Search This Blog

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What's special about porn?

Today's news contains an exciting announcement about the internet in the UK.

The UK government plans to legislate to make households "opt in" to be able to access porn on the internet. ISPs are expected to put some kind of registration, age-related classification and/or filtering mechanisms in place.

[From Racingsnake - Robin Wilton's Esoterica: UK Govt plans to "turn off" internet porn]

Well, this is excellent news: someone has discovered how to read and interpret the contents of internet traffic so that ISP can filer out porn. But I'm curious as to why porn is the only category for blocking: what about Islamist hate sites and anything to do with the X-Factor? Surely the government's commitment to protecting the children should extend to bomb-making instructions, Facebook pages connected to gang crime in South London and political parties espousing demonstrably harmful philosophies, such as socialism.

Sounds like a joke? Of course: no such filter exists, the ISPs will just have list of IP addresses to block. Will we get to vote which IP addresses go on this list? Will the police compile it? Or Mumsnet? And another thing. I'm not being facetious, but what's special about porn? I already have my own filter at home, which blocks porn and a variety of other categories of sites (eg, gambling). I'm far more upset about the Daily Star being on open sale in the local newsagents (typical front page: paparazzi shot of the knickers of some soap actress falling drunk out of a cab), because I have no control over that.

You can understand the government's desire to have some control over the material reaching the ill-educated masses, but I guarantee it will only be a matter of time, once this magical filter is in place, before you'll have MPs calling for Wikileaks and Frankie Boyle's blog to be banned as well.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Traditional value

A few days ago, my son found some money in the road outside our house. A few tens of pounds. It was a little soggy, which suggested to me with my CSI:Woking hat on, that one of the local drunken louts had dropped it on the way back from the pub on Friday night. He came back in with the money and asked what to do. I told him that we would hold it for a couple of days to see if anyone came round or put a note through the door asking about money lost in the street, and then we would give it to charity, and he could choose the charity. All fair enough.

After he left though, I got a lump in my throat: we raised a good kid. I'll bet a lot of broke teenagers who desperately want every penny they can get to funnel to Phillip Green's wife via the local branch of Top Man would have just put the money in the their pocket and said no more about it.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The whole "law" thing is very confusing

I am not a lawyer, hence I don't understand the English legal system in the slightest, since the system is constructed by and for them.

There was a fuss among the twitterati, led by Stephen Fry, because a chap twittered that he was going to blow up Nottingham airport. The police, who presumably monitor twitter diligently, arrested him and he was found guilty.

A man who posted a Twitter message threatening to blow up an airport is facing a £3,000 bill after losing an appeal against his conviction.

[From BBC News - Man in Twitter bomb threat against airport loses appeal]

A few days later there was another case, involving the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, following on from some of her typically deranged ranting on the BBC.

A Conservative Birmingham City councillor has been arrested over allegations he called on Twitter for a female writer to be stoned to death.

[From BBC News - Tory councillor arrested over Twitter stoning post]

Now, in both of these cases, the person arrested was clearly joking, although the "joke" was pretty poor. Contrast this with the treatment of some people who don't appear to be joking at all.

On November 12, he wrote: ‘Burn your apartment with your family tied to the couch. And slit your throat, so when you scream, only blood comes out.’

[From Facebook death threats: 5 Muslim boys and white girl excluded from school | Mail Online]

Facebook "is the problem"? Oh please. I couldn't find any reference to this story on the BBC, so I've posted the Daily Mail link instead. But I'm curious: why weren't these people arrested? Could a lawyer please help me to understand the difference between the cases? I really don't want to fall foul of the law, but there is a possibility that I may call for someone to murdered in the future, and i want to make sure that I do it the right way. So am I on safe ground if I tweet that I'm going to cut your throat, but not if I tweet that I'm going to blow you up or stone you?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Well I have to say that the blitz spirit was very much in evidence at Woking during the whiteout. It's not surprising, since commuters used to dealing with South West Train during clement weather are already used to standing up in overcrowded, cold trains. Therefore people were friendly, helpful and understanding. Since I had work to do, and suspected that the trains might be intermittent, I opted for a 1st class ticket. What a waste of money. The first train that arrived was full and standing even in 1st class so I couldn't get on it at all, the second train that arrived had space in 1st class so I got on but there was no heating. Oh well. On the way back, the 1st class carriages were completely jammed full, since the proletariat had (correctly) determined that there was not the slightest chance of a ticket inspection. I was crushed into the middle of an economy-class cattle truck in conditions that would be illegal if employed to move cows around.

Coming back from Waterloo was an eye-opener. First of all, it was total chaos. But second of all, it was most un-British chaos. This must be something to do with New Labour's policy on uncontrolled mass immigration over the last decade. But people were - literally - fighting to get on to trains (to the point where the police were called to try and keep order) and as people were jamming themselves on to any train they could find heading in the right direction there was considerable unpleasantness. There were voices raised, abuse and jostling. It was very disappointing. I don't understand why people don't understand that an orderly queue is that natural state of affairs.

What turned it into a natural disaster, though, was that because it took so long to get home - I was on a slow relief train that stopped at every station - my iPhone battery ran out. I was instantly cut off from Mott the Hoople Live in Los Angeles (Welcome to the Club) and forced to listen to the people around me. Aaargh. I woman behind spent at least twenty minutes yelling into a mobile phone in a language I couldn't identify (it sounded South Asian) while the guy that I was crushed up next to was talking to a loved in an unfamiliar slavic tongue, perhaps Bulgarian. I couldn't read my book with one hand standing up so i ended spending an our vowing to never, ever get on a train again with a fully charged backup battery for my iPhone. Never, ever, again.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This is where I live

What's the big news in my neck of the woods? World War III? Couldn't care less, North Korean ballistic missiles can't reach Surrey. The collapse of the euro? Serves them right, that's why we never joined. Tory peer moaning about the poor breeding? What do you expect, it's basic economics. What will get us out on the streets? Well, nothing really. But some of us will be outraged on twitter for a while.


Simultaneously outraged, ripped-off and illiterate.  This is where I live.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

[posted with ecto]


Monday, November 22, 2010

Left or right?

In the October 2010 edition of Prospect magazine, there is a fascinating article about a simple experiment to explore moral perspectives. I won't go into all the details, except to note that the thought experiment rests on notions of railways, tracks and switches: essentially, people are asked to make choices about life and death. In one experiment, you can set the switch to send an out-of-control train down one branch, where it will kill five people, or down another branch, where it will kill one person. That sort of thing. Quite the most surprising result of the experiments concerns the difference between liberals and conservatives.

In an experiment where subjects could save a Philharmonic orchestra by pushing an African American on to the tracks or could save the Harlem Jazz Orchestra by pushing a WASP on to the tracks, the liberals showed a marked propensity to make different choices, whereas conservatives did not. The lesson that I took from this is that conservatives make decisions according to a set of moral principles and are "colour blind" in the sense that they do not modify their position according to the race, gender, age, nationality or sexual orientation of the actors. A true commitment to equality. I think I fall into that category: things are right or wrong and it doesn't depend on who is doing them. Does this condemn me as a reactionary, permanently out of phase with the world from now on?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


There are two stories next to each other in the local paper this week. I wonder if there might be some connection between them? The first was a story about an elderly gentleman who has been burgled repeatedly over the last three years. He was commenting on the most recent theft (of a motorbike) and said that he had given the police detailed descriptions of the thieves, but so far the police had not found either the thieves or the bike. The second story was about a day-long police crackdown on drivers on a particular road. They gave out a couple of speeding tickets, a ticket for using a mobile phone, found someone driving uninsured (and fined him £200 -- much less than the cost of insurance) and a few other minor offences. Quite how many policepersons and time this all took isn't mentioned.

Someone has to make choices about what the police do. I have no idea whether they should spend time looking for motorists without insurance or reducing burglaries -- but I know that I wasn't asked.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Streets and shame

So the public sector are going to "take to the streets" we're told, over efforts to keep their pension bill from bankrupting the nation. Well screw them. We should be taking to the streets to complain about the public sector.

A council which paid out more than £500,000 making 12 human resources staff redundant hired 11 new employees to replace them

[From £500,000 pay-off to staff then council hires 11 new people | News]

I happened to go to a meeting today near Parliament and there was some sort of demonstration going, with a lot of Unison banners going on about education.

The average gap in achievement in science, mathematics and reading between those attending state and independent schools is indeed larger in Britain than in any of its allies in the OECD.

[From Article | Full Fact -]

I didn't have the time, but I would have enjoyed making my own banner calling for all schools to be privatised immediately as the only way to stop us from sliding into a new dark age.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, October 11, 2010

And the emma goes to...

Hereditary celebrity and Cambridge footlight millionairess Emma Thompson is upset by the way the young people speak.

She says people who speak improperly make her feel "insane"

[From BBC News - Teen slang: What's, like, so wrong with like?]

This is down to our education system I imagine. Emma, as a prominent supporter of the Labour Party all her life, has contributed in no small way to the current state of Britain's schools after more than a decade of Edukashun Edukashun Edukashun. Don't believe me? I would have thought that the poor level of education in the UK was evident from the success of Emma's "Nanny McPhee" films. Having seen the trailer at the cinema, and immediately having resolved to never even accidentally watch one second of it, I was astonished to discover that people had paid good money to go and see it. You can't have it both ways Emma: either people are uneducated enough to go to your movie or they're educated enough to talk properly.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, October 04, 2010


Our local Waitrose has a self-scanning system (in fact, has done for years), so you have your own barcode reader and as you go around the shop you pick up the things you want, scan them yourself and then put them in your shopping bag. It's a good system, and it save time and queues because when you have finished shopping you just put your chip and PIN card in to pay and then go. Since your shopping is already in shopping bags, you're off.

Occasionally, the computer will ask an assistant to take a couple of random things out of your shopping bag and scan them to check that you're scanned them in properly. This doesn't happen that often, maybe once a year or something, so it's no inconvenience. Today, though, when I went to check out, the computer called for a "rescan". This was tedious, because it meant that I had to take everything out of my shopping bags and have the assistant re-scan all of them, It's presumably a random anti-fraud check.

What stress! As far as I knew I'd scanned everything properly. But as I stood there waiting for the assistant to finish, I began to panic. What if there was something in the bad that I hadn't scanned. What if I'd forgotten something? What if my impending senility had led me to completely forget to scan something? I would be forever branded a criminal by the John Lewis supercomputer and I would never be able to hold my head up in middle-class Britain again.

Why does this happen? What is it in our brains that triggers the sensations of guilt in these circumstances?

Everything in the bag had been scanned correctly, of course, since it's second nature now. But when I left, I definitely had an increased heart rate and sweaty palms.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, October 01, 2010

If there's a gene for stupdity, the UK is carrying it

I was listening to the Radio 5 Live phone-in programme while I was working the other day. There had been a news report in the morning about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), otherwise known by its proper name of "bad parent syndrome". Some researchers at Cardiff had discovered a statistically-significant variation.

They found that 15% of the ADHD group had large and rare variations in their DNA - compared with 7% in the control group.

[From BBC News - New study claims ADHD 'has a genetic link']

Who knows what this actually means. But the BBC had a phone-in on the topic, always risky in our innumerate and semi-literate society. A female member of the underclass called in, to support the Cardiff research.

Her reasoning was impeccable.

She said, essentially...

1. I have eight children by three different fathers (at least one of whom is currently in jail, as are some of the children).

2. Seven of the eight children have been diagnosed with ADHD, so that suggests a genetic factor.

3. Because they have different fathers, I must be carrying the gene for ADHD.

4. Since it is a genetic problem, just like cystic fibrosis or whatever, it's not my fault.

Brilliant, just brilliant, and a shining example of what New Labour's Edukashun Edukashun Edukashun policy has done for the country: that is, having failed to impart any scientific or mathematical knowledge, it has filled the void with a culture of irresponsibility. Instead of this woman apologising to citizens and taxpayers for having eight children that neither she or nor any of the fathers could look after properly and then throwing herself on the mercy of the public, she was able to lay the entire problem at the door of her unfortunate genes and therefore shake off the last vestigial, submerged feelings of responsibility. I think they call this "socialism: I wonder if that has a genetic cause as well? I will scour the BBC's web site to find out.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, September 24, 2010

The man for the job

One of the reasons for the impending age wars is the size of Britain's public sector. It's not just that it is enormous and will bankrupt us because of its pension obligations, but also that it's not very good value for money.

The public services are riddled with ‘bone idle people’ who have damaged the productivity of the state sector, a leading fire chief has claimed.

[From Fire chief Tony McGuirk 's devastating verdict on bone idle public sector | Mail Online]

This is hardly a maverick perspective, and it is echoed in other areas of public life.

David Forster reportedly said the NHS employed "too many who are lazy, unproductive, obstinate, militant, aggressive at every turn".

[From BBC News - NHS director disciplined over 'lazy staff' comments]

I'm afraid this is inevitable with nationalised industries that can't go bankrupt, whether French air-traffic control, Greek post offices or British health care. But what to do? Clearly we need a substantial reduction in the size of the public sector, but who has the backbone to take on the public sector unions? Well, I think I've found the man for the job. I'd always assumed that the ruling family in Cuba were deranged, and genuinely believed the socialism would work. But it turns out that they were merely deranged, and know that it can't.

As Raúl said: “We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world in which people can live without working.”

[From / Comment / Analysis - Man in the News: Raúl Castro]

Raul, who has clearly never been to the UK, is about to sack half a million public sector workers. I'd love to see him and Bob Crow go head to head, but in the meantime, perhaps we could ask for a correct international socialist position on Wayne and Waynetta's claim for increased public support.

A jobless couple today demanded a bigger council house for their family of six children... Unemployed Wayne and Jenna Sandercock say it is 'outrageous' that their local authority won’t give them a bigger home for their brood.

[From Jobless couple demand bigger home for family of eight (and all their children are named after celebs) | Mail Online]

I say we have whip round and get them moved to a four bedroom house in Cuba.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You said you wanted a revolution

When the age riots start, media commentators will say that no-one could have foreseen the inter-generational strife, but it seems to me to be inevitable. Now that companies cannot fire people for being old, youth unemployment will climb further and the mass of people with no real stake in society will increase. Eventually they will just think to themselves that they may as well riot, why not? It will make the race riots of earlier generations look like a picnic in the park, because of the numbers involved. Western governments, not just ours, appear powerless to cut back on the future commitments that they are making on behalf on our children.

I read in the newspapers recently that council staff spend less than a third of their time doing any actual work and that policepersons spend only a seventh of their time fighting crime and that a woman entering the teaching profession now will earn more from her pension than will earn from working. I simply cannot see how the kids will meet the liabilities we have set for them. A generation from now, Europe will be older and poorer -- it's quite depressing -- and intergenerational strife will lead to the breakdown of law and order. Let's hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury is right and the firm hand of Sharia Law isn't far away.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Car wars

In the UK, where somewhere around a couple of million drivers have no insurance, uninsured drivers kill 160 people and injure 23,000 every year. When I was on the M4 last week, the guy in the car behind me (both doing 70mph) was talking on a non-hands free mobile phone for miles, and I see this all the time. Outside the school that my kids used to go to (where there are no speed cameras) my wife stopped to let a woman and her children cross at a zebra crossing, only to be overtaken by a woman driving a chelsea tractor. This sort of thing also goes on all the time, so it's no wonder people like me get outraged getting done in a camera trap at 10am on a Sunday morning on an almost empty dual carriageway leading to a motorway. Increasingly, this is our only nexus with the police.

Many years ago, I got nicked by a police car when I was doing 60mph heading toward the A3 out of Epsom: I was caught "bang to rights" as they say. I didn't feel outraged. I shouldn't have been going that fast on that stretch of road, and the guy was right to do me. Fair enough. But getting done by a camera on a nearly empty road doesn't feel the same.

Almost 25% of under 21-year olds confessed to having driven without a license, an MOT-checked vehicle or a valid driving license.

[From Uninsured drivers cost motorists £1.25 million a year - Telegraph]

Cameras don't catch people driving badly, even dangerously, and they don't take account of the traffic or the conditions. And there's always the suspicion that they are there to tax (that's why they're on the A40 and not outside my kids school). So are middle class whiners like me simply hypocrites who want the police to get tough on crime and on the causes for crime, except for speeding. Maybe. But now that the country is conducting a live experiment on the worth of speed cameras, the evidence points in another direction.

In the first nine months after the cameras were switched off in Swindon on July 31 last year, there were 315 road traffic casualties in the area as a whole, down from 327 in the comparable period the previous year, a reduction of around 4%. There were two fatalities compared to four, while the number of people seriously injured fell from 48 to 44.

[From Speed camera opponents hail success of Swindon switch-off - but do figures back that up? | | The website for pedal powered people: Road cycling, commuting, leisure cycling and racing]

So there. Time to re-examine rational incentives. Talking of which...

Motorists who drive without insurance face a £200 fine

[From Number of uninsured drivers falls - Motoring, Life & Style -]

Well, that seems like quite a bargain, given the cost of insurance, so I think I'll act rationally given the incentives presented and cancel my insurance to use the money to pay for speeding tickets, and then I'll get a new car with some Belgian plates and drive with impunity, since the chances of getting stopped are negligible.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, September 06, 2010


Well, I've been thinking about law and order again after listening to a podcast about the reign of King Athelstan, the first king of England as we know it now, and the law codes that he promulgated. He was particularly strict on theft, because he regarded all theft as a breach of the king's peace and a personal affront. England is rather different now.

Campaigners have called for an end to short prison sentences after an habitual thief was jailed for the 73rd time at the age of just 37... David Fairbairn has appeared in court on 96 occasions since he was a teenager and been sent to prison every year of his adult life.

[From Criminal jailed for 73rd time at age of 37 - Telegraph]

Isn't it time for some kind of "three strikes" policy? Everyone gets a second chance, but no-one should go to jail for the third time. We really ought to look at an automatic death penalty instead. The person referred to above will never contribute enough to society to make up for the damage caused to date, so what's the point? I think I might be able to get the Archbishop of Canterbury to support my campaign for a three strikes death penalty if I tell him that it is part of Sharia law. That's not true -- it isn't. But Sharia Law certainly does have some more creative punishments than are available under the boring English law in the land that Blair (Cherie, that is) built.

A Saudi judge has asked several hospitals to paralyse a man by damaging his spinal cord as punishment after he was convicted of attacking another man

[From Saudi judge 'asks hospital to paralyse man as punishment' - Telegraph]

I'm not suggesting anything like this, obviously. The advantage of my "three strikes" death penalty, compared to old-fashioned 1960s-style capital punishment, is that it will actually reduce crime but actively reducing the number of criminals.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Age before booty

There's hardly any aspect of coalition government policy at the moment that isn't creating the conditions for the next wave of mass protest, violence in the streets and civil disobedience. The reason for this, as I read in this month's Prospect, is that health and pension commitments to the baby boomer generation are currently running at 355 per cent of GDP. Basically, we were going to go bankrupt anyway, but the crunch brought it forward a decade.

Thanks to the enormous loss of tax revenues caused by the recession—the cost of all the bank bailouts were a drop in the ocean by comparison—the spending commitments made by governments all over the world have become unsustainable.

[From How to save capitalism – Prospect Magazine « Prospect Magazine]

The boomers have, essentially, been looting national resources and, if anything, the extent of their bare-faced intergenerational theft will increase, because the old tend to vote more than the young. Thus, despite all rational advice to the contrary, the electorate will continue to vote itself completely unaffordable entitlements. Now that the boomers have decided that they don't even have to retire any more, it can surely only be a matter of time before there are "age riots" on par with the race riots of the 1960s. days). But where will they break out? Where will the first roaming gangs of jobless twenty-somethings begin to vent their anger on the aged? I wonder if it might be at the BBC, where they thought that middle-aged Jonathan Ross appealed to the yoof market. Al least he's gone, but now that Dame Joan Bakewell cannot be forced to retire, the next generation of cultural commentators are out in the cold, and it's only a matter of time before they realise that the entire national cultural booty is being denied them and turn nasty.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Local journalism

The local newspaper reports on the visit of some children from the Ukraine as part of a programme that goes back to the famous Chernobyl incident. The newspaper reports that "thousands" of children in the area develop bone cancer, leukemia and thyroid cancer every year. So I thought to myself "that sounds terrible, why isn't more being done to help these people", after all, if thousands of children are developing these terrible cancers a quarter of a century after the event, that should be on the front page, not BP and a bit of an oil leak. Nevertheless, I also had a terrible suspicion that the figure simply can't be true. Thousands? So I thought I'd try and find some figures. I went off to the UN and began to rummage around.

By 2002 [16 years after the disaster], more than 4,000 thyroid cancer cases had been diagnosed in this group, and it is most likely that a large fraction of these thyroid cancers is attributable to radioiodine intake.

[From UNSCEAR assessments of the Chernobyl accident]

That's far from "thousands" every year, but still terrible.

In a letter published yesterday in Nature, a British science journal, Dr. Vasily S. Kazakov of the Belarus Ministry of Health in Minsk and his colleagues say that the thyroid cancer rates in the regions most heavily irradiated began to soar in 1990. In Gomel, the most contaminated region studied, there used to be just one or two cases of thyroid children a year. But Kazakov and his colleagues found that there were 38 cases in 1991. In six regions of Belarus and the city of Minsk, the investigators found 131 cases of thyroid cancer in young children, some of whom were still in the womb when the Chernobyl accident occurred.

[From 9/92 "Nature" magazine: Thyroid Cancer 7.5 yrs after Chernobyl soaring]

So in the most heavily contaminated area, there were an additional hundred cases of thyroid cancer (for comparison, about 2,000 people per annum get thyroid cancer in the UK) in the years immediately after the event. What about the other cancers mentioned. The British Journal of Cancer (1996) 73, 1006-1012, reports on leukemia.

There was a slight increase in the incidence of childhood leukaemia in Europe during this period,but the overall geographical pattern of change bears no relation to estimated exposure to radiation resulting from the accident. We conclude that at this stage of follow-up any changes in incidence consequent upon the Chernobyl accident remain undetectable against the usual background rates. Our results are consistent with current estimates of the leukaemogenic risk of radiation exposure, which, outside the immediate vicinity of the accident, was small.

What do the UN say? Do they agree? Well, yes they do.

there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the most affected populations. Neither is there any proof of other non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation.

[From UNSCEAR assessments of the Chernobyl accident]

So with the exception of thyroid cancer in people who were babies and lived closed to the event, no-one appears to be getting cancer because of Chernobyl. Not what I was expecting to find. By far the most interesting result of my trawl around, though, was this:

There were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of the radiation, not to the actual radiation doses.

There is a tendency to attribute increases in the rates of all cancers over time to the Chernobyl accident, but it should be noted that increases were also observed before the accident in the affected areas. Moreover, a general increase in mortality has been reported in recent years in most areas of the former Soviet Union, and this must be taken into account when interpreting the results of Chernobyl-related studies.

[From UNSCEAR assessments of the Chernobyl accident]

Those kids still deserve our help, but it's important to have the proper perspective. Generally speaking, I think the UN's assessment holds true for nuclear power in the UK as much as in Russia. The problem is the fear of nuclear power, not nuclear power itself (especially since as far as I am aware, all research seems to show that our bodies are far more tolerant of low-level ionising radiation than we thought back it the early days).

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, August 09, 2010

Scandinavian model

This was probably the most unbelievable story in the newspaper today, and that was up against some pretty stiff competition let me tell you.

Traffic wardens in Denmark’s capital have refused to tell parking offenders what rules they broke. Following numerous complaints from motorists the Danish Broadcasting Corporation requested and received a 110 page document spelling out how traffic wardens should behave and how and when they should issue tickets. But key sections of the guidance, including the pages concerning the rules setting out the circumstances for issuing tickets, had been blanked out by the Copenhagen parking authority. Traffic wardens claimed that if drivers became aware of the information they would lose respect for traffic law and probably try to work around the rules.

[From Danish drivers stumped by secret rules - Telegraph]

This fantastic. The verb Kafkaesque is the only one that can be applied in these circumstances. So much for the notion of the Scandinavian model. I mentioned this story to someone today and he told me it sounded the same as dealing with the congestion charging people, so we shouldn't feel superior.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, August 07, 2010


I was flicking round the movie channels the other day and I started watching Live! with Eva Mendes. It was quite fun: it's a mockumentary about new network TV show in America where people play Russian Roulette live on TV. It was all horribly plausible. What I thought was particularly funny is that at the start of the movie people are pitching terrible TV show ideas to network executives and at least one of them -- a makeover show with women having boob jobs that are filmed -- I have already seen on TV here. In modern Britain, nothing is beyond satire.

But I don't think the probabilities were worked out right. Each of the five winners got a million dollars while the loser got dead, obviously. But surely it takes more guts (or insanity) to pull the trigger as the game goes on. The first person to get picked has a 5 in 6 chance of surviving, whereas if you are the fifth player, it's 50-50. So the players should get more as the game goes on. Also, I don't quite see how it could really work as show: after all, if the first person to go shoots themselves in the head then the rest of the hour slot is going to be as boring as Big Brother. I do think Davina McCall "the cackling high priestess of shit television" would be a good choice for it though.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, August 02, 2010


The news that Manchester United shorts are to be banned in parts of Malaysia because they lead people down a path to sin...

Muslims have been told by religious leaders in Malaysia to stop wearing the famous Manchester United red jersey because of the "devil" emblem on their team crest... United and the rest of the Premier League clubs are massively popular in the Muslim-majority country, but conservative religious scholars said the jersey is forbidden in Islam... .

[From Muslims in Malaysia ban 'devilish' Manchester United shirts | inside World Soccer]

...once again demonstrates the wisdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury in recognising the inevitability of Sharia Law in the UK.

When the question was put to him that: "the application of sharia in certain circumstances - if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples' religion - seems unavoidable?", he indicated his assent.

[From The Archbishop of Canterbury - 'Sharia law' - What did the Archbishop actually say?]

Not only as a Manchester City fan -- although possibly not for much longer, because of my growing revulsion at the money-driven perversion of the Premier League -- but also as a football fan, the sight of people wandering about in Manchester United shirts is nauseating. Roy Keane may well be a sociopathic nutter (by his own admission) but he was surely on the ball (yuk yuk) when he was ranting on about the "prawn sandwich" brigade.

But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don't realise what's going on out on the pitch. I don't think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell 'football', never mind understand it

[From 10 classic Roy Keane rants | Football |]

As noted, it isn't only Manchester United shirts that have fallen foul of the Mufts of Johar and Perak. They've also banned the shirts of teams including Brazil, Portugal, Barcelona, Serbia and Norway, all of which carry images of the cross on their team emblems. I think the Archbishop should pop in for a chat about cohesion and taking people's religion seriously.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, July 26, 2010

Brand values

Now, although I don't care about Russell Brand in the slightest, I do know who he is. I've never listened to his radio show, but I've seen him on things on TV from time to time (although I can't think of any specifically). Like most people in Britain, I only associate his name with one thing, which was being rude to Andrew Sachs, a national treasure. I know that he is in films as well, but haven't seen them. Judging by the reviews of his new film, I doubt I'll even watch it for free on TV.

Flicking round the channels bored after the World Cup, I accidentally turned on Channel 4, which had him doing a sort of stand up act. It wasn't funny, but that's fair enough. What was odd about it was that it was boring. That, I hadn't expected.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Well, since we've had a coalition government, we don't seem to have had much of a loyal opposition, which is bad for democracy. I think the media need to realign themselves so that they give a more realistic view of the political landscape. This means treating the Monster Raving Looney Party as the official opposition from now on, while treating the Actual Raving Looney Party (formerly known as New Labour) as a wacko fringe. After all, the last two things I read from Actual Raving Looney Party MPs were Michael Meacher (who thinks 9/11 was a plot by the US government) talking about how humanity is a virus that will be wiped out in 200-300 years and Geraint Davies talking how Visa and MasterCard should be fined if people use their cards to buy child pornography. Compared to this, the Monster Raving Looney Party's manifesto promise to ban envelopes and make people write everything on postcards -- to stop criminals, pedo, terrorists, drug dealers etc from using the post to go about their despicable businesses -- looks positively sensible.

Now, I have to say that there is something a tad depressing about living in a country where the pronouncements of MPs from Her Majesties Loyal Opposition are indistinguishable from deliberate satire, but perhaps my plan will bring things to a head and help us to move on. If the Today programme, for example, were to get into the habit of asking for comment on government policies from Alan "Howlin Laud" Hope, head of the Monster Raving Loonies, instead of, say, Dedward. Remember, when the Loonies first stood for Parliament in 1963, two of their main manifesto pledges were votes for 18 year olds and all-day drinking in pubs, both policies that were eventually brought to the statute book by the Actual Raving Looney Party some time later.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Poachers and gamekeepers

The was a very sad story in the newspapers today. The last rhinoceros in a South African game reserve was found dead. She had been drugged by poachers who cut off her horn for sale to Asian (predominantly Vietnamese) buyers and left her to bleed to death. Her cub was found wandering, starving, near her dead body. In the newspaper report, various people said that there was nothing that could be done to stop the poachers.

The plight of a baby rhino whose mother was left to die after poachers drugged it and sawed off its horn has highlighted a resurgent threat in South Africa from criminal poaching gangs.

[From Rhino poaching on the rise in South Africa - Telegraph]

But they haven't heard my idea. I notice that there are tourists who will pay considerable sums of money to be allowed to shoot a lion or an elephant. I think many of them are Russian. How much more would they pay to shoot a poacher? Surely this would be the most eco-friendly form of tourism that there is, even more so than the very eco-friendly hunting of big game.

Big game hunting has an important role in preserving large areas of land from agriculture and settlement in Tanzania and elsewhere. The Government has set aside large areas of land as Game Reserves, over 100,000 km2 in total, which allow for limited tourist hunting. The money generated from this type of hunting through licenses and fees is used as a justification for keeping people out of these areas since the money can be used by the Government to build roads or hospitals etc. My research group at the University of California at Davis has shown that Game Reserves are beneficial for both mammals and vegetation.

[From Hunting Benefits Biodiversity - African Conservation Forums]

There are not many rhinos but plenty of poachers, so this should provide a significant source of long-term revenue for African nations. The tourists could hide in armed redoubts in areas where rhinos live, or they could perhaps denote hidden mines when poachers walk by or similar. The newspaper claims that the poachers use helicopters, so providing the eco-tourists with shoulder-launched heatseeking missiles is an obvious step. I can Vladimir Putin in Hello! magazine, stripped to the waist next to a burned out helicopter with rhinos (safe and sound) grazing peacefully in the background. It's the ideal green holiday for oligarchs from around the world, much more exciting than the typical carbon offset programme. I don't think there would be much local opposition to my plan. Surely if we could persuade the South Africans to replace "Kill a tourist" days -- yes, that's right --

“It was Kill a Tourist Day,” she explains. “And we were in the way.” ... Yet when they called South African police to report the incident, the officer just said “yes, thank you,” and hung up. It was only when a member of the family later met someone who had police connections that the investigation went further, although Smurfit has not found out who was responsible for the attack.

[From Irish actress shot on ‘kill a tourist day’ in South Africa | Irish Entertainment Around the World | IrishCentral]

with "Kill a poacher" days, we could be well on the way to a thoroughly green solution. I will send my idea to Britain's only Green MP (Caroline Lucas, who rather unfortunately mistook noted private school supporter and Labour leadership contender Diane Abbott MP for a man), and expect a favourable response.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mobile phones, they are a curse really

I was on a flight to somewhere or other, and I had an aisle seat. Across the aisle from me was a woman who talked on her mobile phone from the moment she got on the plane and was still talking as we went down the runway and only hung up after the plane had left the ground. The stewardess asked her to turn it off a couple of times and she completely ignored her.


What's worse is that because I was obeying the rules and had turned off my iPhone, I couldn't carry on listening to what I was listening to, which was the Paul Jones Blues hour that I'd downloaded from BBC Radio 2, and so I had to listen to her drone on and on. I wish it was possible to report that she was a top futures trader and I made a fortune by overhearing her conversation, or that she was a top heart surgeon discussing a critical case. She wasn't: she was discussion tedious administrative details at what sounded like a tedious public-sector body.

It's soon going to get to the point where they have mobile and no-mobile sections of the plane, just like they used to have smoking and no-smoking areas.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Village idiots

I rather like having some protestors opposite Parliament. For many years, the pavement of Parliament Square opposite the House of Commons has seen continuous protest, as shown below. Now, I have to say that every time I come round the corner and see a banner calling for the arrest of the Foreign Secretary (or whatever) it gladdens my heart. I think there is something very British, and very special, about allowing people to demonstrate right outside the Mother of Parliaments. It's about a commitment to free speech and the right to protest.


It's not a big area and it tends to get monopolised, which is wrong. It really should be like the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square, so that different groups of protestors get to use it for a week at a time, because otherwise you end up seeing the same protesters over and over again. Despite the picture above, they're not all nutters, obviously. Some of them have very sound points of view:


But in recent times the whole of the square has been taken over by a collection of tents and banners that calls itself (hilariously) "Democracy Village". Parliament Square belongs to all of us and is a major tourist attraction. I really object to it being turned into a revolting camp site and was really upset that the Mayor failed to evict them today.

Democracy Village has housed an array of protesters, vagrants and helpers voicing concerns over Afghanistan, climate change, the Middle East and anti capitalism. They have called today's eviction an affront to democracy.


Frankly, I object to them even calling it "Democracy Village" since virtually none of the "protestors" care less about democracy here, in Afghanistan or anywhere else and none of them were elected to represent anyone anyway. When I walked past it last week, there were banners supporting a wide variety of bonkers causes -- everything from "9/11 truth" to "boycott Israel" to "stop the Freemasons from secretly controlling the Home Secretary" -- as well as one or two causes (such as "dad's rights" and so forth) that are not really to do with democracy.

Real democracy, pure, radical democracy is (according to [people supporting the protestors]) about being elected by no-one, representing no-one. What arrogance must motivate you to believe that you have the right to monopolise an area to which other citizens should have free access; to protest, yes, but to enjoy also, to take a stroll in, to have a quiet sit down.

[From ‘Democracy Village’ my a**e! | And another thing...]

But let's suppose that we support their right to free assembly (as I do) and their right to hold transparently ludicrous opinions (as I do). I suggest that we set aside a brownfield site somewhere in, let's say, Middlesborough (where i imagine there are quite a few of them) and make it a Democracy Village that we can be proud of. All we need to do is bulldoze whatever is there and they take all of the "Peace" Camp up there. They can protect in peace, without disrupting the capital, and if they are inventive and creative, they can turn it into a major media attraction (and perhaps even a tourist attraction). I think this could be just the compromise that's needed to move along.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, June 28, 2010

Am I taking crazy pills?

I thought we were all in this together and that Mr. Osborne's austerity budget was sharing the pain equally between independent wealthy baronets (eg, George Osborne), parents with school fees to pay (Diane Abbott) and unemployed single mothers (Fergie). In particular, I thought that we in the private sector would at last see some trimming of the fat in the public sector.

some of Whitehall’s finest are “bewildered” and “appalled” by the appointment of TV presenter and management guru Kris Murrin as head of the PM’s implementation unit. Formerly of the ?What If! consultancy, she co-wrote a book of the same name. It talks about creative behaviours including “freshness, greenhousing and realness”. She also goes in for role playing, where people are asked to pretend they are beansprouts and oil in a wok. Well, you can see why Whitehall is concerned, can’t you?

Taxpayers might be concerned too. Ms Murrin is now a civil servant paid between £82,900 and £150,000 – Number 10 will not be more specific... her pay is probably nearer £150,000 than £82,900 (who says austerity begins at home).

[From / Columnists / Sue Cameron's Notebook - Oil spill threat to Whitehall plans]

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss tra la la la la...

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Standpoint magazine opens with a robust editorial this month, discussing the spongiform amorality of an exclusively liberal elite sustained by the public purse, an intellectual class that has atrophied into a caste.

Indeed, and the ramifications are genuinely terrible, because the behaviour of that elite has been encouraged across society in order to normalise it. If you're a millionaire rock star, television celebrity or politician then having affairs, divorces, children with different partners and so forth really doesn't matter: you can afford to pay and to send the kids to good schools and support them. But for the rest of society it is devastating and it's the taxpayer who foots the bill. I really don't care how many children Mick Jagger has and by how many women -- good luck to him, since command over female fertility has been a goal of the "big man" since we came down from the trees -- but I do care about the countless near-feral children cast into these circumstances up and down the country.

I was thinking about this because of the case of Shannon Matthews. As you will remember, this is a truly terrible case that involved a woman with seven different children by five different fathers who social workers said was unable to prioritise the needs of her children above her own sexual needs. And yet they let her keep the children -- despite the risk of abuse of many kinds -- and didn't provide advice about contraception until she'd had her sixth child. The truly shaming aspect of the case is that...

"We see the kind of parenting Karen provided fairly commonly. We are looking at a fairly common problem."

[From Shannon Matthews inquiry clears social workers | UK news | The Guardian]

How come the liberal elite are enthusiastic supporters of three strikes and you're out for people who download pop songs but not for people who carry out sustained and deliberate child abuse? Surely people who can't provide their kids with a certain basic level of care have no right to keep them.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bleakley house

According to the newspapers, Christine Bleakley is being tempted to move from BBC to ITV by an offer of a million pound salary. For those of you unfamiliar with dreary early-evening television, Christine Bleakley is one of the hosts of The One Show, a dull BBC1 "magazine" programme. Ms. Bleakley is better known as the girlfriend of the noted association footballer Mr. Frank Lampard (otherwise known as the "Where's Wally" of the England World Cup team).

Now, when I read about this proposed transfer, I thought it was a good news story. The BBC would save her salary -- I couldn't care less if ITV want to pay her ten million pounds per year -- and could go out an find another young woman from the regions to take her place (there cannot possibly be a shortage). I was a little disappointed at the end of the story to discover it was mere speculation -- presumably put about by her agents or negotiators -- and that her salary continues to be paid by hard-pressed licence fee payers such as me. Surely it is time to introduce a salary cap at the BBC: if presenters were capped at, let's say, the same salary as the Prime Minister (they'd not starve, as they can make plenty of money writing books, being in Hello magazine, running production companies and that sort of thing) then everyone would know where they stood and there would be a splendid stability to the TV world. Young and cheap presenters would compete to work for the BBC and then once they've become established but want more cash then they can sod off to ITV, thus keeping the BBC fresh and (importantly) performing a socially useful function. Everyone's happy.

[UPDATE] I went back to check something and it turns out the story is true! Well done BBC. The search is now for an attractive young woman with -- I would guess -- a Scottish or Welsh accent and the ability to read an autocue for £100K per annum.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I was listening to Johnnie Walker's "Sounds of the 70s" on the plane earlier and he said something like "does anyone remember Dylan at Blackbushe in 1978?" Do I!! I can say without a shadow of a doubt that not only can I remember it, I remember it as one of the happiest days of my entire life! It wan't just Dylan, but Dylan and Clapton, a perfect day that finished with us running out of petrol on the M3 at 4am. On the show, when people emailed in their memories, the sttendance was reported as a quarter of a million! Could this be right? They also said Joan Armatrading and Graham Parker were there, which I didn't remember at all so I went and googled it and sure enough they were there, although I genuinely have no memory of them at all. There's a Blackbushe Festival site that has a few pictures and I looked them and began to wonder about how our kids will look back on things like that: not with warm, fuzzy, hazy memories of a great time but through the prism of the interweb, with detailed text, pictures, video on Flickr and Facebook. Isn't it better to -- sometimes -- not be able to remember things properly?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Acquaintances reunited

Well, I signed up for my 30 year university reunion and I'll be going along in September. It's going to be fun to catch up with people, of course, but I have a slight worry that it's going to be a little sad too, because all of the great memories I have of most of these particular people are of them when they were young (that includes me, too!) and I wonder if seeing them all in their fifties will plunge me into mid-life crisis. It's definitely a risk. Perhaps there's some kind of insurance policy?.

Anyway, having agreed to it, I've realised that I've now only three months to lose weight and get a better job. Oh, the pressure.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Excellent news for eco-warriors everywhere. The noted actor Mr. Jeremy Irons has become a green campaigner, and will be tirelessly raising awareness on sustainability. He starred in one of my all time favourite films, Dead Ringers (which included one of most disturbing movie lines ever uttered: "they're gynecological instruments for operating on mutant women"), and was the voice of the baddie (of course, because he's English) in the Lion King, which I must have seen a thousand times when the boys were little.

Launching himself as a green campaigner, Irons has revealed plans to make a documentary about sustainability and waste disposal, likening himself to Michael Moore, the controversial film maker, although “not as silly”.

[From Earth will bite us back, warns Irons - Times Online]

It transpires that Mr. Irons has seven homes, one of them a castle, which I think is an excellent benchmark for sustainability, so I hereby commit myself to the cause of sustainability and I before my peers, with hand on heart, I promise to never have more than seven homes.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I went shopping at Waitrose the other day and as I was walking across the car park a red BMV -- a fancy one -- drove in and parked in one of the handicapped parking spaces. As I walked closer, I could see that the vehicle did, indeed, have a blue badge. Note for foreign readers: "blue badges" are the much-abused scheme for allowing disabled people to park near to the shops.

The only occupant, a very large gentleman got out and strolled off to go shopping. A poser. What do you do? I could have said, "I say, old chap, it's damnably thoughtless to park there when a genuinely handicapped person might need to park there shortly!". I didn't, of course, because querying anyone about anything will get you stabbed in modern Britain so I just walked on, fuming.

Why are we conditioned to put up with this sort of mindless anti-social behaviour? They take this kind of thing seriously in Texas.

Clark admits that she parked in a yellow-striped space next to a handicap space for a few minutes March 8 but said she never saw a "no parking" sign until after an officer pointed it out to her while writing the ticket.

"It's outrageous," Clark said. "I wasn't driving drunk. I wasn't speeding in a school zone."

If Clark had been speeding 35 mph over the limit in a school zone, her fine would have been $324, about half of the parking ticket cost, according to the court's website.

[From Everything's bigger in Texas, like a $640 parking ticket | McClatchy]

I think a £400 parking fine for abusing the spaces at Waitrose is quite reasonable.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, May 08, 2010


"This paper assesses the fiscal consequences of migration to the UK from the Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU in May 2004 (A8 countries). We show that A8 immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004, and who have at least one year of residence – and are therefore legally eligible to claim benefits - are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing": this comes from "Assessing the Fiscal Costs and Benefits of A8 Migration to the UK"

Thus, from an empirical position, the immigration problem might be restated as:

  • How can we get more productive immigrants to come here (ie, Poles) while stopping less productive immigrants from making it across the channel and,
  • How can we persuade the feckless and stupid (whether immigrants or not) to leave?

The second point is particularly difficult. Clearly, if you are feckless and stupid, you will have no incentive to do anything other than stay here and live on welfare. But suppose you were offered the chance to go and live somewhere sunny like Sierra Leone for 2/3 of your benefits? After all, 2/3 of UK benefits is a tidy income by Sierra Leone standards and it would be a way for us to save a third on the welfare budget right away.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Looking at today's paper reminded me of last month when I was in the office on April Fool's Day being teased by my fellow workers because I couldn't figure out which of the news stories in the Telegraph, Independent and Guardian were the traditional April 1st spoof stories and which were real. At the time this was most amusing, but since then I've begun to worry: isn't there something rather unsettling about living in a country where you can no longer distinguish between reality and clumsy satire? In the news over the last few days there have been stories of a female soldier who has won a payout for sexual discrimination from the Army because she couldn't go on parade because she couldn't sort out child care for her daughter, a major high street store selling padded bras for 7 year-old girls, a complaint that wildlife film makers such as David Attenborough don't pay attention to animals right to privacy and school that has suspended a teacher for saying "blackboard" instead of the politically-correct "chalkboard". OK, so I made one of them up, but you'll never guess which one. Does that disturb you as much as it disturbs me?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NHS Indirect

If I was sick, I certainly wouldn't take any advice from the staff of NHS Direct who, it transpires, take an average of 23 sick days per year each. I'm not saying that if I had to listening to members of the public calling me about their nauseating ailments I wouldn't fancy a couple of days a month on the club, but this is more than twice the already too high day a month sick average for all NHS staff. Actually, if I was sick, the NHS would be the absolutely last place I would call. I'd call a taxi instead of calling them.

Dr Tracey Leigh, the out-of-hours GP who was on call, diagnosed the boy with swine flu after following a flowchart to help identify his symptoms... However, Louis was actually suffering from a rare form of diabetes which had not been diagnosed, and was experiencing symptoms of kidney failure related to that disease. When his mother found him in bed the next day he was cold and had stopped breathing.

[From Boy died after NHS staff wrongly diagnosed swine flu | Society | The Guardian]

Basically, if you get really ill, don't call anyone. Go to hospital and get some real attention.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eruption of memory

What with all of the news about the volcano, the newspapers and TV have repeated many times the story of the British Airways jumbo jet that lost all power when it flew into an ash cloud created by the eruption of Mount Galunggung in Indonesia in 1982. You'll remember the story of the heroics of the pilots who, having lost all four engines, decided to glide the plane into the sea but (after it had fallen from 36,000 feet to 24,000 feet) managed to restart the engines and land the plane safely. The point is that you can't see volcanic dust clouds on radar and that's why they've grounded all of the flights in Europe, because if the jets flew into the clouds then their engines would clog.

The events around one British Airways flight in 1982 reveal the potential dangers of this sort of dust... The passenger jet effectively turned into a glider... When all four engines on the Boeing 747 being flown by Captain Eric Moody shut down at 37,000ft, he hadn't a clue why.

[From BBC News - When volcanic ash stopped a Jumbo at 37,000ft]

This story always reminds me of my experiences on the ground. I was living in Bandung in central Java when that volcano went off. And when the ash cloud reached us, it was honestly one of the most unusual days of my entire life. We'd been told that the ash cloud might come but I don't remember that having any connotations. I don't remember thinking anything about it, other than that I'd never seen a volcanic ash cloud. When we woke up in the morning it was pitch black. I mean absolutely black, not like dark at night when there's still a little moonlight or starlight to see by. I mean it was absolutely pitch black, the ash blocked out the sun completely. Visibility out in the streets was maybe 50 feet maximum. You couldn't see the dust in the air right in front of your face but you couldn't see 50 feet. It was like being in fog where you can't see the fog right in front of your face.

Since we didn't know what else to do, we got into the car and slowly navigated our way to the office. Everyone was driving very slowly with their headlights on. I can't remember ash on the ground. It wasn't like snow where it was piling up on the side of the road, I don't remember that at all. I just remember a coating of dust on everything. When we got to the office, we were issued with face masks. They just covered your nose and mouth with a sort of cotton pad which was held in place with an aluminium frame and some elastic. I actually hadn't found it difficult to breathe but it was really shocking after you put the masks on because after no more than a few minutes you could see a red film building up on the face mask where the volcanic dust was building up on the cotton instead of, presumably, going into your lungs.

It was a really strange day to spend a day, a whole day, in the pitch dark. And I can still remember how it felt sort of other-worldly to be walking round in total darkness in the middle of the day. The volcano didn't seem to affect anything in the sense that it didn't seem to stop cars from running or computers from operating. We were running some DEC mini and some early PCs (XT?) with Microsoft's now long-forgotten version of Unix called Xenix. Perhaps equipment was just more robust in those days, jet-engines excepted.

While in a reminiscing about volcanoes mood, I've also upload three pictures of my visit to Anak Krakatoa ("child of Krakatoa") in 1983. It had erupted a couple of years earlier but was quiet when we got there so we just made our way up it! It was hot, but not intolerable, and it was quite exciting to stand on the top.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, April 17, 2010


That was fun -- we went over to see Rory Bremner at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford. It was part of Rory's Election Battlebus Tour 2010. The first part of the show was him doing "stand up" commentary on the election, the second part involved the Lb Dem candidate for Guildford (a marginal), a wonk from the Lib Dems (the Tories were invited by didn't come) and Edwina Currie. It was actually jolly enjoyable: he's a good MC, being a) clever and b) quick, but there could have been a few more questions from the crowd. I wanted to ask a question (about immigration) but didn't get picked, so I'll ask it here: "You don't have to be a member of the BNP to be concerned about uncontrolled mass immigration to the UK, so could the panel bypass their metropolitan, liberal and faintly patronising statements about immigration from the first half of the show and give us their honest opinions on the topic? Specifically, given the revelation that uncontrolled mass immigration was a deliberate New Labour policy, how they would answer the concerns of the good burghers of Peterborough about the collapse of their civic infrastructure under the strain of it?"

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


I was reading a blog post by Great She Elephant and it mentioned in passing something called "Copyscape", in a context that implied it was some kind of anti-plagiarism tool. I'd never heard of it, so I was curious to take a look because I wondered how it might work. It invited me to see if any of my work had been plagiarised (by someone other than me, since I "repurpose" material all the time. I put in a random blog page, and was shocked to see that the system threw up four cases of plagiarism, on sites that I didn't recognise. The system then suggested that if I clicked on the page link, Copyscape would highlight the words that had been copied from blog. Outrage rising up my gullet second-by-second, I clicked.

The copied words?

View an alternate. Post a comment If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In You are currently signed in as (nobody) . Sign Out (URLs automatically linked.)

How dumb is Copyscape? There must be millions of pages with these words on them.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dashed board

In an averagely bonkers speech this week, Gordon Brown said that at some unspecified time in the future some unspecified proportion of the population would in some unspecified way be able to log on to a government web site to see some unspecified information and then apply for a passport. I presume he means in some other way than you do now, because I when I tried to apply for a passport at the Passport Agency website I couldn't figure out what on Earth to do.

A MyGov dashboard that allows every citizen to personalise the explosive growth of government services on the web was proposed today by Gordon Brown... In a wide-ranging speech on the impact of the web on the government, he said the MyGov dashboard will make citizen interaction with government as easy as internet banking or online shopping.

[From Gordon Brown proposes personalised MyGov web services | Technology |]

Since corporate dashboards are all the rage, I thought I'd experiment and have a guess at what the government dashboard might look like...


What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic -- will dogs be slightly less dangerous in the year 2025, or whenever the management consultants, systems integrators, outsourcers and business process re-engineers will have brought this cabinet office vision into existence?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, March 22, 2010

The miles are the goal

I just watched the new movie "Up in the Air", so I'm wondering -- in a purely hypothetical thought experiment, I should add -- if there are women out there who are sexually excited by a BA Gold Card even if the holder doesn't look like George Clooney. I hope so, because it's not worth having just for the nicer lounge at T5!

It was an OK film, but there was something about the movie I really enjoyed: George's "road warrior" tips to his colleague in the security line were just the same as my own mental checklist. And I have a Hilton Honours gold card too.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


In the excellent, excellent movie "The Damned United", Brian Clough has a run in with his chairman in 1969 because he signs Sunderland midfielder Colin Todd for £175,000 which the chairman thinks is outrageous, but not as outrageous as his £300 per week wages! Just for comparison, the equivalent player today (someone who can hold the ball and not waste it) would cost around £5-10 million with wages of £75,000 per week. In fact there are players in the Premier League whose wages are already approaching Colin Todd's transfer fee EVERY WEEK.

By the way, I wasn't that bothered about watching Dammed United, but I was bored on a plane so I just started watching it out curiosity and within two minutes was completely hooked. It's brilliant, and Michael Sheen's performance as Brian Clough is awesome: he doesn't try to imitate Clough like an impressionist but instead captures an essence that I found totally absorbing. Brilliant film, in a week of brilliant films.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, March 05, 2010

Haile likely

Famine in Ethiopia, which has occurred roughly once every decade since the dawn of recorded history, is back in the news but for an unexpectedly interesting reason.

Fresh controversy over aid to Ethiopia erupted today after an investigation concluded that millions intended for victims of the 1984 famine was diverted to anti-government rebel leaders

[From Live Aid donations 'were diverted to arm Ethiopian rebels' - Times Online]

I remember someone telling me before that something like 100,000 people died directly because of Live Aid, because the food supplies meant that the government could fight on for longer, but it's really interesting to hear that this may be an underestimate. I made myself very unpopular at the time of Live Aid by telling my co-workers (I was living in the SF at the time) that if they really wanted to help starving people in Ethiopia then they should be sending them AK47s, not sacks of rice, since they were starving because Ethiopia's government wanted them to. It hasn't rained in Australia for god knows how long and no-one is starving there (to the best of my knowledge). That's not to say there aren't serious problems, as the BBC tell us

Steve Evans reports from Melbourne, a city that has suffered ten years of drought. He talks to oyster farmer Graham Taylor, who says that the lack of rain means less food for the oysters.

[From BBC World Service - Business - Living with drought in Australia]

Drought so serious that oyster farmers are concerned. Wow: that's how bad things can get in a democracy. When the famine in Ethiopia began killing large numbers of people in 1984, the Ethiopian government was spending half of GDP on weapons. Australian defence spending is 2.6% of GDP. Go figure.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Freer enterprise

Suppose you wanted to do an experiment to see what the natural set of economic arrangements in society might be, perhaps curious to see if free enterprise is a self-emergent property of economic systems that lack central co-ordination (as it is in World of Warcraft, for example).

The thing to do would be to go somewhere where there is no government and see. Well, the experiment is underway even as we speak. There is a place where the writ of government does not run and people are free to pursue their dreams. Not in some dreary Welsh commune full of welfare warriors, but in everyone's favourite seaside tropical paradise, Somalia.

In Somalia's main pirate lair of Haradheere, the sea gangs have set up a cooperative to fund their hijackings offshore, a sort of stock exchange meets criminal syndicate.

[From Somali sea gangs lure investors at pirate lair | Reuters]

"Criminal" is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but this is exactly what my sons and their friends get up to in World of Warcraft: pool effort and go off and kill people and steal their stuff. Anyway, these enterprising heirs to Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, absent Spanish treasure fleets from South America have been raiding treasure fleets from the new Eldorado, the Gulf. And a pretty profitable business it is too.

"I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'."

[From Somali sea gangs lure investors at pirate lair | Reuters]

Yes, it's the Indian Ocean Bubble!

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, February 01, 2010

Security matters

There was a report on the news tonight about the new strip scanners at British airports. I had a brilliant idea about this that I mentioned on twitter a while back: let's crowdsource airport security. Take the output from the scanners and send it up to Flickr, partly to increase the sum total of gaiety in the nation (there's no privacy issues since you won't know who any of the pictures actually are) and then people at home with nothing to do can look through the pictures and see if there are any suspicious-looking images. Then they can e-mail to some central government security centre. The government security centre will pretty soon learn which public-spirited websters are good at spotting the terrorists and so a ranking system will quickly develop to direct the attention of the security services (a bit like eBay stars) and at the end of the year we can award OBE's to the top 10. Tell me: how is my idea any more stupid than reality (remember that these scanner won't detect rectum bombs etc)...

A Manchester airport spokesman said their trial had started in December, but only with passengers over 18 until the legal situation with children was clarified. So far 500 people have taken part on a voluntary basis with positive feedback from nearly all those involved.

[From New scanners break child porn laws | Politics |The Guardian ]

So 17-year old jihadis can get through with detonating underpants intact -- let's hope that Osama bin Laden doesn't cotton on to this. But this led me on to wonder if there is any point in any of this? Hugo Rifkind is surely right when he points out that the whole colossal enterprise of homeland security is an almost total waste of money.

Before the World Trade Center came down, flying was a breeze, and there was a tiny chance you might get blown up. Now it’s a nightmare, and there’s still a tiny chance you might get blown up. In what way is this progress? Our attitude towards getting onto aeroplanes is starting to look weird. It’s like a disorder. It’s like they’ve won.

[From Airport security is a giant exercise in arse-covering — and it doesn’t work (obviously) | The Spectator]

If the 9/11 guys tried that same stunt again today, they would fail. Not because of airport security but because the passengers wouldn't let them. I'm an overweight, unfit middle-aged man, but if the guy in front of gets up and holds a knife to a stewardesses' throat, then I'll go for him. Ah, you might say, but what if he has explosives in his underpants? That's why we need the new stripscanners. Well, if you scan his underpants, then he'll stuff the TNT up his arse. Or buy a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile, or go an blow up a Eurostar instead. There comes a point where we have to see that we are into a zone of diminishing returns, so if there's a need to spend extra money on airport security, then spend it the Israeli way: on profiling, on interviewing, on intelligence and not on pointless scanners that can't detect underpants bombs or rectum bombs anyway.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Citizens Dave

We're having some work done on our house at the moment. I had to pop in to see the builder's estimator at the house this morning. He is called Dave. The painter is called Dave. The chippie is Dave and he has an assistant called Dave. When he wasn't available, they sent another chippie for a couple of days: yes, he was called Dave. The plumber is called Brian.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Looney bins

Here in Gordon Brown's Looking Glass Britain, the Land of Perverse Incentives, there has been a steady shift of focus in law enforcement. While the underclass continue to beat their children to death, while honest citizens are stabbed in the street and gangs of feral youths are allowed to roam free,

Leicester City Council recently began fining residents £100 if their wheelie bins were put out on the wrong day.

[From The laughing policemen: 'Inaccurate' data boosts arrest rate - Crime, UK - The Independent]

The idea that law enforcement is about revenues and targets rather than right and wrong is hateful, but you can't blame the police. The government's plan is clear: criminalise things that middle class homeowners might do (eg, overfill the recycling bin) and then target them to push up the revenues, since they are easy to catch and will always pay up

Householders who fail to nominate a neighbour to turn off their alarm while they are away from home can be breaking the law.

[From Blair's 'frenzied law making' : a new offence for every day spent in office - UK Politics, UK - The Independent]

I notice, by the way, that under the torrent of new laws introduced by the Labour government since 1997, such as the crackdown on the wheelie menaces, it is now an offence to set off nuclear explosion in the United Kingdom.

It is now illegal to sell grey squirrels, impersonate a traffic warden or offer Air Traffic Control services without a licence. Creating a nuclear explosion was outlawed in 1998.

[From Blair's 'frenzied law making' : a new offence for every day spent in office - UK Politics, UK - The Independent]

Presumably, had the Iranians managed to float a fission bomb up the Thames and set it off outside Parliament before 1998, we would have only been able to charge them under some noise abatement regulations or perhaps press a more serious case under environmental protection laws. We can all sleep more safely now, knowing that it is a criminal offence.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]