Monthly Archives: October 2012

Windfall Big Apple

The Great Sandy Disaster happened across a whole swathe (good to hear that underused word coming from presidential lips) of the East Coast.

Yet in the first instance (though see codicil below) the UK press coverage confined Sandy’s main effect  to three Boroughs of New York: one got flooded, one got fired and one was deserted. Malcolm’s familial ties to Essex County, New Jersey, meant he was looking in that direction — most of what he found involved views of downtown Manhattan from Hoboken Terminal.

Oh, and there was the aerial shot of the dunked yellow taxis in their Hoboken lot and the tanker piled onto Staten Island.

And therein lies this tale.

It’s not just the London/British press. There’s something makes Manhattan the focal point of the whole world’s (including the US) media attention. A frequency chart of stories from and about the United States would come up as a dot-matrix of that famous Steinberg New Yorker cover.

All that is explicable for film and television. After all, it’s the sky-line, innit? A movie set in London, for international consumption, has to be located by reference to Tower Bridge and the Palace of Westminster> Similarly the spiky horizon behind Battery Park, or the classic view across the Brooklyn Bridge (always from the Brooklyn end) is new York, but natch.

All understandably so. After all, flying into Newark Liberty (as the Lady in his Life and Malcolm do in a few days time) is made worthwhile by:

  • it being the one New York airport that seems to work (although with inevitable delays);
  • its ease of access (particularly when Number One Daughter is waiting at the gate); and
  • the final approach in darkness, having that wall of high-rising lights to port. Even hardened travellers seem incapable of resisting this ocular cliché.

Which allows Malcolm chance to mention a particular favourite.

A while back (early 2011) Bernie Hou manufactured a magnificent, even iconic graphic, packing 91 New York movie locations into a single image.

Of the 91 Malcolm recognised perhaps a dozen.

Malcolmian aside

They say that half the scientists who have ever lived and worked in the history of the human race are alive, well and researching today.

The same must be true, to an even more remarkable fraction, about graphic artists. Across the digital globe, spotty geeks with pirated Photoshop and illicit Illustrator, all sitting at their high-definition video-screens, are pushing the envelope of the possible. Their mothers despair they will ever tidy their bedrooms.

The New York Central meme is a consequence of all the media operators having their bases within shoulder-rubbing distance of each other, and as close to Times Square as can be.

The corollary

And then the lights went out.

Remarkably the Sandy story then moved outwards, to where other tv studios were still operating. And that, folks, is how they make ‘news’ in the Big Apple.

And how the Big Apple is sauced for news.

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Filed under air travel., blogging, New Jersey, New York City, prejudice

The worst storm in New York’s records was caused by …

… going to bed with the wrong people.

You had to assume there’d be nut cases out there to utter this tripe. The dishonour falls to … ta-rah! … Chaplain John McTernan, who apparently operates out of Liverpool, Pennsylvania.

So here’s the divine truth (or one idiot’s version thereof):

On his website Defend Proclaim The Faith, the preacher says the gathering storm must be God’s judgment on gays, and punishing the president Barack Obama for coming out in support of marriage equality.

He believes ever since George Bush Sr signed the Madrid Peace Process to divide the land of Israel in 1991, ‘America has been under God’s judgment since this event.’

McTernan said: ‘Obama is 100% behind the Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem.

‘Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!’

It would be great to have the homosexual agenda fully defined. Perhaps it’s something like: “Oooh, that’s sooo East Coast!” (which Malcolm heard, when standing in a line for the San Francisco cable-car).

Inevitably a bit of mystical numerology has to be involved: it’s twenty-one years since the ‘perfect storm’ of October 1991:

’21 years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection,’ he said.

Surely no arguing with that?


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Filed under foot and mouth disease, Gender, homosexuality, human waste, US politics

Keep your tail up!

Malcolm freely admits his take on US politics is largely that of the East Coast (or what’s left of it, after Sandy came visiting). So David Horsey and the Los Angeles Times may be book-marked, but are not on his regular reading list often enough.

Which is a fault.

So Horsey’s political commentary last weekend only now comes over Malcolm’s horizon. And it is as good a quick-and-easy summary as one could wish:

If you live in Ohio, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are giving you a lot of love. But if you reside in California or Alabama, you may feel neglected and ignored by the candidates for president. Like parents in a big, noisy family, all their attention goes to the troublesome kids, not the compliant, quiet ones.

There has never been much doubt that states such as California, New York, Massachusetts and Washington would give their electoral votes to the president, and no doubt that Romney could depend on states such as Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and South Dakota to be solidly in his camp. All but about 10 states lined up months ago for one candidate or the other. Now it looks as if the number of states still up for grabs has dropped to seven.

As a result, there is really not a national campaign going on. All the effort and money for many weeks has been focused on voters in the swing states. Since, under the U.S. Constitution, the electoral vote, not the popular vote, determines who will sit in the Oval Office, and since the winner in each state takes all of that state’s electoral votes (with Nebraska and Maine being the two outliers where there is a possibility of splitting the vote), a presidential election really amounts to 50 distinct elections. 

He presents us with an unpalatable truth:

With as many as 43 of those 50 elections already decided, the real campaign is happening in just the remaining seven. That means any regional concerns folks in California or Alabama might have can be ignored by the contenders, who do all of their pandering in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa and the few other places that have the potential to pick the winner.

He blames this limited focus on the workings of the electoral college, on polling and on marketing. End of story, except he presents it neatly:

If you are a single female, living in Pasadena, working at a university, driving a Prius, shopping atWhole Foods, watching “The Daily Show,” reading books by Anne Tyler, listening to music by k.d. lang and vacationing in Rome, the Romney campaign does not need to waste time trying to get your vote. If you are a male, living in Tuscaloosa, managing an auto parts store, attending a Foursquare Gospel church twice a week and listening to Toby Keith in your Dodge Ram pickup as you drive into the countryside for a day of deer hunting, the Obama campaign is not likely to spend a cent on you.

All palpably true. Then he dresses it all up in a cartoon pastiche that would fit the New Yorker to a tee:

And very nice too.

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Filed under Presidential Election, reading, US politics

Update on the guilt pile

No: it isn’t significantly reduced.

Things went into something of a deep groove as Malcolm ploughed through:


Together these are 1200+ pages, exhausting, exhaustive accounts of half-a-decade of human tragedy, human misery, human malevolence, and a modicum of human and humane muddling-through. They are damned hard work: Malcolm will testify to that — but they are essential to the period, and major works of historiography. Kershaw has never been Malcolm’s favourite history writer— not because he fails in any way as a historian; more because his prose lacks a certain “lightness of touch”. MacDonogh is gruelling, because — if anything — the horrors of the aftermath should be anticlimactic — and his methodical analysis of how the Poles took revenge on German refugees (among many other horrors) is disgustingly enlightening.

For a month they kept Malcolm off the hard stuff.

As a result he made several resorts to lighter stuff. Allow him to celebrate a few:

The delight of the late summer has been discovering the Bryant and May sequence — so delightful that Malcolm is buying them in hard back and pre-publication. There’s a graphic novel, The Casebook of Bryant & May No.1, due shortly (and already overdue). Somewhere down the tracks under Kings Cross Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart is promised to be heading our way. If there isn’t a specific sub-genre of London sepia-noir, Fowler is inventing it. Beyond that, Fowler has one of the better author-websites around.

Incidently, Fowler’s not-quite-unpolitical asides are gems in themselves.

Malcolm has been with Ms Davis ever since he hit upon The Silver Pigs, the first of her Marcus Didius Falco series. That, he realises with a recognition of age, was over two decades ago. We reached number twenty with Nemesis.

Actually, Malcolm now recognises he backtracked to Lindsey Davis’s first Roman effort with The Course of Honour, a sentimental account of the relationship of the Emperor Vespasian and his long-standing mistress, the former slave, Antonia Caenis. He was less enamoured of this one.

More recently Davis has clearly been attempting to break with the Falco/Roman recitals — we had Rebels and Traitors a couple of years back, using the Civil War as a backdrop. Now she is back to Rome, post-Vespasian, with yet another tale of frustrated love and the conflicts of decency and corruption in the time of Domitian. In Master and God she manages a balanced picture of Domitian — balanced because she has two viewpoints, the Praetorian Guard and the hairdresser (at one point she uses a house-fly as the point-of-view). And, of course, there’s the frustrated and interrupted love-story. Like it or loath it, it kept Malcolm awake into the dawning hours.

Now we see that Davis is moving on from Falco to use Flavia Albia (Falco’s adopted daughter in the later part of the sequence) as the main character. That will be next spring in The Ides of March.

Just when Malcolm ought to have been buckling down to the recent Ian McEwan or the new C.J.Sansom (both sitting immaculate on the upper reaches of the Guilt Pile) he hit on something else —

For two evenings he was hooked. If Fowler’s Bryant and May are “London sepia-noir“, then Faye’s Timothy Wilde is the foulest sulphur of New York, the summer of 1845, on the cusp of Tweed and Tammany, as the Irish famine refugees start to arrive to rebuild the whole class-structure.

Indeed, there are echoes of Tweed here. Timothy Wilde’s brother, Val, is a hook-and-ladder man with a fire crew — and thereby a stalwart of the Democratic Party (the volunteer fire-companies had allegiances to gangs, politicians and ethnic groups). That is a dead ringer for Tweed of the Big Six volunteer company and the Seventh Ward. It is set just a few months before the prelude to Gangs of New York, in the same location of the Five Points, and just as violent.

Although it is a straight ‘historical detective’ story (the Wilde brothers are invested as the first ever New York police ‘copper badges’) it is also a remarkable pastiche of the social history of the lower depths: bar, brawls, brothels, prejudice, drugs, casual deaths and murders. It is also one of the most intricately plotted novels Malcolm has met of late.

He happily hopes Ms Faye will persist with the character of Tim Wilde.

And more …

Somewhere in there Malcolm found time to revisit George Mackay Brown’s Greenvoe (a second impression, all the way from 1975, still with dust-cover intact) and Peter Berresford Ellis’s attempt at a biography of MacBeth. Note ‘MacBeth’, not Macbeth. Quite how he got there is a bit of a mystery to himself: he thinks it was a speculation (in Liv Kjörsvik Schei & Gunnie Moberg’s 1985 and out-of-printThe Orkney Story) that Mormaer MacBeth and Jarl Thorfinn Sigurdsson were one and the same.

Now it’s back to Nazi London, 1952, and Sansom’s Dominion.


Filed under C.J.Sansom, Christopher Fowler, Detective fiction, fiction, History, Ian Kershaw, Lindsay Faye, reading

Stormy weather

The Noo Joisey grand-kids are at home today: they may be among the few saying, “Thank you, Sandy!”

If she lives up to her billing, she will be a right big bitch.

And the Republicans, including Mitt Romney, think FEMA should be abolished. Bet that ‘pledge’ doesn’t get much traction for the next few hours.

Meanwhile (1):

There’s a terrific graphic on the Guardian website, tracking all the hurricanes over the last 160 years. The original is credited to John Nelson, UX Blog, using information from the NOAA:

Quite magical, quite mysterious. Most frightening.

Meanwhile (2):

In moments of stress and strain, cue the likes of Lena —

Quite magical, quite magnificent. Most memorable.

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Filed under blogging, Guardian, Music, New Jersey, New York City, United States, US Elections

Pigeon post #1600

Memo to pigeons:

1. This is a cotoneaster horizontalis. You have been devouring those berries for some weeks. Enjoy. Leave some for the tits.

2. This is a ten-inch sponge-rubber football, left behind by the grand-sons. It is not some ginormous berry. Do not be deceived by the colour. It is quite inedible (but that hasn’t prevented your repetitive experiments at consumption). The tits are obviously brighter, or less ambitious than you.

And that was Malcolm’s sixteen-hundredth post.

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Filed under Muswell Hill

Mark meets Jimmy …

There’s a very nice piece by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker on The Voter-Fraud Myth. Jillian Rayfield fisks it on

It is a major article. It won’t convince the neo-Cons, of course.

Then there’s Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury.

The greatest strike against the U.K. press is that, since the demise of the lamentably short-lived The Sunday Correspondent, we benighted Brits have to access the Sunday extended Doonesbury on-line.

Today’s exchange between Mark Slackmeyer and Jimmy Crow is a gem. It says enough of it to get to the caw! of the issue.

By the way: that (as right) is not the punch-line. Which is even more pointed.

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Filed under democracy, Doonesbury, underclass, US Elections, US politics

Sandy moves in

To think that Malcolm had almost convinced the Lady in his Life that a few days, around now, at Cape May (right behind the A in Action below) would be a neat idea …


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Filed under New Jersey, weather

Cut-and-paste government

This very morning Malcolm felt moved to post his recent exchanges  with his MP, the delectable Ms Lynn Featherstone, over #combishambles.

To his total bestaggerment he had a fulsome and early reply. As promised, here it is in full (though why it presents itself on the screen in a tasteful dark blue is another matter):

Dear Mr Redfellow,

Thank you very much for your recent correspondence regarding the Government’s policy on energy bills. This is an issue I am deeply concerned about and I appreciate your worry. The recent price increases by large energy companies has the potential to make winter a struggle for many people. According to Consumer Focus, last winter 63% of people in London were unsure as to whether they could afford to pay their energy bills.

 As a Government we are working to lessen the effects of the rising prices of energy as far as possible. On 17 October 2012 it was announced that the Government would use the Energy Bill to get people the lowest tariffs. With this announcement we are taking the next step on our agreement with the energy companies that they should provide information on energy bills that clearly shows customers whether they are on the cheapest tariff offered by their energy company – and if they are not, shows exactly how much they would save if they switched to the cheapest tariff, and how they can do so.

 We are taking a number of other steps to ensure that people are saving as much as possible on their bills. We are working to secure our energy at the lowest cost: in the short term by promoting competition; in the medium term by insulating our homes and in the long term by steering us away from excessive reliance on fossil fuels and on to clean, green and secure energy. Consumers can save up to £200 a year by switching suppliers or tariffs, so we will make it easier to switch. Customers will have the right to be switched within three weeks once their cooling-off period has elapsed. Energy suppliers will be under a new obligation to speed up their switching processes.

 From December 2011, four million of the most vulnerable energy customers received letters to tell them they were eligible for free or heavily-discounted insulation to their loft or cavity walls, provided by the energy suppliers. We have introduced the Warm Homes Discount – a new mandatory scheme whereby the energy companies must offer rebates to vulnerable households giving £130 a year to the poorest pensioners. This will benefit the poorest 600,000 pensioners, with some support available for other groups. It is projected that 2 million households a year will benefit.

 Equally we are preserving the Winter Fuel Payment on the same basis as budgeted by Labour. Winter Fuel Payments are annual tax-free lump sums given to almost everyone aged 60 or over to help towards their winter heating costs. We will also be boosting the Cold Weather Payments are one-off payments made during periods of extreme cold weather to vulnerable households. We are investing an extra £50 million a year in ensuring the increase in Cold Weather Payments to £25 per payment is made permanent. Around 4.2 million people, defined as those in receipt of certain benefits, are currently eligible for Cold Weather Payments.

 As a Government we are delivering energy efficiency through the Green Deal, spearheaded by Lib Dem MP, Ed Davey. Every British home and business will be able to install packages of energy-saving technologies such as insulation, worth up to £10,000, at no upfront cost, with repayments made over time out of the energy savings. The Green Deal is expected to kick start around £14 billion of private sector investment over the next decade and could support at least 65,000 insulation and construction jobs by 2015.

 Another factor that is key to ensuring fairness is independent regulation of the energy market. We support Ofgem in its efforts to make the energy market more transparent and more competitive. We are committed to a framework of independent economic regulation for the energy sector and to Ofgem as the independent regulator.

Equally important is breaking up the dominance of the Big Six. The Big Six energy companies currently dominate the domestic market with a 98 per cent share. Ofgem are developing proposals for ‘Mandatory Auctions’ to force the Big Six to sell 25 per cent of their power. This represents nearly half of all household power use in Britain and should allow plenty of liquidity for independent suppliers and potential new entrants to expand their businesses. Ofgem will publish final proposals in the winter.


I will certainly support a bill that ensures people pay less for their energy. Please do not hesitate to get in touch again if you would like to discuss this matter or if you think there is anything further I can do as your Parliamentary representative.

 Just for your information, my staff ask for the addresses of people that contact me as I receive approximately four hundred emails a week from constituents. I’m sure you will appreciate that it would become very difficult to provide my constituents with the service they expect if I was also answering correspondence that should have been sent to other MPs. For example, the N10 postcode is covered by Hornsey and Wood Green, Finchley and Golders Green, and Chipping Barnet constituencies. However, I do understand you might not want to give out your personal details, and I hope the above has answered your queries.

 Kind regards


First resort is to take key clauses and phrases from that and Google them. Then the fun begins.

A useful aide-memoire is last Thursday’s politicshome post:

You always know a Government is in trouble when they dish out a ‘Lines to Take’ document to MPs.

I’ve been passed a copy of the latest Coalition lines on #energyshambles and it makes a fascinating read. Particularly the ‘hostile questions’ section …

Malcolm, an inveterate (if easily bored) literary exegesist, has so far found double-figures of precise copying from A to B.  You may do better.

For example:

  1. Conservative HQ (via PoliticsHome):  From December 2011, four million of the most vulnerable energy customers received letters to tell them they were eligible for free or heavily-discounted insulation to their loft or cavity walls, provided by the energy suppliers ...
  2. Lynne Featherstone MP: From December 2011, four million of the most vulnerable energy customers received letters to tell them they were eligible for free or heavily-discounted insulation to their loft or cavity walls, provided by the energy suppliers.

Just to prove that wasn’t a one-off:

  1. Conservative HQ (via PoliticsHome): … we are preserving the Winter Fuel Payment on the same basis as budgeted by Labour … Cold Weather Payments are one-off payments made during periods of extreme cold weather to vulnerable households. We are investing an extra £50 million a year in ensuring the increase in Cold Weather Payments to £25 per payment is made permanent.
  2. Lynne Featherstone MP: …  we are preserving the Winter Fuel Payment on the same basis as budgeted by Labour. Winter Fuel Payments are annual tax-free lump sums given to almost everyone aged 60 or over to help towards their winter heating costs. We will also be boosting the Cold Weather Payments are one-off payments made during periods of extreme cold weather to vulnerable households. We are investing an extra £50 million a year in ensuring the increase in Cold Weather Payments to £25 per payment is made permanent.

Uncanny? Great minds think alike?

The plagiarism continues to the point of distraction:

  1. Virendra Sharma MP (since deleted): 63% of people in London are unsure whether they can afford to pay their energy bills this winter according to the watchdog Consumer Focus
  2. Lynne Featherstone MP: According to Consumer Focus, last winter 63% of people in London were unsure as to whether they could afford to pay their energy bills.

Conclusion: A direct steal from the Labour MP for Ealing, Southall — but other parallels are available. Looks like a Commons Library source.

Now, here’s another bit of parallel-thinking:

  1. Department of Energy hand-out to MPsCustomers who have never switched can save up to £200 a year by changing energy supplier and paying by direct debit.
  2. Lynne Featherstone MP: Consumers can save up to £200 a year by switching suppliers or tariffs, so we will make it easier to switch.

Let’s admit it: Lynne Featherstone MP, fighting for political survival and the Tory Party —

Great fleas … lesser fleas … and so ad infinitum

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., Lib Dems, Lynne Featherstone, Muswell Hill, politics, politicshome, Tories.

The reticent Ms Featherstone

Here’s one Malcolm is not letting go.

Back on 19th October Malcolm felt moved by the energy pricing #combishambles to seek the educated view of his MP — the fragrant (though even pig-slurry can be so described) Lynne Featherstone [fighting for Hornsey & Wood Green]:

As a matter of some urgency, can Ms Featherstone explain her position on #energyshambles?
I thought DECC was a LibDem fiefdom; but the PM’s statement on Wednesday seemed to establish new and directed guidelines for Coalition policy.
Am I allowed to expect deductions on tariff for twin-energy, for on-line billing, and direct debit? If not, why must my energy bills be increased to a notional average?
Would imposing a common tariff not amount to a form of re-nationalisation? Or at least direction from Whitehall?
In short, what is going on?

Ms Featherstone’s normal response (as in a previous exchange over the removal of disability allowances for handicapped children) is to recycle the pro-forma response of the Tory minister.

Not this time. Obviously the combo-shambles is more shambolic than we thought.

We now have a new approach, courtesy of her “assistant”:

Thank you for contacting Lynne Featherstone MP with regard to energy tariffs. Due to strict Parliamentary protocol, MPs are only able to make representations on behalf of their constituents. Please could you kindly provide your full address and postcode to confirm that you are a resident of Hornsey and Wood Green.

To which Malcolm whizzes back:

Hold on: I am not asking Ms Featherstone “to make representations”.
I am asking what is her position on energy tariffs.
No more. No less.
To solicit a statement of a Member’s position should not require full personal details.
And, yes: I am a resident of Ms Featherstone’s constituency — though why that should matter is arguable. Good luck on getting even that assurance from the Gadarene swine of the press corps.

Should Ms Featherstone (or her “assistant”) come up with a definitive response, it’ll be here.

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Filed under David Cameron, democracy, Lib Dems, Lynne Featherstone, Muswell Hill