Thursday, November 17

A conflict of interest.

The news was on in the background, as it always is at work, and I saw that a committee of MPs are calling for the RSPCA to be stripped of the right to prosecute. Why? Because, they claim, for the RSPCA to prosecute cases of animal cruelty is a conflict of interest.

I admit to having been utterly baffled by this. What conflict of interest? Do the RSPCA somehow make a profit out of prisons or something? So I looked it up.

The Commons environment committee said there was a "conflict of interest" between the charity's power to prosecute and its role in investigating cases, campaigning and fundraising.

A conflict of interest between investigating cases and prosecuting them? What the what? Couldn't we say the same about the criminal justice system?

But read on a bit and suddenly this nonsense all jumps into focus.

Last year the RSPCA spent £4.9 million on legal fees and cases. [David Bowles, the RSPCA's head of public affairs] said that represented about 3% of the charity's budget.

....

The charity's prosecution success rate is 98.9%, according to 2014 RSPCA figures

Ahhhh, so the CPS are moving to stop the RSPCA from prosecuting criminals because they're so damn good at it they're embarrassing the hell out of the CPS.

The RSPCA is a charity, supported by private donations. With a mere 3% of its budget, using independent solicitors rather than professional Crown Prosecutors, it is achieving a 98.9% success rate in prosecutions. And our MPs want this stopped?

I have a better idea. Let's let the CPS continue to handle the incredibly important cases of people being obnoxious on Twitter, and hand the responsibility for prosecuting assault, rape, and murder cases over to the RSPCA. The country should be crime-free by Christmas.

Thursday, November 10

Win-win.

Over the last couple of days, I've realised that an election in which both viable candidates are absolutely fucking awful is absolutely the best kind of election. I'm really happy that Clinton lost. She deserved to lose. But, if she'd won, I'd have been really happy to see Trump lose. He deserved to lose too.

Course, one of them had to win. And that was bound to be a bit of a problem. But then it always is. Every bloody election, no matter what happens, we end up with a politician in charge. It's an annoyance, but one I've got used to over the years.

And there's just so much more pleasure to be derived from seeing a politician lose than there is misery from seeing one win, it's not even close. Truly, in an election like this, there is really very little downside.

Mind you, if you're one of those people who believes that one of the human calamities on offer deserved to win, that the world would be a better place if they won, that they're even a nice person, I can see how the wrong result might be upsetting.

But that's just crazy talk.

Upbringing.

I keep reading accounts of children being distraught and crying about the election result. And that makes me wonder, what the hell is wrong with their parents?

Your job as a parent is, yes, to prepare your children for the world, but also not to needlessly frighten them. I live in Northern Ireland. We have politicians who are literal murderers, who have ordered the kneecappings, torture, and deaths of innocent people in cold blood, sometimes even doing the deeds themselves. And I'm not telling my kids horror stories about that so that they can lose sleep over it. We'll explain the history of the Troubles and the Peace Process to them one day, when they're ready for that kind of information and capable of dealing with it. To tell them before they can deal with it would simply be cruel.

Yet apparently there are Democrats in the US, and left-wingers across Europe, frightening their kids so badly the poor things are in tears, and for what? Because a murderer has seized power and declared martial law? Because a terrorist has performed a coup d'├ętat? No: because a politician was elected who's quite rude and a bit of a buffoon, and — horror of horrors! — is a Republican.

If you are frightening your kids over a fucking election result, you are a bad parent. Grow up.

Wednesday, November 9

Hey, it's a theory.

Thomas Frank in The Guardian:

Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.

Maybe?

Corruption.

They were both truly awful options. But the blatantly corrupt one lost. And I do like to see corruption lose.

Of course, Trump is probably corrupt too. He runs a casino-cum-strip-joint, for God's sake (though if he were properly corrupt, perhaps it wouldn't be going bankrupt). But he isn't blatantly corrupt: he recognises that corruption is supposed to be hidden, so makes some attempt to hide it. Clinton's attitude to the public has been one big "Yeah, I'm lying to you and taking massive bribes, and what the fuck are you going to do about it?" She didn't even attempt to make her lies believable:

"Did you wipe your server?"
"What, like, with a cloth?"

At least, when you try to fool people, you accept that they are worth fooling. When you make your lies so obvious that it's impossible to believe them, you ask your listeners to join you in the deceit. You're telling them up front that they're as bad as you are and you know it.

I'm cynical enough to accept that there's bound to be some corruption and indecency at that level of politics. But I also believe that the public's refusal to accept that corruption when it's discovered is a necessary check on its extent. That was the thing about Clinton: not just the corruption, but the blatancy. I'm sure Trump has taken and given a lot of back-handers in his time. Clinton turned them into front-handers.

Probably my favourite political speech of all time.

Sadly, this doesn't seem to be on the Net anywhere. I heard it on the radio, on the morning of the 2nd of May, 1997. John Major would go on to make a proper — and perfectly decent — official concession speech later on, but his impromptu one was better.

You could hear all the assembled Tories had been drinking through the night. Much rumbling and kerfuffle and laughter. Then a lot of ssshing because the now-ex-PM was going to speak. Everyone quietened down. And Major said, quite cheerfully — even over the radio, you could hear his smile — "Well, we lost." And the assembled throng of Tories immediately burst into drunken cheering.

He then went on to give a rather good speech. But it is that excellent beginning that stuck in my head, and the cheering of the losers that greeted it. At the time, I just thought it was fun. In retrospect, it turned out to be an all-too rare example of how to lose decently.

If you've just lost, and you want to look good, and perhaps you fancy persuading people you're not a narcissistic tosser, have a drink and a laugh and celebrate.

Told you so.

Just after the Brexit vote, I wrote this:

There is only one alternative: first, choose an elite, then have that elite define the group they don't wish to listen to, then ensure that that group have no say — either by outright denying them the vote, or (as the EU did) by designing a system that gives them a vote but ensures that vote has no power. That latter option, seductively tempting though it be, has a huge bloody great downside: it always leads to the disenfranchised group hitting back, hard. Always.

Yes, there's lots of talk about how Trump talks for certain classes of underdog who've been ignored and brushed aside by the American political class for too long, and there's something to that. But I'm really thinking here of the behaviour of the Democratic party towards Bernie Sanders' supporters. They were blatantly, brazenly told that their votes could just fuck off.

How's that working out for you, Hillary?

Friday, October 28

Overnight success.

I used to be a Mac fan. Many years ago, they made better machines with a better operating system than the competition. As they became more popular, they started making overpriced crap. And their influence forced Microsoft to up their game in the OS stakes.

I've had a Surface Pro for a couple of years. It is a really really damn nice machine. It's the sort of thing Apple would have made once upon a time but don't any more. They've just launched a new phone and laptop, and, due to the incompatibility of the connectors, you can't charge the phone from the laptop. They've famously got rid of the headphone jack from their phones: they claim that their new connector provides better audio. Their new laptop still has the old headphone jack — i.e., according to their own hype, inferior sound. I think it's fair to say that Steve Jobs wouldn't have stood for this sort of sloppiness.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's new Surface Studio looks amazing. A square aim at Apple's core market, there. And a bloody good aim, too. The Dial is bloody cool. I'd be amazed if half the developers on the planey haven't already started thinking of ways to integrate it into new things. Could be a really interesting gaming controller, for a start, and perfect for music-making software.

The interesting thing about the Surface was the way it was derided as a flop when it first launched. Apple have built so much of their reputation around the business plan of launching a product and selling a bazillion inside a week that the entire tech industry has decided that that's the only way to do things. Microsoft took a completely different approach: launch something quite cool, watch it to see how it does, listen to feedback, tweak, repeat. They were quite open about not caring whether the Surface made a profit in its first couple of years, while tech journalists derided the "flop" and insisted the Surface was a failed project that would have to be abandoned. They didn't care when they had to write down a load of inventory. They didn't abandon the project. Just kept tweaking. And now the Surface is considered a cool and desirable machine, just like a Mac. I find it has wow factor, too: when geeks see me using one, they ask to have a look.

I'm glad Microsoft succeeded in this way — not just because I like my Surface, but because, even if I didn't, I think it's healthy for the industry to be reminded that a successful gadget doesn't have to go from nothing to everywhere overnight. Good things can be built slowly.

Thursday, October 27

More on democracy.

The Guardian (and others, but let's put the boot in where it's most deserved) are breathlessly reporting that they've obtained a leaked recording which shows that Theresa May didn't support Brexit! This is being treated as some sort of scoop for some reason. Don't understand it myself. Yes, she was pro-Remain. It wasn't a secret: she said so publicly at the time. She was on the Remain side in the Referendum. I assume she voted Remain. We all knew it. What's next? Secret footage of Michael Gove saying he thinks schools could be improved?

Let's leave aside the rather obvious facts: that May only stood as leader as a direct result of the Brexit vote; that the whole and only reason the post was vacant was that Cameron was pro-Remain; that the whole point of her candidacy was "I will deliver what the people have voted for"; that, if she hadn't offered that, she couldn't have won; that therefore whether she thinks the people were right to vote the way we did is secondary. Because, even if none of that were true, it still wouldn't actually matter.

This is the great strength of democracy: that it harnesses politicians' desire for power. The whole point of democracy is that you achieve power by doing what the electorate want. In non-democracies, you achieve power by trampling all over the public. As long as they have to persuade voters, it simply does not matter whether a politician bases their policy on a deep-seated conviction or a fervent desire to do good or a cynical unprincipled hunger for power or even a lunatic conspiracy theory — because not enough voters will ever share the same conviction or altruism or conspiracy theory, and certainly not an overwhelming desire to give as much power as possible to that one politician. It doesn't matter what the voters' motives are, either — an idea the Remnants are having real trouble with. In a democracy, motives are pooled and mixed and diluted till they may as well not exist. Which is why it's so rare for democracies to give rise to significant crazed extremist movements.

Maybe Theresa May doesn't want any of what she's currently working for. Maybe she would rather the UK stay in the EU but is willing to bury her own convictions in order to get the top job. Maybe she's a power-hungry narcissist who hates us all. Yet she is still, in order to grab power, having to do what the electorate clearly voted for.

This is a feature, not a bug.

Seriously?

Here's what Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, said on Radio 4 about Heathrow the other day:

One of the things Heathrow have been looking at is doing what many other airports have done around the world, which is to build the runway over the top of the road rather than underneath it.

I have to admit I'm quite surprised that the idea of an underground runway was even being considered. It's probably for the best that they've decided against it.