Saturday, November 29

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, November 28

Grr.

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, November 27

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, November 25

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, November 18

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.

Piracy.

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.

 

Responsibility.

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, November 12

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.

Obviously.

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, November 10

History.

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, November 5

Daisy.

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.


Update:

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.