26 October 2005

Sorry, this million dollar idea is taken

A 21 year-old kid thinks of a way to get complete strangers to give him $1 million. Well okay he's only got $500,000 so far - in return for basically nothing...

The Million Dollar Homepage

[Courtesy of Tibby]

22 October 2005

TV Cream's Top 100 Toys

What life could possibly be complete without a joyous trawl through the wonders of all the 'wonderful' toys we used to play with as little bleeders? Includes the obvious ones, like the Rubik's Cube, but also oft-forgotten gems like Mastermind, Guess Who?, Downfall, spud-guns, Terrahawks, and plenty of naff stuff that only smelly girls played with.

TV Cream's Top 100 Toys

[Courtesy of Alpen]

Take a left turn at Timaru, and beware the Martian death-ray

Craters on Mars named after New Zealand locations



Craters on Venus named after New Zealanders

Batten (after Jean Batten, aviatrix)
Marsh (after Dame Ngaio Marsh, writer)


20 October 2005

Very Friday website hootenanny

T-shirts galore

You know you desperately want that Fraggle Rock, Ferris Bueller or Danger Mouse t-shirt! Find all your bad 80s nostalgia attire here...



Like Hotornot, but for kittens. Two pictures of kittens, and you click on the one you think is cuter. Then you find out the way other visitors to the site have voted. Surprisingly addictive. And if you type 'Wicket' into the search box you'll find one that looks just like an Ewok.


Futurama MP3s

From Matt Groening's animated sci-fi comedy. Includes Bender the robot's immortal line: 'Ok, but I don't want anyone thinking we're robosexuals. So if anyone asks, you're my debugger'.

And the quote from the politics episode (season 2, episode 3): 'He struck a chord with the voters when he promised not to go on a killing spree'. Amen to that.


Triangular Sheep

It's all the rage down Southland way, you know - well, actually it's more like a pyramid than a triangle, but then YOU try going for four years without a haircut and see how tidy you look...


Terrorists obviously can't afford a ten-speed these days

Two wheels: good. Two legs: terrorist suspect
By David Lister, Scotland Correspondent

WITH her year-round tan, long blonde hair and designer clothes, Sally Cameron does not look like a threat to national security. But the 34-year-old property developer has joined the ranks of Britain's most unlikely terrorist suspects after being held for hours for trespassing on a cycle path. She was arrested under the Terrorism Act for walking along a cycle path in the harbour area of Dundee.

She was walking from her office in Dundee to her home in the suburb of Broughty Ferry when she was arrested under new anti-terrorist legislation and held for four hours.

She said: "I've been walking to work every morning for months and months to keep fit. One day, I was told by a guard on the gate that I couldn't use the route any more because it was solely a cycle path and he said, if I was caught doing it again, I'd be arrested.

"The next thing I knew, the harbour master had driven up behind me with a megaphone, saying, 'You're trespassing, please turn back'. It was totally ridiculous. I started laughing and kept on walking. Cyclists going past were also laughing.

"But then two police cars roared up beside me and cut me off, like a scene from Starsky and Hutch, and officers told me I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act. The harbour master was waffling on and (saying that), because of September 11, I would be arrested and charged."

Ms Cameron, who said that at one stage one of the officers asked her to stop laughing, described the incident as "like a scene from the movie Erin Brockovich, with all the dock workers cheering me and telling me to give them hell". She said: "I was told that the cycle path was for cyclists only, as if walkers and not cyclists were the only ones likely to plant bombs. There are no signs anywhere saying there are to be no pedestrians.

"They took me to the police station and held me for several hours before charging me and releasing me."

She said that she was particularly galled by the letter from the procurator fiscal's office, which said that she would not be prosecuted even though "the evidence is sufficient to justify bringing you before the court on this criminal charge".

A spokesman for Forth Ports said: "We will robustly prosecute anyone who breaches these new security measures because they have been introduced by the Government and we are obliged to enforce them."

The Times, 17 October 2005

Carries a large axe, has a long beard, passionate hatred of orcs

Convicted Arsonist At Large

NewsRoom.co.nz Agency Story at 11:38 AM, 11 Oct 2005

Police in Cambridge are searching for a convicted arsonist who escaped from a secure unit this morning.

Shane Reid, 28, was serving a two-and-a-half year sentence following arson attacks on two schools last year.

Police believe Reid is on his way from Cambridge towards Hamilton.

He is described as a dwarf and police say he should be easily recognisable.


[Later reports noted that he was captured that afternoon - see the excellently-titled 'Police nab arsonist dwarf after taxi bid for freedom']

"Bitter? No, not bitter at all"

Marc Alexander: A Government at Last! Yeah Right
Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 4:33 pm

Labour clearly had the numbers to take a first stab at forming a government. But the resultant mishmash of important portfolios with Foreign Affairs and Revenue sitting outside the Executive bereft of the discipline of collective responsibility, is the ultimate in a cynical display of perk-grabbing hedonism. Clark, like a bulimic at the fridge of power, has been expediency personified. She hasn't let one principle interrupt her gorging at the footstool of history. She is a canny woman and there can be little doubt that she sees her time is nearly up. She has done everything and anything to stitch up a government with enough longevity to assure her immortality in Labour's Hall of Fame. In all probability, she will - in about a year - decide to stand aside knowing full well that her government which closely resembles the Edsel, will have as much future as the Hindenberg. She will then trot on to the next phase of her life leaving behind a Phil Goff/Steve Maharey bun fight over who will captain the ship out to the epicentre of the Bermuda Trangle.

Winston Peters, the taciturn political "vaudevillian"who turned a 10,362 majority into a 730 vote deficit, whose Party shed nearly half its MPs, and who tried to make a virtue out of a claim to stay on the cross-benches, has finally done what we all knew he would: he has accepted the baubles of Ministerial office. Could anybody be surprised? He hasn't just reluctantly accepted the post; he has stuck both hands out for the perks of power and filled his pockets with all the tokens, trinkets, the knives, forks and spoons of office. I can see him at the tailor’s being kitted in the sartorial splendour of deeper pockets lined with a waterproof fabric just to steal soup from the kitchens at Bellamy's!

The only surprise is that Winston is to be given the one Ministerial position that he has clearly demonstrated a decidedly negative aptitude for. When it comes to the substantive aspects on an issue he has the attention span of a meercat on a double espresso. Perhaps someone should tell him that being Foreign Affairs Minister isn't a licence to indulge in fleshly pleasures away from the spotlight of the domestic press corps, but it is an important role showcasing our country and all we stand for. No matter how you look at it, Winston will never project the image of competence that Phil Goff has demonstrated in that role. Asian nations in particular are likely to interpret Winston’s appointment as Foreign Minister as a sign of approval for his perceived anti-Asian views. It will make dealing with them seem like brain surgery performed with a chainsaw.

Peter Dunne’s ego will be sorely bruised by the 5,000 vote slash in his majority in Ohariu-Belmont; by the loss of two-thirds of support for his Party; and by the loss of five MPs. But most of all he will miffed that it is Winston, and not he, who is the leader of a centre party with the power to determine the shape of this government. Nevertheless, Dunne will be in his element as Minister of Revenue - he will relish the opportunity to have the media listen to him for a change. In a sense this will be a practice run for his next term as the new Jim Anderton, unencumbered as he will be from his two useless appendages. He will then be in a caucus of one liberated from endless soliloquies about the perils of the great moral outrages of the day. Freed from the expectations of a pretend party he will go on being an exceptional electorate MP and contribute much to future governments (be they Labour or National) as his political expediency and flexibility will allow.

[Courtesy of Louise and T. The full article is here. The 'two useless appendages' he refers to are Judy Turner and Gordon Copeland, obviously]

So in their 30s it's STDs, and in their 40s it's gambling? Great!

Media Monitoring

Henry Drive LIV - Louise Wallace
19 Oct 05 - 15:00 Item# LIVH3785653 Duration: 6.0 mins
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - INT

New problem gamblers, Auckland crime hotspots, Man steals wine.

Int Cameron McMillan Web Editor Stuff. Single women over 40 are the new at risk group for STDs. Sounds like a Shortland St story.

Professor Max Abbott found that women account for more than half of all NZers with gambling problems compared to 20% a decade ago.

Lonely women in their 30s go to bars looking for company but end up playing pokies and becoming addicted. Between two and three percent of NZers are pathological gamblers.

Newmarket Police have trawled through five years of crimes statistics and identified peak hours for crime. Many vehicles are stolen from Foodtown Greenlane carpark Monday to Wednesday during peak trading hours. Criminal activity peaks in Newmarket during Friday lunchtime. Mt Eden is a car crime hotspot. Most offending occurs between 8.00am and midnight.

Burglars aren't deterred by alarms and deadlocks. Four in ten Penrose businesses were broken into last year. Most dwelling burglaries happen in Epsom. New Plymouth man allegedly stole a cask of wine from Pak 'N Save yesterday and jumped into a stream thinking no one would follow him. He was wrong, an officer waited for him at the end of the stream and arrested him.

[Courtesy of Louise. Presumably a solution to the Auckland crime problem must be to evacuate Newmarket every Friday lunchtime]

They make it sound so appealing!

Drowning Season About To Begin!
Press Release by Water Safety New Zealand at 1:48 PM, 20 Oct 2005

The up coming Labour Weekend well see large numbers of boaties, fishers plus other water recreational users head back to the water with the intent of enjoying themselves. Labour Weekend typically heralds the return of summer activities, but unfortunately it inevitably coincides with an increase in drownings. Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) predicts that over the next three months up to 45 people can be expected to drown!

WSNZ, Executive Director, Alan Muir states, "with most people not having been in or out on the water over the winter, Labour Weekend tends to be the first opportunity for some time to indulge in their favourite water related pastime and blow out the cobwebs. Unfortunately they tend to forget about the basic safety rules and therefore do not consider their own safety or the responsibilities they have for those in their care. Enjoy the activity but do not drop your guard!"

To the end of September this year 77 drownings had occurred, 31 of those in recreation activities and 46 non-recreation related. These figures reflect the positive drop witnessed in drownings over the past decade and more. Muir said that, "It was particularly pleasing to see the drop in recreation drownings during the first nine months of the year, 12 less than the average for the past five years. Non recreational drownings are average for the same period."


[Courtesy of Louwrens. Recreational drowning is one of my favourite pastimes]

17 October 2005

In other news, he also left the oven on

Roy chose wrong box on celebrant form

He ticked the wrong box on the marriage celebrant form but Eric Roy assured people he didn't also vote for Labour by accident.

In the leadup to the general election, the Invercargill National MP claimed he had been struck off the register of marriage celebrants and slammed Internal Affairs for saying he had removed himself.

Internal Affairs denied this was the case and maintained Mr Roy had asked to be taken off the register.

The Southland Times requested the document in question from Internal Affairs. It shows Mr Roy ticked a box saying he did not want to remain a marriage celebrant.

Mr Roy admitted his error but said he also had to go to lengths to recover the form to find out.

"I have ticked the wrong box ... why I did I don't know."

When asked if he might have done the same thing at the election, Mr Roy laughed and said: "Anything's possible but I don't think so. I checked it three times."

- Southland Times, 17 October 2005

14 October 2005

An exciting career in a growth industry

Priests queue up to qualify as exorcists
By Richard Owen

A decline in faith among the young is leading to an increase in demand for rites to ‘drive out the Devil’

ABOUT 120 priests and theologians gathered in Rome yesterday, anxious to learn the increasingly demanded rite of exorcism. “There is no doubt that the Devil is intervening more in the life of man these days,” they were told.

Father Paolo Scarafoni said: “It is indispensable that every priest knows how to discern between demonic possession and psychological problems.” He was opening a four-month course entitled “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation” at the Regina Apostolorum pontifical university in Rome.

Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, said that there were nine priests carrying out exorcisms in Rome. “I have carried out more than 40,000 exorcisms,” he said. “Satan exists, and targets the young above all. When faith is in decline, idolatry enters in.”

Father Vincenzo Taraborelli, one of the exorcists in Rome, said that the number of exorcisms had more than doubled since he took up his post as a parish priest 15 years ago. “There is always someone sitting in the pews waiting for my help,” he said. Most were aged between 20 and 40 and many were psychologically disturbed. He urged them to see a doctor or psychiatrist, but in other cases he concluded after careful examination that they were “genuinely possessed”.

He said: “Films about exorcism tend to exaggerate, but the victims really do scream and yell in strange, incomprehensible tongues and roll the whites of their eyes.”

He made sure that he was always accompanied by a nun, a lay assistant and “preferably the relatives of the possessed person, to provide support”.

Father Gabriele Nanni, another exorcist, said that the symptoms of possession were “when someone speaks or understands languages they normally do not; when their physical strength is disproportionate to their body size or age; when they are suddenly knowledgeable about occult practices; when they have a physical aversion to sacred things, such as the communion host or prayers”.

The Italian authorities are alarmed by the rise in the number of Satanic cults, many involving drugs. In February two members of a heavy metal band in Milan called the Beasts of Satan were given prison sentences of 30 and 16 years for the killing of two girls and a youth during “devil worship”.

The Roman Catholic exorcism ritual, adopted in 1614, was updated six years ago. The priest begins with prayers and the sprinkling of holy water. He then makes the sign of the cross while reciting a formula denouncing the Devil.

The exorcism drive has the backing of Pope Benedict XVI, who recently sent greetings to a convention of exorcists and urged them them to “carry on your important work in the service of the Church”.

- The Times, 14 October 2005

Conservation agency strangely reluctant to protect animal likely not to exist

MP promises bill for protection of moose

Parliament will be asked to protect Fiordland's long-lost moose after a Canadian scientist vouched for tests that hinted the beasts might still be alive.

Invercargill MP Eric Roy yesterday said he would introduce a private members bill to prevent the as-yet unseen moose population from being culled as an exotic pest animal.

The bill would support the Game and Forest Foundation, which last week challenged the Department of Conservation and the Conservation Authority to exempt moose from the "extermination" provisions of the National Parks Act. The agencies stopped short of offering full protection for the moose, but said controlling an animal not seen for so long "might not be the first priority".

Mr Roy urged the agencies to protect the moose. If they did not, his bill would save it from an agency-backed cull, and from hunters who wanted to try to bag an animal last confirmed seen in 1952.

"This is the only successful liberation of moose in the Southern Hemisphere. If there are surviving moose, as recent DNA tests indicate, then we should protect them in the spirit of conservation, science, and public interest," Mr Roy said.

Otago scientist Ken Tustin last week had DNA confirmation that a pair of hair samples found in Fiordland in 2001 and 2002 were from moose.

Moose were released at Supper Cove, Fiordland in 1910, but were last confirmed seen by hunters in 1952. Mr Tustin has seen numerous moose "signs" since starting to look for them in the early 1970s, but has yet to find one in the wild.

"The unique nature of these animals means we must ensure they are protected," Mr Roy said.

- Otago Daily Times, 11 October 2005

[If by 'unique' he means 'possibly imaginary', I agree with him]

How not to convince Americans

'Supporters of intelligent design think that if they see something they don't understand, it must be God; they fail to recognise that they themselves are part of evolution. It appeals to ignorance, which is why there is a lot of it in American politics at the moment'

- Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College London, failing to win over the Christians.

On the meaning of Tingo

Tingo, nakkele and other wonders

English is a rich and innovative language. But you can't help feeling we're missing out. While English speakers have to describe the action of laughing so much that one side of your abdomen hurts (hardly an economical phrase), the Japanese have the much more efficient expression: katahara itai.

Of course, the English language has borrowed words for centuries. Khaki and croissant are cases in point.

So perhaps it's time to be thinking about adding others to the lexicon. Malay, for instance, has gigi rongak - the space between the teeth. The Japanese have bakku-shan - a girl who appears pretty from behind but not from the front. Then there's a nakkele - a man who licks whatever the food has been served on (from Tulu, India).

These fabulous examples have been collected by author Adam Jacot de Boinod into The Meaning Of Tingo - a collection of words and phrases from around the world.
"What I'm really trying to do is celebrate the joy of foreign words (in a totally unjudgmental way) and say that while English is a great language, one shouldn't be surprised there are many others having, as they do, words with no English equivalent," he says.

Having pored over 280 dictionaries and trawled 140 websites, he is also convinced that a country's dictionary says more about a culture than a guide book. Hawaiians, for instance, have 108 words for sweet potato, 65 for fishing nets - and 47 for banana.

The German propensity for compound words pays dividends. Kummerspeck is a German word which literally means grief bacon: it is the word that describes the excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating.

A Putzfimmel is a mania for cleaning and Drachenfutter - literally translated as dragon fodder - are the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives.

Or there's die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen - to stick one's lower lip out in a sulk (literally, to play the insulted liver sausage). Perhaps it's a Backpfeifengesicht - a face that cries out for a fist in it.

Words and phrases can suggest the character of a nation.

The Dutch vocabulary, for instance, seems to confirm the nation's light-hearted reputation. The word uitwaaien is Dutch for walking in windy weather for fun.

The Maori-speakers of the Cook Islands sound like an enthusiastic bunch: the word toto is the shout given in a game of hide-and-seek to show readiness.

Perhaps the Inuit notion of a good time must be, of necessity, a little more constrained. The long winter nights must fly by as they play a game called igunaujannguaq, literally meaning frozen walrus carcass. (The game involves the person in the centre of a ring trying to remain stiff as he is passed around the ring, hand over hand.)

But it's those fun-loving people in the Netherlands who should have the last word - the phrase for skimming stones is as light-hearted as the action: plimpplampplettere.

The Albanians exhibit a strange fascination for facial hair. There are no fewer than 27 separate expressions for the moustache.

Madh means a bushy moustache, posht is a moustache hanging down at the ends and fshes is a long broom-like moustache with bristly hairs.

This hirsute obsession is not confined to moustaches. Vetullkalem describes pencil-thin eyebrows, vetullperpjekur are joined together eyebrows and those arched like the crescent moon are vetullhen.

Perhaps nothing so intriguingly displays differences between nations as the unusual occupations of some of its citizens. Geshtenjapjeks is an Albanian who sells roast chestnuts on the street. A koshatnik in Russian is a dealer of stolen cats.

A kualanapuhi is a Hawaiian officer who keeps the flies away from the sleeping king by waving a brush made of feathers. In Turkey a cigerci is a seller of liver and lungs and the Danish have a fyrassistent - an assistant lighthouse keeper.

And Spanish speakers in central America have a description of a government employee who only shows up on payday - an aviador.

Which brings us back to de Boinod's title: tingo is an invaluable word from the Pascuense language of Easter Island meaning "to borrow objects from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left".

The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod is published by Penguin.

- BBC News, 26 September 2005

12 October 2005

Councillors aghast: booklet discusses what young people actually spend their time doing

Phrases in booklet concern council

A booklet produced by the Nelson Youth Council describing Anzac Park as a nice setting for "the occasional spot of underage drinking" has prompted a "please explain" from Nelson city councillors.

The Top 50 Things To Do (in the Nelson Region) was produced by the youth council last year, but on Tuesday youth councillor Alexandra Jackson was forced to defend the publication at a meeting of the city council's community services committee.

The council had received a complaint from a concerned citizen when the booklet was reprinted this year.

The offending sections advertised the Church Steps as being "for those who enjoy a spot of recreational public drinking or a spot of romance under the starry skies", and Anzac Park as "a popular spot for picnics, afternoon naps in the sun and the occasional spot of dodgy underage drinking".

Cr Jan Fryer led the criticism of the booklet, saying the offending paragraphs were brought to her attention "the very day" her husband, who works for Nelmac, had his life threatened by drunks in Anzac Park.

"I don't like the thought of him going to work each day not knowing whether he'll come home or not and this sort of thing. Although I can see it was written in a tongue-in-cheek way, it doesn't help."

She was relieved the city council was not associated with the guide, she said. The city council logo was not printed on the booklet.

Cr Gail Collingwood said while it was a "great little booklet", she did not think it should be "encouraging people to do something illegal".

Cr Denise Henigan defended the guide, and said although she did not agree with some of the items she had not really noticed them until the complaint was laid.

"Young people have a different sort of voice, a different way of talking and that's reflected in there."

Miss Jackson said the guide had been well-received by young people, and positive feedback had come from the Ministry of Youth Development about it. "It's a little bit sarcastic."

This was the kind of writing young people wanted to read, as it made the guide more interesting, she said.

- Nelson Mail, 12 October 2005

11 October 2005

If you're crappy and you know it...

"You've been a very naughty boy! I'll make you scream for mercy! That'll be a hundred quid, darling, cash if you don't mind." That was the message from the [Tory] chairman, Francis Maude. He told them the British people thought they were crap. They believed that individual Tories were crap, that their policies were crap, and their outlook was crap.

Of course he didn't use those exact words. Instead he used charts. Nobody thinks the Tories shared their values. More than half the population thinks they're stuck in the past, that they don't care about ordinary people. He illustrated his talk with what could hardly be called a PowerPoint presentation; more an impotence slide show.

He had met a single mother during the campaign and she had told him that the Tories disapproved of people like her. "Too often, we sound like people who think the only good mother is a married mother!" It was time, he didn't quite say, for Tories to fan out around Blackpool, find single mothers, and give them each a big old hug. Or a packet of Smarties.

The party not only had no right to be in power; it had no right even to survive. Because it was crap!

The platform rose as one at the end of his speech, but only a quarter of the hall followed their example, mostly the younger people, such as there are here. Many of the older delegates don't stand up because they're worried they won't be able to sit down again.

Malcolm Rifkind was the first of the leadership candidates up. His message, familiar after only one afternoon, was also "we are crap", though expressed more mildly, and alongside subtle hints about his own abilities and experience. "I have known Gordon Brown for a very long time: he is a big beast and a very tough man!" Only he, he implied, could tame this mangy but ferocious lion.

A rightwing Tory MP turned to me and said: "The problem with Malcolm is that he looks like a cross between Miss Jean Brodie and Charles Hawtrey."

As for Tony Blair, Mr Rifkind continued, "he can persuade most people of most things, and himself of almost anything. He is Bill Clinton without the sex - so far as we know!"

The conference roared with delight. After being told they were crap, they were glad to hear that the Labour leaders were crap too.

- Simon Hoggart on the 2005 Tory conference in Blackpool, Guardian, 4 October 2005

10 October 2005

A proud day for the export education industry

Taiwanese witch says NZ the best place to study

A Taiwanese witch says New Zealand is the best place to study the occult.

Ching Hsuan was quoted in the Taipei Times yesterday as saying that in New Zealand, mysticism and naturopathy were categorised as professional fields of study, while in Taiwan, these disciplines were regarded as superstition.

She said she had studied mysticism in New Zealand and Australia and was one of only a few Taiwanese people to undergo training abroad in witchcraft.

Ms Ching said she first attended the Australian College of Natural Medicine (ACNM) in Melbourne, to study witchcraft and naturopathy, and then went to a "mysticism school" in New Zealand "where she received her licenses in parapsychology and mysticism". She did not identify the NZ school.

Meantime, she also trained as an intern in naturopathy at a local health clinic in New Zealand.

Ms Ching said that the doctrine of modern witches made it clear that "as long as nothing harmful is done to people, you can do whatever you want".

White "magic" involved the use of magnetic fields, the four elements of the earth, floral remedies, seashells, and natural other things to help people in their spiritual restructuring and healing. Black "magic" involved invading other people's space and influencing their minds, and most decent people were unwilling to use it, she said.

The newspaper reported that she had also created her own technique of dance therapy and worked part-time as an instructor in Latin American dancing.

- NZPA, 8 October 2005

09 October 2005

Or perhaps it's just because they're smelly?

'This article considers the increasing popularity of showering in the UK. We use this case as a means of exploring some of the dimensions and dynamics of everyday practice. Drawing upon a range of documentary evidence, we begin by sketching three possible explanations for the current constitution of showering as a private, increasingly resource-intensive routine. We begin by reviewing the changing infrastructural, rhetorical and moral positioning of showering. We then consider how the multiple and contingent constituents of showering are arranged and re-arranged in and through the practice itself...'

- Abstract of ‘Explaining Showering: a Discussion of the Material, Conventional and Temporal Dimensions of Practice’, by Martin Hand, Elizabeth Shove and Dale Southerton, Sociological Research Online

07 October 2005

Prejudice to the effective conduct of bureaucratic secrecy

Freedom to interfere? No minister, it's too sensitive
By Sean O'Neill

A QUARTER of a century has elapsed since Yes, Minister was first broadcast, but the spirit of Sir Humphrey Appleby is still alive and kicking in the corridors of power.

The Times has learnt that, in a piece of pure Sir Humphrey logic, Whitehall has blocked a freedom of information request about the workings of the Freedom of Information Act because the information that might be freed is far too secret for public consumption.

Denying the request, a mandarin wrote: "Releasing information which would allow analysis of policy decisions affecting the operation of the (FoI) Act would of itself be detrimental to the Act's operation because it may reveal sensitivities."

The refusal, from the Histories, Openness and Records Unit of the Cabinet Office, has proved "mind boggling" for the academic who submitted the original FoI request. Alasdair Roberts, of the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, New York, had asked how many FoI requests had been passed for consideration to the Government's Central Clearing House and from there to the Cabinet Office. It was, he said, "an academic exercise" to gauge how the Act was working.

Professor Roberts had not asked for specifics but for details of referral systems, types of cases, their classifications and file numbers. It took the Cabinet Office five months to tell him that what he had asked for was too sensitive, might jeopardise national security and could interfere with the development of policy.

Professor Roberts, who holds British citizenship, said: "I am staggered at this decision, which is wholly inconsistent with the spirit of the law. In other countries, centralised clearance processes create long delays, and sometimes opportunities for political interference. I wished to know what cases were being routed to Cabinet Office, and how long the review was taking."

But Sir Humphrey is having none of it. Enabling people to understand what is happening in Whitehall, his successors decreed, would fall foul of section 36(2)(c) of the Act: "Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs."

Challenging the Whitehall addiction to secrecy is a handful of junior civil servants, many earning less than £20,000 a year. The 33 caseworkers handling appeals against refusals to disclose documents face a backlog of more than 1,200 cases — which at the current workrate may take eight years to clear.

- The Times, 3 October 2005

Ronnie Barker's best gags

"The search for the man who terrorises nudist camps with a bacon slicer goes on. Inspector Lemuel Jones had a tip-off this morning, but hopes to be back on duty tomorrow."

"Have you heard the one about the retired general who said he had not had sex since 1956? His friend said, 'That's a long time ago.' 'I don't know,' the general replied. 'It's only 20.27 now."

As Fletcher in Porridge, when playing monopoly: "Would you Adam and Eve it? Go to jail!"

"There was a strange happening during a performance of Elgar's Sea Pictures at a concert hall in Bermuda tonight, when the man playing the triangle disappeared."

"Next week we'll be investigating rumours that the president of the dairy council has become a Mason, and goes around giving his colleagues the secret milkshake."

"The man who invented the zip fastener was today honoured with a lifetime peerage. He will now be known as the Lord of the Flies."

"The toilets at a local police station have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on."

"In a packed programme tonight we will be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet."

"The prime minister held a meeting with the cabinet today. He also spoke to the bookcase and argued with the chest of drawers."

"Following the dispute with the domestic servants' union at Buckingham Palace today, the Queen, a radiant figure in a white silk gown and crimson robe, swept down the main staircase and through the hall. She then dusted the cloakroom and vacuumed the lounge."

"The West Drayton man who has kept himself awake every night for 17 years by snoring has at least found the answer. He's going to sleep in another room."

- Guardian, 4 October 2005

[Courtesy of Louise]

Kicking a man when he's down

'[There's] nothing odd about [George] Hawkins saying he doesn't expect to be in Cabinet. This is a bit like your Granny saying she doesn't expect to go out with George Clooney'

- Trans Tasman, considering candidates for Cabinet, 6 October 2005