Saturday, 14 July 2012

Very unfair


The Telegraph - probably unintentionally - destroy's whatever is left of George Osborne's reputation with perhaps the most unfortunate comparison any British politician could suffer:
People must rediscover the joy of ownership if George Osborne is to repeat Neville Chamberlain’s feat
There it is - in sixteen words (I counted them), the complete destruction of George Osborne has been achieved.  He's not even capable of repeated the 'feats' of Neville Chamberlain.

Now, I'm more sympathetic to Chamberlain than most; he oversaw the rearmament and was responsible for us having - just - enough aircraft to see off Gerry.  But the popular image is of an ineffectual, blind-to-the-inevitable, incompetent posh boy who was utterly out of his depth.

All of which accurately describes Osborne very well.  Perhaps it is the shade of Chamberlain that should be cringing at the comparison.  For it is his reputation that is being besmirched, unfairly.

Norwegians! What is the secret of my appeal?

I've just been looking at the blogger world map that tells me where my wide and varied readership comes from.  Mostly, it seems, the USA and Norway.  The USA I can understand - I'll probably still be getting abuse over the MARSOC murders post a hundred years from now.  But Norway?  Why is this this drab little corner of the internet so appealing to the peaceful-unless-you're-a-whale inhabitants of Scandinavia?  The ones who aren't responsible for Abba, I mean?

Come on, Norwegians, explain why so many of you (or a couple, at any rate ...) are monitoring lefthandpalm so avidly.

Anyway, to show my appreciation of your loyalty, here's the might a-ha singing ... one of their songs.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Disaster

Arse and bastardry, we are undone ...
More than five years after he left Downing Street, Tony Blair was brought back into the Labour fold last night with the award of a role advising Ed Miliband's policy review.
The move – likely to delight and dismay party activists in equal measure – was announced at a fund-raising event ahead of the London Olympics.
... 
Mr Blair said: "It's an honour to be here to support our party, whose values and principles I have always believed in and always will, and to support Ed, support his leadership, support his drive to make our party win."
The current Labour leader replied by praising the former Prime Minister's record on the NHS, schools and cutting crime – and helping bring the games to Britain.
You may count me among the dismayed.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Lords Reform

Yes, I know, it's very relevant to the lives of the Common Man, especially the Common Man of New Zealand.  As Tim Black notes - sarcastically - over on Spiked:
The excitement is difficult to miss. There’s a buzz, a democratic fizz in the air. In pubs and bars, community ‘hubs’ and shopping centres, people just can’t stop talking about it. That ‘it’ is, of course, the very real possibility that the UK will have a mainly elected House of Lords. I feel electrified just typing those words, ‘mainly elected’.
Yes, so it's totally dull and mostly irrelevant political deckchair work.  The Ship of State may have had her run in with the iceberg, but things can only get better if the passengers can sit over there.

Still, I must admit that I do feel a bit electrified at the idea of Lords reform.  I'm the sort of person to whom this sort of person in whom this sort of abstruse political stuff does provoke a mild degree of interest.  Which is probably why I'm stuck here pecking away at the internet (with a worryingly high readership in Norway, according to Blogger stats) when I should be doing something much more fun, or at least pulling up the epic weeds that have seized control of the garden.

Lords reform is the British Wimbledon Hopes of politics.  There is continual interest in it among a very small group of people, but nothing ever comes of it.  Just like Andy Murray briefly made it seem possible that a Brit might actually win the bloody trophy, so do we experience brief moments when it seems the House of Lords might finally be junked.  But nothing much ever comes of it, and nothing much will come of it this time.  If Tony Blair couldn't do very much in 1997, with a majority of about 10 million and a (short lived) genuine interest in reform, I predict a half-hearted effort, driven by the (doomed) minor party in a Conservative dominated coalition, seeking to achieve nothing much, will also fail.  And so it should.

I say the above not because I have suddenly become remorselessly Tory, but because the current reforms are almost as witless as the House of Lords as it is currently constituted.  The problem with the Housel of Lords is not that it is unelected: the problem is that it is superfluous, anachronistic and irrelevant; it has few real powers; it is crammed with cronies who buy their titles or get moved on up after undistinguished careers in the Commons (take a bow, Lord Prescott).

In answer to this, the hapless (doomed) Nick Clegg proposes a 'mainly elected' House, failing to see how utterly uninteresting this prospect is to people at large.  Even people such as I can not get very excited at voting for members of the second chamber.  It's another bloody imposition and waste of time, frankly.  Don't we vote people in to office to take care of this sort of stuff for us?  We don't mind the taxes - we expect that - but when they come whining to us demanding further efforts on our part to 'legitimise' their actions, it becomes a right bloody chore.

House of Lords reform is essential.  That much is obvious to everyone with a brain.  The Clegg reforms are also idiotic.  That much should also be obvious to everyone with a brain.  I see no need for a directly elected upper chamber.  We elect the Commons directly, and power should.  Putting in yet more elections for yet more bodies only dilutes the importance of the elections to the Commons.  All central government power should stem from there, not from a bunch of secondary elections.  No-one, bluntly, other than tragic political spods such as myself, will care enough about voting for the second chamber to make an informed choice about it; the reforms proposed would only reproduce the current irrelevant, disconnected nature of the Lords, under a patina of democratic legitimacy.

Let the Commons sort out the House of Lords.  Make it an appointed, smaller chamber, with some genuine powers, say 400 members, made up of representatives chosen by the parties in the Commons (plus some other supplementary members, like legal experts, philosophers and scientists).  Members hold their seat for 10 years, staggered so that ten percent are replaced every year.  Replacements are allocated based on representation in the Commons; so if you hold forty per cent of the seats in the Commons, you get forty per cent of the new appointees to the Lords.  This way, a democratic link is maintained, but the second chamber is insulated against the extremism of results like 1945, 1983 and 1997.  And they can still call themselves the Lords, and retain their fancy titles and so on, because I actually quite like all that historical stuff, and only Year Zero mentalists think democratic, socialist reform means doing away with tradition and history.

It can be that simple.  Only Clegg seems to have become obsessed with the need to get something, somewhere, elected through proportional representation.  Having been stymied by his coalition partners in the attempt to change the Commons voting system, his seizing this consolatory bone from Cameron's - the chance to reform something that isn't important and isn't going to be powerful, and thus doesn't need to exist at all.  What a sorry sight this is!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Feckin' stupid

I kid you not.  This is how crappily crap Britain's Tories are:
Immigrants will have to learn the first verse of the national anthem and key historical facts about Britain before they can become citizens. Theresa May, the home secretary, is drawing up a patriotic guide to what foreigners must know before they can be considered British.
This is probably the stupidest idea in the universe. Only a Tory could have thought of it. Of course, I'll pretend not to remember that a previous Labour bigwig proposed something similar a few years back. Never happened. Stupid Tories.

 A less stupid test would be to make them watch Zulu, and they are failed if they don't have a tear in their eye at the end of it. And that's a stupid test, before Theresa May reads it and think it might be a good one - because if she's scraping the bottom of the barrel so diligently, she probably would ...

Though it is certainly a better idea than getting them to learn some awful dirge exulting an anachronistic institution they could - quite legitimately, as citizens - vote out of existence.

New Challenge for Hadron Hot Shots

Fresh from their success at perhaps locating something that logically doesn't exist, the scientists at CERN have set them selves a new, far more challenging ... challenge.

"We through with the Briggs, or Higgs, or whatever the Hell it was called," snarled Dr Adophus Quipp, Scientist In Charge Od Something Scientific, from the Boys Own Top Secret Bunker that his team have been hollowing out under the Alps in alleged pursuit of a thing that no-one can see even if they find it.

"That's old hat.  Griggs is done.  No-one is interested any more.  We live in a time of instant gratification, twenty four hour rolling news and 50 Shades of Grey.  No-one is interested in depth or quality or even point any more,.  So we decided, 'What Hell?  We've found something that potentially doesn't exist - or at least, we're saying we have, it isn't like any of you klutzes could tell if we were just making it all up, hahaha, so why not go after something that definitely doesn't exist."

Dr Quipp explained how his team spent hours sitting about, drinking coffee while pretending to carry out highly technical experiments in particle physics.

"When we got bored, we'd go paint-balling in the tunnels we we claiming to be zapping atoms down," the demented Doctor gloated.  "I mean, how thick are you guys?  You gave us millinos upon millions of dollars, Euros and doubloons to make a giant network of tunnels under the mountains.  Do you have any idea how big particles are?  Their tiny, man!  See this" - at this point, Dr Quipp brandished the tip of his little finger at our correspondent - "This is like a particle.  that's how small they are.  Why the Hell do you think we'd need these thousands upon millions of miles of tunnels to race something that small?  Huh?  Idiots.  You could have done it on a slot car track.  Though we had loads of those, too, and circuits that ran right through the Alps."

Quizzed as to why his team had decided to abandon their idyllic troglodyte existence and return to the surface, Quipp explained that cabin fever, fear of cannibalism and a lack of suitable breeding partners forced them to reconsider their options.

"It was the classic combination that made us recant our vows to dwell evermore by the shores of the Sunless Sea," he said, mournfully.  "We had reached the stage where some of our members had become certifiably insane, and we were considering drawing lots as to who would be eaten first.  Coffee supplies had been exhausted, and we were trying to extract the caffeine that had built up in our body tissues, when someone - I won't reveal who it was, but it was me - had the brilliant idea of returning to the surface and tricking you clowns all over again."

Asked as to what the teams new project might be, Quipp could barely contain his smugness.  "We've proved that the Bigg Bassoon, something that only sort of exists, exists, so we decided to take things to a whole new level.  We decided to prove that something that doesn't exist at all exists.  We had a short list - Andy Murray's Grand Slam triumphs, the point of the Monarchy, Lenny Henry's funniness - but in the end we settled on the only real challenge, the Holy grail, the Mecca, the Everest of Things That Don't Exist.  We've decided to try locate David Cameron's principles."

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Monbiot on Peak Oil

George 'Nuclear-Power-Isn't-All-Bad' Monbiot decides to further alienate his green tinged friends. Well, he certainly doesn't lack courage - there's nothing more vituperatively awful than an angered, outraged, betrayed environmentalist:
Some of us made vague predictions, others were more specific. In all cases we were wrong. In 1975 MK Hubbert, a geoscientist working for Shell who had correctly predicted the decline in US oil production, suggested that global supplies could peak in 1995. In 1997 the petroleum geologist Colin Campbell estimated that it would happen before 2010. In 2003 the geophysicist Kenneth Deffeyes said he was "99% confident" that peak oil would occur in 2004. In 2004, the Texas tycoon T Boone Pickens predicted that "never again will we pump more than 82m barrels" per day of liquid fuels. (Average daily supply in May 2012 was 91m.) In 2005 the investment banker Matthew Simmons maintained that "Saudi Arabia … cannot materially grow its oil production". (Since then its output has risen from 9m barrels a day to 10m, and it has another 1.5m in spare capacity.) 
Peak oil hasn't happened, and it's unlikely to happen for a very long time. 
A report by the oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University, provides compelling evidence that a new oil boom has begun. The constraints on oil supply over the past 10 years appear to have had more to do with money than geology. The low prices before 2003 had discouraged investors from developing difficult fields. The high prices of the past few years have changed that.
Now, I'm in general agreement with Monbiot on this - while peak oil will happen, the hysterical predictions of a couple of years ago were obviously nonsense, then and now. But I do wonder why Monbiot immediately trusts this latest 'compelling evidence' as I'm sure he would have found all the previous evidence in favour of peak oil equally compelling. But I think he's right. There's plenty of oil sloshing about underground, and that's actually very bad news as it means we'll carry on happily burning it for decades to come.

League tables

The Telegraph reports on the continuing problems confronting the English education system, where exam boards have been expose as corrupt, conspiring with schools to debase tests.  It's something for Johnny Key to think about, before he foists yet another ill thought through, imbecile notion upon us.
The current system has created “perverse incentives” in which multiple examiners strip content out of syllabuses, stage training seminars for teachers and sell textbooks packed with exam tips to help schools inflate their overall scores, it is claimed.
In a damning report, the Education Select Committee accused boards of setting tests that make “lesser demands of students” to boost their share of the market.

This has been driven by a league table system that has created “significant downward pressure” on schools to secure basic passes at the expense of promoting a rounded education, it warned.
Making schools compete like football teams was truly, spectacularly stupid.  Schools live or die by their reputation.  A low league table position destroys that reputation.  We have no way of knowing if that position reflects institutional incompetence; or if it represents an achievement as they are converting non-achievers into achievers; or if it suggests a school is maintaining standards and is being overtaken by other institutions offering low quality assessments.

I can think of nothing that the Tories did in the 80s or 90s that exceeds the stupidity of introducing league tables.  And John Key is content with them being brought in here.  Probably, he thinks this will be an easy win - the education sector will oppose it, and this will give National an opportunity to split the teacher-parent coalition that formed over class sizes.  The education sector will be portrayed as secretive and furtive, trying to conceal important information from parents; parents will be told, again and again, that this will help them make an informed choice in the best interest of their child.  That nagging insecurity that afflicts middle New Zealand will be aggravated into a full panic and National will be able to erase the memory of its recent humiliation over class sizes.

But the long term consequences - which John Key seems to think are negligible - are apparent from the convulsions racking the English system.  Perhaps that is the goal though.  Perhaps National strategists are thinking a decade ahead, and envisioning a time when NCEA will appear to have been discredited as schools are driven to compete for places on league tables.  Perhaps John Key isn't the naive, unthinking fool he presents himself as, and the ploy is really a cynical attempt to discredit NCEA and justify its abolition.

Prediction

There's nothing stupider on the internet than putting down your thoughts in an indisputable form.  So that, of course is what I am going...