Wednesday 31 December 2008

Happy New Year.

Can't say as I'm surprised by this:

DAD-of-two Stewart Fleming grips his head in pain as he waits to be seen in A&E — but he died after being ignored for SIX hours.

Clearly suffering, Stewart was clutching a note from his doctor saying he must be seen IMMEDIATELY.

But the railway signalman, 37, was left to die as a deadly virus ravaged his body and one by one his organs collapsed.

He was not admitted until six hours after arriving at the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, by which time it was too late.


Heartbroken Sarah, from Rainham, Kent, added: "There are so many questions. Why wait three hours for triage when his doctor had already done it and put it in writing?

"We should not have had to queue. He should have been dealt with immediately. I was with Stewart when the GP called the hospital.

"He typed us a letter and told us to go to A&E and hand this letter over. He said Stewart would be given a bed and treated immediately.

"But when we got to A&E it was full to bursting. I walked to the front with the letter and told them what the GP had said but I was just told to go to the back of the queue. ... I was told we had to go through the normal process, even with the letter from the doctor. We got to A&E before 5.30pm. He was finally called through to be examined at 11pm. ..."

Been there, done that — though thankfully without the death. It used to be the case that GPs could write letters to hospitals telling them to admit a patient. This appears to be one of those things that has been quietly got rid of in the name of reform. But no-one seems to have told the doctors, which is why they're still writing the letters. The last time this happened to us, we learnt our lesson: if there's anything wrong with you, don't go see your doctor, as that's just time wasted. Get straight to A&E and into the queue.

I might add that six hours is pretty quick these days. Vic once waited twelve.

Anyway, firstly, I'd like to say that, even by modern bureaucratic standards, this statement is a lesson in crass callous nastiness:

A spokesman for the Medway NHS Foundation Trust said it was "saddened to hear of the death of Stewart Fleming".

The spokesman added: "Mr Fleming came to Medway Maritime Hospital's Emergency Department on a day when it was experiencing long waits due to a high number of admissions.

"The situation was not unique to Medway — hospitals across the country were all experiencing a rise in demand for their services at the time."


Secondly, this is being reported all over the place, of course, and every report I've seen mentions the six-hour wait, what with it being the whole point of the story. Except the BBC's:

An inquiry is under way into the death of a man after a two-hour delay in him being seen by an A&E unit in Kent.

I'll print the rest, what with the BBC's well-established reputation for stealthily editing their reports after criticism without changing the "Page last updated" bit — for lying, in other words.

The Medway NHS Foundation Trust said it was saddened by the death of Stewart Fleming, 37, of Rainham, who attended with a suspected viral infection.

It said he attended the Medway Maritime Hospital on 15 December at 1816 GMT and was seen by a triage nurse at 2020 GMT.

It said the unit had been experiencing long waits due to the high numbers of admissions.

Mr Fleming's family has expressed concern at the way in which his case was handled, saying he had a note from his GP requesting immediate admission.

The trust said it was currently investigating the case internally and it urged the Fleming family to make contact so discussions with them could take place.

In a statement, the trust added: "The situation was not unique to Medway — hospitals across the country were all experiencing a rise in demand for their services at this time."

There are two explanations for the BBC's reporting a six-hour wait as a two-hour delay. First, there are the times given in their report: they could be measuring the time from arrival to triage and ignoring the four-hour wait after triage. Or they could be looking at the official N"HS" target for A&E waiting times, which I think is four hours (though I admit I haven't checked it recently) and implicitly accepting the Government's line that that is acceptable: so a six-hour wait is only a two-hour delay, because a four-hour wait wouldn't be a delay at all. But, when I say there are two explanations, I really mean that there are two excuses the BBC can offer if they get questioned over it. There's only one explanation for their fundamental dishonesty: they see part of their mission as being to promote the NHS.

Even when it kills people.

Evil consumption.

OK, OK, it's more bloody Mark Steyn, but the man just keeps making good points.

"Retail Sales Plummet," read the Christmas headline in The Wall Street Journal. "Sales plunged across most categories on shrinking consumer spending."

Hey, that's great news, isn't it? After all, everyone knows Americans consume too much. What was it that then Sen. Obama said on the subject? "We can't just keep driving our SUVs, eating whatever we want, keeping our homes at 72 degrees at all times regardless of whether we live in the tundra or the desert and keep consuming 25 percent of the world's resources with just 4 percent of the world's population, and expect the rest of the world to say, 'You just go ahead, we'll be fine.'"

And boy, we took the great man's words to heart. SUV sales have nose-dived, and 72 is no longer your home's thermostat setting but its current value expressed as a percentage of what you paid for it. ... Americans are driving smaller cars, buying smaller homes, giving smaller Christmas presents.

And yet, strangely, President-elect Barack Obama doesn't seem terribly happy about the Obamafication of the U.S. economy. He's proposing some 5.7 bazillion dollar "stimulus" package or whatever it is now to "stimulate" it back into its bad old ways.

And how does the rest of the world, of whose tender sensibilities then-Sen. Obama was so mindful, feel about the collapse of American consumer excess? ... The message from the European political class couldn't be more straightforward: If you crass, vulgar Americans don't ramp up the demand, we're kaput. Unless you get back to previous levels of planet-devastating consumption, the planet is screwed.


Fighting to make the world better.

I would like to sincerely thank the American armed forces for giving to the English-speaking world this figure of speech:

There was no running water, no electricity but what a portable generator provided. The toilets were Turkish-style — position your feet and squat over the hole — and equipped with what they call "John Wayne toilet paper" because it's rough and tough and don't take shit off nobody.


Verbing weirds language.

Came across a great new word at work the other day: "front-ending". Even in context, I have no idea what it means.

Merry Christmas, by the way.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

The room.

This is Saishunkan Cosmetics. And it's just incredible.

Interviewing is based almost solely on character and values, with experience and degree being very low on the list. All new employees must work in the kitchen to learn about service. All new engineers or non-"communicators" must first work as a communicator in the call center, for a year. Even with that they still have a long line of potential employees wanting positions.

Every employee is reviewed by multiple managers to ensure a balanced perspective. A new hire has no goals, and is judged 100% on character. After the first year the person is judged 80% on character and 20% on achieving goals that the employee sets. The percentage continues to shift until directors are judged 80% on goals. By then they assume that the character of the person has been proven. Involuntary turnover has been zero... for ten years.

... Each year the company takes every employee, all 1,000 of them plus representatives from suppliers, to Las Vegas. From Japan! ... The company puts them in very nice hotels, the Wynn this year, so the employees can experience and learn from the best customer service.

There's a lot of genius going on here on all sorts of levels. I've tried to pick out one particular angle, but, really, go read all of it. Every sentence contains a revelation.

This has to be my favouritest bit of sheer perverse cleverness:

They operate a daycare for their employees and initially it was free. However they found that employees refused to complain about a free service, and the company wanted complaints in order to improve. Therefore they started charging $10 a month, the employees then felt they could complain about issues with the daycare, and the company was able to improve the daycare.


Proof-readers not automated out of a job just yet.

Mark Steyn makes a good point about the bail-outs:

You know, it's very interesting to me, speaking as a foreigner, but the Americans always talk about the Great Depression. In other countries, they talk about it as a depression. It started in 1929, the worst was over in three or four years. What prolonged it in the United States was both Herbert Hoover and FDR overinterfering in the economy to impede recovery. That's why it's a Great Depression in the United States and it's just a depression everywhere else.

And so does Glenn Beck:

I speak to so many people who have come from Cuba or Russia or Poland or France, anywhere, and they come over here and they say, what are you guys doing? We've seen this movie before. This doesn't end well.

They're speaking on Glenn's radio show, and it appears that some sort of fallible voice recognition technology is being used to transcribe Glenn's shows onto the Web. With this utterly marvellous result:

I notice, if you believe what you read in the Israeli papers, that Obama has essentially hold the Israeli government he accepts the reality and the inevitability of an Iranian nuclear bottom.

How am I supposed to sleep now?

Bad language.

A sign in the toilets on the HSS ferry from Stranraer to Belfast reads:

To operate the flush system, press button and then release.

Personally, I'd word that as:

To flush, press button.

Are people being taught this in school these days? Never be concise. Add extraneous detail. Ramble. There's a lot of it about.

I especially like the "and then release". Without that instruction, how many people would end up stuck in the toilets, endlessly flushing?

For sheer poetic bizarrity, though, that sign is trumped by the one they've stuck on the hand driers in the Stranraer terminal:

Move hands and comfortable hot air will be sent out automatically.

I can't even decide whether that's stupidity or genius.

The nature of the enemy. Again.

You'd think most people would have figured this out after the Salman Rushdie affair, but no. It's been seven years now since you'd think even the thickest might have managed to pick up the gist of what's going on, but no.


Doctors working in a hospital where all the bodies, including that of the terrorists, were taken said they had not seen anything like this in their lives.

"Bombay has a long history of terror. I have seen bodies of riot victims, gang war and previous terror attacks like bomb blasts. But this was entirely different. It was shocking and disturbing," a doctor said.

Asked what was different about the victims of the incident, another doctor said: "It was very strange. I have seen so many dead bodies in my life, and was yet traumatised. A bomb blast victim's body might have been torn apart and could be a very disturbing sight. But the bodies of the victims in this attack bore such signs about the kind of violence of urban warfare that I am still unable to put my thoughts to words," he said.

Asked specifically if he was talking of torture marks, he said: "It was apparent that most of the dead were tortured. What shocked me were the telltale signs showing clearly how the hostages were executed in cold blood," one doctor said.

The other doctor, who had also conducted the post-mortem of the victims, said: "Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again," he said.

Mark Steyn:

The [New York] Times was being silly in suggesting this was just an “accidental” hostage opportunity — and not just because, when Muslim terrorists capture Jews, it’s not a hostage situation, it’s a mass murder-in-waiting. The sole surviving “militant” revealed that the Jewish center had been targeted a year in advance. The 28-year-old rabbi was Gavriel Holtzberg. His pregnant wife was Rivka Holtzberg. Their orphaned son is Moshe Holtzberg, and his brave nanny is Sandra Samuels. Remember their names, not because they’re any more important than the Indians, Britons, and Americans targeted in the attack on Bombay, but because they are an especially revealing glimpse into the pathologies of the perpetrators.

In a well-planned attack on iconic Bombay landmarks symbolizing great power and wealth, the “militants” nevertheless found time to divert 20 percent of their manpower to torturing and killing a handful of obscure Jews helping the city’s poor in a nondescript building. If they were just “teenage gunmen” or “militants” in the cause of Kashmir, engaged in a more or less conventional territorial dispute with India, why kill the only rabbi in Bombay? Dennis Prager got to the absurdity of it when he invited his readers to imagine Basque separatists attacking Madrid: “Would the terrorists take time out to murder all those in the Madrid Chabad House? The idea is ludicrous.”

And yet we take it for granted that Pakistani “militants” in a long-running border dispute with India would take time out of their hectic schedule to kill Jews. In going to ever more baroque lengths to avoid saying “Islamic” or “Muslim” or “terrorist,” we have somehow managed to internalize the pathologies of these men.


Monday 8 December 2008

Welfare and farewell.

Regular readers may remember Monty the dog. Well, he's not with us any more. He was a lovely dog, friendly and gentle and affectionate and harmless, but he was also thick as a plank of mince and built like a bear-ox cross, and he simply needed a different home to the one we could offer him. He was extremely good with Daisy when she arrived, but only as long as he remembered she was there. If she happened to be positioned between him and food, he couldn't be relied upon not to knock her over or step on her. Furthermore, it was pretty much impossible to lock him up when need be, due to his ability to bite through steel. So he had to go. Which was a shame.

But, what with him being just lovely, we were damned if we were going to do what his previous owners had done and just ditch him and wait for the authorities to kill him. So we spent many months — nearly a year, I think — trying to get a dog home to take him in and try to get him rehomed. And we ran into a bit of a problem.

The problem is that Monty is part staff. Dog homes, we found, don't want to go anywhere near staffs, even though they're one of the most popular family pets in Britain, on the grounds that they're technically a type of bull terrier and all bull terriers are, apparently, impossible to rehome. After waiting on Assisi Animal Sanctuary's three-month waiting list for over six months then discovering that they'd "lost" our details and we'd somehow been removed from the list, and just generally getting fobbed off and mucked around by them, it eventually dawned on us that they simply weren't going to take him. Even if it were true that Monty were unrehomable (and, as you'll see later, it certainly wasn't), they still call themselves an animal "sanctuary". Surely part of their job is to look after the animals who can't be rehomed? I might add that we were offering to pay his upkeep — the problem was that he had turned out to be unsuitable for our house and family, not that we couldn't afford him. Taking in Monty would have cost them nothing, which is a hell of a lot less than most of their dogs cost them.

The Dogs Trust were much the same: they put us on a waiting list that failed to get any shorter with time. While we were on both organisations' waiting lists, we happened to know other people who had to get their dogs rehomed for one reason or another. Both organisations took these dogs pretty much immediately, with no apparent waiting list at all. We realised that it was just a scheme to keep bull terriers out. Why they couldn't just tell us up front that they won't take certain breeds instead of screwing us around, I don't know. Like Mid-Antrim Animal Sanctuary did: I rang them and the woman who answered the phone just told me straight out that they wouldn't touch a staff cross because they're "unrehomable". Clearly having some difficulty with the implications of the word "sanctuary".

In the end, we tried telling both Assisi and the Dogs Trust that things were getting desperate (they were) and that, if Monty couldn't be rehomed soon, we'd have to have him put down (we wouldn't). Both of these caring animal-welfare sanctuaries responded in the same way: Go ahead. I was quite shocked by that, I have to admit. Assisi in particular have an excellent reputation round these parts and are many people's favourite charity because of all the good work they do for animals. Turns out, when it comes to dogs with any amount of bull terrier in them, Assisi would rather they were killed than have them come anywhere near their precious home. I'll not be giving any money to them again.

And then I discovered East Galway Animal Rescue.

It's a dog home run by one Sarah Gunther. She specialises in looking after bull breeds, for three reasons. Firstly, because of what I'd just discovered: that the other animal sanctuaries won't touch them. If you want to save dogs' lives, they're the ones who need saving. Secondly, because she firmly (and correctly) believes that there's nothing inherently psychopathic about any particuar breed of dog and that demonising the so-called "dangerous" breeds lets dangerous owners off the hook while scapegoating innocent animals who have just done what they've been trained to do. Thirdly, 'cause she loves them to bits.

So I drove Monty down to Sarah's place in the depths of Galway and left him with her. It was an interesting experience. Sarah appears to have about a zillion dogs. She keeps them in her stables, outhouses, kitchen, living room, and anywhere she can find a bit of space. She'll take any breed, but most of them are bull breeds, with a fair few pit-bulls. Anyone who thinks pit-bulls are inherently dangerous should visit Sarah and see her young son playing with a roomfull of them. She's a political activist, fighting the demonisation of dogs and the attempts to ban supposedly dangerous breeds. She told me that she regularly goes to court, both as a breed-identification expert and to testify that pit-bulls aren't inherently dangerous and that therefore, when one does attack someone, it's the owner who trained it who should be punished. She is not at all popular with Irish dog-fighting gangs.

And she confirmed what I'd guessed about the other animal homes: they don't want bull breeds:

Every week I get calls from other rescues because they have one *of those dogs* and they cannot keep it because *you know why*. No, I don't know WHY and frankly I am getting really riled up. More and more Animal Welfare Orgs are buying into the media hype about APBT, more and more shelters are turning APBT away and more and more pounds here in Ireland destroy dogs because of their looks and wont even consider to put them up for adoption or releasing them to rescues. It STINKS in the world of dog rescue!

To me a dog has always been a dog, regardless of its breed or looks. Being primarily a Bull Breed Rescue, I have never turned a needy dog away when I had the space, I have had collies, greyhounds, great danes and God knows what else here. But try to place an APBT in another rescue and you start to despair.

It is a sad state of affairs indeed if even your *own* people believe the propaganda.

And, while, I was there, I met this guy.

PEOPLE INVESTIGATION A click, a call.. and for £300 we buy angelic pitbull puppy BANNED because it will grow to be a killer
By Daniel Jones And Simon Lennon

A week after little Archie-Lee Hirst was ripped to death by a savage dog, The People bought a banned pitbull terrier with worrying ease.

A quick search on the internet revealed hundreds of online adverts from across Britain for the terrifying fighting dogs.

Sorry, is he terrifying or angelic? Well, Daniel Jones and Simon Lennon clearly couldn't figure that out either, because, having published their front-page expose of the appalling availability of these inherently dangerous killing machines, they decided that he was just too damn cute to do what they were legally required to do — have him put down — and so smuggled him out of the UK to Sarah. When I met him, she was calling him Killer. I gave him a hug. He was very wriggly. I was in severe danger of drowning in spittle.

The dealer they bought Killer from, name of Andre, was not only a criminal but also just plain wrong.

Pulling three puppies from under his coat, grinning Andre boasted: "They are fully pit. Look at the teeth."

Asked if they would fight, Andre said: " Trust me. If I put them face to face now they'll start on each other. They are brothers but they want to kill each other. That's how much they like fighting."

When I met Killer, he was in a room with four or five other dogs. He was wagging his tail a lot. Although I do love the idea of taking three dangerous dogs, guaranteed to turn into killing machines if they clap eyes on each other, and putting them under your coat.

Killer has changed his name to Raymond now, and he has his own website, so you can keep up with his progress as he lives up to his pit-bull reputation by frolicking with children and sniffing flowers.

Oh, and you know how long it took Sarah to rehome Monty the "unrehomable" dog? Three days. He's now living the life of Riley, eating shoes with a rottweiler in Aberdeenshire. I get the occasional missive from his new owner: she and her son love him to bits.

If you're going to give some money to a charity, you could do a lot worse than EGAR. Any money you give Sarah is guaranteed to go on dog food and dog medicine and no advertising or PR consultants or awareness campaigns or anything like that. She's doing good.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Not so much a prediction.

It seems to be generally acknowledged that David Cameron will be our next Prime Minister. Everyone talks about it in terms of when, not if. It's just taken for granted that the Tories will win the next election; a foregone conclusion.

Well, I've seen all this before, in 1992. No-one in their right minds seriously thought that Major might win that election.

I'm not saying the Tories can't do it. They might well. But I think it's easy to overestimate their popularity when that's being reported through the prism of the media. David Cameron is very media-friendly. There's some evidence that he's less popular with the Tory base than with BBC staff. And he's trying to appeal to the electorate by making the Tories as much like Labour as possible. That's a tricky game, that, and likely to create misleading poll data. In fact, it was after the '92 election that quite a bit of research was done into why polls can be so wrong. What one research team discovered was that the wrong question was being asked. "Who would you vote for if the election were today?" gets people to reveal which party's policies they like the look of, but it misses the tribal factor that exerts more influence on people than they realise when they're in the booth alone with their ballot paper. "Which party do you most associate yourself with?" is the more revealing question.

Thing is, people will vote for the party they associate themselves with if they vote. If Cameron persuades a lot of traditional Tories to stay at home, and if a bunch of Labour supporters who've been telling the pollsters that they'll vote Tory go and discover at the last minute that they just can't bring themselves to do it, then the Tories will lose. And are either of those things unlikely? I certainly don't think so.

Like I said, they might do it. But I just wanted to go on record, so that, if they lose, I can say I nearly told you so.

And I do hope they lose. I can't stand Labour, so don't want to see the so-called Opposition rewarded for turning into Labour, which would leave us with a two-party one-party state for decades. Give the people a choice.

Saturday 29 November 2008

A bit of a problem with this new president.

You might remember, a couple of years ago, my mentioning how insanely extremist American abortion law is:

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.

There was some debate in the comments to that post about whether the American pro-abortionists I was talking about were the mainstream or the lunatic fringe. When Amanda Marcotte, staunch supporter of the current law and the woman who said

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.

was made the official blogger of John Edwards, presidential hopeful, that pretty much settled that. In America, this stuff is mainstream.

So I was interested to discover that Barack Obama opposes the current law. Because he thinks it's too restrictive:

The first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.

Yes, in a country where abortion is legal in the ninth month for non-medical non-emergency reasons, the elected legislature has felt the need to draft a law to make it even more legal.

I find it funny when people say that there's no difference between the two parties in the US and that the Democrats are, by British standards, right-wing. Yeah? Try drumming up support for this over here.

Merry Christmas.

For that special woman in your life, the perfect gift.

Friday 28 November 2008


OK, turns out I do have one little comment to make about the Budget after all.

I get most of my Christmas shopping done — certainly all the most expensive stuff — and then they lower VAT.

[sound of grinding teeth]

Thursday 27 November 2008

Trading standards.

If you buy something and it doesn't work, you take it back to the shop and ask for your money back. Except not with medicine. If I took some ibuprofen and still had a headache an hour later, it simply wouldn't occur to me to demand a refund. Why on Earth not?

So stop doing it, then.

I don't intend to comment on the Budget, other than to say that it was predicted over ten years ago and that those who made that prediction were accused of lying and scaremongering. As usual. But there's something it does which all Budgets do, which all politicians do when talking about state finances.

The Chancellor says that pensioners need his help. They're poor, some so poor that they die over Winter 'cause they can't afford fuel. And he has come up with a way to help them. It's the same technique all politicians use. He's going to tax them a bit less.

I feel it says something about our recent history that this way of thinking has become so entrenched that it wouldn't even occur to anyone to call him on it.

If a particular group of people are poor, it is outright immoral to take their money. If you want to take their money, you can, of course, claim that they're not that poor after all, that talk of their poverty is much exaggerated. Indeed, in a sane world, you would have to if you wanted to get away with taxing them without finding yourself roundly condemned as an utter bastard. But the public have become so convinced by the idea that the Government taking a hundred of your pounds and giving you back twenty constitutes some sort of gift that such justifications simply aren't necessary — indeed, not only are they not needed, but the Chancellor can get away with doing the opposite: he can claim that people are poor, and then boast about he is therefore generously going to take a bit less of their money off them than he used to. This is like giving people first aid by easing up a bit on the kicking you're giving them.

Once you've made the claim that certain people are poor and need financial help, the only moral tax policy is to stop taxing them. Completely. Obviously. To claim that people are poor and then keep taxing them anyway demonstrates the sort of cruel vicious streak which... well, if you know a bloke like that who lives in your area, you cross the street when he's coming and you leave the pub when he comes in. Yet politicians, for some reason, don't need to hide this sort of thinking, as they can rely on being congratulated for it.

The longer I spend in the world, the less I understand it.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Another brilliant quote.

But at least this one's funny deliberately.

There's a film coming out celebrating a Christian extremist who waged war against a democratic government in the hope of imposing a dictatorship which would cleanse the country of immigrants.

Why, yes, it is set in Ulster. How'd you guess?


Manufactured consent.

Aye, right:

ALISTAIR DARLING fired the starting gun for the General Election campaign yesterday, becoming the first Chancellor since 1979 to risk putting taxes up.

Sentences like that just go to show how brilliantly effective Labour's propaganda has been. And, to be fair, though they've been very good at it, it weren't Labour who started it.

Earth to journalism. In the period from 1979 to 2008, Chancellors put taxes up. More than once. It really happened.

That took quite some time.

Apple have always made excellent ads. Microsoft, on the other hand, have tended to make utterly crap ones. Where do you want to go today? was pretty good, but not great. And the Wow! ones were just dire.

And then Apple released their Hello! I'm a Mac ads. Brilliant ads. Really entertaining. With one teensy little flaw. Some genius at Apple, having hired a comedy duo, had the bright idea of getting the straight man to be the Mac and the funny guy to be the PC. We were clearly supposed to look at them and think, well, he may be failing in quite a likable and humourous way, but he's still failing. Whereas what we really thought was, well, he may be likably and humourously failing, but he's still likable and humourous. The ads didn't make me want to buy a PC, but they did make me want to make friends with one. And they made Macs look not only boring but smug. Let's face it, Macs probably are smug: it springs sadly and inevitably from being better. But the last thing Apple's advertising should do is draw attention to it.

And now it looks as if this trend-bucking from Apple has given Microsoft some much-needed inspiration. The new Windows ads are just excellent. They make me want to use Windows and meet people who use Windows and get annoyed with Apple for being so rude about all these nice talented decent people.

Apple still make the best operating system, but a lot of the other stuff they used to get consistently right appears to be going wrong.

The final dying gasp of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

DumbJon links to this simply perfect example of... well, of all sorts of things, which is what makes it so perfect: it illustrates American media bias, left-wing preoccupations and priorities, an incredible yet typical failure to spot the really very obvious indeed, and, of course, Bush Derangement Syndrome. Rush Limbaugh found it and has taken some time to take the piss out of it, presumably 'cause he's got to fill up all that airtime with something, but, really, the thing's self-parodying. He could have got away with playing the quote and then just broadcasting five minutes of silence.

The quote is from Evan Kohlmann, NBC News Terrorism Analyst, and is in response to that hilarious Al Qaeda press release.

KOHLMANN: Al-Qaeda is trying to counter this wave of Obamania. They are attacking Obama as a symbol of change in America. I think a better question is is that, is Zawahiri here taking a very dangerous step? Because, you know, Al-Qaeda itself has had problems with racism and bigotry within the ranks, and it was only about a decade and a half ago that Al-Qaeda was paying different salaries to its Arab members and its black African members. And the person administering that financial scheme, that payment scheme, is now the number three in charge of Al-Qaeda. He wasn't demoted, he wasn't punished for this, he was promoted. So I think the question is, is Al-Qaeda really in a position to be, you know, spouting off about the evils of racism when clearly they have as much problem with it as anybody else.

Yes, that is the question.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Charisma and recognition.

One side-effect of this financial crisis is that I've finally figured out who our Prime Minister is.

Allow me to explain.

The press have a way of writing, a certain form that they always follow. Things get more detailed the further through a news item you read. When writing about a member of the Cabinet, the first paragraph will always refer to them by title, and their name will eventually be mentioned four or five paragraphs later. Thus:

The Prime Minister will today announce something dead important.

It's so terribly important, he will say, that we really should bloody well pay attention.

Important things have been even more important than usual lately, especially in Wales, with many things seeing more than a 20% increase in importance, and some things that weren't that important becoming fairly significant.

In today's far-reaching proposals, Mr Brown will set out ...

Until about two weeks ago, when reading stuff like that, I'd get a sudden shock when I reached the name "Brown". "Oh, him?" I'd think. "Oh, yeah. I remember now." Up to that point, of course, having read the words "Prime Minister", I'd been picturing Tony Blair.


In response to some real piracy making the news — as opposed to mere copyright infringement that's been branded as "piracy" to make it sound evil — The Register have published this absolutely superb piece about what the Royal Navy should be doing, with the excellent title "Retro piracy — Should the Royal Navy kick arse?". It's worth reading just 'cause it's dead interesting and knowledgable and stuff, but I'm linking to it for this quote:

A typical modern day sailor — say a radar operator or a cook — for all that he is the heir to the almost unstoppable cutlass-swinging Jack Tars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, may be little handier in a face-to-face fight than a civilian, or even a member of the RAF.



There's an interesting response here from one Amy Taylor to the Baby P case. And by "interesting" I mean "disgusting".

In the summer of last year social workers also dominated the headlines but coming from the other side of the damned if they do and damned if they don't debate.

The coverage then centred on controversial MP John Hemming and his headline friendly allegations that social workers were unnecessarily taking children into care to meet adoption targets.


At the time of Hemming's allegations Ann Baxter, the then chair of the Association of Directors of Children's Services health, care and additional needs policy committee said that allegations such as Hemming's brought the system into disrepute, may put people off raising concerns about a child's welfare and therefore children might be put at risk. Something Hemming dismissed as "nonsense."


If the case did not flag up problems with the system it laid bare how the social workers involved had little self confidence - they, along with other professionals, largely failing to challenge Baby P's mother's account that his injuries were accidental.

Views such as Hemming's chip away at a profession in an already fragile state, the lack of confidence in this case highlighting how everything must be done to challenge them.

In short: "If you criticise us, we'll let children die. And it'll be your fault." And, just in case you think the threat might be empty: "We warned you last time you criticised us. And now look what you've done."

Dress it up however you like. There is an impressive level of sheer perversity required to argue, when the same Social Services department have watched a second child being tortured to death without intervening, that the solution to the problem is never, ever, to criticise them. Is there any other profession that tries that one?

John Hemming himself has turned up in the comments to point out:

The article you cite is dated 2nd August 2007. Baby P sadly died on 3rd August 2007.

This causes you some practical difficulty in arguing any aspect of causality.

The man's an MP for a reason.

And there's an excellent comment here from one Nick Bromley:

I worked on Sir Roy Griffiths' Review of Community Care in the 1980s.... I well remember Sir Roy's increasing exasperation with the language of partnership and joint working. He saw it as a cop out and his constant question, in his trips around the country to see care in practice, was "who exactly is responsible for the success of the service here?" We visited social workers who were caring for people with learning difficulties who had been released into the community from long-stay institutions. It was quite clear that those social workers were fully responsible and the air of competence and confidence was palpable. Elsewhere, we found situations where the division of responsibility between health and social service was supposed to be a matter of joint partnership. There was an air of drift: much discussion of procedures and not much action.


When people can shift responsibility onto the process of joint working, they will. Nothing is ever anyone's responsibility because it was discussed in a conference in which the most timid solution usually prevails. People who have firm views are seen as not being committed to joint working. And social workers who have no sense of personal responsibility never learn to exercise a confident judgement. Sadly, i am almost certain that what will come out of these reviews is even more procedures for joint working and even more bodies for collaborative working.

Absolutely right and, of course, pretty damn obvious to those of us who've spent any time at all working outside the public sector.

Anyway, the site's administrator is declining to publish my reply to this tripe, so I reproduce it here:

> But none of the above posters seem able to recognise the huge contradiction in taking a stance that social workers take children away from their parents too readily, and then criticising them when they haven't removed a child.

There is no contradiction there at all, because that's a glaringly incomplete description of the criticism. No one ever complains that social workers remove children and that social workers don't remove children. People complain that social workers remove children who are in no danger and that they don't remove children who are in danger. These two complaints hugely contradict each other in much the same way as the two positions that (a) murderers should go to jail and (b) innocent people should not go to jail hugely contradict each other. The only way to see a contradiction in the latter position is to fail to see any real difference between murderers and the innocent — they're all just people, right? And the only way to see a contradiction in the former position is to fail to see any real difference between perfectly good families and brutally violent dysfunctional families — they're all just families, right?

I don't have a degree in social work, and I can see the differences. If social workers can't, what use are you?

> I fail to see how a headline like "Blood on their hands" is going to protect children

I don't think protecting children is the headline-writer's job. I thought it was yours. As it happens, I agree with your underlying assumption that we should all play our part. Thing is, if every member of society does their bit to intervene where necessary, what exactly do we need social workers for?

The entire point of your job is that we have taken these responsibilities and given them to the state, and the state is taxing us to pay you to shoulder those responsibilities for us. If you don't want to take the responsibility, stop taking the money.

I work for a bank. I can get sacked for trading a few shares, which, frankly, harms no-one. For some reason, you guys don't get sacked for negligence leading to children's deaths.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Harringey Social Services failed to cooperate with the police investigation, refusing to provide relevant documents until forced to by the court. I would be interested to hear your defence of this. Was it because the public are always criticising social workers when they cooperate fully with murder investigations?


Wednesday 12 November 2008

The basics.

Oo! Some utterly amazing news:

The stamp duty one-year holiday was announced by government ministers with great fanfare two months ago. Ministers raised the minimum threshold at which payment is due to properties selling for more than £175,000, up from the previous threshold of £125,000.

It’s changed nothing - judging by data released today by the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

Well, obviously. I for one am a keen supporter of the stamp duty changes, though they don't go nearly far enough: it should be cut to zero for all house sales. But that's because I do not believe that anyone should have to pay the state a few grand for the privilege of buying a house. I see no justification for the state's appropriation of that money. It's the principle of the thing. But I would never suggest that abolishing stamp duty would be any help whatsoever to first-time buyers or to any other house-buyers. It was obvious that it wouldn't, and I've been rather baffled over the last year or so by the well-meaning but clueless campaigners (hello, Kirsty & Phil) who were convinced that it would somehow make houses cheaper.

Look, house prices are dictated by what people are willing to pay for them. When deciding what I am willing to pay, I look at the whole outgoing sum; I don't ignore certain parts of it depending on who they're being paid to — and the vendors, of course, are doing the same when setting their price. So, if I'm willing to pay £100,000 and £5,000 of that is stamp duty, I can buy a house that costs £95,000. Abolish stamp duty, and I can afford a house that costs £100,000 — and, since house prices are based on what buyers are willing to pay, every house on the market at £95,000 immediately goes up in price to £100,000. I end up paying the same amount of money for the same house, but none of it goes to the bloody Government.


It's all about control.

If only this were surprising these days:

Every business in the country will be encouraged to help fight the obesity epidemic, under a Government campaign to be announced today.

Encouraged, eh? I think we all know what that means by now.

[Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary] said: "I am today challenging every CEO of every company who can influence what we eat and how we exercise to come forward and tell us how they are going to help beat this national epidemic.

"Obesity affects us all so everyone must get involved."

You know, I almost agree with him: if the whole country's facing a crisis, then yes, perhaps everyone should get involved in solving the problem. Thing is, wouldn't that be an alternative to having a massive state? Isn't the whole point of crippling tax rates that, no, we don't have to get involved in these things 'cause the Government's doing it all for us? Apparently not. Apparently, we pay the Government a fortune so that they can then tell us to deal with problems ourselves. Well, OK, then. May I have my money back, then, please?

(Not, of course, that obesity really is a crisis.

Research for the Department of Health shows that almost nine out of ten parents fail to recognise that their children are overweight or obese.

Experts predict that half of adults could have weight problems by 2050, creating a health crisis expected to cost the NHS £50 billions.

Me, I'm waiting for the national eating-disorder crisis brought on by pushing parents to tell their kids they're obese. I predict we'll never hear about how much that costs the N"HS".)

And you know what? I'm sick to bloody death of Britain's chronic lack of anyone in a position of authority who can actually explain what's wrong with this. I mean, let's say you run a small business. You join the Federation of Small Businesses, so that they can represent your interests. And then what happens?

Stephen Alambritis, from the Federation of Small Businesses ... said: "If this message is targeted to the CEOs of the top FTSE companies that is understandable but at the moment many small employers are struggling to keep their staff on the payroll and it is not the right time to ask more of them."

I don't know how much it costs to join this federation, but you might be better off keeping that money to spend on lard.

The problem with this is not timing. This wouldn't be OK if the economy were doing beautifully. The problem is not that it will affect small businesses as well as big ones. The problem is that it is none of your damn business and you shouldn't want it to be. I'm working for a multinational bank at the moment. They're not a small business — they're bigger than many nation-states. They can certainly afford to get involved in these intitiatives, and [sigh] probably will. And, if they ever try and tell me what I'm allowed to eat, I will, in no uncertain terms, tell them to bugger off out of my private life. I am not paid to eat spinach.

Monday 10 November 2008


Ray Smuckles on French history:

French history really ain't nothin' to get too worked up about. Basically they're like everybody else, but their homeless people wear fingerless gloves.


Saying the right thing.

I'm not generally into T-shirts with slogans on them, as the slogans are usually just kind of crap. But I have just taken delivery of this rather fine garment. I mean, it's just perfect: it expresses succinctly exactly what I'm thinking about almost everyone almost all the time.

Wednesday 5 November 2008


In the two years since I became a dad, I've shied away from writing much about Daisy. This is for two reasons. Firstly, I'm horribly aware of James Lileks. The man's a brilliant writer almost all the time, but becomes unutterably dreary the moment he starts to write about his no-doubt charming daughter. One must always remember that one's kids are less interesting to other people than one might hope.

The other reason, as all parents know, is that, when Daisy does anything entertaining enough to blog about, it usually leaves me too knackered to blog about it.

Yes, obviously that was the preamble to some anecdotes.

My dad and step-mum like to buy Daisy toys which play loud awful music, blaring out nursery rhymes with mangled lyrics, secure in the knowledge that the racket will happen two nations and a small sea away from their ears. Daisy's second birthday was no exception, and we've got a buggy with a noisy dashboard in our living room, shouting at us over the sound of Peppa Pig DVDs.

The other day, this device started sounding even stranger than usual. One of its songs was playing very slowly and sounding downright odd. Daisy listened to this for a few moments, looking at it seriously. Then she reached out, turned the thing off, and turned it on again.

Two years old, and she already knows to reboot. I'm so proud.

She's developed a taste for pistachios, and we have some in the house at the moment. When they're around and she knows it, she will not let us rest. Our job — our purpose in life — is to shell pistachios.

So Vic tries to sit down for a minute yesterday and Daisy shouts "Ta ta! Ta ta!" at her, which, as any parent knows, means "Would you please go to the kicthen and bring me some pistachios, Mum?" or, more accurately, "Yo! Bitch! Kitchen! Pistachios! Now!" So Vic gets up and walks towards the kitchen, but, it seems not quickly enough for young Miss Fuhrer, who decides to speed the whole process up by placing both hands on Vic's bum and pushing.

Yeah, we know our place.

Finally, this isn't so much funny as just plain odd. Daisy's been counting for months now — seems to be a little ahead of the game on that front. She started, surprisingly enough, with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; then decided that 4 was her favourite number (we suspect this is due to Teletubbies) and so stopped having anything to do with 1, 2, or 3; then, for ages, she became obsessed with the number sequence 4, 6, 9. She's only just recently returned to normal counting. It was 4, 6, 9, 4, 6, 9, 4, 6, 9 for months. If anyone reading has any ideas about the significance of this sequence, I'd be very interested to hear them.

Jackie Mason is in my computer.

Running an Oracle installer at work the other day, and a little box pops up which says "Copying files... Please wait". Except that the window's slightly too small for the text it's supposed to contain, so what it actually says is "Copying files... Please".

Considering how successful the operation was, I find this apt.

There are two bright sides I can think of.

Firstly, the Republicans have now learnt not to choose candidates like McCain and might pick actual right-wingers in the future.

Secondly, there is the faintest of faint chances that at least some of the people who drone on endlessly about how oppressed black people are in America might just shut up.


OK, there is one more silver lining:

The movies will get better, as the moratorium on patriotism comes to an end. ... Perhaps in his giddiness, some Hollywood bigshot will green-light a war movie about our heroic soldiers ... The stories are there, waiting to be told.


Thursday 9 October 2008

The stupidest prize ever.

I'd never heard of Adnan Oktar before today. He's obviously heard of James Randi, though, as he's offering a prize of a quite staggering 4.4 trillion pounds "to anyone who produces a single intermediate-form fossil demonstrating evolution."

But this is nonsense. Thousands of such fossils have already been found, including fossils of creatures more human than chimpanzees and more chimp-like than humans. But no doubt Oktar is defining the word "intermediate" on his own terms, to mean something quite different to what it says in the dictionary. In other words, what he'll give you the money for is a fossil that changes his mind. And he'll never change his mind, because he has faith.

Besides, I don't get it. If you're religious, what, exactly, is wrong with the "God put the dinosaur bones in the ground to test our faith" explanation? That's the whole point of faith: it doesn't depend on evidence. And the whole point of an omnipotent being who created the universe is that, if they exist, their existence explains everything — even things that might appear to be proof of their non-existence. When that's what you believe in, regardless of whether you understand the fossil record, why challenge it? Really, what's the point?

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Playing the game.

A lesson in cluelessness:

[Joseph Biden] expressed alarm that the McCain campaign might be encouraging speculation among their supporters that Obama is himself a questionable character

Oh, the horror.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Leadership and belief.

There's a nice post here from Tim Newman about how baffled he is that believing in Creationism attracts so much more opprobrium than believing in any other stupid, ignorant, nutty, ridiculosity.

Sarah Palin believes in creationism, and she might one day be president. Yet the incumbent president, and our own glorious leaders, believe in trade tariffs. Putting all the evidence together on a table, which belief is more irrational? And which belief causes more harm?

Sarah Palin chooses to defy scientific findings, close her ears, and believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago. Most of the world’s leaders choose to defy an awful lot of scientific findings, close their ears, and believe the earth is heating up uncontrollably, and we the public must stump up billions in taxes to do something about it. Which is the more irrational? And which is most likely to cause me, you, and everyone else serious harm?

This prompted me to look up this old piece by John Derbyshire and — lo and behold — I find that he need do little more than change the word "Bush" to "Palin" and he could republish it tomorrow as is, topical as ever.

My ideal nursing-home attendant, auto mechanic, or president would be a cheerful, capable, well-motivated person who was thoroughly au courant with the theory of evolution — and indeed with all the most recent advances in astronomy, biochemistry, cosmology, dendrochronology, endochrinology, fluviology, geomorphology, hydrodynamics, ichthyology, jurisprudence, kinesiology, limnology, microbiology, neuropathology, ophthalmology, psychometrics, quantum chromodynamics, rocket science, seismology, trichology, urology, virology, wiretapping, xenodocheionology, yachting, and zoology.

Life, however, often consists of making a choice between unsatisfactory alternatives. Invited to choose between having my kids educated, my car fixed, or my elderly relatives cared for by (a) people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in pseudoscience, or (b) unionized, time-serving drudges who believe in real science, which would I choose? Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who “loathes the military” but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?

I'm sure I've said this before, but at least Creationists, as a rule, have some understanding of evolution — and they disagree with it. In my experience, most of those who agree with it haven't got the faintest clue how it works and will give laughably bad explanations if asked to explain, for instance, why peacocks have such elaborate tails or why there's a gap in the fossil record. The gleeful derision towards Creationists by those who are every bit as ignorant, if not more so, but who are confident that The Truth they believe in has been certified by experts, always strikes me as a rather good illustration of the essential repulsiveness of mobs.

There's more to being right than believing something that happens to be true.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Who should suffer.

I work in the investment banking sector at the moment. It was horribly busy the week after Lehman's went down, but WaMu and Monday's crash seem not to have had the same effect. Funny old world.

Anyway, here's what I think.

Ordinary everyday members of the public have better things to do with their time than to snort the FT every day, subscribe to Bloomberg, and move their savings between banks every couple of weeks depending on market conditions. Insisting that they do so would simply lead to the collapse of the economy as no-one would ever have the time to do anything else. So it is right and proper that the government should use taxpayers' money to guarantee savers' deposits when a bank goes under.

Investment bankers, on the other hand... well, it's their job, isn't it? They are supposed to trawl through every bit of financial information they can get their hands on and assess profit, liability, and risk from one minute to the next. It's what they do. And, when they completely and utterly screw it up, it is not the taxpayers' job to bail them out, any more than it's our job to guarantee jobs for journalists who can't write or builders whose work keeps falling over or gardeners who kill everything they touch.

Bradford & Bingley were going under for a reason: they were crap. Our idiot leaders, by nationalising them, are keeping that crap alive and kicking so that its influence can continue to poison the rest of the system. Great. Only, given the track record of nationalisation, they won't just be preserving the crap: they'll make it crappier.

Bought a British car lately?

Monday 15 September 2008


This is just ridiculous:

Government whips have launched a witch-hunt to track down the Labour politician blamed for sending copies of a vicious attack on Gordon Brown to all 350 of the party’s MPs.

OK, more of the Brown Government tearing itself apart, you might think. Same old same old. And you'd be right, actually. But there is a quite beautiful little detail which makes this particular episode one of their stupidest:

The investigation follows a ferocious verbal assault on the Prime Minister last week in the Guardian newspaper written by former Brownite cheerleader and Left-wing pundit Polly Toynbee.

Within 48 hours of its publication, every single Labour MP received an anonymous letter containing a copy of Ms Toynbee’s near-hysterical tirade via the Commons internal mail.

That's right: a Polly Toynbee column from The Guardian was mailed to every single Labour MP. Had it not been, presumably they might never have seen it. And so quick! This column from a daily paper was dispatched within a mere forty-eight hours.

You can see why the whips would want to track the perpetrator down before Labour MPs start receiving week-old Hansard transcripts or something.

Monday 4 August 2008


It is excellent news that Barry George has been acquitted. What we usually see with miscarriages of justice is people who were locked up on the basis of compelling evidence but are later released on the basis of even more compelling evidence. Barry George, on the other hand, has had eight years of his life confiscated by the state on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. One of Tim Worstall's commenters, a Mr Dodgy Geezer, puts it well:

The shocking thing about George’s conviction was that it was NOT based on ANY evidence. He was convicted entirely on circumstantial evidence, which was that he lived in the area and behaved oddly. The ‘particle of residue’ was hardly defended against forensically at all, and could as easily have been a bonfire particle for all the defence knew.

This was the first case I have seen in the UK courts where someone was convicted on no evidence since the end of the witch trials. It was NOT the case that the police constructed a frame-up - they didn’t need to. Everyone just assumed he was guilty, and what circumstantial evidence there was was just there for show. Mr Justice Gage has a lot to answer for…

There was never any excuse for trying this man, let alone convicting him. Some of those responsible for the original trial should be up in court themselves. This wasn't a forgivable mistake.

Let's just remind ourselves how British justice operates in these cases, shall we?

It is the tradition in Britain, when someone is wrongly convicted and locked up, to present them with a bill for room and board when their conviction is overturned. Yes, that's right: if you are locked up for, say, twenty years for a crime you did not commit, when your conviction is finally overturned, the government will present you with a large bill for the luxurious prison bed you slept in and the scrumptious prison food you ate.

So Barry George now has that to look forward to. Nice.

There's such a fine line between clever and stupid.

Not that this strays anywhere near that line, mind you:

[Ged Fulton] said: “I’m a bit disappointed Sean has basically done the same thing as me. But I’m probably the best person to advise him. ..."

Forget the subject matter here. It really doesn't matter what it is Sean has done. If all he'd done was to build a really shoddy sandcastle, that quote there from his dad would still be quite phenomenally stupid.


Tuesday 29 July 2008

Logic as a model for humanity.

Yet again, being stupid, I've been arguing with people on the Interweb. If you want to read the whole thing, it starts here then continues here. It really is quite interesting, you know, but I'll summarize it here to save you the time.

The argument takes place at Samizdata, one of the Web's more popular forums for libertarian and anti-state thinking. I rarely visit, because, much as I agree with most of its denizens' views on how big and powerful a government should be (really not very at all), and much as I know, having met a couple of them, that some of them are dead nice people, some of the others, well... basically, they suffer from exactly the same problem as the Communists. That is, they refuse to allow their theories to bend to fit the annoyingly wonky shape of humanity. In other words, they're batshit crazy.

The chief protagonists in this argument are named Johnathan Pearce and Ian B. Here's their argument, boiled down to its salient points.

If you were to circumcise an adult male without his consent, that would be assault.

Babies do not give their consent to circumcision, because they're babies and they can't.

Therefore, circumcising babies is assault.

Therefore, circumcision should be banned. In fact, it is already effectively banned by the law that prohibits assault, but that law is inconsistently applied. It should be applied absolutely consistently. Circumcising one's child should lead to arrest and prosecution.

This policy would in no way discriminate against Jews. Jews would be perfectly welcome to stay in the UK. All they'd have to do is stop circumcising babies. Which is hardly a big deal, is it? Besides, religion is stupid.

Anyone who says that this policy would discriminate against Jews is paranoid. Furthermore, religion is stupid.

If you suspect me of exaggerating to make them look worse than they really are — and, let's face it, I'm not above that sort of thing — please do follow the links and get it from the horses' arses' mouths. You might think they were just your basic Jew-haters in really bad disguises, but I don't think they are: they really don't see why what they're proposing is the expulsion of the Jews from Britain. They must be intellectuals: no-one else would believe anything so stupid. I said to them yesterday:

If you know what's important to people, then you either get rid of the Jews deliberately or you don't get rid of the Jews. It takes a libertarian to get rid of them by accident.

But anyway, I don't want to address all that nonsense here. I've done it over there, and you can go read it if you like. I want to make a more general complaint.

See, the thing is, some of us would like to see something like a libertarian state. We want the state to be less powerful and less intrusive, the government to be smaller, taxes to be lower; we'd like a government who'd go through the thousands of pointless laws passed as knee-jerk reactions to made-up crises and actually repeal some of them, rather than just mindlessly churning out more and more. We'd like the right to defend ourselves and our families and our homes; we'd like to see criminals picked on instead of the inanimate weapons they may use. We'd prefer not to be arrested for throwing out the wrong sort of rubbish. None of this is going to be delivered by the British brand of political Conservatism, sadly in no way related to the American variety. The only people interested in fighting for these things in this country are the libertarians.

Now, the Samizdata guys are, in libertarian terms, the elite. Quite a few of them get to meet influential people fairly often, they talk on the radio from time to time, they meet MPs at posh dos. Not all that much, perhaps, not compared to your average leader of the NUS, but then that's libertarianism for you: it just ain't that big a political deal at the moment. But what little bigness it does have, it has in the environs of Samizdata. These guys have devoted themselves to getting libertarian ideas out into the consciousness of the British public, and they do so, and not just via their website. Good on 'em.

Except... well. I'm sure you see the problem. "Oh, libertarianism?" says your average member of the public. "Isn't that that bunch of frothing maniacs?" And in comes another ten years of Labour Socialism or Tory Socialism, as if I give a damn which.

I had this argument with the awfully nice Brian Micklethwait once. He argues that the job of libertarians should be to constantly put forth their opinions in a polite and unashamed manner, in order to make sure that our ideas are thought of as the sort of things that nice ordinary people like us can think, and thereby we gradually change the context of the public debate and that gradually filters up to politics. He's very much against the idea of toning down our ideas to make them more palatable, as that road leads to the likes of David Cameron: make policy by opinion poll, give the public what they already think they want, never attempt to change their minds about anything — in short, political stagnation and all parties essentially the same. But I don't think he fully understood what I was talking about, probably because I was quite drunk.

I don't suggest that libertarians should claim they want taxes lowered to 20% when they really want them down to 2%. I'm not suggesting libertarians should publicly advocate a slight relaxation in weapons laws while secretly wanting complete freedom to bear arms.

What I suggest is simply the marginalising and enthusiastic stamping out of this absurd militant tunnel-visioned self-important empathy-free logic-fetishizing tradition-destroying intolerant hateful claptrap. That's all. Because, as long as libertarians keep striving so hard to maintain their reputation as people who are so completely bloody stupid that they can't even figure out why parenthood is important unless someone draws them a diagram with full footnotes, appendices, and explanatory accompanying video, we will be stuck with the encroaching state.

And bugger that, frankly.

Friday 25 July 2008

The language.

Loads of people have been linking to Giles Coren's beautifully expressed hatred of sub-editors, and who am I to resist a bandwagon?

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on saturday.

It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

I wrote: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh."
it appeared as: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh."

There is no length issue. This is someone thinking "I'll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and i know best".

Well, you fucking don't.


Gary points out Roland White's impassioned defence of the subeditor (which may or may not be serious — or, rather, it's clearly not serious, but it's not clear whether he really likes subs), and adds:

I’ve had subtle gags ruined by unnecessary exclamation marks

[shudder] That's about the worst thing you can do to writing, that is.

Generally, though, I’m with A.A. Gill:

The joy of being a hack is that there is a back room of people far cleverer, more experienced and adept than I working to make me look clever, experienced and adept. If on occasion I fail to do so, naturally it’s their fault.

The whole thing has got me thinking, and I've decided that modern subediting, which doesn't stop at merely correcting mistakes but goes way beyond what should be its remit and amends a writer's style, is not just annoying for Giles Coren but is actually wrong in principle.

Thing is, language is defined by its writers. It makes no real sense to talk about whether there are grammatical mistakes in the King James Bible, for instance, because our grammar is based on the King James Bible. When considering whether a particular usage is valid, a linguist would refer to the King James Bible — as well as Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Bronte, Wilde, Carroll, and the other greats — to see whether they used it. Basically, if it's in there, it's correct. They all made mistakes, sure — Johnson really should have put an H in "discord" or no H in "chord" — but their mistakes were theirs only: it's not my mistake when I spell "chord" with an H in it, because Johnson, errors and all, was one of the writers whose work defines our language.

Now, journalists aren't quite as influential, usually, as Shakespeare. But the same process does take place with their work. New words and usages enter the lanuage, with the OED citing newspaper columns as their first recorded instances. The language is supposed to change, and journalists, with the size and frequency of their audience, are agents of that change. Look at "misunderestimate": a brilliant and useful word, coined (by accident) by George Bush. If he had just said it, I reckon it would have remained forever a one-off mistake. It was the word's appropriation and repetition by journalists that caused it to catch on.

Now, do we want a language whose future is built by imaginative, creative writers or by subeditors with lists of rules? As I said on Gary's blog, Tolkien reportedly spent hours going through The Lord of the Rings, laboriously changing back every instance of "try and" that American subs had changed to "try to". This is JRR fucking Tolkien, writing one of the greatest books ever written, and the bloody subs still thought they spoke better English. Would you rather have read their version?

A surprise.

Apparently, eating soya products lowers your fertility.

Just imagine what the population of China could have been.

Saturday 19 July 2008

A conundrum solved.

I'm contracting for a big firm at the moment, and I've just started there, so have had to do some training courses. I don't mean actually learning to do my job — though I am having to do that, too, yes — but the corporate stuff that everyone has to do, regarding fire escapes and secrecy and so on. They're those online courses with multiple-choice tests at the end.

So one of them's about security and confidentiality and maintaining frankly paranoid levels of suspicion, and, in amongst all the easy stuff ("An evil spy asks for your Windows password. Should you (a) tell him, (b) not tell him, or (c) give him all the company's money?") was a genuinely tricky one. It went something like this.

You've been given a promotion and so will from now on have lots of highly confidential documents. You have therefore been given a filing cabinet. You put the documents in the filing cabinet and lock it. But where do you put the key?

Now, since the course has been at pains to point out how easy it is to drop your keys or to have them knicked, this is actually rather a difficult question. You can't put them in your pocket, 'cause of pickpockets. So you can't take them home with you. But neither can you leave them lying around anywhere at work, which would be the equivalent of not locking the filing cabinet in the first place. So what the hell do you do with them? I don't mind telling you, if it hadn't been multiple-choice, I'd never have figured it out.

The correct answer is: In a lockable key cabinet.

But of course.


It may seem — and, in fact, is — churlish to complain about someone who's been nice enough to link approvingly to this here blog, but honestly, some people. Joanna Higgins of BNET United Kingdom ("The go-to place for management") has included this post of mine from t'other day in their Friday Round-Up, and... well, firstly, the link's under their Insight section. My blog provides insight into business management? I'm not sure whether to be flattered or baffled.

More to the point, though, Joanna's done something quite horrid to my Achewood quote. Here's the original:

Shrovis-Bishopthorpe lead the pack in considering the Internet a nuisance. To this end we have installed a lock, so that the decision to leave the real world behind and venture into a land of codswallop and hastily documented buggery is anything but a thoughtless one.

And here's Ms Higgins's version:

Shrovis-Bishopthorpe lead the pack in considering the internet a nuisance. To this end we have installed a lock, so that the decision to leave the real world behind... is anything but a thoughtless one.

I don't hold her responsible, much. No doubt BNET have rules about which words their bloggers may use. But I've sat through enough company presentations over the years to know that this is hardly an isolated incident, and so I do have to ask: is there some rule of business management that actually requires you to suck all the humour out of life?

Oh, looks like I have provided an insight into business management after all. Oops.

And it was all going so well.

Amazon have, I think, finally made a mistake:

New feature! Amazon now allows customers to upload product video reviews. Use a webcam or video camera to record and upload reviews to Amazon.

I'm finding it hard to imagine a worse idea.

Thursday 17 July 2008

More shoddy journalism.

Just how far back does British history go, anyway?

From The Telegraph:

Home owners and "have-a-go heroes" have for the first time been given the legal right to defend themselves against burglars and muggers free from fear of prosecution.

The first time? What, like, ever?

When journalists get these press releases from Number Ten, don't they question any of it?

Tuesday 15 July 2008

The British way.

I don't go on about it completely incessantly, but I am a bit of an Apple fan. I prefer their operating system, so buy their computers. Simple.

But there's a new competitor on the scene, and they really do look rather like they might wipe the floor with Apple. And they're British, would you believe?

Yes, it's Shrovis-Bishopthorpe:


Here is a proper British computer, soberly cased in good Dartmoor tin. Hand-turned brass dials and latches come in high- or low-burnish.

And look:

Shrovis-Bishopthorpe lead the pack in considering the Internet a nuisance. To this end we have installed a lock, so that the decision to leave the real world behind and venture into a land of codswallop and hastily documented buggery is anything but a thoughtless one.

What's not to like?

The Web encourages strangeness.

It's the way you no longer need the tiny minority of people who think the same way you do to be in roughly the same place for you to reach them. No matter how scattered, there they are, a market.

Erfworld is the strangest damn thing I ever did see. I'm not even sure I understand it, but it's superb.

Friday 11 July 2008

The state of things.

Watched Idiocracy last night. It's not exactly a masterpiece, but good fun if you fancy a laugh and can't be bothered thinking too hard because your daughter's got tonsillitis and you've therefore had too little sleep all week. For those of you who don't already know, it's set in a future in which the whole of mankind has become absolutely unremittingly stupid.

When it was over, Vic said, "They didn't need to set it five-hundred years in the future."

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Job requirements.

Daisy has tonsillitis, poor thing.

She gets it quite a lot. The infection responds well to antibiotics, but her taste buds don't. This is because antibiotics for small children have the nasty taste of the drug disguised with the even nastier taste of sickly sugary chemicals with names (but definitely not flavours) like "banana" and "strawberry". They are unforgivably disgusting, and Daisy won't touch the orange stuff, which seems to be full of the same fake migraine-triggering accident-in-a-chemical-lab crap they put into "orange" Revels. They used to put it in orange squash when I was a kid, and I couldn't even smell the stuff without getting a migraine, so I can't say I blame Daisy. (Incidentally, why the hell not use chocolate flavour? Kids love it, and even rather cheap fake chocolate flavour tastes of actual chocolate.)

The first time Daisy had tonsillitis, she was prescribed the orange stuff and Vic and I had one hell of a fight on our hands four times a day. We tried sneaking small amounts of it into food and drink that she liked, and she responded by refusing to touch food or even drink milk from us for two days in case we tried it again. In the end, we had to resort to having one person hold her down while another forced the stuff into her mouth with a syringe and then clamped her mouth shut. Not fun at all — especially since, when your child's ill, what you really want to do is comfort her, not torture her. That method worked that first time, but it doesn't any more, as Daisy has now taken to simply vomiting if anyone succeeds in getting any of the noxious orange crap into her stomach.

We did try asking a doctor at the time if there were any other flavour we could try, and he told us we'd just have to pull our bloody fingers out and get the stuff into her. This was all the more annoying in retrospect when she got tosillitis for the second time and was prescribed the "banana" stuff, which she decided in the end that she actually rather likes, which just goes to show that that bloody doctor, true to the long-standing traditions of his profession and the NHS, could indeed have done something for us but preferred to be rude to us instead.

Anyway, so, now, when she gets prescribed antibiotics, we make a point of telling whichever doctor Daisy sees that she won't touch the orange stuff. Last time, this was good: the doctor knew which drugs were which flavours and so prescribed the banana stuff. This time, however, the doctor we saw didn't know — which is fair enough, as it's not specified by the drug manufacturers for some stupid reason, so it's just one of those things a doctor either happens to know or doesn't. So the doctor, perfectly reasonably, gave us a prescription and advised us to ask the pharmacist before getting it dispensed.

So that's what I did, but the pharmacist apologetically explained to me that the drug manufacturers don't specify the flavour on the outside of the bottle. The stuff comes in dry powder form and the pharmacist adds water when dispensing it. The powder, annoyingly, is just sort of bland grey, so you can't tell by looking at it whether it's going to turn bright yellow or bright orange. This pharmacist even helpfully let me smell the powder, but it smelt of nothing. So I had to just go ahead and try it and see what happened. And, of course, by the time the pharmacist gave me the bottle, its contents were bright orange. By then, the prescription's dispensed and it's too late to change my mind. Bugger.

It was only when we got home that Vic noticed four words on the label of the bottle: "orange colour" and "orange flavour". They had been cunningly hidden in amongst some other words under the heading "Ingredients".

I have to say that I find the idea of a pharmacist who doesn't know that you can find out what's inside stuff by reading the list of ingredients slightly worrying. If you do too, you might want to avoid the Alliance pharmacy in Newtownards.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

One of the greatest blogs.

Some excellent stuff on Language Log, as ever. Firstly, the coining of a new word, "nerdview":

Language Log readers may appreciate the following classic example of writing in technical terms from the perspective of the technician or engineer rather than from a standpoint that would seem useful to the customer or reader.


The problem I am pointing to, however, is not about web programming or sorting technicalities. It is a simple problem that afflicts us all: people with any kind of technical knowledge of a domain tend to get hopelessly (and unwittingly) stuck in a frame of reference that relates to their view of the issue, and their trade's technical parlance, not that of the ordinary humans with whom they so signally fail to engage. ... The phenomenon — we could call it nerdview — is widespread.

I really hope the word catches on. I'm going to be using it. It's great when a new word comes along for something that you've been talking about for years. And it's great that the word sounds a bit derogatory, 'cause then, if it does catch on, it might discourage that which it describes.

Then there's this photo of the single greatest IT fuck-up I have ever seen.

And finally, following some link or other, I found this gem in their archives:

Let's be clear (since so many people seem to think the French always have a word for everything): this is a language used by people who are supposed to be the big experts in love and kissing and sexy weekends of ooh-la-la, and they don't have words for "boy", "girl", "warm", "love", "kiss", or "weekend".


I know, I'm going to get a whole flood of stupid email defending the beautiful French language and its expressivité: "La langue française, elle est si belle", they'll say, referring to their language as if it were a girl (not that they can say "girl"); Le français, they will say (inexplicably switching their gender decision from feminine to masculine), "est une langue" (O.K., so we're back to feminine again) magnifique, la langue de Racine et de Molière et de Balzac et de Rimbaud... All this from people who think a uvular scraping sound like a cat bringing up a hairball is a perfectly reasonable noise to use instead of an honest "r". From people who simply cannot make their minds up about whether an attributive adjective should precede the modified noun (sensible!) or follow it (silly!): the ever-indecisive French say un bon vin blanc ("a good wine white"), with one before the noun and one after. Get a grip! Pick one or the other!