Shitehawk

English: Red Kite flying over Berkshire in Aug...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to think this was a peculiarly Irish term of abuse – “Ya shitehawk ya” – with origins obscure and possibly whimsical. Some say it originally meant a manure pedlar. But it seems not; for the shitehawk is a real bird.

And not just any old bird either, but one of the most attractive and impressive of the smaller raptors – the red kite. This is a beautiful creature with ruddy feathers and a swift-like forked tail. It also happens to be a hawk for shite.

Or to put it in more scientific terms, as well as being a bird of prey it’s a carrion feeder, eating the bodies of animals it didn’t kill itself and other handy leftovers. A lot of the raptors double-job like this; after all if you’re built to chase down and murder living food you’re probably pretty high up the queue for the dead stuff too. Indeed debate still rages over whether their cousin¹ the Tyrannosaurus was mainly predator or scavenger. So the red kite is attracted to human settlements, because we pretty much live knee-deep in delicious detritus. It hovers – literally – about our dumps and middens.

It’s as a predator though, taking things people wanted to keep like rabbits and young chickens, that it became persecuted as vermin and was once in danger of extinction. Though not before British soldiers had a chance to apply the same vivid name to the carrion birds they met abroad. In India therefore the shitehawk was a vulture. And apparently the word persists in this role in parts of England, except applied to that new ubiquitous flying rat: the seagull.

I like that – I think I’ll refer to gulls as shitehawks from now on. The name suits those raucous opportunists (video) far better than it does the rare and pretty red kite.

  1. It’s true. Birds are basically just the dinosaurs that didn’t die out.

Merry-Go-Roundup 2

no spam!
I do not like it

The last week was of course dominated by 9/11, its conspiracy theories especially, but my attention was also arrested by a court in England which created some rather unusual and onerous conditions of bail. I ranted somewhat about the extraordinary birthday arrangements for Ireland’s disgraced former leader Bertie Ahern, and got good and mad with what seems like an ever-rising tide of ever-more-tedious spam.

But I’d swear, writing about spam attracts more spam. And writing about conspiracy theories attracts weirder spam. Look at this one:

We have learned a great deal about recovering from narcotic addiction and have found several methods that work well. This is information drug treatment programs would not want out since it would cause them to lose a large number of patients.

The what now? Are they offering me drug rehabilitation, or drug rehabilitation as a business opportunity? I don’t want to know.

The surprise hit of last week though was the one about the cyberstalking of Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google. It was picked up by a couple of other sites, including the formidable Reddit and the forums of the veteran Ctrl+Alt+Del webcomic. This made it the single most-read post of the blog so far. Lovely stuff. I encourage you all to follow this example and spam other sites about I.Doubt.It.

Er, I didn’t say spam.

Merry-Go-Roundup

Week 100 - Photoshop Contest Party
Image by oddsock via Flickr

Let’s start the week with a recap of the last one – a momentary break from the nausea helps one better appreciate the carousel, I find.

All hell broke loose in England, with the young indulging in a strange mixture of wanton violence and want-one theft. The more repulsive commentators, in Ireland especially it seemed, were keen to blame it on the feminist-socialist conspiracy to raise children without fathers, completely unconscious it seemed of the fact that this made them sound disturbingly like Anders Breivik. Those who wanted to blame black people had to make do in the end with blaming white people who just talk like black people.

The British government reacted in many ways at once, most of them useless, but the one that got my attention was when David Cameron began a sentence “Free flow of information can be used for good, but…” betraying the fact that he is not at heart a democrat. This view was supported by no one, except of course China.

On a related note, surprise hit of the week was an article on the decline of the meme. What I’d thought of as a throwaway remark was later bandied about Twitter as “Chapman’s Law”: If you hear about an internet meme via any medium except the Internet, it is already over.

I also discovered that I can say what I like about gay Presidents and right-wing politicians, but if I really want to get an argument going here, the thing I need to do is criticise Apple.

Back home then, and off our coasts new dives were being made on the wreck of the Lusitania. What seemed like the last nail was knocked into David Norris’s Presidential campaign when it was revealed that, in an unguarded moment in 1975, he admitted that his adolescent fantasies had been homosexual in nature. This was taken up by some in the press to mean that he represented a paedophile threat to himself.

Attention switched to veteran TV personality Gay Byrne, and he was even approached with an offer of support by the once-great Fianna Fáil party, who until now have only lost one Presidential election in the whole history of the State. But fortunately everyone suddenly realised that this was a completely mad idea.

And at home home, my mother received a call from a phone scammer. My rage was not a nice thing to behold, but the lesson I took away was that if I stayed calm when talking to the scammer next time, I’d be able to scare even more shit out of them.

Still closer to home, I was bitten by a mosquito and had a bad allergic reaction. Having tried about everything available in the pharmacy and found it wanting, if not utterly useless, I discovered an instant, effective cure: Water.

I hasten to point out that that doesn’t make it homoeopathy.

I Blame The Parent

London collage.
Like this except on fire

According to one pundit – I won’t name him, he likes that too much – the real cause of the riots in England is absentee fathers. I don’t know why fathers always seem to go away when the Tories get elected, but it is a theory.

In the light of it, maybe we have been understanding the situation there completely incorrectly. All these young men, children really, smashing windows and cars. They are protesting, but not in the way we understand it – not even in the way they understand it themselves. They’re not kicking against the government or their economic situation or social exclusion, but something more fundamental.

Nor was the situation precipitated by reductions in police numbers, resources, and morale. That would be far too simplistic. No – at least, not in the obvious way.

We must look instead at the psychology of the individual, as one of those detective types said. What do the kids want? Well father figures of course. The discipline and guidance that children yearn for. Men of authority, whom they can look up to.

Who are the only really convincing figures of authority in their communities, the only ones who don’t need guns or knives to look hard, the only ones who set them straight when they do wrong? The father figures who in recent years and months have had less and less time for them, who don’t come around so often anymore, who seem preoccupied recently.

The looting is not really about greed. It’s kleptomania for the poor, a cry for attention. From the police. And I think it’s working.

Beginning Of The End Of An Empire?

Detail from photographic portrait of Charles D...
"Let me see, what to call a tedious, overweening news editor... Evertrue Pratthandle? Raphael Trundlethroat? Ted?

Like many others, I bought the News Of The World for the last time today. Like many others, I also bought it for the first time today. Morbid curiosity. Of course this issue is hardly representative. It’s devoted to showing what a loss it is to the news publishing world.

To this end they reprint their very first front page from 1843. It sets out the paper’s stall in prose which, if you didn’t know was the real thing, you’d take for a parody of long-winded Victorian pomposity:

The general utility of all classes is the idea with which this paper originated. To give to the poorer classes of society a paper which would suit their means, and to the middle, as well as the rich, a journal, which from its immense circulation, should command their attention, have been the influencing motives that have caused the appearance of “NEWS OF THE WORLD”. We shall make no apologies for these motives, because, we conceive, that in their accomplishment we shall attain an end, that in the present state of England is not only desirable, but absolutely necessary. Journalism for the rich man, and journalism for the poor, has up to this time, been so broadly and distinctly marked, as the manners, the dress, and the habitations of the rich, are from the customs, the squalor, and the dens of the poor.

Can’t seem to decide there whether the poor are objects of pity or their market. Maybe the adverts said “Read it in the comfort of your own hovel!” And what was, with all of those, freaking, commas?

It carries on in this vein for – Christ – over three thousand constipated words. You couldn’t make it up. Hell, Dickens would have had trouble making it up. All reprinting this seems to establish is that the News Of the World was every bit as much a piece of unbearable crap 168 years ago as it was, for the last time, today.

Though presumably it was at least less criminal.

Speaking of which, Murdoch may be in even more trouble than previously thought. As the Telegraph points out, his News International is a US-based corporation, and the US has a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) outlawing bribery payments abroad. If found guilty of making payments to British police, News International may be facing fines of hundreds of millions of dollars.

It will be interesting to see how that gets reported on Fox News.

Beginning Of The End Of An Empire?

Detail from photographic portrait of Charles D...
"Let me see, what to call a tedious, overweening news editor... Evertrue Pratthandle? Raphael Trundlethroat? Ted?

Like many others, I bought the News Of The World for the last time today. Like many others, I also bought it for the first time today. Morbid curiosity. Of course this issue is hardly representative. It’s devoted to showing what a loss it is to the news publishing world.

To this end they reprint their very first front page from 1843. It sets out the paper’s stall in prose which, if you didn’t know was the real thing, you’d take for a parody of long-winded Victorian pomposity:

The general utility of all classes is the idea with which this paper originated. To give to the poorer classes of society a paper which would suit their means, and to the middle, as well as the rich, a journal, which from its immense circulation, should command their attention, have been the influencing motives that have caused the appearance of “NEWS OF THE WORLD”. We shall make no apologies for these motives, because, we conceive, that in their accomplishment we shall attain an end, that in the present state of England is not only desirable, but absolutely necessary. Journalism for the rich man, and journalism for the poor, has up to this time, been so broadly and distinctly marked, as the manners, the dress, and the habitations of the rich, are from the customs, the squalor, and the dens of the poor.

Can’t seem to decide there whether the poor are objects of pity or their market. Maybe the adverts said “Read it in the comfort of your own hovel!” And what was, with all of those, freaking, commas?

It carries on in this vein for – Christ – over three thousand constipated words. You couldn’t make it up. Hell, Dickens would have had trouble making it up. All reprinting this seems to establish is that the News Of the World was every bit as much a piece of unbearable crap 168 years ago as it was, for the last time, today.

Though presumably it was at least less criminal.

Speaking of which, Murdoch may be in even more trouble than previously thought. As the Telegraph points out, his News International is a US-based corporation, and the US has a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) outlawing bribery payments abroad. If found guilty of making payments to British police, News International may be facing fines of hundreds of millions of dollars.

It will be interesting to see how that gets reported on Fox News.

Independence Is Overrated Anyway

It would also be a unique opportunity to design the busiest flag in world history

Today the USA celebrates the anniversary of independence from Britain. Though I wonder would they have bothered if they’d known that, 235 years later, Britain would be pretty much dependent on them. It’s funny to watch that pair, singing together at the UN, fighting their wars hand-in-hand. You know I think those two should make up. They’re obviously right for each other.

Just one or two tricky details to sort out. The UK couldn’t just become the 51st state. It may be small in area, but at 62 million it would make up one sixth of the combined population. As the House of Representatives allocates seats proportionally it would inevitably form a huge voting bloc there, while at the same time being ludicrously under-represented in the Senate.

It would be far better for the constituent countries of the UK to join individually, with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland becoming the 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th states of the USA respectively. This still leaves England as the largest state by far though – 52 million people as opposed to California’s 37 – so perhaps it could be further divided. North and South England maybe, like the Dakotas and Carolinas. Or separate it into Greater London, and Little England.

But then there’s another issue – the United States is a republic, whereas the United Kingdom is anything but. This is a rather fundamental constitutional difference; it’s not a Union unless the whole thing is governed by a single Head of State. Let’s begin though by ruling out the option of Americans voting to become a monarchy. Not because they wouldn’t consider it, but because I’m worried they might. For the UK to finally be converted into a full democracy, its royal family will need to be deposed. That doesn’t mean they have to be rounded up and executed of course. Though it does seem like the ideal opportunity.

Cricket Explained (By Someone Who Doesn’t Understand Cricket)

Cricket Cartoon

We won a game of cricket against England, in some sort of world championship thing. To the annoyance of Australians and Indians and so forth, most Irish people don’t even realise this is an achievement. Here cricket is a minority sport some oddballs play, like lacrosse or caber tossing.

And it’s not even the first time. Here’s what I wrote back in March 2007:

It was St. Patrick’s Day. It was the climax of the rugby tournament. And water was banned.¹ Sounds like a dangerous recipe, yet it was the most good-humoured one I remember for years. Even Irish people were wearing green. Okay, it rained on our parade both literally and figuratively. The weather felt like being indecently assaulted by eels, and to lose the rugby after such a performance was magnificently tragic.²

But then came the cricket. Are we still on the same planet here? Ireland doesn’t beat Pakistan at cricket. You almost feel bad about it – what did Pakistan ever do to us? Most Irish people don’t even know what the rules are. So I thought it was my job to find out. I watched a game – or some of one anyway, they are pretty long – and this is how I think it works:

Cricket is played in a field. One team comes in to the field to field, which means they have to throw the ball and catch it. Sounds simple enough, but they can only throw it at the batsman who is actually on the other team, and has his hands full. Apart from the one who’s bowling (throwing), they stand around in a variety of positions that have names like silly mid-off, googly and teashop.

The batting team comes in, or on, to the field one at a time, and the bowling team tries to put them out, or off. You can put a batsman out by hitting the wicket (sticks) or catching a ball he hit, and you can put him off by insulting his girlfriend.

The batsman scores by running backwards and forwards, but only between the wicket and… another wicket, swapping places with a batsman at the other end. I’m not sure how he got there. They score one for every time they manage this before the other side finds the ball and brings it back, or an automatic four if the batsman hits the ball as far as it can go. Or six, if he hits it further.

Six is also the number of throws each bowler gets, and is called an over. When this is over, he goes over to the fielders again, and another takes a turn until all the overs are over. Then they start over. Play continues the next day and the next day and the next day until one side gives up.

Not so hard really.

  1. This was due to Galway’s outbreak of cryptosporidium, a nasty parasite, due to the nasty outbreak of uncontrolled building polluting the water.
  2. That year we got the Triple Crown and almost, almost took the championship.

Cricket Explained (By Someone Who Doesn’t Understand Cricket)

Cricket Cartoon

We won a game of cricket against England, in some sort of world championship thing. To the annoyance of Australians and Indians and so forth, most Irish people don’t even realise this is an achievement. Here cricket is a minority sport some oddballs play, like lacrosse or caber tossing.

And it’s not even the first time. Here’s what I wrote back in March 2007:

It was St. Patrick’s Day. It was the climax of the rugby tournament. And water was banned.¹ Sounds like a dangerous recipe, yet it was the most good-humoured one I remember for years. Even Irish people were wearing green. Okay, it rained on our parade both literally and figuratively. The weather felt like being indecently assaulted by eels, and to lose the rugby after such a performance was magnificently tragic.²

But then came the cricket. Are we still on the same planet here? Ireland doesn’t beat Pakistan at cricket. You almost feel bad about it – what did Pakistan ever do to us? Most Irish people don’t even know what the rules are. So I thought it was my job to find out. I watched a game – or some of one anyway, they are pretty long – and this is how I think it works:

Cricket is played in a field. One team comes in to the field to field, which means they have to throw the ball and catch it. Sounds simple enough, but they can only throw it at the batsman who is actually on the other team, and has his hands full. Apart from the one who’s bowling (throwing), they stand around in a variety of positions that have names like silly mid-off, googly and teashop.

The batting team comes in, or on, to the field one at a time, and the bowling team tries to put them out, or off. You can put a batsman out by hitting the wicket (sticks) or catching a ball he hit, and you can put him off by insulting his girlfriend.

The batsman scores by running backwards and forwards, but only between the wicket and… another wicket, swapping places with a batsman at the other end. I’m not sure how he got there. They score one for every time they manage this before the other side finds the ball and brings it back, or an automatic four if the batsman hits the ball as far as it can go. Or six, if he hits it further.

Six is also the number of throws each bowler gets, and is called an over. When this is over, he goes over to the fielders again, and another takes a turn until all the overs are over. Then they start over. Play continues the next day and the next day and the next day until one side gives up.

Not so hard really.

  1. This was due to Galway’s outbreak of cryptosporidium, a nasty parasite, due to the nasty outbreak of uncontrolled building polluting the water.
  2. That year we got the Triple Crown and almost, almost took the championship.

Loved By The Bad, Feared By The Good

At what point can we just declare that the terrorists have won and let them get on with running things? Almost every day brings them new victories. I’m not talking about murders and bombings, those are merely weapons. To defeat a democratic society you make it turn on itself. And so a stunning victory was achieved this week in the courts of England, when a man was criminalized for making a joke on Twitter.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining what Twitter is, as many – including it seems the judge in this case – still have no idea. Twitter is confusing to some because it doesn’t easily fit into the categories of public medium or private communication. On one hand it’s very public, in that anyone who joins can post remarks on it. In another sense it is quite private; your posts are (normally) only seen by people who choose to see them, and therefore know who you are.

Paul Chambers was planning a trip to Belfast to see a friend when he heard that his (oddly named) local airport had been shut down by last winter’s bad weather. “Crap!” he wrote, “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” Now that wasn’t a very funny joke, but it is quite obvious that it was meant in jest, as a way to vent his frustration. And yet he now has a criminal record – which in turn has destroyed his career as an accountant – for “sending, by a public communications network, a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

Clearly ‘menacing’ is the word at issue here. And clearly it was not menacing, because (a) it was patently not intended to be, (b) menaces are generally sent to the person or persons you are trying to menace, not to your friends, and (c) terrorists never preface their threats with the word “Crap”.

It is also clear that this law was not intended to criminalize casual speech. Judge Jonathan Bennett acknowledged this. Yet using his years of carefully honed stupidity, he managed to reach the conclusion that though not meant as a threat by the sender, the fact that it might be misunderstood to be menacing (by whom?) makes it a criminal act. He was satisfied – and these are his exact words – that the message was of a “menacing nature in the context of the time we live in”.

He may as well have said “I must deliberately misconstrue all jokes as serious expressions of intent, because that is what the terrorists have instructed me to do.” He is doing their bidding. By cooperating with their aim of destroying a free society, this judge may as well be a terrorist himself.

I’m not joking here.