Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Beyond Irony

From Fox News:-

Famed global warming activist James Schneider and a journalist friend were both found frozen to death on Saturday, about 90 miles from South Pole Station, by the pilot of a ski plane practicing emergency evacuation procedures.

Monday, 29 March 2010

McKellen on His Award

On his icon award, Sir Ian McKellen said: "I've played iconic parts - I think that's the point. I played Gandalf the Grey and the White and Magneto. So their lustre rubs off on me rather than the other way round."

That's very modest. His portrayal of Magneto is brilliant. In my opinion, it's McKellen who made that portrayal as memorable as it was.


From The Press and Journal:-

Sales of Harris Tweed are expected to be boosted by the new Doctor Who, who will don a jacket made from the fabric during the new series.

So, like most old people, he's going to stink of piss?

Those Enlightened, Global Warming Believing Europeans

Germans are losing their fear of climate change, according to a survey, with just 42 percent worried about global warming.

Or maybe not.


From The Letter Pages of The Times

Barristers are self-employed, so the headlines show gross figures from which they have to pay all expenses, leaving a net of somewhere around £40 an hour. They have no sick pay, no holiday pay, no private health insurance and no pension, they have no perks of any kind; all or any of those have to come out of what’s left of the £40 after tax. And now Mr Straw wants to cut those rates by 18 per cent.

You can’t get your car fixed for £60 an hour, yet the Government seems to think that barristers who protect the reputations, livelihoods and liberty of those accused — but not convicted — of crime are not even worth that.

Well, Paul Mendelle (from the Bar Association), it might well be argued that people who protect us every day on the road are worth just as much. Frankly I don't like the insinuation that somehow, barristers are "better" than mechanics.

But let's look at some things here: all of those costs you mention also apply to a mechanic business, but unlike them, they've got a whole bunch of costs you don't have. Costs of supplies , costs of tools, costs of machinery, premises that are larger than a small office, higher insurance costs, higher public liability costs. They typically need to have cover (in terms of extra staff) because of people being off sick.

Barristers have to undergo five years of training and professional qualification before they can begin to practice and most come to the Bar saddled with debts of £40,000 to £50,000. Mr Straw claims there are too many barristers, saying there were 2,500 in the 1970s. There are more than 12,000 barristers in England and Wales, which had a population of 54 million in 2008. In 1900 there were more than 9,500 barristers when the population was 32 million, so there are now fewer barristers per head than a hundred years ago.

Well, barely. It's now 2.2/10,000 people compared to 2.9/10,000 people in 1900. Are barristers saying that they haven't improved their productivity by 25% in 110 years?

We could also consider that a garage man doesn't get the advantage of protecting his trade by high barriers to entry and fixed prices for his work and typically has at least 5 years before starting out on his own.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Kurosawa 100

Today would have been Akira Kurosawa's 100th Birthday. Along with Google, I offer my salute to one of the greatest directors to ever have lived. A man who influenced just about everyone. If you've seen A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven, A Bug's Life or Battle Beyond The Stars, you've seen films that are remakes of Kurosawa stories. If you've seen Star Wars, you've seen a film heavily influenced by his work. The guys who influenced everyone that followed, from Bergman to Scorsese to Werner Herzog were influenced by Kurosawa.

For me, he just shot brilliant cinema that few can match. I'll give you this badass scene from Yojimbo as a taster:-

Monday, 22 March 2010

David Cameron (Part 253)

I never know what to make of David Cameron and there's a number of interpretations of his behaviour. A favourite one of the more Thatcherite wing of the Conservative Party is that he really is a proper Thatcherite, but you'll just have to sit through all of this waffle and once he gets into power, he'll start slowly turning things around. Another is that he's genuinely more of a social Conservative.

But I'm tempted to say that the guy is a massive fool who has happened to have got the job because of 1 Newsnight programme, raised the polls because he looks nice in a suit and no-one is going to oppose him.

Because ConservativeHome is reporting:-

CCHQ has confirmed the story IS true. The Trade Union Modernisation Fund will continue if Cameron becomes Prime Minister.

I don't know what shit a Conservative would have to be on to continue with a programme to channel taxpayer's money into trade unions (and therefore into the Labour party). Setting aside the obvious political advantage of putting Labour out of business, there's a bigger ideological point that this is people's hard-earned cash and if they want to give it to unions, that should be their choice.

The Cons seem to be staggeringly naive. Cameron appears in The Graun occassionally, despite the fact that you are, at best, going to get a few dozen readers to convert. Likewise, no-one much likes the unions except for hardened socialists.


Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Good News Story

From The Vancouver Sun:-
Breast-cancer sufferers could avoid the need for surgery in the future after doctors discovered a way of destroying tumours by freezing them.

The scientists adapted a technique used to treat prostate cancer to successfully destroy breast-cancer tumours in 13 patients, a conference was told.

Early days and all that, but it sounds promising.

It's important to put these things into context. Add up all the scientific and technological advances over 5 years, and very few political leaders can measure up in terms of improving their country.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Sport Relief Mile

Does anyone else think this is a bit rubbish?

OK, if a kid does it, or maybe someone who's on crutches or an elderly person, I might be impressed, but if you're a fully grown adult, do you really think you deserve sponsorship for running ONE WHOLE MILE?

Nursery Crimes

The Daily Mash have a quite brilliant little set of modern nursery rhymes. Just as a taster:-

Doctor Foster
Went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain.
He would have stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle
But luckily he was a GP so was driving one of his Range Rovers to the golf course while his receptionist referred all his patients to the local chemist.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Excellent Religious News

From The Sun:-

A JEDI believer won an apology from a Jobcentre which threw him out for refusing to remove his hood.

Star Wars fan Chris Jarvis, 31, was told he would have to leave if he did not take it down.

Chris is a member of the International Church of Jediism - based on the sci-fi films - whose doctrine states that followers should be allowed to wear hoods.

But when he protested, security escorted him from his local branch in Southend, Essex.

He filled out a complaint form - and received a formal letter from the JobCentre Plus branch's boss just three days later.

Wendy Flewers apologised, adding: "We are committed to provide a customer service which embraces diversity and res-pects customers' religion."

Of course, if he was a real jedi, he'd have pulled a mind trick and she'd have ignored his hood.

This is, of course, complete fuckwittery. But what's rather splendid about it is that creates yet another exception based on a religion. So we'll have so many, from major religions, to jediism, to followers of Gordon Gekko and Tyler Durden. The more people can bury the system in crap, the sooner the system breaks down.

The eventual outcome is a good one: no exceptions. Religion, as something which the state can interfere in disappears and people make their own private choices.

And don't tell me I can't drink at my desk. I'm just a follower of Dionysus.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

More High Speed Rail

I've taken a look at the government's proposals for rail between London and Birmingham (link).

1st claim: Journey time from London to Birmingham City Centre cut by over 30mins to 49 minutes.

I find this hard to believe. London to Birmingham is, as the crow-flies around 100 miles. This suggests an average speed of 122 mph.

TGV-Est, the fastest TGV service does Paris to Strasbourg direct in 2h19. That's 300 miles. That's an average speed of 129mph.

Before it sounds like it's easily achievable, it has to be remembered that Paris to Strasbourg is 3 times longer, so the urban distance (when you can't go at thundering TGV speed) is a lot more of the journey. You're probably looking at 10 miles at low speed (and then you've got to accelerate).

It's why TGV works so well in France - the distances to major cities are huge, so benefits are good (also, French trains before the TGV ran at dismal speeds - the effect of the TGV was huge on journey times).

Porn Director To Stand for Parliament

From the BBC:-

A female pornographic film director has been selected as the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Gravesham, Kent, it has been announced.

I hope someone tells her that in a secret ballot, she doesn't get to see which box gets filled in.

Nick Hogan Released

Well done to everyone who donated to get Nick released.

Here's a little factoid:-

Total donated by the public to get Nick Hogan released over 4 days: £9,700
Total donated by the public to ASH over 12 months: £14,975

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

William Hague on Europe

From The Guardian:-

"If we win the coming general election, it is our firm intention that a Conservative government will be active and activist in the European Union from day one, energetically engaging with our partners."

He said that they would be "highly active" in promoting European cooperation on climate change, energy security, and pressing for freer and fairer global trade, as well as pushing for Turkey's membership of the EU.

Hague also emphasised the potential of the EU 2020 strategy on jobs and growth to enhance Europe's competitiveness – "if we get it right".
 Not exactly the Post-Lisbon "we will not let matters rest", really, is it?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Michael Gove's Education Plan

From The Times:-
Children will be instructed to learn poetry by heart and recite the kings and queens of England, in a return to a “traditionalist” education planned by the Conservatives. The national curriculum would be rewritten under a Tory government to restore past methods of teaching history, English, maths and science, Michael Gove, the Shadow Children’s Secretary, told The Times.
Stop right there! Hasn't Gove been talking about creating schools independent of state control? Shouldn't that mean that Gove sets some pretty basic targets (at most) of what should be taught and leave the rest to parents? So what's he doing interfering with the curriculum?
He promised that a committee of the “greatest minds in Britain” would decide what children were taught. The Prince of Wales’ Teaching Institute would also be involved in drawing up a new curriculum.

The Fuckwit of Wales is going to have involvement in education. The man who believes in homeopathy.
“I’m an unashamed traditionalist when it comes to the curriculum,” Mr Gove said. “Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, modern foreign languages. That’s the best training of the mind and that’s how children will be able to compete.”
1) Many parents might want their kids sat in rows. I'm not sure it works any better than sitting in groups.

2) Learning the Kings and Queens of England is history turned into trainspotting. There's certainly some that are worth studying because of their impact on where we are now, but they're mostly utterly tedious.

3) I'm quite happy with people learning modern foreign languages but I'm really not sure that you need to, living in this country.

Mr Gove said he wanted experts, such as Baroness Greenfield, Lord Winston and Lord Rees of Ludlow, to draw up the new science curriculum.
Can we skip Greenfield with her fuckwitted ideas about the internet?
Carol Vorderman is already on hand to decide how children should learn maths.
Despite the fact that she has a 3rd in engineering (which would disqualify her from being a teacher under new Conservative rules), and that she has never studied child psychology or education.
“I’m a huge fan of the Prince’s Teaching Institute,” Mr Gove said. “What Prince Charles has done is affirmed the real importance of subject knowledge. He’s absolutely right in saying that what draws people into teaching is that they love history or physics, and they want to communicate that love. They don’t love abstract thinking skills; they love the thrill of discovery in their own special field. We definitely want the Prince’s Teaching Institute to help.”
It's a pity that abstract thinking is actually more useful than history.
The Shadow Children’s Secretary said that too much of the curriculum was about “airy fairy” goals rather than hard facts. “I was amazed to discover that science is not divided into physics, chemistry and biology. It has these hybrid headings about the chemical and material whatever and the Earth, the environment and this and that.”
Well, there certainly are physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs, so fuck knows what Gove is on about here.

History should be taught “in order — it’s a narrative,” Mr Gove said. Lessons should celebrate rather than denigrate Britain’s role through the ages, including the Empire. “Guilt about Britain’s past is misplaced.”
1) Not exactly.
2) History should teach the history of Britain as accurately as possible. Neither socialist guilt, nor jingoistic propaganda. We did some glorious things and some shitty things in our past.
English classes would put more emphasis on the classics, with children encouraged to learn poetry by heart. “A lot of the ‘great tradition’ is locked in a cupboard marked ‘too difficult’ and that’s quite wrong. I’ve been talking to the RSC about bringing Shakespeare into primary schools,” he said. Modern languages will also be revived. “One of the biggest tragedies in state education over the last ten years has been this huge drop in French and German, Italian and Spanish,” he said.
Shakespeare is tedious for young kids unless you're going to show them movie versions, most of which are unsuitable. Learning any of those languages is mostly pointless nowadays (Korean, Chinese or Japanese may be better).

It's almost making what we've got now to look good.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Government Systems

One of the common mistakes about government is to assume that it's all a problem with New Labour, that replacing them with the Conservatives doing the same things will fix things, I present this report from the United States:-
In one instance, the spotlight forced the Department of Veterans Affairs to review 45 IT projects, ending 12 of the projects and saving $54 million, he said.

Yet he also said veterans still have to wait more than 160 days to receive benefits partly "because the VA is still passing manila envelopes" to process claims.
This isn't a British problem or a Labour problem. It is a problem of government as a system.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The BBC Compares Private and Public Sector

From the BBC

It's all about money or shorter hours - isn't it? There are many assumptions made about why people work in the public or private sector, but what's the reality when two workers compare their jobs?

Interestingly, it's in the field of software development which I happen to work in.

Now, the job and the experience are comparable, so we're looking at a level playing field.

Core Hours: Public 36 Hours. Private 35 Hours.

First up, this is bullshit. I've worked in a lot of companies and I know what their staff work, and 35 hours/week is rare. It's generally 37 or maybe 39 hours.

Salary: Public £30-35K. Private £35K+Overtime
As one of them works in London, does this include London weighting?

Holiday days look about right.

Overtime: Public unofficial and unpaid. Private on-call rota + call-in time.
I did some work in the public sector, and whilst it might be "unofficial and unpaid", I didn't see much evidence that people had to do much beyond their core hours. A few hours a month is "normal" to most staff.

Pensions: Public no final salary but 19.5% of salary from employer. Private final salary with employer paying in double.
Final pension salaries are very rare in the private sector, especially for people who've joined a company in the past 5 years. And most employers don't pay in double the pension on top. And if the private sector pension gets overfunded, the employers will quit paying in (unlike the public sector).

Annual Bonus: Private - up to 6%. Public - 0.
Yes, and 4% of that has to be earnt. Which means going above average. 2% is based on company performance which is out of your hands. And lots of companies right now are paying out nothing.

Staff Benefits: Private - money saving discounts at certain retailers. Public - none.
Yeah, big deal.

On top of all of this, it's also worth noting that the private sector is generally less generous than the public sector with redundancy payouts.

You'll also get away with a lot more sick days.

But the biggest single thing is the difference in work ethic between public sector and the private sector IT departments. I know a lot of independent software developers, and the one expression that I have used by people use when referring to the public sector is "holiday camp", and this reflects my own experience in a brief period. In the department I worked, I could have run the department on about 2/3rds of the staff that they had.

Now, the thing is that there used to be a trade-off. Easier work, job security, more holiday, more pensions. But in exchange you got quite a lot less salary. New Labour have tipped this far too far and now, this is crippling the private sector which can't compete for staff.

What's unfortunate about this BBC piece is that it doesn't reflect reality and is actually showing the public sector as not much better off than the private sector (which just isn't the case at the moment).

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Lord Ashcroft

I know this is bit of a non-story (and frankly, the BBC are being typically biased over it), but let's consider some facts:-

  1. Ashcroft told Hague something
  2. Ashcroft agreed to be a non-dom with the Cabinet Office.
  3. Labour are complaining about his status.
Are Labour saying that they didn't know what the deal was with the Cabinet Office? Why are they making hay over something that was agreed by the civil service while they were in charge?

The Hurt Locker

I've seen my fill of war films. From the more gung-ho (Rambo), to the surreal (Apocalypse Now), to the downright anti-war (MASH). Something, however, that none of them have really tried to do is to view war from the perspective of the men on the ground and their lives without having a greater agenda. It shows them as human characters.

The Hurt Locker does this without getting involved in any of the politics of the war. It follows a bomb demolition team as they go about their jobs and their lives. It is war at the micro level, a study of the soldiers doing their jobs. But what it also addresses in quite a neutral, observational manner, is the sheer thrill that some people get from being in a war zone.

I've only seen one of Kathryn Bigelow's other films, Point Break, and the action is even more boldly directed than in that film. It's up close, shot in an almost documentary style. A times it's quite fast, at others, there are dramatic moments which are quite intense.

It's out on DVD, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

This Made Me Laugh

But consider where the internet was 10 years ago compared to now...