Friday, 27 May 2011

Wordsmithing Shoesmith

So Sharon Shoesmith has won her appeal.  Good.

Note, she did not succeed in persuading the Court that the Ofsted report into the department that she ran was in any way, shape or form incorrect.  The report concluded that there was something going seriously wrong under her management, that there were serious failings.  That conclusion stands.  Peter was failed by her department, and died.  Prima facie, the decision to sack her was right.

The conclusion of the Court was that the way in which she was sacked was wrong.  In this regard, the Court was absolutely right.  Balls stood up in a televised interview and announced that she was being removed from her post.  That was the first she heard of the decision.  No-one summoned her to their office to explain herself.  No-one explained that the Ofsted report was distinctly damning, and asked her if she had anything to say.  No-one, in short, gave her a chance to defend herself and her actions.  Balls just made the decision on the spot in order to save his political hide, and we are going to have to pay for that (as per usual).

Balls is unrepentant.  He obviously does not realise that the law does not allow you to act in this way.  What's more, it is Labour's employment laws that prevent this.  No employer can just decide that an employee is not up to the job and explain that their services are no longer needed.  Instead, it is necessary to sit them down, point out that what they did was utterly bloody stupid not in accordance with the way that they had been asked to operate, explain to them how you would like it done, and send them off to cock up another case try again.  Then, when the inevitable happens, you have to initiate a formal review process, asking them what extra training they need, if there is anything they need to do their job properly (note: offering them loan of a brain cell is not permitted) and warning them that failing to improve would not be a good idea.  Then you give them a few more months, and sit them down again to explain that they're not getting any better, etc etc.  then, a few months later, you have to give them a formal final warning, and then, assuming they continue to be utterly useless not up to the required standard, you can finally give them notice.

Fail to follow this elaborate and longwinded procedure to the letter, and they will have a valid claim for unfair dismissal.  You can then expect to be taken to the cleaners an employment tribunal, at which point you have a choice of either giving them £60k in compensation or paying a lawyer £60k to defend the claim in the hope that you win (which you won't).  And no, you don't get those costs back, even if you do actually win.

And I know this to be true, because I've been through it. Thankfully, we avoided the tribunal stage.

So what is disgusting about this affair is not Shoesmith's somewhat hollow victory, but the utter brass neck of Balls to flagrantly break the employment laws that his party imposed on the rest of us, and then waltz off leaving the bill on our laps.  If there is a lesson to learn from this affair, it is that a decision which was clearly right (both at the time and in retrospect) should not be challengeable on procedural grounds.  That one change would help employers across the country - and encourage them to try out more new employees.

But note - it is a change that Parliament needs to make, not the Courts.  The Courts (once again) are taking the flack from politicians for doing exactly what those same politicians ordered them to do.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

At last...

... a simple explanation.

See? No problem. Perfectly straightforward.

(Hat Tip to the Filthy Engineer.)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Philiosophising Wikipedia

Today's xkcd cartoon has an interesting alt-text.  It claims that:
Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at "Philosophy".
In discussion, it seems that this is mainly true, although there are isolated examples of start pages that lead to an infinite loop.

What surprises me is that people find this surprising.  Thinking about it, if you have a finite set of pages (such as Wikipedia: it is not yet infinite, it just feels that way) which include links to each other, then logically speaking if you keep clicking according to a particular rule then you must eventually start to loop.  OK, it may take a long time - at the time of writing this, Wikipedia has 3,643,714 pages so at 1 click per second that is slightly over 42 days (assuming neither your mouse nor your index finger break during this time) but the claim has no limit of time or clicks.

By then, you will have been to every page, so you must start looping*.  Therefore, every start point must lead to a loop.  So the real question is, which loop will you reach first?  Or, given that the "Philosophy" page is itself in a short loop (Philosophy, Reason, Rationality, Philosophy), why that loop?

The answer to that is quite simple, I think.  Human nature, and the style of Wikipedia articles, is to start an article along the lines of "[Subject] is a type of [genus] in which....".  So the first link will usually be to a more general, less specific subject.  And what could be more general or less specific than philosophy?

(Of course, my example might fail if people are creating new pages at more than 1 per second - in that case a human clicking away might theoretically never reach a loop.  But the rule is absolute, and allows for a period when Wikipedia is static, or for some kind of automated searcher that could click away at a near-infinite speed, so I have discounted this slight problem.  POSTCRIPT: As of 14:49 on 27 May, Wikipedia had added 1,437 pages after 191,880 seconds, i.e. about 133 seconds per new page...)

(*this assumes every page has a link.  In Wikipedia, I think this is a reasonable assumption, at least of the pages that another page links to.  It is also an assumption made by the claim that we are considering)

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Photos are back

I've revived Patently Photographic, the blog where I sent my favourite photos.  It's been too long since I did anything with it, partly because there was too much other stuff going on and partly because the discipline of posting a photo each day gradually turned into a source of stress.  I get plenty of that from other sources, I don't need to create any of my own.

I was also never that happy with the presentational style that Blogger offered.  Its templates just don't seem to suit photoblogs, so I've gone for a hosted site running Wordpress and chosen what I think is a really nice theme.  Please do let me know what you think.

And in answer to Blue Eyes' question from long, long ago, no I didn't lose my camera - which means I do have a few photos to keep me going (although I probably won't put up one photo per day).

Oh - and the address?  Fairly easy to remember:

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Two for today

Do check in on Sunday to let me know who missed the event of the day:

And for the rest of us:

Parish Notice: Comments

Blogger lost some in its crash a few weeks ago; it now seems to have re-instated them.  Also, some were marked incorrectly as spam, which I have now released.

Normal service appears (?) to be returning.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Chase Me!

Oh dear.  Look what my local Plod have acquired:

Apparently they need this in order to "protect future generations from the worst effects of global warming". If the current generation happen to need protecting from a criminal with access to anything faster than a pushbike then that obviously comes second.  At least it might stop them from speeding on the M40... which they still do, regularly.

No, what they really need is this:

Much more like it... 

Friday, 13 May 2011

Time for Blogger Bye-Byes

It seems Blogger went down today. Google seem coy about how, why, and what was lost, but I can see that some comments were lost, although no posts.

So if you're wondering where your erudite thoughts have gone, there's your answer. Normal service seems to have resumed, however, and the temporary loss of my thoughts on the world did not cause it to end.

Thursday, 12 May 2011


Orphans of Liberty have published a piece on the self-perpetuating nature of most charity work.

They start with the example of Ethiopia; Band-Aid did great work in raising funds, finding food, and supplying it to the starving.  As OoL point out, though, nothing was done to address the basic problem that the area was still not very fertile but now had free food.  So while we should be encouraging people to move away to somewhere more fertile, we were in fact attracting people in.

Their other example is homelessness in London, suggesting that by making homelessness a less painful option, we draw people in to a situation where their prospects are non-existent.  If homelessness was more scary, goes the logic, more youngsters would stay at home until they could find and fund a bedsit - from where they could actually progress.

I can follow the logic, but I don't like where it leads us.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Europe Day

Today is Europe day, when we have an opportunity to fly a flag to declare our allegiance to the EU, and all that it stands for.  To declare that we support the European ideal, that we wish to live in closer co-operation with our European partners.

OK.  Here you go, then:

An Inventive Approach to Electoral Reform

I think I've made it quite clear that I don't like our current electoral system, and want to encourage voter participation for a whole range of reasons.  Previously, I have been supportive of compulsory voting in combination with a "None of the Above" option.  Then, if "None" wins the vote, the election has to be re-run.

The Angry Exile at Orphans of Liberty has made an intriguing suggestion, though.   He dislikes compulsory voting for its illiberal nature; I'm less worried about that but am concerned at the practice of "donkey voting" that he describes in Australian elections, where voting is compulsory.  Apparently, a donkey vote is to turn up (and avoid the fine) but vote for the candidate at the top of the paper - whoever that is.  As a result, Australia now has to list candidates in a random order, which helps but does not solve the problem.

Mr Exile has a better idea:
The thought that crossed my mind was that if the majority of constituents don’t vote at all couldn’t it be seen in a way as a vote for no MP at all? Not just a positive rejection of the candidates to be followed by a by-election, but a signal that the majority are so disengaged from their governance and representation in Westminster that there’s not actually any point in them having an MP at all, at least for this Parliament.

And what might be the effect the first time a Returning Officer steps forward and announces that due to majority indifference there will be no member for Apathy-on-Thames until the next general election? Either of two things, I reckon. First is that Apathy-on-Thames actually gets on so well without an MP that even more don’t bother next time, but I think that most people will not want to be left without any representative and turnout will go up everywhere, especially if those current stay at homers who wanted to had a way to express their dislike of all the candidates and maybe get some fresh ones.
I think that's quite cool.

The constituency were too apathetic to vote?  No MP.

The candidates were too bland to attract any interest?  No job for them.

The incumbent was too lazy, useless or objectionable even to garner token support from his or her existing base?  Sacked.

The additional cost to the rest of us?  Nil (indeed, a small saving...)

Reality Bites

Blue Eyes has pointed out quite succinctly the logical disconnect in Liberal Democrat thinking.  Put simply, Nick Clegg and his colleagues have suffered a massive electoral rejection.  Electoral reform, so long a central plank of their manifestos and a redline in the Coalition negotiations, has been rejected so thoroughly by the voters that it is off the agenda for a generation.  Lib Dem councillors and MSPs have been losing their seats across the UK.

Clearly, no-one agrees with Nick any more.  We have seen what they are like in (or , at least, near) power and have said quite clearly that we don't like it.

Therefore, in Cleggland, the answer is, of course “a louder Lib Dem voice in government". It is time, says Nick, for the Lib Dems to insist on "significant changes to the planned NHS revamp", meaning he will "block the legislation unless he [is] happy with it".

Just to be absolutely clear, this is the rejected party saying it will make damn sure its views and policies* are the ones that have effect. No wonder they supported AV.

*this week's policies, anyway. Clegg is on record supporting the NHS reforms.

Friday, 6 May 2011


Meaning "No", of course.

Oh, you know what I mean.


We have a new word for our language.

The word is "Warmenist".

A "Warmenist" is:
Gullible, scientificially illiterate, unthinking acolyte and zombie-fied propagandist of the Religion of Anthropogenic Global Warming. One who takes direct orders from High Priest King of Idiocy, Albert J. Gore. One who puts the "mental" in environmentalism. Historical inheritors of those who believed that King Canute could hold back the tides and that the wolf would eat the moon unless their first-born daughter's virginity was sacrificed to the local shaman.
Or so says the Urban Dictionary, anyway.

(Hat tip to the engineer who could do with a good scrub)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

I've now heard the broadcast on behalf of the Yes To AV campaign. It consisted, so far as I can tell, of two elements.

First, there was the politicians' syllogism so expertly identified by Yes Minister over 20 years ago:

  • Something must be done,
  • This is something,
  • Therefore, this must be done.

Then came the only uncontentious fact in the whole broadcast, that the BNP supports the No campaign. This prompted an argument that can roughly be summarised as "Ewww! Ewww! The BNP wants you to vote No. If you do, you must be a racist!".

Well, these broadcasts are meant to help you make you mind up. It certainly has helped me: No.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Bin Laden is Dead. Long live ... ?

Right, so Osama is dead, then, and we should all rejoice?  Because, obviously, no-one will step into his shoes, everything nasty in the world will now end, and two wrongs do indeed make a right?

Or has the world's policeman taken the law into its own hands and decided to extra-judicially kill someone without giving them a proper and unbiased trial?

Neither.  Until we know more about the operation - a lot more - we can't second-guess the troops on the ground who had to decide whether to fire or not (as dungeekin notes here and here). And I'm not impressed by the "Obama needs a poll boost and -oooh, look!" argument, either.  Even if it is true, that's like criticising me for upping my work effort when the firm's billings are slack and we need the cash.

This is not good news, nor is it necessarily bad news.  It's just, err, news.  We will have to wait and see how it pans out.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Goodwood, last week

Me, relaxing:

Postscript - Measured wonders whether there were any other cars on the circuit. Yes, there were.