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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why do you ask, Three Cops Spanking?

Headlines are wonderful things; subheads, sometimes more so. My favourite crash blossom of all time appeared in Dublin's Evening Herald many, many years ago, but it's one that stayed with me to this day. The story revolved around rabbits' famed proclivity for reproduction, and alluded to a report that suggested that we humans were just as prolific in that department. The headline? Man Beats Rabbits in Sexual Activity. I really, really wish I'd kept a copy of that paper.

These days, though, we still have many to choose from. The tabloids aim to have the best headlines, but given that they try to have a good one every day, they inevitably fail a lot more than they succeed. The Mirror's recent front page is a case in point.

Hahaha... they said 'snow' instead of 'no'. That's brilliant. Except it isn't, and it gives the sentence a meaning that's diametrically opposite that of the intended one. Yeah, I know, no one's going to be confused, but really: is this the best they could come up with? I leave it as an exercise to the reader to come up with a better one, but shitty puns based on 'snow', 'flake', 'drift', etc, abound.

Fortunately, we have the Register to fill the void. The Reg adopts a certain tabloidy tone, but is always usually an entertaining and informative read. Their language, though, contains quite a bit of jargon; stuff that'll be familiar to long-time readers, but utterly bemusing for the rest of the populace. The occasional reference to Bulgarian Airbags, for example, could well have hapless readers runnng in vain to the dictionary, and one must take pity on the poor soul who looks for reviews of the UK's broadband providers only to come across the headline Three cops spanking in mobile user ranking. Makes perfect sense if you know how to read it.

For sheer class, though, the Reg is unparallelled in the world of the Subhead. I tip my hat to the great mind that came up with this or this.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Of Course We Should Call It a Bailout

Looking back on the past few weeks, it's strange to see how naïve we were as a country. The fear was palpable as the spectre of the IMF loomed over us. Repeated assurances from the government that no digout would be necessary were ignored by everyone; we knew we were fucked. Fianna Fáil were in a position that may well have been unique; we've spent decades assuming that they were all crooks, but now we're not so sure. Can it be that Biffo and his minions were merely being incompetent? That rather than being the mendacious fuckers that tradition and experience would paint them, they were simply incapable of doing anything even remotely effective?

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Entire Generation Brainwashed

It may have been earlier, and it may have been someone else, but I say Carl Sagan did it, on the BBC in the 80s, with Cosmos. I refer, of course, to the pernicious mispronunciation of 'Uranus'.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mr Gorsky Was Obviously Behind it All

Earlier today, I went to a talk in the Science Gallery which asked a simple question: were the moon landings real? Given the location of the talk it was obvious that the answer to this was going to be "yes". I confess, though, that I was holding out a small glimmer of hope that our esteemed speaker was going to try and convince us that it was all a hoax. Alas, 'twas not to be, so I'll have to continue waiting for an opportunity to verbally abuse a guy at a lectern.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Perils of Pedantry

For the second time this week, I found myself talking about a couple of things that had me struggling to answer. Not because I didn't know what I wanted to say, but because the questioner wanted a one word answer, and I couldn't bring myself to give one.

The questions were, in essence, "do you believe in UFOs" and "do you believe in aliens?" The answer to both questions is, of course, "yes". But an answer that better represented my thoughts would be "no".

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hooray for Baen!

The guiding philosophy of this blog since its inception has been "if you can't say something mean, don't say anything at all." However, the odd nice comment does slip through, and this is one of those occasions.

Baen have long been a publisher who've recognised the power of the internet and, indeed, of letting people read their books for free. When they first started letting people download their stuff, they made the first volume of a bunch of series available on the assumption that if the reader was suitably impressed, the likelihood of purchasing subsequent volumes (and, indeed, those that were downloaded) would increase. They've since expanded their range of freebies, so we can infer that they were right in their assumptions (have a look at their rationale on their Free Library page).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Did You Threaten to Overrule Him?

I've been noticing for a while now a tendency among some interviewers towards a somewhat combative attitude to their guests when I'm listening to or watching political programmes. It has its place, of course, and some of Jeremy Paxman's interviews are highly entertaining for that very reason. However, it seems that all too often the point is not to elicit information but to get the guest to say something -- anything -- he doesn't want to say. And I regret to inform you that RTÉ Radio's political discussion programme The Late Debate has joined the hallowed ranks of programmes that have me yelling at the presenter rather than the guests.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Nightmare is Over... For Now

At last it's passed. The annual irritation; the month of bemusement when your humble blogger must constantly check the calendar to see if something he's reading about has yet to happen or if it's already passed. It's a pain in the hole, and it takes up about ten percent of every damn year.

By now, gentle reader, you'll have inferred that I'm talking about the date. Or, to be more specific, the format in which the date is written down. Those who do the writing broadly fall into three categories, depending on which format they do the writing...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten Rants or Less

I've alluded on previous occasions to the fact that I'm no longer annoyed by (most of) the lapses in grammar and punctuation that infest our daily lives. I'll give the occasional chortle when I see a particularly egregious example, but that's about it.

Try as I might, though, there's one thing that pisses me off. It's the ubiquity of the "Ten Items or Less" sign that one sees in every supermarket.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Devil Cites Scripture for His Own Purpose

I don't know whether it's arrogance or stupidity (or both), but ever since the Catholic church's kiddy-fucking proclivities became public knowledge, our clerical chums have shown a distinct lack of nous when it comes to their public statements. Most of these came from the lower ranks, but occasionally the higher-ups manage it too (this being my favourite from recent times). Even so, I was prepared (for some reason) to give the Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin the benefit of the doubt, and assumed he was the victim of lazy quoting by the Irish Times when they reported on his homily during the Law Mass yesterday. I was, it seems, a trifle naïve.

No way of determining, huh?

At first glance, this story looks like a victory for rationality. And, indeed, it is. But really...
The City Council says it will not be providing them with another property because it has no real way of determining if the claims are true.
I'd be a lot happier if this line read "The council told them not to be so fucking stupid, and to stop living in the middle ages."

They're right, of course; there is no way of proving the non-existence of ghosts. Just like there's no way of disproving the presence of gods, trolls or telepathic centipedes. But it'd be nice if they just told this hapless couple to cop the fuck on.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I'm Going to Coin Another Word

It can be argued that when someone such as I resorts to making up a word, it's due to deficiencies in his own vocabulary. With so many words in the English language, with so much nuance possible, there must surely be a word already for the concept our hapless neologificator is trying to convey. I don't deny it.

On the other hand, that's not going to stop me. If, as you read this, you find yourself muttering dark imprecations at my lack of erudition for not knowing x, then by all means add a comment. Be as abusive as you like (as long as you include the word).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where to start?

I meant to post this a couple of days ago, but I got distracted. Blame the Irish Times. Or the EU.

Actually, that's not fair. Maybe. I'll let you decide.

It all started, you see, when the Irish Times reported on, um, a report to the European Parliament on the future of e-commerce in this happy bloc of ours. I was, I confess, a trifle sceptical about some of the figures, and went off in search of the report. That took a while. Then I read the first half of the report. That took two minutes, plus scrolling time. Then I got to the human-readable part, which took another while. Then, er, I forgot to write this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Plus ça Change, Plus c'est la Même Chose

When the story first appeared in the Sunday Independent — officially Ireland's worst newspaper — two thoughts popped into everyone's head:
  1. What a dick.
  2. The timing means this can't be anything but a leak orchestrated by Fianna Fáil.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mission Creep

My friends, I seem to have lost my way. This blog, when I set it up, was supposed to be host to my invective against the fools of the world. I was aware that there'd always be some scientific component to this; particularly when dealing with the unholy trinity of creationists, homeopaths and astrologers. But as the days go by, I see more and more science, and many fewer assholes than I'd hoped to address.

The time has come to rectify this.

From here on, this blog will be devoted wholly to abuse. I've set up a new blog,, on which I'll continue with the sciency bits. I hope you'll head over there.

Oh, and please rest assured: my use of sciencophile isn't part of some cunning plan to get the world using that word. It's just that my first few choices weren't available.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's my birthday in a few days

Just sayin'.

I Sentence You to Three Hail Marys

There are a few points to be made about this story, and I honestly don't know how I feel about any of them.

Anyway, it seems that a young man got pissed and slagged off a Guard. Did he do so because of a deep and abiding mistrust of authority? It seems not. Apparently, it was because the poor Guard happened to be from Mayo. It further seems that aforementioned Guard, with admirable loyalty to his home county, took umbrage with these remarks, and so it is that we hear in the court record about being told to "Fuck off back to Mayo". This is fairly unambiguous. Less so is the epithet "Mayo wanker". Are all people from Mayo wankers? Does this particular member of An Garda Síochána stand out by being one of the few wankers from Mayo? We may never know. Those of us in the Capital have only Enda Kenny to serve as a basis for judgement, and I doubt that's fair on the rest of the county. The ginger tosser.

More fascinating than the onanistic habits of our Mayo brethren, though, is the sentence. Being told to climb Croagh Patrick and say a few prayers? Really? In the twenty-first fucking century?

However, it's not necessarily a bad thing. This guy got drunk and told a guard to fuck off; hardly the stuff criminals are made of and prison, or even a fine, would've been over the top. If he can get away with a walk up a mountain, then all is well. Let us not forget, though, that during pilgrimage season there are ample opportunities for "where is your god now" comments as myriad holy joes (and josephines) are injured in the ascent every year.

And he has to say a few prayers, too. This is the dubious bit. You'd really think the judge would know better. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to have specify the recipient of these prayers. Should our friend bring a camcorder to the top of the hill and film himself imploring Satan to smite his enemies, then mission accomplished. I personally would prefer a prayer to Thor, entreating him to save us all from Thanos. But that's just me.

I suspect that in the days to come the Irish Times will be replete with letters from angry, bolshy atheists, and equal numbers from those who say "ah, sure, what's the harm?". Both sides will have a point, which should make it really interesting.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't Make Me Make Up a Word

When I was giving out about our beloved Minister of Science, I avoided using a word that popped up frequently in the newspapers; 'evolutionist'. It's a word that irritates me immensely. I avoided it because it'd send me off on a tangent from which I may never have recovered.

But now that I've safely hit the 'post' button and have had time to calm down, perhaps I can write a more thoughtful screed on the topic.

Surely you can't be serious

Gentle reader, I offer for your delectation this link. I do so for a reason. Is it...
  1. That after reading and enjoying Patrick Smith's column (and book) for so many years, I've decided to pay him back by publishing a story that denigrates his entire profession.
  2. Because it gives me a chance to note that pilots really do ask visitors to the cockpit if they've ever been in a Turkish prison
  3. Because of a missing 'for'
Actually, it's 2. But in case you were wondering about 3, have a look at this line:
87 were treated or diagnosed with sexual deviation, which includes pedophilia, voyeurism and fetishism.
Had it said that '87 were treated for or diagnosed with...', I'd have tittered immaturely and moved on. But instead I'm left wondering what exactly is involved in the treatment they gave those pilots. I expect we'll find out when the video goes viral.

Fianna Fáil Minister in "Smart Move" Shock

A couple of days ago, our esteemed Minister of Science, Conor Lenihan, pulled out of a book launch at the request of its author, John May. The book, The Origin of Specious Nonsense, is about how there's no such thing as evolution by natural selection, and that everything we know about science is wrong.

Just to repeat. Our Minister of Science was launching a book that denied evolution. And did he back out because the idea of a Minister of fucking Science launching such a thing would make us the laughing stock of the entire planet (some southern states of the US excepted)? No. He did it because the author, who obviously had more cop on, requested that he do so.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Hyphens — Or, Possibly, Fewer

When I alluded previously to my fondness for mockery of the prescriptivist hordes, I was thinking primarily of individuals. There exist, though, many groups of like-minded souls who've come together to form organisations like the Queen's English Society (their URL has no apostrophe in "Queen's". That must really burn them). These punctilious protectors of punctuation have been "concerned about the decline in standards in the use of English for many years" and who can blame them? English as she is spoke has been under attack for centuries from enemies foreign and domestic.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Seeing randomness in randomness

There's a great post over at on the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Doubtless you're aware of the coincidental nature of one or two of the examples he gives, but it's nice to see so many enumerated in one place. I disagree with a couple of his examples, though; it's tempting to consider that he sees a pattern of randomness inside all this randomness, and is including some items even though they don't belong.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yeah, but what about Lucy?

While I was doing some reading for my previous post, I found more and more stuff that reinforced an impression that I've held for quite a while, now; that a lot of the ethical questions that arise do so solely to keep ethics boards in employment. Then I read this.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Ethics of DTC Genetic Testing

It's ten years since the first draft of the human genome was published. This was truly one of the greatest feats the human race has accomplished. A decade later, and a scant sixty years since the double helix of DNA was identified, it's now possible to send a swab from your cheek off to a laboratory and be given a list of alleles that show whether you're more or less prone to certain diseases and conditions. This nascent industry, DTC (or Direct-to-Consumer) Genetic Testing, has been in the news for the past couple of months, and for none of the right reasons.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

International Hand-wringing Day

One would like to say "only in America", but the sad truth is that there are dipshits like this everywhere. They just happen to be more public in the US.

I speak of course, of the pastor who decided that on 11th September, he's going to host a Koran burning. The generalissimo in Kabul said that this was going to cause problems there. The White House has said it's a bad idea. Throughout the world, journalists are reporting on how terrible a thing this is. But they're reporting it.

Thing is, it's just one asshole carrying on the noble asshole tradition of book burning. Nothing new there. The most egregious aspect of this story is that we all know about it. We know his name. We know his church. We can see photographs of the dipshit in question standing before a large sign proclaiming his intentions. Why?

There's no doubt that, unlike most of the 1st Amendment nonsense one reads about, he absolutely does have the right to do this. And he should. But there's no reason for the rest of the world to hear about it. We should just let this idiot do his thing, and forget about it. Instead, it's being covered by the AP and countless other organisations, turning one bigoted, uninformed asshole into a cause celebre for bigoted, uninformed assholes everywhere.

Yeah, it'd be cool to bring along a bunch of bibles and have a parallel burning. But that'd still be a book burning. The best option would be to ignore this fucker, and get on with our lives.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Expressed Eggcorn

Once again, I was asked if I wanted to become a member of a new torrent site. Once again, I wandered over to have a look. Once again, I had a quick look at the rules. Once again, I read the phrase "expressed wishes of the staff".

Granted, this phrase isn't unique to those who run trackers (google currently yields 91,000 results for the phrase), but a swift trawl through the rules of most trackers will reveal that at least two thirds of 'em will contain this phrase in their rules. This, as far as I can see, can mean one of three things...

Monday, September 6, 2010

I am a lazy advertising campaign

Maybe because it's quite close to where I live that I see a lot of ads for Griffith College. First there was their attempt at getting us to refer to it as 'GCD', something which they seem, thankfully, to have abandoned. Now they're going for another, distinctly unimaginative campaign, and one that shows that if you want to nurture your creativity, GCD isn't the place for you.

Or it's possible that I'm just sneering at the "I am Griffith College" campaign so I can show this ad from the Irish Times and note that this guy obviously really wants to get into Griffith College.

I'm clueless. Doesn't mean I'm wrong, though.

Opinions, it is said, are like assholes; everyone's got one. This isn't exactly true. I can't speak for the rest of the world, but in my case, I have but one asshole (of which I'm aware), but many, many opinions. Inevitably, some of these are full of shit.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where almost all of our opinions are uninformed ones. I'm all too aware of my own cluelessness on pretty much every topic, but it doesn't stop me having firm opinions on those topics. I'm on firmer ground with some subjects than others; I know I'm right when it comes to matters concerning, for example, evolution. On others, such as my unwavering disbelief in dark matter, I know I'm almost certainly wrong. But I hold the opinion nonetheless.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Clarifying One's Position

It seems that our beloved Justice Minister has seen it necessary to clarify his position with regard to statements he made yesterday. Statements that, on the face of it, seemed fucking insane but now, in the cold light of day, can be recognised as typical Fianna Fáil bullshit that in this instance also happen to be fucking insane.

I mention this not to shoot the barrel of fish that is our state of governance, but rather to ponder on the nature of that phrase 'clarify his position'. It's a stock phrase that, if not a full-blown cliché, is certainly on its way to becoming one. A quick search on google reveals over 350,000 pages that include it. Those pages - a sampling of them, anyway - tend to be in one of two camps; either an outraged A was calling on B to clarify his position on C, or B was doing the clarifying of his own volition. Ahern will doubtless take solace in the knowledge that in clarifying his position in the way that he did, he was following a well-trodden path.

Ahern said that Irish banks may need to impose much larger ATM fees on their customers if the number of bank robberies involving hostage taking is to be reduced. It seems fairly unambiguous, but today he clarified. "I wasn’t suggesting that more taxes or more charges should be put on people," quoth he.

So now you know. To clarify one's position is to say "I didn't say that" without actually using words that can be contradicted by people with recording equipment.

Friday, September 3, 2010

On Punctuation

I am, I confess, a lover of language. As such, I spent a fair portion of my life being a pain in the arse, concerned with minutiae such as grammar and punctuation. As one grows older, though, one realises more and more that these things matter not a whit. I speak not of dubious rules about splitting infinitives; no, friends, I speak of the actual rules. I'll follow them as best I can, but others can mispronunciate to their hearts' content. The masses can abuse any rule of grammar, spelling or aesthetics as much as they like, and I'll listen or read no less attentively. I no longer bat an eyelid when I see apostrophes boldly going where no apostrophe should go, nor do I shrink in horror when someone spells 'millenarian' with an extra 'n'.

In fact, if you'll pardon some hubris on my part, I'm happy to say that I've reached the next level of linguistic nirvana; I no longer care about prescriptivist assholes who do object to such things. They can, to be sure, be a source of amusement, but I'm happy to say that no fist shaking is involved.

The true state of enlightenment, alas, still eludes me, as two particular items still get to me. One is, I feel, entirely justified; the other, not at all.

First of all, I hate - I fucking hate - people spelling 'lose' with a double o. This is no more egregious than any other misspelling that infests the internet, but it gets to me. Possibly because of its ubiquity; I honestly don't know. And try as I might to ignore it, I stamp my little feet in unjustified, misdirected rage whenever I encounter it. Which is daily.

The other thing, I feel less of a prescriptivist about; this is probably because I use it as a source of amusement more than anything else. I speak of the misplaced hyphen. Or, more commonly, the missing hyphen. The hyphen is there for a reason; it provides clarity. I first noticed the missing hyphen some time ago when I encountered on Nassau Street a chap with a t-shirt bearing the text 'FBI -Female Body Inspector'. Was this bulky chap a female inspector of bodies? I'm reasonably certain he wasn't. And if he weren't twice my size, I'd have pointed it out to him.

Of course, it's nonsense. No one who saw that t-shirt was genuinely confused by the potential ambiguity; equally, in this photograph that I took today on Cathal Bruagh Street you see a sign that, I'm sure, left not a soul assuming that the minimum price for parking during the during the day is €7.69.
I know it's nonsense. I don't care.  I'll continue to cherish the missing hyphen, and to try to remember which book it was I read all those years ago that spoke of 'oxygen-free radicals'.

First Post

This is a first post. My first blog entry ever after decades on the internet. My beloved followers may be assured, though, that facebook and I will never be friends; nor is there any fear of being forced to read about my bowel movements in 140 characters or fewer. Or howeverthehell many it allows.

There is no purpose to this other than to give to the public the profundity of my thoughts. I cannot promise the posts will be interesting, informative or funny. I vaguely hope they'll each have one of those, but who knows? I may just end up telling you about my bowel movements in six paragraphs. And, if you're extremely lucky, in iambic pentameter.