Monday 29 January 2007


OK, here goes. I shall now blog about one of those things that is pretty much guaranteed to start a bloody great big fight. In preparation, I'll just say that I'll tolerate any amount of disagreement in the comments, but zero abuse. Stay polite. Thanks.


It is commonly believed in the UK that American anti-abortionists are extremist nutters. What we see of them over here certainly tends to support that view. However, it is also commonly believed in the UK that American abortion law is similar to British abortion law. It isn't even close.

For instance, in my experience, Britons are surprised to discover that abortion is legal in the US during the ninth month of pregnancy for non-medical reasons:

Together, Doe and Roe recognized abortion as a constitutional right and by implication overturned most laws against abortion in other US states.

The decision stated: "...the medical judgment maybe exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age — relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs...," implying that the "health" exception was not just for physical health, and could therefore be used to allow abortion for any reason at any stage of pregnancy.

One might ask how one goes about aborting a baby that is pretty much ready to be born and that could in fact be delivered healthy and alive if need be. The answer is partial-birth abortion:

Once the cervix is sufficiently dilated, the doctor uses an ultrasound and forceps to grasp the fetus' leg. The fetus is turned to a breech position, if necessary, and the doctor pulls one or both legs out of the birth canal, causing what is referred to by some people as the 'partial birth' of the fetus. The doctor subsequently extracts the rest of the fetus, usually without the aid of forceps, leaving only the head still inside the birth canal. An incision is made at the base of the skull and a suction catheter is inserted into the cut. The brain tissue is removed, which causes the skull to collapse and allows the fetus to pass more easily through the birth canal.

Now, Americans who support abortion object to the use of the term "partial-birth abortion", mistakenly believing that it is the term, rather than what it describes, that people tend to find abhorrent. More sensibly, they point out that medicine is full of procedures that are, frankly, disgusting, and describing their disgustingness doesn't necessarily tell us anything about their morality. But that objection only really holds up when you're discussing abortion for health reasons. Once you get into a debate about the merits of performing a partial-birth abortion on a perfectly healthy baby at thirty-six weeks because the mother has decided she just doesn't want a baby, well ... most people I know, including those who believe abortion should be legal, call that "infanticide". In my experience, Britons are shocked to discover that such a practice is legal in a supposedly civilised country like the US. American left-wingers, as a general rule, will defend to the hilt its legality. The recent fuss over George W Bush's attempts to — so we were told — ban abortion was in fact over his attempt to stop the partial-birth abortion of healthy babies for non-health-related reasons.

In short, even without getting into the interesting constitutional issues, it is difficult for Britons to understand either side of the American abortion debate because it is taking place on a completely different playing field to our own. Even the staunchest British pro-abortionist would hesitate to propose a situation as extreme as what, in the US, is the status quo.

My own position, in case anyone's wondering, is that I broadly support the British situation: abortion legal for a while, illegal afterwards. We can and do have sensible debates about exactly how long that while should be, and we change it a little now and then, depending on who's winning the debate at the time. The situation here is sufficiently reasonable that it very rarely makes the news because so few people, on either side, are particularly upset about it. If I lived in the US, however, I'd be a pro-lifer. American abortion law is at such an insane extreme that the best reaction to it is to oppose it as strongly as possible until a more sensible compromise is reached.

Anyway, the other day, that nice Mr Worstall commented on a story on Pandagon, a blog of which I had not previously heard. And blow me if it doesn't give even Johann Hari a run for his money in the being-wrong stakes.

Yesterday, Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte posted a piece about the evils and stupidity of anti-abortion campaigners. Ironically enough, I have rarely seen a better example of the extremism and nastiness of American pro-abortion campaigners.

First, here's what American left-wingers think of the concept of pregnancy:

a lot of anti-choicers are ... invested in turning the fetus into a person (or really a super-person bearing rights — specifically the right to use someone else’s body for sustinence against their will — that ordinary real people don’t have)


a fetus ... is in a parasitic relationship to its mother

In the American debate, this is standard boiler-plate stuff. In the UK, I don't think anyone could describe the state of pregnancy as "having a parasite use your body against your will" without getting some rather odd looks. And, of course, it's entirely alien to the way women tend to feel about pregnancy.

Reading through the large number of comments from people who agree with Ms Marcotte, there are some truly stupendously stupid responses to one lone anti-abortionist commenter:

grow a uterus or shut the hell up.

(Funny how you never see that one used against male pro-abortionists.)

why do you want me to have a miscarriage, stillborn, or severely disabled baby? Why do you want me to be permanently disabled or dead? Why do you hate women and babies?

he doesn’t know how babies are actually made, and blames them on those times he accidentally sneezed on his wife without covering his mouth.

And there's plenty of generalised offensiveness and contempt on display:

I wonder what they think about aborting fetuses who wouldn’t develop to become white, straight, able-bodied and conservative?

it’s neurochemically impossible for anti-abortioners to care less about the welfare of unborn children. What they care about is using them as a punishment for sex. And if the slut has to deal with a sick or dying baby, as far as tha antiabortioners are concerned, so much the better. ... And the anti-abortion crowd sure as Hell isn’t going to put itself out for anyone who couldn’t be bothered to get themselves some white parents.

the whole point of being a pro-lifer is that women who have sex without intending to have children deserve to feel bad about it. Pro-lifers would like these women to suffer further consequences — death, permanent sterility, extreme emotional damage — but if they can’t force women through unwanted pregnancy/childbirth, the least they can do is try to make women who decided to terminate feel absolutely rotten.

But by far the most disgusting comment comes from Amanda herself. I just couldn't believe I was reading this:

Getting an abortion is, from a certain angle, liberating the fetus from its womb-prison. That it can’t survive outside of it is not the fault of the liberator, I would think.

So, if you didn't before, now you know why American anti-abortionists seem so extreme. This is what they're up against.

Thursday 25 January 2007

A great idea.

So, what have you got for us?



We think you'll like this.

See, we thought, what, when you get down to it, is the primary selling point of your product? What is its point, its ... ah ... raison d'etre?

Er, it's low in fat.

Low in fat! Exactly! Exactly. It's low ... in ... fat. Hence, "light". Your product is light. Not literally, of course.

It is the same weight as your competitors' products.

We weighed it.

No, but in the commonly accepted colloquial sense that eating your product will lead the eater to become lighter. Or not to become so heavy, at least.

It's not fattening, is what we're trying to say here.


And that gave us an idea.

So we'll have some person eating your product.

A good-looking person.

Well, obviously.

Or a photogenic animal.

I keep telling you, it's "anthropogenic".

A photogenic and anthropogenic animal.

A good looking person, I think would be better.

I like animals.

Right. Anyway, who or what is eating your product is not the point. As long as they're attractive. No, the point is that they're outside, on a sunny day, with plenty of nice big sky. Maybe they're in a park. Lots of green grass.

Green stuff — health. See?

And here's the thing.

You'll like this.

The product escapes from them! It floats away on the breeze, up, up into the sky.

Because it's light!


What do you think?

Wednesday 24 January 2007

Astounding customer service.

This morning, Vic found a card that had been popped through our letterbox, informing her that DHL, bless 'em, had called to deliver a parcel but had been unable to because no-one was in. Vic had, of course, been in all day. We have a good loud doorbell, plus two dogs who bark whenever anyone rings it or looks at it funny. And anyone who's ever used mail order knows that delivery drivers do this all the bloody time.

So Vic rings DHL and is told that they can redeliver tomorrow. She has to wait an extra day for her new phone because their employee didn't feel like doing his job. As far as I'm concerned, redelivering tomorrow because we weren't in is entirely reasonable, but redelivering tomorrow because their driver pretended that we weren't in is not. So I called them.

In my experience — which includes answering the phone for the Royal Mail — people who work for delivery firms are well aware of the way that so many of their drivers do this. I mean, come on: it's an international cliche, regularly referred to by stand-up comics and other pissed-off customers worldwide. Best thing to do if you work for a firm that delivers things is just apologise profusely and be nice, because you're simply not on strong enough ground to go doubting the customer. The woman I spoke to today, however, belongs to the ever popular yet deeply stupid deny-everything school of customer service. When I explained to her, politely, that the driver had not rung the doorbell...

"He did ring the doorbell."

"Well, no, I can assure you that he didn't."

"Of course he did."

"Our doorbell is loud. My wife was in. It didn't ring."

"Why would he do that?"

Ah, asking a customer a rhetorical question. Them's fighting words.

"I have no idea why he would do that."

"What, you're saying he'd just stand around on the doorstep without delivering anything? That's stupid." Laughs. "He's just going to have to deliver it eventually anyway. What on Earth makes you think anyone would ever do that?" More laughs.

"Delivery drivers do this all the time. They're notorious for it."

Laughs. "That's ridiculous!"

She proceeded to talk over anything else I tried to say and laugh loudly and mockingly at me. How do these dolts get jobs dealing with people?

"So a customer calls with a complaint and you respond by laughing at them? Can I talk to your manager, please?"

"Yeah, fine." Laughs.

To her manager, I said "I heard a recorded message at the beginning of this call informing me that it would be recorded. Could I ask you to listen back to that recording, please?"

The parcel was delivered a couple of hours later by a driver who, Vic says, looked very pissed off.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

More idiocy from Microsoft.

One might think that Microsoft would have heard of the profession of Web designer. Apparently not.

Internet Explorer 7 is finally out, at least four years late in my opinion, and it seems to be a pretty good bit of work apart from its horrendous font-rendering — a quick bit of testing indicates that basic type looks better and smoother in IE6 or even IE5 than in IE7. Doh. Oh, and it's rendering fonts far bigger than IE6 does, for some reason. Tsk. But that's not even the big problem. Oh no.

Microsoft have created IE7's installation files in such a way as to make it impossible to install both IE7 and IE6 on your PC. Upgrade to IE7 and IE6 vanishes. Take a backup of IE6's program files, then install IE7, and IE6 is still there but doesn't work. Now, this is fair enough for your basic everyday user, but has it really occurred to no-one at Microsoft that there are lots of us who actually design websites, who need to be able to see how those sites look in different browsers? And, since IE6 is so incredibly buggy and needs lots of special bits of code all for itself to stop it screwing pages up completely, it is absolutely vital that we can see what it does to our designs. And IE7 is no doubt, for better or worse, about to become the new standard, so we need to see it too.

It turns out that the way to get both browsers on your machine at once is to upgrade to IE7 and then install the old standalone IE6, which you can still download from various archive sites out there. But not from Microsoft. Because they're imbeciles.

A short conversation.

I called Telefocus yesterday and spoke to one of their managers.

"Your company has been phoning us five or six times a day for weeks now, letting the phone ring only three times before hanging up, which means there's no way we can ever get to the phone in time to answer it. You're clearly using an automatic dialler and you've got it set up only to ring three times, which is absurd — even if we want whatever you're selling, we can't even buy it off you, because you don't let us answer; and because we can't answer, you'll never stop calling. These are, quite simply, nuisance calls."

"I must apologise, sir. We're sorry to have caused you any inconvenience. As you say, yes, we are using an automatic dialler, so we do sometimes get this sort of problem, like all call centres —"

"If I can just stop you there. With respect, I used to run a dialler for a call centre, and no, this problem does not affect all call centres; it affects your call centre, because you've set your dialler up wrong. The fact that it's hanging up after three rings is a setting that you have deliberately put into the software."

On the one hand, I love doing that. On the other, I realised later that I'd missed a beautiful opportunity to ask him why the hell I should care about what problems do affect all call centres. I am not on a personal quest to ensure that call centres have no problems. Nuisance calls are nuisance calls, and I see no reason to sympathise with someone who's making them to me just because some other people might also make them.

Anyway, I didn't have to spell it out. Once he knew that I know how diallers work, he knew that I knew why they've set it up to ring for such a short time: to maximise the amount of time their staff spend on sales calls, in order to maximise profit. And what's particularly annoying about that is that it doesn't even work.

It's a terrible narrow-minded tactic, typically enacted by the sort of tunnel-visioned eejits who, unfortunately, for some unfathomable reason, tend to rise to positions of influence in call centres. You know: the sort of person who, if they worked in a traditional office, might try to increase profit by rationing the biros more strictly. They can see small-scale waste, but can't comprehend big pictures. There are plenty of bright, reasonable people doing very well in the call centre industry, but they spend a lot of their time fighting a battle of wills against these beligerent innumerate simpletons. You hear the stories of call centre staff being disciplined for going over their alotted toilet-break time by twenty seconds — that's what happens when the eejits win. And, of course, it doesn't maximise profits at all, because, while it may maximise the amount of time your staff spend working, it also lowers the quality of their work, and, in the big picture, encourages them to leave, forcing the firm to hire more staff and spend a fortune on training them. Unhappy staff are expensive.

Similarly, setting the dialler's ring-time so low that most customers can't answer the phone quickly enough does indeed minimise the amount of time your staff spend twiddling their thumbs, which probably increases the number of sales you get per hour. However, those sales only apply to the customers who answer the phone. What happens to the rest is that you piss them off. Before you've even spoken to them. And this increases the proportion of people who, once you do talk to them, will not be interested in anything you have to say, even if you're giving away free money. This means that your marketing people will have to provide more lists of names of likely prospects, and those lists, being valuable information, are very expensive. Furthermore, you encourage more and more people to get their names put on the national do-not-call list, reducing the absolute number of possible sales, i.e. the size of your potential customer base, and driving the price of information about the remainder even higher.


Monday 22 January 2007

Wireless modem for sale.

I'm just upgrading my network at home (from mere wireless broadband to wireless broadband plus VoIP telephony), so I have a perfectly good ADSL modem cum wireless router going begging. I'll sell it on Ebay if need be, but I thought I'd give my lovely readers — yes, you lot — first refusal.

So, it's a 3Com OfficeConnect ADSL Wireless 11g Firewall Router. For those of you who don't know, what one of them does is one end of it connects to your broadband ADSL service while the other end allows you to plug lots of different computers into said broadband service, either using ethernet cables or the magic of wireless. It's about two years old, in perfect working order, and has never given me any sort of problem. It comes with the original installation guide, power supply, and telephone cable, but not the box, and I'll chuck in an ethernet cable if you need one. It's quite easy to set up. It cost me about 80 quid new, and I'll sell it for £30 or the nearest sensible offer, plus postage.

"But," I hear you think, "what be the point of a wireless router when this 'ere computer has no wireless receiver?" Good point. That's why I will also sell you a D-Link DWL-122 Wireless 2.4GHz 802.11b USB Adapter. You plug it into your computer's USB port and it connects to a wireless network for you. I'll be honest with you here: it's absolutely fine on PCs but, in my experience, a tad dodgy on Macs. But it's had good reviews, so maybe that's just me. To you, £7. Or whatever.

If you don't already have wireless, this is a pretty cheap way of getting it set up. Drop me a line if you're interested.


Friday 19 January 2007

And then they forgot.

I imagine that, when a celebrity or a "celebrity" chooses to appear on Big Brother, their agent spends some time telling them, "Remember you're on TV. Remember you're on TV. Remember you're on TV. Don't let it slip your mind for a moment. You're on TV. TV! The public can see you. Remember that."

I have this image in my mind of the agent staring at the TV over the subsequent weeks and repeatedly smacking their head off the nearest hard surface.

Thursday 18 January 2007

Human nature.

The really interesting thing about this Celebrity Big Brother row is Channel 4's position:

But while Channel 4 said it will not tolerate any racist abuse on Celebrity Big Brother, the broadcaster defended its decision not to intervene in the group dynamics despite the unpleasantness, saying it had to portray events "accurately".

"We don't tolerate any racist abuse in any form," the Channel 4 spokeswoman said. "Big Brother is closely monitoring all the housemates and will take appropriate measures to reprimand such behaviour where necessary."

"The social interactions and dynamics of the group are one of the key parts of the Big Brother story and viewers have a right to see these portrayed accurately - however, this is balanced with our duty not to broadcast material that may cause unjustifiable offence," the spokeswoman added. "We take this matter very seriously and Big Brother does not tolerate bullying or racist abuse in any form.

Well, firstly, Big Brother certainly does tolerate bullying. It's one of the reasons people tune in. No-one wants to watch a show in which a bunch of quite dull people are quite nice to each other, and Channel 4 know it.

I'm with Channel 4 on the duty to portray events accurately. What would be the point of reality TV if it were all heavily edited so that what the viewers saw was not, in the end, reality? Celebrities go on this show knowing that they'll be watched by millions, yet some of them still can't quite manage not to be utter bastards for a few days. I think that when people who make a living out of being liked by the public behave thoroughly unlikeably, the public should know about it. Quite why anyone's complaining to Channel 4, I don't know. Wait till the bastards get out, then complain to them, their agents, and anyone who hires them.

But the really interesting thing is Channel 4's insistence that, if the abuse were racist, they'd step in to stop it. The whole point of Big Brother is that the housemates are completely isolated from the outside world. In fact, after September the 11th 2001, the producers of the Dutch version of Big Brother decided not to make an exception to the rules to tell the housemates what had happened. That's how isolated they are. But racism is, apparently, such a bad thing that it would cause the British producers to break their own rules and step in, despite the huge amount of money they're making out of people worldwide tuning in to see the racism.

The way I see it, racism is one of many examples of the extreme nastiness of human beings. People, on balance, are bastards, and will behave like bastards given half a chance. Racism is a particularly unfair reason for nastiness, since the victims couldn't be a different race even if they wanted to, but then much the same can be said of sexism — and does anyone think Big Brother would be talking about preventing a housemate from opening his mouth if he kept saying that women should stay at home and cook?

Channel 4's defense appears to be "It's OK: they're bullying her, abusing her, and doing everything they can to make her feel bad, but not because of the colour of her skin. So that's OK." I mean, look:

Channel 4 has also confirmed that Jack Tweed called fellow housemate Shilpa Shetty a "cunt", not a "Paki".

And the whole debate does seem to be based on those terms: is the abuse racist or isn't it? Personally, I don't give a damn whether it's racist. The problem with the abuse is that it's abuse. Nastiness comes in many flavours, of which racist is only one. I oppose all of them.

Wednesday 17 January 2007

The march of civilisation.

Apparently, the big new craze in Toronto is professional pillow-fighting.

The league is the brainchild of 38-year-old Stacey Case, a T-shirt printer and musician ...

A musician thought of this? Well, I never, etc.

... who came up with the idea that people would pay to see young women in costumes beat the tar out of each other with pillows — and that women would volunteer to whap each other in front of a crowd.

I love this bit:

However, they're quick to point out it's not really just about young women in revealing costumes tussling in front of a largely male audience. Well, maybe it is a bit.


Health and safety.

As far as I'm aware, the biggest problem with accidental beheadings is that they can be fatal.

Monday 8 January 2007

Catching up.

What with one thing and another, I've not done all that much blogging of late. Here, in no particular order, are some observations that I should have made ages ago.

Newborn babies in films and on TV always look fake. I now know that that is in fact because they look realistic, because real newborn babies really do look like slightly plasticky animatronics.

Many years of typing and mouse use and bad posture have given me the occasional twinge of RSI. This is absolutely nothing compared to fatherhood. The wrist strain caused by supporting a bottle of milk with your forearm for long periods of time is seriously painful.

I am dead tall; looks like Daisy's going to be too. Her cousin Noah is three months older than her. She is already as tall as him.

Did anyone worry that the manner of Mussolini's death meant that Italy could never be civilised? Or is it only Arabs that we think of so condescendingly?

It is difficult to reconcile the two beliefs that Gordon Brown is brilliant at accounting and handling the economy and that he had no idea where the Labour Party's money was coming from.

The reporting on the Ipswich murders was a new low for the British news media.

Duck dripping on toast is very, very nice.

Wednesday 3 January 2007

A new record.

When I was fifteen years old, or thereabouts, I, just once, managed to crack twenty-one knuckles in one session — that's two per digit, plus an extra one somewhere along the way.

A couple of weeks ago, after more than fifteen years of attempts, I managed to match that record. Shortly afterwards, I got twenty-two — two per finger plus three per thumb.

Today, I hit twenty-three — two per finger, three per thumb, and my right wrist.

This is history in the making, I tell you.

Happy New Year.