Saturday, 29 December 2012

Ten commandments for bureaucrat bashing

The Sad but Mad one has republished something that needs a wider circulation - it is from Patrick Moore’s book “Bureaucrats: How To Annoy Them”, and was written after he had been in correspondence with a bureaucrat of the name of Whitmarsh from a gas company (even though his house only used oil).  I think I've come across some similar types.

Anyway, here are the rules:
  1. Never say anything clearly. When writing to jobsworths and timeservers, word your letter so that it could mean almost anything…or nothing. 
  2. Don’t be legible. Always write letters by hand, and make your verbose scrawl as impenetrable as possible. 
  3. Garble your opponent’s name. Misread the signature. If the correspondence is signed ‘M. Harris’, address your reply to ‘N. Hayes’ or ‘W. Hardy’. Don’t get too flippant though — the penpushers might lack a sense of humour, but if you write to ‘M. Hedgehog’, they will sense a legpull. 
  4. Give fake references. If you have a letter from the tax office, ref: EH/4/PNG/H8, mark your reply with some other code in the same format, such as DC/5/IMH/R9. This should ensure that the taxman wastes minutes, or hopefully hours, rooting for a file that doesn’t exist. 
  5. The same goes for dates. Get them slightly wrong, every time. 
  6. Follow up your fakes. Write to request a reply to letters that you haven’t sent, and include bogus reference numbers. This is a surefire timewaster and might even, if your Twitmarsh is of a sensitive disposition, reduce him to tears. 
  7. Never pay the right amount. Include a discrepancy in every envelope — never too much, but always more than a few pence. A sum between £1.20 and £2.80 is recommended. Then you can start an interminable correspondence to reclaim the overpayment (or dispute the underpayment). 
  8. When enclosing a cheque, staple it to the letter. With two staples. Or three. Right in the middle of the cheque. At the least, you’ll waste someone’s time — at best, you might wreck their computer. 
  9. As a point of honour, never give up on a correspondence before at least six pointless letters have been exchanged. Think big and aim for double figures. 
  10. If a postage-paid envelope is not supplied by your Twitmarsh, send off your reply without a stamp. The bureaucrats will have to pay much more at the other end. 
© Patrick Moore

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

In favour of minimum pricing

No, not for alcohol.  I buy that (from time to time), so I don't want its price creeping up, thank you.  Where we need minimum pricing is in intellectual property services.

You see, there is a constant pressure from our clients to reduce costs, but this works against the professionalism that we want to bring to our work.  A patent application is not an easy thing to write - we need to think about each individual invention and craft a set of claims around it in a way that captures that invention with elegance and clarity.  This takes time, yet our clients want us to get a move on and not charge so much.

The problem, of course, is that the end result of inadequate care when drafting the application usually only manifests itself much later.  Clients cannot usually tell the difference between a good text and a bad one, so in their own best interests we need to ensure that they all benefit from the finest patent drafting.  We need to raise standards across the profession and make those high standards available to all.

The obvious solution to this self-evident problem* is simple.  We need to prohibit any patent drafting work from being done by unqualified people and place a lower limit on the cost of new patent applications.  This will have a twofold benefit.  First, we ensure that the drafting is done by someone who has demonstrated their ability.  Second, we ensure that those people have enough time in which to really think through the idea and come to understand what distinguishes it from all the rubbish ideas that came before.

Some might say that this will lead to patent attorneys putting their feet up, relaxing, and churning out the same old rubbish while just hiking their prices accordingly.  I sincerely hope so Nothing could be further from the truth - this will be a major leap forward in patent quality and we will soon invent** a way of measuring this which proves it.  This will propel British businesses forward on the world stage, increase competitiveness, increase growth, create jobs, and solve the deficit AND the debt.  Anyone who objects to higher prices for patent attorneys is therefore in favour of recession, unemployment, and national financial disaster.

Of course, some inventors will now find our services to be unaffordable.  For them, there is a clear need for Government support, and a new Department of Inventor Support will be needed through which funds can be channelled to pay for their new patent applications and any other stuff we can slip past them.

There you have it -  a road map to economic recovery for the nation.

*pun intended

**which I intend to patent, thereby winning twice

(For anyone who may be confused, this post is pure satire and does not represent my real views...)

Monday, 10 December 2012

The State isn't working

If you still think State spending is the best way to solve any problem, look at this snippet from my MP Steve Baker:
Last time I divided the social security budget (£207bn) by the number of people in poverty (13m), the figure of almost £16,000 was higher than the income of over half the population.
So why are they still poor?  Simple - because the £207,000,000,000 of spending is mainly used to increase the income of middle-class Guardian-reading State workers who work tirelessly to alleviate poverty.  The one form of poverty alleviation they will not suggest, though, is to stop spending so much money on eye-catching poverty initiatives, cut taxes accordingly, and let the private sector grow and provide employment to the poor.

The same applies to third world aid.  According to the Carswell book, the West has spent over a trillion pounds on third world aid.  However, so far as I can tell, Africa still seems to be poor.  On any assessment, therefore, our aid hasn't worked.  As Carswell suggests, why not stop spending all that money and instead drop tariffs and trade barriers by a corresponding amount?  Because, of course, the aid budget is about keeping middle-class DfID staff in a salary, not about helping the poor.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ha ha ha ha

Greenies are suggestible enough to think that a gas mask will filter out CO2 from their breath and that universal wearing of gas masks will actually help climate change:


Ha ha... oh, wait, these people have the ears of goverments... ooops.

Monday, 3 December 2012

An interesting conversation

So... HMRC are to aggressively pursue multinational companies that pay a legal, but low level of tax in the UK.  That should make for some fun exchanges, depending on the attitude of the company concerned.

Taxman: "We think you should pay more tax"

Company: "We're paying what the law says we should pay.  How do you plan to force us to pay more?"

Taxman: "Errrrr...."

Or, if the company is scared of villification by our newly-regulated State approved media the PR consequences:

Taxman: "We think you should pay more tax"

Company: "Yes, we agree.  How much more should we be paying?"

Taxman: "Great, let's look at the rules... now... says here you should be paying, err, the amount you are already paying... oh."

Thinking around the issue, though, the problem is that these foreign-owned companies are able legally to export their profits to low-tax regimes.  So, there are two aspects to the issue:
  1. that these companies which serve great* coffee, provide such attractive Internet services, and are such efficient retailers are all foreign
  2. that there are other jurisdictions with much lower corporation tax rates
Let's rephrase this, shall we:
  1. No-one in the UK managed to set up a Starbucks, a Google, or an Amazon
  2. The UK has an attitude which is distinctly unfriendly towards entrepreneurs, reflected in high corporation tax rates and an angry mob who descend on anyone who isn't paying a "fair"** share
Could these two possibly be connected?


**defined as "an unspecified amount, more than you are paying now, and certainly more than I have to pay"

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I told you so

Back in 2009, we were told that the 50p income tax rate would not drive people away or make them change their financial arrangements to avoid it.  I said it would.

Well, the numbers are in, and...
Almost two-thirds of the country’s million-pound earners disappeared from Britain after the introduction of the 50p top rate of tax, figures have disclosed.
What a surprise.
In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.  This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.
Just like Labour said it wouldn't. What's more:
increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.
Just like the Laffer curve said it would.

So, New Labour are idiots with no idea when it comes to finance and economics, and George Osborne (together with most other senior Tories) is a coward.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Bishops wearing frocks

So, is a Church be a place that has a core set of beliefs, to which tries to convert the society around it, or should it be a place that moves with the times to reflect the developing views of society?

If the latter, do we stop at women bishops or do we carry on willy-nilly*?  If we stop there, why?

Albert, Measured, and anyone else who wants to get involved, off you go...

*Yes, that was deliberate.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Two questions

1. Why isn't there a political party in this country with freedom as its core belief?

2. What can we do to change that?

A little too meta?

Let's say that a manufacturer created a product that was intended to develop a market in a different direction, to give back some of the enjoyment to a product that had become mundane and dull.  Let's say that the dullness had resulted from a plethora of rules and regulations that were intended to rein in manufacturers who had been making that product in the old way, and that the new product side-stepped all that - that it derived its fun in a different, more traditional manner that the manufacturer thought should be revived, that pre-dated the developments that led to the rules & regulations.

Let's say that the manufacturer concerned decided to advertise the product using imagery around someone trapped by the dullness of everyday life, who decides to stick it to the authorities and escape - using the product, of course.

If this were part of a dystopian fiction, then the authorities would of course step in and ban the advert.  But this is real life, in a rational Western democracy in which we are all treated like adults. The authorities would certainly allow a product like the Toyota GT86 to be advertised in a witty manner, and the Advertising Standards Authority would certainly not ban the advert just because it showed a sports car being driven in a sporty manner.

On, wait, I'm wrong.  They did ban it.  All we are left with is this:


Now, I saw the original un-cut advert.  It was fine.  Really.  This is just pathetic.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Raised Awareness

My awareness is heightened at the moment.  Having been made an offer I couldn't refuse*, I've been on a "Speed Awareness Course" run on behalf of the Thames Valley Constabulary.  It was illuminating, albeit I dare say not in the manner that the organisers expected.

(There are some safer driving tips at the bottom of this post.  Scroll down if you just want those.)

First, however, let's get the context over and done with. The miracles of modern technology detected me travelling at 42 mph on a major trunk road just before it splits into a dual carriageway (more on those, later).  The trunk road in question does however have an (ahem) slightly lower speed limit of 30 mph.  I won't beat about the bush; I had let my mind wander and was not properly concentrating on my driving at the time.  I relaxed my control of the car's speed.  The 30 limit on that road is actually justified, and I shouldn't have broken it.  My views on speed limits and speed enforcement are fairly well set out in this blog, but they should not be taken to mean that I think all speed limits are wrong or that excessive speed is anything other than irresponsible.

The letter from the rozzers did make me stop and think.  Actually, the flash from the nasty grey box was enough to make me stop and think.  So, while my driving on roads where I know it is clearly safe to make progress is just as legal as it always has been, I have been trying to focus better when driving and not think about other issues.

Now, with that dealt with, on to the Speed Awareness course.

As an aside, we can immediately note that I am a singularly lucky individual.  Why?  Because in a 30 limit, 42 mph is the upper limit for eligibility to attend a speed awareness course.  Had I been travelling at 43 instead, I could have expected points and a fine instead.  Douglas Adams was obviously quite prescient...

Our tutor for the day was a practising driver training instructor who clearly knew his stuff.  He was an effective tutor, too; he was faced with an extremely hostile and unwilling audience but managed to engage us and maintain a two-way flow of discourse.  Due credit should be given to him.

The ground rules included strict confidentiality; this extended to no use of phones or other recording devices, a shame as I had considered quietly recording the session in case it might be of interest.  The reasoning is (I think) valid, that others present might not appreciate their near-conviction being publicised.  However, it is quite convenient for the organisers to be able to prevent any reporting of the course content.

The economics are interesting.  There were about 25 drivers there, all of whom had paid £95, i.e. a total income of £2,375.  Take off a hundred pounds or so for hire of the room for the afternoon, and a bit to pay the two staff present, multiply by three courses per day, two days a week, times x venues, and there is a tidy income which goes back to the police force who so kindly invited us to attend.  Also note that (as they were at pains to explain) speeding fine income goes to central government, not to police forces, and the willingness of police forces to offer speed awareness courses is suddenly made clear.

The course was basically made up of two elements; question and answer sessions designed to remind us of elements of the Highway Code that we should not have forgotten, and expositions of past accidents to discuss and learn from their causative factors.  The former was certainly an eye-opener for me; the sheer level of ignorance displayed by virtually all the other drivers was staggering; asked (for example) what was the speed limit on a single-carriageway road in the countryside with no signage to indicate a specific limit, one girl answered "30?".  Maybe the problem was in the question; half the class could not identify the difference between a single carriageway and a dual carriageway.  Most did not know that a system of road lighting automatically indicates a 30 limit unless road signs state otherwise.  I don't want to boast, but there wasn't a single question I couldn't answer correctly.  I left the course feeling much better about my driving knowledge, content that I was in the top few of the 25 or so on the course.  If the aim of the course was to make me realise that my driving knowledge needed to be improved, it failed.

Which leaves the accident analysis.  Now, bear in mind that we were all present because we had breached a speed limit by a limited margin, and that there is a widespread feeling that only speed limits are enforced with any vigour - other driving offences being largely ignored until after the event.  You would expect, then, that the accidents would all exhibit the kind of consequences that flow from minor excursions over the limit, no?

Sadly, no.  There were three examples.  The only one that included a speeding offence was an example of grossly irresponsible speeding - 48ish on a narrow, poor-visibility, winding road through a village with no pavements and multiple visible and invisible hazards.  The driver concerned would not have been invited to attend a course, even if a teenager had not stepped out in front of him and been severely injured when the driver was unable to stop the car in the distance he could see to be clear.  So a speed camera would not have helped here - the driver would not have been invited to a speed awareness course to learn a better attitude, merely sent some points and a fine.

The second example was a case of excessive speed for the circumstances, but not speeding.  A driver crested the brow of a hill and crashed into the rear of a car waiting to turn right.  As with the first example, it was a sad event and an avoidable one, but not one that involved speeding or which a speed camera would have helped.  Had there been a camera in place, it would not have even fired.

The third example was the M4 crash in 1991, in which cars travelling at 70mph or so in thick fog became involved in a multiple pile-up after a van driver fell asleep at the wheel and came to a halt in lane 3 against the central barrier.  Again, no speeding involved, just grossly irresponsible and careless driving.  The kind of careless driving that speed cameras cannot catch and which police officers do not try to catch.

Overall, the course showed that some speed limits were necessary and justified and that some instances of speeding were dangerous and unwise.  In that regard, it succeeded.  However, the controversy around speed limits is that many (other) speed limits** are not reasonable or necessary and that many marginal breaches of these limits are not as bad as they are painted.  There is a logical fallacy in proving that some speed limits are good, and then concluding that (a) all speed limits are good and (b) all breaches of all speed limits are bad.

So, whereas before I attended the course I thought speed cameras were the wrong way to improve road safety, I'm now convinced of it.  If you're not convinced, think about the fact that in the last few years, speeding convictions have risen from about 200,000 annually to about 2 million annually, whereas casualty figures have remained static.

And now for the safer driving tips, of which there were a few sprinkled through the course.

First, on the motorway, take care on the hard shoulder.  If you have to stop, get out of the car and walk up the verge to stand behind the car (i.e. so that you can see the back of the car).  The average time before a car on the hard shoulder is involved in a collision is 26 minutes.  When that collision comes, if it is with a lorry then the remains of your car can be thrown to first-floor height.  Keep out of it, keep away from it, stay behind it.

Second, secure all luggage carefully.  The driver who crested the hill and rear-ended the driver waiting to turn right was killed in the accident.  An engineer, he had his toolbox in the boot of the car; in the accident it flew forward, punching its way through the rear seat and hitting him on the back of the head.

When waiting to turn right, keep the steering wheel pointing forwards - don't turn it in anticipation of making the turn.  Then, if you should see someone in your mirrors who is unable to stop, you can pull forwards to avoid or lessen the impact.  Keep the steering lock in place, and an attempt to pull forward will move you into the path of the oncoming traffic who are preventing you from turning.

If you're having difficulty keeping to a 30 limit, change down a gear.  3rd gear in most cars will naturally limit you to about 30, whereas in 4th you will likely creep up to 40 or so.  In powerful cars, I've found that 2nd is more effective.

In fog, SLOW DOWN.  If you can't understand that one, go to your nearest police station and hand in your driving licence.  Seriously.

Above all, keep asking yourself if you could stop in the distance you can see to be clear.  Maybe, one day when the road behind is completely empty, try it.

(*attend the course "voluntarily" or we will prosecute you)

(**not including the one where I was caught)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

An apology to Steve Baker

This is my MP, Steve Baker:

His views are sound and he expresses them clearly.  So far as I have been able to tell, he is a proponent of free markets, sound money, small government, and reduced taxation and spending.  I therefore thought I couldn't approve of him more, but in the process of writing this post I discovered that he is a patron of the ABD as well.  So having just shredded my local Party subscription renewal notice, I do think an apology and explanation are due.

First the apology: Sorry Steve, it's not you, it's err, actually, it's not me, either.  It's him, and those around him.  I have been so thoroughly and comprehensively disappointed by Cameron that I simply cannot support an organisation that will keep him in power, even if the local representative of that organisation so wholeheartedly meets with my approval.

Why do I feel let down?  To be honest, I could go on and on, I think there are more instances of irritation with Cameron that I have forgotten than instances I can remember.  However, off the top of my head, where is our EU referendum?  Why was he resisting calls to cut EU spending?  Why is the UK public spending increasing?

Who thought it was a good idea to appoint Michael Heseltine to advise on economic policy?  Who could fail to foresee that his big idea would be to tax businesses, then give (politically-preferred ones of) them some of the money back and call it a growth fund?

Why are the Conservatives adopting and expanding Labour's database state?  Where did the Great Repeal Bill go?

Then there is the sheer political incompetence on display.  Why are they taking the flak for "austerity" and "cuts" when they're doing nothing of the sort?  Either accept the flak and take the chance to do some cutting, or stand up and point out that spending is not falling.  This is a massive political opportunity, missed.  The left are demonstrating their fiscal insanity - they cannot see the difference between a cut and a reduction in a rate of increase!  But Cameron is leaving them to make the argument.

There, in fact, lies the main complaint.  The arguments that characterise our public debate have continued to be of the type "How Socialist should we be?".  Cameron has not even tried to put forward a coherent statement of the politics of freedom, libertarianism, and fiscal rectitude.  Instead, he has allowed himself to be characterised as simply not quite as socialist as Labour; that will inevitably lead to 2015 being a vote for the Nice Party That Says Yes or the Nasty Party That Says No (or, of course, the Muddled Party That Changes Its Views All The Time).  It's easy to see which way that will go.

I know what the response would be from Cameron, it would be along the lines of "Ah, but my hands have been tied by the realities of Coalition politics".  Well Dave, you're in Coalition because you didn't beat this man in the election:

Not an argument you want to run, I think.  Of course, the reason you didn't win is that you didn't make the positive argument for Conservatism; you only argued that people shouldn't vote for Gordon and that you agreed with Nick.  I bet Clegg is grateful for that one.

So whilst I support Steve, I can't support Dave via Steve.  Sorry Steve.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Gadget makes my mind up

Well, I was quite sceptical about the Police & Crime Commissioner elections, until this morning when I noticed that Inspector Gadget believes that the PCC elections will lead to the slaughter of six million Jews.  No, seriously, he does:
For those of you who would like to do some further research in to what happens when political organisations get their hands on police forces during hard economic times, you might like to start with a look at Germany in the 1930′s.
Amazing. A Godwin's law moment and an apostrophe error, all in just one sentence.

They do say that you can judge the quality of an idea from the quality of the objection to it.  On that basis, the PCC elections are a fantastic idea.  So, that is me in favour of voting for someone... but who?

We have the usual range of political-party-appointed candidates.  I'll rule those out immediately, the post should not be a party-political one and I want the Commissioner to be their own person, not reliant on a (re)selection committee waiting behind the wings.  That leaves two independent candidates in my election (Thames Valley).

One is ardently against politicos being elected to the post; that would seem to be a big factor in her favour until you research her twitter feed and discover that she is a little coy about revealing that she is a failed Labour councillor.  Ooops.

Which leaves the other one.  He wouldn't be my first choice; although he doesn't mention it in his literature, he is an estate agent.  However, he is also an experienced Magistrate, and firmly believes that the role should be non-political.  He is a former councillor, but acknowledges this in his literature rather than hiding it and as he has previously served as a Labour, Conservative, and then UKIP councillor he could well be non-party political.

Yep, he'll do.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What the State giveth,...

Just a quick link to Misanthrope Girl's post on the Living Wage... and the illuminating arithmetic showing that the only reason why there is a gap between the "Living Wage" and the National Minimum Wage is because of the tax that is taken.

So, obviously, the response of the caring  Left is to argue that the State should stop pushing the income of minimum-wage earners below what it regards as a living wage and take these people out of the tax system, lifting them from poverty at a stroke?  Errr, no, they want to force employers to increase wages so that the State gets even more money, employers are left with even less (in a time of economic difficulty...) and the employee is left with the same.

The Left has always been about stealing money from the productive in order to line their own pockets and create cosy jobs for their supporters, but it is a while since they have been this transparent about it.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Our wonderful public sector

Our kind and munificent local authority has just sent a road sweeper to collect all those slippery leaves from the road, leaving it nice & clean & safe.  Ten minutes later, they sent a man with a blower to blow the leaves off the pavement... onto the road.  So, another ten minutes later, the the road sweeper had to come back to do the road all over again.

Now tell me that there is no scope for efficiency savings.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Titter ye not...

To be honest, the initial story was quite boring (hence the absence of any posts).  What has caught my interest is the reaction.  There seem to be two main responses to this, and (dare I say it) there is a slight gender divide?

Typical of the female reaction to the news is that of Not Now Nancy and @measured who point out that the easiest way to avoid being snapped topless is to keep your baps inside your blouse.

Typical of the male reaction is that this is all very tawdry and feeble and that it would be most unfortunate if it were to run in the family, wouldn't it Pippa?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Sledgehammers at the ready

I am shocked to hear that we have threatened to violate Ecuador's diplomatic immunity in order to arrest Assange.  I do not use that word lightly; I mean it, I consider it shocking that we (of all countries) should threaten to do this.

If some tin-pot dictatorship passed a law that said it could revoke the diplomatic status of UK embassies at will, and then exercised this in order to walk into a British embassy and pick up someone it claimed a right to, someone we had granted asylum to, then we would be livid - and rightly so.  We would climb onto our high horse and castigate the regime in question.  In another age, we would have sent gunboats with all despatch.  We might well still do the same, given our reaction to the last tin-pot dictatorship who upset us by declining to prove that he really didn't have the WMDs that he claimed he didn't have.

It is also a stupid step to take.  Unsavoury regimes around the world will have noted this; we can hardly complain if the same power is now exercised against our embassies and our people.  I hope I never have to take refuge in an embassy.  I hope Theresa May never has to.

I say this not out of any sympathy for Assange.  Personally, I think Ecuador should either kick him out onto Hans Crescent, or take him back to Quito and start extradition proceedings with a view to sending him to Sweden.  But the principle of diplomatic immunity is far, far more important than this one jumped-up little man.

We need Cameron to stand up, admit that this threat was completely out of order, amend the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 to rule this out, sack the Minister responsible, and apologise personally to Ecuador. Nothing short of that will suffice, in my opinion.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Those brutal cuts in full...

Here they are, in their full glory.  This simple infographic shows just how serious are the Coalition's cuts to government spending.  Look at it and weep:

Yep, as a proportion of the total spending, the cuts are an amount technically known as "sweet bugger all".  As a proportion of the deficit that they are meant to cure, the technical term is "not enough".

Next time a public sector worker bleats that the cuts are dreadful, do show them this.  

With thanks to the TPA for working it out and to Tom Paine for drawing it to my attention. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Read this and cry

Anna's latest explanation of where the Court of Protection has reached in its ongoing inexorable process of following the logical consequences of laws enacted with good intentions.

A family apparently trying in good faith to look after their daughter in line with their own traditions, with no evidence of any harm having come to anyone as a result, find the British State overruling them.  "Nanny knows best", at its worst.

Friday, 20 July 2012

How did we manage this?

We have the honour of running the world's most important sporting event. We've managed to make it into something that now seems more like a quadrennial party for police, security guards and lawyers in which they get to run free without any restraints imposed by reason or common sense. How did that happen?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Why you shouldn't eat your dog, but you should be in favour of free enterprise

An interesting video from an economics professor:

Watch out for the snippet that doesn't seem to be made a fuss of, for some reason.  During the age of globalisation, poverty (as measured by the number of people on less than $1 per day) has reduced by 80%.

(With a discreet tip of the hat to The Filthy Engineer)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Quote of the Week

I just have to re-blog this:
In the political language of today, people who want to keep what they have earned are said to be “greedy,” while those who wish to take their earnings from them and give it to others (who will vote for them in return) show “compassion.”
By Thomas Sowell,  drawn to my attention by Richard and Counting Cats.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Speak up, speak out... but only if you agree with us

...and this is why:

(with due thanks to the roving raccoon..)

Am I alone in being worried that the Leveson enquiry is a precursor to closer government control over the media - and angry that a venal media has squandered their role and handed over control of the media to the State? Add in Anna's concerns that we are being softened up in advance of controls over all other forms of dissent and discussion, and things do not look bright.

The argument that "all the serious thinkers think this, therefore all those that disagree are not serious thinkers" is also very entrenched elsewhere - I'm sure I don't need to remind you of that one.

Do feel free to disagree in the comments... it might give me some hope.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Ha ha

From the "Awkward Ed Miliband Moments" blog:

An awkward silence fell on the conversation after Ed asked ‘did you ever find those WMDs?’.


I think I like the concept of FILDI. It sums up why I became frustrated at my current firm, and why I am leaving.

Thanks Kit.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


From here: footage from the point of view of a solid rocket booster of a Shuttle launch:

Any initial smugness that I'd managed to make a vehicle that goes from 0 to 60mph faster than the Space Shuttle soon evaporated at the realisation that my vehicle tops out about 2,800mph slower!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Did you celebrate "Earth Hour"?

Earth hour - the hour's switch-off of all electrical appliances in a futile attempt to reduce CO2 emissions - was last Saturday.  Did you observe it?

If so, I hope you actually left jobs undone that you would otherwise have used an appliance for.  I hope an hour's worth of washing remains forever in the linen basket, I hope an hour's worth of carpet remains forever unhoovered.  Otherwise, if you just moved the activity to a different hour, those awful emissions will just have happened an hour early or an hour late.

"Ah", but I hear you cry, "I turned the lights off".  Well, I hope you didn't light a candle.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Natural Selection

I think I've worked out what the problem is with our political system.  I'm sure you all worked it out years ago, but bear with me.

Darwin provides the explanation, as he does for most systems.  As you know, his thesis was that natural processes of selection weed out those that are unsuitable for a particular environment leaving behind those that are suited.  They can then reproduce successfully and, over time, you develop a population that is matched perfectly to the environment.  So, if you want to change the nature of the population, it is pointless trying to change the population that is living in it so successfully, you need to change the environment around them.  Care is needed, though (normally), as a dramatic change may wipe out the population leaving nothing to repopulate it from.

Equally, if you want to understand the nature of the population, and gain some insight into why it is the way that it is, you need to look at the environmental pressures that it faces.  Assuming that the population is mature, you can then infer that the population is the way that is it in order to survive in that environment.

Applying this to the British political class, we then face the obvious question of what is their environment?  From where do they obtain their shelter and support?  The answer to that one is quite simple - the media.  So, what sort of media do we have?  Taking the Today programme as an example (it being the only one I don't do very well at escaping), we have a series of questioners whose only aim is to trap a politician into saying something embarrassing or admitting that they don't know what they are talking about.  John Humphreys et al have never given me the slightest impression that they are trying to elucidate useful information about a subject of interest to their listeners; they just want to be The One Who Humiliated That Politician.  They want their "Did you threaten to overrule him" moment.

So what type of politician could we reasonably expect to result from that kind of environment?  Simple - the type who simply will not answer any question with any kind of information that might ever be used against them in future.  Or, to put it more simply, not with any kind of information at all.  The kind of answer that is evasive, an answer to a different question to the one that was asked.  A non-answer, in other words.  OscarIndia spotted it last week on Question Time -
politicians can’t get away with saying anything about anything any more
Now, we usually castigate them for this, but perhaps we should be more understanding if, as it now seems to me, that this is merely a rational response to the environment in which they find themselves.  After all, the system which we use for politics has selected that kind of politician; any politician that is "different" gets castigated and, eventually, ejected.  Vide Gorgeous George, Boris, Edwina Currie and so on - the kind of politician who speaks out, speaks up, debates, responds, gets into hot water, is often pilloried, and eventually gets thrown out or resigns.  (Yes, I know Boris is currently mayor, but this is despite the controversies which merit an entire section in Wikipedia).  So we are left, by and large, with the ones who are spineless opinionless grinning idiots.

So why is the media the way it is?  Again, that is quite simple.  Look who they have to deal with - the politicians.  If you were tasked with interviewing someone who you knew was going to avoid every question and purge all their answers of anything controversial or informative, you'd adopt the same hectoring interrogative tone of Humphreys, Paxman, and so on.  You'd interrupt them when they start rambling on with an endless stream of meaningless vacuous drivel.  You'd try to trip them up.  What's more, you'd make it less likely that any future politico will ever give an informative answer to any question you ever ask.

So there we are - a symbiotic relationship.  Our short-sighted soundbite-obsessed media are responsible for our short-sighted soundbite-obsessed politicians, and vice versa.

It's clear to see - just look at recent events.  An economically sensible move is made - to reduce the top rate of tax to below the Laffer limit.  At the same time, another economically sensible move is made, to place older taxpayers on the same basis as others by eliminating a minor imbalance.  Cue instant uproar over a "Granny tax" because Osborne has made the (idiotic) error of doing both at the same time.  All caused by a small slip in presentation.

Or the fuel scare debacle - which could have been defused quickly if Ministers had appeared to say that Francis Maude had made a stupid error because stockpiling fuel is dangerous, stupid and unnecessary.  Can you imagine the media scrum if they had, though?  Or if Maude had re-appeared saying "Good lord no, I didn't mean that, sorry to have put it across so ineptly".  We all knew he had, though, but every politician being interviewed has to avoid saying anything so clear, simple and straightforward so ends up reinforcing the error.

Or the "pasty tax" (oh, really...).  A trivial inconsistency in the list of VAT-exempted products is tidied up and it is front page news.  No, the newsworthy issues are that VAT is so high and that there is an external undemocratic body who set an arbitrary floor beneath which we may not reduce it.  Whether or not a warm, high-fat snack falls on or off the exempted list is neither here nor there, but is made up to be something significant.

So where do we go from here?  I'll admit, that's the hard bit.  There's the obvious option of lining up the entire political and media class of the country and opening fire, but that approach has been tested to destruction in other countries, without much by way of success.  We can discount that, I think.

We should certainly avoid media outlets that trivialise issues and focus on the irrelevant - the Guardian, the Murdoch press, all the tabloids, the Mail (oh, heavens, yes, the Mail) and all of the BBC news output will do for a start.

We should get politicians on Twitter, using it properly and personally.  Not like the No.10 twitter feed, or the car-crash that was #AskEdM, but tweeting personally and listening to others' tweets.  Politicians should have blogs, all of them; the media is half of the problem, so politicians must find ways round the media.

We also need to close down the organised crime syndicate known as News International.  Sorry Rupert, but you company has proved to be engaged in criminal activity in every sector of it that we have looked in.  It's time to stop looking at the company and start closing the company.

None of this is enough though.  We also need some intelligent, plain-speaking, brave people to become politicians in order to challenge the media, break the cycle and be the change.

Off you all go, then.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Spin this

Swindon is the town that, you may recall, caused a fuss by deciding to switch off all its "safety" cameras (speed cameras to you & me).  Now, these "safety" cameras are there to make the roads safer, right?  So by switching them off, Swindon will have made its roads more dangerous, right?  So there will have been more accidents since they turned them off than there were before, right?

A Wiltshire town that elected to get rid of its speed cameras has the safest roads in Britain, a report has revealed.
Swindon, which scrapped its speed cameras in July 2009 to save on council costs and trial other traffic calming measures, has just two accidents per thousand registered vehicles on it roads - the lowest rate in the UK. The town became the first English local authority to decommission fixed cameras, although it decided to maintain mobile cameras used by police.
What? Roads are safer without speed cameras? Well, well, well, who would have thought that? It seems that experiments produce clear results when you don't fiddle with the figures.

Postscript - Oddly, the BBC does not seem to have noticed this news (as of 27 March)...

Monday, 26 March 2012

I do seem to be attracted to the cars of the Axis powers...

Apart from Japan.  But oh my, this one is lovely. So tempting.

(Courtesy of Between the White Lines, which you should all subscribe to. If you like cars.  But not if you don't, as then you'll probably find it really dull & repetitive.)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Bang bang you're dead

I find gun control a very difficult subject.  On the one hand, I don't like the idea of the populace being armed.  I shot competitively as a teenager, and developed a healthy respect for firearms that I suspect is not shared by most of the people who would buy a gun if they were free to do so.  On the other hand, passing ever-sterner laws against gun ownership has not removed guns from this country, it has just concentrated them in the hands of the criminal classes.

There is, of course, the safety argument.  However, Tim Harford's book (which is very good, you should read it) reports the analysis which shows swimming pools are far more dangerous than guns.  I don't hear any calls to ban swimming pools.

The argument I find hardest to rebut, though, is the one which basically points out that the Police, if they turn up, tend to turn up after the crime has been committed.  The gun in your pocket or your handbag tends to be on hand immediately.  This argument, in other words:

There are more like this here; hat tip to Tom Paine

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Bullsh*t Bingo

I claim full house.  I have had to write to the following department at my local council:

"Commissioning & Business Improvement: Access & Inclusion"

Guess what they deal with?

Yes! Spot on! Schools, of course!

What?  You didn't guess?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Cool video

Very cool, in fact. About minus 3 degrees today. So, obviously, I went for a drive in a car with no roof and no heater.

Excuse me for a moment, there's a man in a white coat at the door, he wants a word...

Unexpected Consequences

What could possibly go wrong here...?

Monday, 30 January 2012

My kind of advert

Witty, and offends the PC brigade. Perfect.

It's not just me

It's also:

Claude Allegre, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Earth, University of Paris

J. Scott Armstrong, cofounder of the Journal of Forecasting and the International Journal of Forecasting

Jan Breslow, head of the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, Rockefeller University

Roger Cohen, fellow, American Physical Society

Edward David, member, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences

William Happer, professor of physics, Princeton

Michael Kelly, professor of technology, University of Cambridge

William Kininmonth, former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT

James McGrath, professor of chemistry, Virginia Technical University

Rodney Nichols, former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences

Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer, designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne

Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator

Nir Shaviv, professor of astrophysics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Henk Tennekes, former director, Royal Dutch Meteorological Service

Antonio Zichichi, president of the World Federation of Scientists, Geneva

They express the same opinion that I have been putting forward now for years. The do so by way of an open letter to the Wall Street Journal under the title No Need to Panic About Global Warming in which they point out that:

  • the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true
  • large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share [these] opinions
  • [there has been a] lack of global warming for well over 10 years now
  • computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause
  • CO2 is not a pollutant
  • This is not the way science is supposed to work
  • Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow
  • There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy
  • Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.
  • Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls
  • The Nordhaus recommendation would principally help the third world 
I have nothing to add.

(With thanks to Albert for the link)

Friday, 27 January 2012

Pretty Pictures

I have an rss feed from the lovely site "Between the White Lines", which simply posts up lovely pictures of cars and car-related things.  I don't typically link the photos, because there are (frankly) too many good ones too often.

But I'll make an exception for this one:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

How to get into a Caterham Academy car and drive off

Plenty of room.  Don't know what you mean?

The car is very simple indeed, with no unnecessary fripperies to distract you. So, getting in and driving off is perfectly simple and straightforward. As I will explain.

Go to the car, and unbuckle the sidescreen so that you can get a leg up from the chassis bar to climb over and lower yourself in via the top of the rollcage. Lean in and spread the harness straps - especially the big buckle, you don't want to sit on that. Climb up and lower yourself in vertically.

Stop halfway down when you remember that you need to take the steering wheel off. Pop it in the passenger side for now.

Carry on down so that your legs go into the footwell and you drop neatly into the seat. Pull the shoulder straps down over you, pull the buckle over and join it to the shoulder straps. Fumble around underneath your backside to look for the other lap strap. Release the shoulder straps so that you can lean to the left to let yourself grab the remaining lap strap, then settle back down as you latch it into the buckle.

Unlatch it from the buckle and sort out the twist in the strap. No, you need to untwist it the other way. Latch it again. Then latch the shoulder straps. Tighten them up nice and snug.

Now it's time to start the car. Get the ignition keys which are... oh, yes, they're in your trouser pocket. Undo the straps and arch your back in the seat so that you can retrieve them. Put the ignition key in the barrel and re-do the straps. You'll need to loosen them first so that they reach, that's ok, now you can buckle up and tighten them.

Loosen the straps again so that you can reach into the passenger footwell to retrieve the steering wheel. Lock it in place, and pull the straps tight again. Turn the ignition key, release the immobiliser, and hit the starter button.

Now we're ready to pull away. You just need to buckle up the sidescreen, so reach over your shoulder for the popper - no, not that far, you'll hurt yourself. OK, let's loosen the shoulder straps first and then buckle up the sidescreen. That's right. Now you can pull the straps tight.

Pop it into reverse and ease it out of the garage. Close the garage door with the remote keyfob - which pocket is it in? No, not that one. Try the other one. Or is it in your jacket? Yes, it's the jacket pocket, the one covered by the shoulder strap. Yes, you do need to loosen it first. Close the garage door, and you're ready to go. Once you've tightened the shoulder strap of course.

Does that feel like rain to you?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Today's xkcd cartoon:

Reminds me of a classic Rory Bremner impression of Gordon Brown from the mid-90s, when the Major government was clearly doomed and Blair & Brown were obviously desperate not to say anything that might upset the result that was so clearly headed their way:

"People ask me what my economic policy is.  My policy is to repeat the words 'prudent' and 'sustainable' as often, and for as long, as is prudently sustainable..."