. During my time on this particular big ball, I've never come across a physical law that natural selection was responsible for (and not a civil servant). Earthly laws, at least, are created; could the physical ones be?

If a creator is responsible for the laws of the universe, I'm not sure whether he, she or it is a God, and I certainly think that if he/she/it exists, it's not necessarily benign, and maybe it's not even clever. Part of me suspects that the universe may have been created by the cosmic equivalent of a GSCE science student who heated up some dodgy chemicals using his Bunsen burner when his teacher wasn't looking (I know I tried that in the lab; somebody's probably blogging about it at a microscopic level right now). 

I remain a big fan of Dawkins and I love his work; he's really got me thinking about nature. But more than that he's got me thinking about why nature exists at all. And neither he nor any religious figure has ever answered that one satisfactorily for me.

There's always the comments section of this blog though - feel free to have a bash.