Turning back the clock

Yesterday, TLW & I joined a couple of dozen thousand people and had a little walk to a park, in aid of a very good cause. That cause being trying to stop the closure of a local, and pretty decent, hospital to prop up the finances of another almost local, and thoroughly shite, hospital.

My reasons for supporting this are simple:

  1. I would trust the local hospital with my life and the lives of those near and dear to me, based upon what I’ve seen of them and what I’ve hear about them. I would trust the other hospital with neither, and would happily sit bleeding on a train for half an hour to get to another hospital just to avoid a ten minute trip to the A&E there.
  2. The reason that this closure is being considered is that the almost-local hospital needs more business thrown at it to fund the PFI contract that built it – but that’s already been tried, three years ago, and it evidently didn’t work.

However, a great many other people who were there annoyed me to the point that I almost changed my mind. Amongst them the local Unison convener (apparently you can never trust a tory with the NHS, never mind that it was Labour who (a) bankrupted the country, (b) thought up this particular gem of a PFI contract and (c) already tried rearranging the local hospitals to fund said PFI, failing absolutely); the head of the FBU (who really wants us to go back to the heady days of the 1980s and solidarity thatcher bastards bullshit) and the local Labour MP (failed to mention anything about why this particular bunch of bankruptcy happened).

But my particular favorite wasn’t one of the main speakers, like those mentioned above. No, it was a charming gentleman who had set up a PA on his bike, and was saying that there was a better way that we all could live without these tory cunts, and that it was being shown to work in Venezuela! Yay, we can Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! just like they do with the dear Mr Chavez. I had a read through their newspaper, and was shocked to find that apparently the murder of a prison officer in Norn Iron recently was to be applauded as he was clearly a nasty imperialist; how the situation in Syria is clearly another British imperialist plot; how the progressive immigration policy of Cuba was going to destroy the United States. Oh, and how it is a shame that housing projects begun under the previous and benevolent Gaddafi-led government in Libya are not yet finished…

I’ll be honest, it’s even worse tripe than was to be found in the Socialist Worker Student Society back in the day, and that’s saying something.

It’s a shame – this hospital campaign is a sensible one. And of the 15 – 25,000 people who were there on Saturday, there’s probably only a few dozen who think like this. But by fuck, they were among the loudest there, and people were listening.

(Anyway – ignore the twats: Save Lewisham A&E.)

And now, the end has come

Last month, I wrote a bit about a campaign to make the landlord of a local pub keep it open.

Said campaign succeeded in some of its aims, and the council put a stop to any plans to put a shop in the premises. But the campaign really failed, because the current management of the pub were then unceremoniously told to shut the doors by the landlord anyway.

Here’s another one of those moments where I put myself at odds to the conventional wisdom of the area: in this, I’m with the landlord.

The landlord owns the building, and one of his tenants has organised the council to tell him what he can do with said building. It’s not really an interesting building, so there’s no justification for listing it. Other than the people who don’t own it don’t like with the owner wants to do with it. So these tenants have used the bullying of the state to reduce the value of the property for their own selfish aims.

The landlord is now left with a building that can’t be anything but a pub. But the tenants in it are clearly a bunch of twats. So what I’d do in his position is get rid of the tenants and bring in new ones to run a pub.

It’s a shame; Antic (the company that managed the pub, and were credited with turning it around) seemed like a decent bunch of people, and they’d done good work with several pubs nearby. I’m really not inclined to go and spend money in any of their other pubs now.

You wanna think it through a bit more, Dr Hume?

How’s this for a fantastic brainfart: ignore geography in independence referenda.

Well, that’s not what he thinks he’s saying, but it’s what it amounts to.

People with an Ulster Scots background should be allowed to vote in Scotland’s independence referendum, a senior Orange Order member has said.

Dr David Hume said Ulster Scots had played a key role in Scottish history.

“We are stakeholders as well. Surely a decision such as this should not ignore our input?” he said.

So, anyone who decides they should be a stakeholder should be given a vote in the future Scottish independence referendum. What of other referenda in the future? What, say, the of the eleventy billion US citizens who claim Irish descent and would likely vote to get rid of the border? Or even the dozens of millions of English citizens who would rapidly vote to be rid of both bothersome celtic lands?

Or is it just people from outside the countries in question who’d vote in favour of keeping the Union that should be given these special votes?

He’s a stupid, stupid man…

That Jimmy Carr fella, ain’t he a prize chump? When faced with the public finding out that he was doing something perfectly legal to keep his hands on his money, he did something silly.

He pretended that he’d done something wrong.

What he should have said is this: what kind of an idiot pays more tax than they need to? Seriously, why would you? Why would you not minimise the amount of your money that is taken by force by the state?

We all do it to some extent; we put money in pensions rather than in bank accounts because it’s tax deductible. We buy stuff at duty free when we can. We take advantage of VAT changes where possible. ISAs exist because the state realises that many people won’t save unless the state lets them off paying tax to do so. We put in claims for tax deductions on uniforms and the like.

We all do what little we can to stop our money being taken from us. Are we so hypocritical that it’s suddenly different when someone only pays tax on £100,000; i.e., he only contributes dozens of thousands of pounds?

The answer is, of course, that we are hypocritical. We are holding double standards; these people aren’t doing anything more than we would do if we could, it’s just that they have the money to do it better.

Obviously, hypocrisy is another reason that Carr is in trouble, what with him professing to be a standard big-state lefty. But I’ve known that about him for a while…

Random overhearings

A good many years ago, through a fairly random set of circumstances, I was in the strange position of being able to overhear the Pope conversing with a group of Cardinals. Not in a private way or anything, but in a forum where they got to share their thoughts and he got to nod knowingly. Most of the speakers were in foreign, of course, and my understanding was poor. However one spoke in English; and in my opinion he spoke out of his ass. The world must be set to rights, the rich are blighters, the sentiment was straight out of the rampant SWP playbook. It was not, to my mind, the area of focus that a leading churchman should have been concerned about at that time, nor did it strike me as being particularly wise.

In entirely unrelated news, some NIrish dude who lives in Scotland has come out with similar nonsense.

In a BBC Scotland interview, he [Cardinal Keith O’Brien] said: “My message to David Cameron, as the head of our government, is to seriously think again about this Robin Hood tax, the tax to help the poor by taking a little bit from the rich.

“The poor have suffered tremendously from the financial disasters of recent years and nothing, really, has been done by the very rich people to help them.

He is, of course, absolutely right. Honest. He’s not talking out of his ass; he’s not talking about class warfare and outright theft; he’s not ignoring the simple facts about the sheer amount of money that the rich pay in tax; he’s not parroting the standard line about the rich not pulling their weight while ignoring the Robin Hood taxes which already exist (high stamp duty – paid exclusively by the rich; death duties which only the rich pay; the 45% tax rate which is added to by NI to take real tax rates over 56%).

Oh wait, he is doing all those things. Which, I suppose, means he must be wrong…

A good event, all round

If you’ve not been reading the papers, or watching the news, or listening to any radio that features news, you may have missed the small kerfuffle about unrest in Bahrain. About the state there brutally suppressing said unrest. And about a number of very highly paid people driving very expensive cars around a track there.

First off, the race was very entertaining. Well, the bits of it that I saw on BBC were; under the new broadcast setup I didn’t get to watch it live but did catch the 2/3s of it that Auntie got. There was lots of decent racing, a few very good overtaking moves and a hard fought win by a boring driver from a very exciting (and slightly insane) driver. All good, and a race worth having.

But that’s been an aside to the main story, which has been HOW DARE THEY RUN A RACE THERE DON’T THEY KNOW PEOPLE ARE DYING OH MY GOD THE HORROR.

And it is horrible; yes, there are many nasty things going on in that small country. Yes, the F1 race is a large advert not for the country but for the ruling elite. Yes, the people behind F1 are quite easily painted as mercenary friends of the oppressive rulers of such countries. But, the same things were true last year when the race was cancelled, and the nasty things have continued since, despite the race being cancelled. It’s just that we didn’t hear about it because the news moved on after the decision was taken not to race.

This time round, there has been a fortnight where Bahrain hasn’t been out of the news, and not for reasons that any ruling clique would like. There have been images of the unrest; the news of the man dying over the weekend has been broadcast worldwide; there have been debates carried out publicly about security; the leaders of the parts of the free world that watch Formula 1 have been speaking about events.

In short, the decision to run the race has brought the attention of the world to what’s going on. Maybe that’ll help more than last years strategy (the same people taking their ball and going home, allowing all of us to forget about it).

A quiet revolution

While the papers are distracted by Scots nationalists and politicians going up against their wives in court, something very interesting has occurred back in Norn Iron.

Sinn Fein members on Belfast City Council are set to support plans to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in the city.

This has amazed me; I generally have a pretty low opinion of politicians, especially Norn Iron ones, but it is a sign of (a) growing maturity and (b) stunning real-politic that the most staunchly republican party to get an MP elected is happily funding a celebration of the monarch’s long reign.

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? I honestly don’t know any more…


There once was a time when BBC Northern Ireland had a serious job to do; they did some really dangerous investigations and uncovered some really important stories. But now that peace is pretty well established and the culture of secrecy surrounding many nasty things has been defeated, what is a small public service broadcaster to do?

Stunningly, their latest revelation is this: buying in bulk saves you money.

Except, being the BBC, they got it arse about tit: Cold reality for poorest households.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been told that a growing number of households have no choice but to purchase 20 litre drums of oil that are significantly more expensive per litre than buying in bulk.

BBC’s consumer correspondent Martin Cassidy has been calculating what that means at today’s home heating oil prices.

The comparison shows a yawning gap in annual heating costs.

Not surprisingly the household relying on buying its heating oil in 20 litre drums is paying a lot more for fuel.

No, really? Buying fuel in amounts that is massively less efficient in packaging, transportation and general all round effort per liter is more expensive than buying a large proportion of a truckload? And this is a bad thing?

Dear BBC: find something real to get angry about. Please.

International diplomacy

Two stunning examples of international figures being statesmanlike:

  1. Cameron saying “It’s my ball and I’m taking it and going home”; not immediately successful, but I think that it’s important that someone finally says no to the EU. If he sticks with it, it’ll be a bit impressive – after all, the EU doesn’t like to hear the word “no”, and tends to just keep asking the same question until it gets the answer it wants. We shall see.
  2. Obama saying “It’s my ball and I’d quite like it back, please”. I don’t imagine that Iran will respond favourably, given that they didn’t a few years ago when it was actual Royal Navy people they had (or even longer ago, when it was an entire embassy). Now that it’s a bunch of wires and stealth materials, I’d wager that they’ll tell the US to bugger off…

Is either actually being a statesman? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell in the first case, but I think that we know the answer in the second case.

Missing the point, somwhat…

I’m being entertained somewhat by the fun and games going on at Saint Paul’s in the last few weeks. It’s a pointless protest, sitting on land near the stock exchange and protesting against capitalism. Capitalism, of course, is not what cause the recent crises, nor is it what the people protesting think it is. Capitalism is probably the only thing that will get us out of the shite we’re in, but don’t let’s let that get in the way of a nice camping expedition.

Happily, it’s not just the protesters who miss the point of things. For example, the BBC has this to say: In an address Dr Chartres told protesters, who fear forcible removal, he shared many of their concerns on corporate greed.

Dear Dr Chartres: the protesters do not ‘fear’ forcible removal. They practically pray for it; their protest is totally pointless without being forcibly evicted. If they give up in a while and drift away1 then they’ll be forgotten in a fortnight; if they are dragged away kicking and screaming by the grownups then they can pretend that their message is so important that The Man must beat them to stop them. As opposed to the truth: they’re messy and noisy and don’t have much to say, and they’re getting in the way of the city.

1 – in a permanent way, not just going home for the evening.

Dear parts of Norn Iron

Grow the fuck up, please.

Two senior Ulster Unionists, including the leader Tom Elliot, are to face disciplinary proceedings within the Orange Order for attending the funeral of murdered police constable Ronan Kerr.

[T]he lodge, St Simon’s Church Total Abstinence LOL 821 from Sandy Row, has made formal complaints to the county lodges of Mr Elliott and Mr Kennedy in Fermanagh and Armagh.

It is understood the lodge alleges the two men “should have known better.”

Jaysus Christo on a bike. I’m all for a bit of tradition, and I’m all for people standing up for what they believe in. But some twazzock starting disciplinary proceedings because someone else in their club went to a funeral? Grow up, please. It’s just silly.

It’s stupid, I know

Out of all the big events that have happened recently – the Queen and Obama visiting Dublin, people getting all het up about super-injunctions, another unpronounceable Icelandic volcano trying to stop the modern world – nothing has made me laugh quite like the following:

Yes, it’s stupid. I don’t care. Joining the song from Team America to an act of stupidity that probably caused fifteen Secret Service folks to shit bricks is sheer genius. More of that, please.

Where’s the problem?

Another day, another little inter-coalition spat.

Yesterday’s was about universities. Again.

Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected suggestions the government is considering allowing wealthy students to pay for extra university places.

“There is no question of people being able to buy their way into university,” Mr Cameron told the BBC.

Universities Minister David Willetts said extra places could be funded by businesses or charities and not wealthy individuals.

Universities have always made money from getting wealthy students to pay their way through – in recent years it’s been foreign students that have been milked to subsidise the home students. Why not expand that, providing that the student paying can keep up with the course and that the number of state funded places aren’t lowered to make room. I see it as all-round winning, especially if you set the fees just high enough that it could help towards a bursary.

But because it involves people paying for something that others get for free, thereby giving the appearance of getting an advantage (as opposed to being shafted). And that won’t wash with some people at all…

Why complain?

I’m clearly a fan of flying things, especially things that fly very fast and cause lots of noise. So I’d absolutely love to have RAF bods do low flying training around my homestead. Unlike these folk, who are busy complaining about it.

RAF fighter jets are causing controversy in the Mourne area of South Down.

The planes, which are not based in Northern Ireland, have been carrying out low-flying training manoeuvres over the mountains in recent weeks.

“I don’t see why they have to do this near places such as Dundrum and Newcastle.

“Why can they not carry out their manoeuvres in a more remote area where they’re not going to annoy people and upset their lives?”

Dundrum: population 1,065. Newcastle: population 7,444. It’s hardly like they’re doing it over Metropolis, is it?

Plus, as training areas go, that area is pretty special. You have mountainous areas, plains, and shore. And if anything goes wrong, you point your plane eastwards, eject and let the wreckage fall into the Irish Sea. Brillant.

And all the locals get to watch aerobatics. In fast fighter jets. Everybody wins.

Now, if they could only arrange to get some of them to practice over South East London, that’d be even better. It’d make a change from the usual Apaches…

Awesomeness, done the easy way

I’m assuming that there’re more people than me who are very excited by the developments in private spaceflight. First off, there’s the steady progress of Virgin Galactic, and now private companies are getting ready to become the big fish in rocket terms as well.

The Californian SpaceX company says it plans to launch the most powerful rocket since the Apollo era in 2013.

The Falcon 9-Heavy is a beefed up version of the vehicle the firm will soon use to send a robotic cargo ship to the space station.

The new rocket should be capable of putting more than 53 tonnes (117,000lb) of payload in a low-Earth orbit – more than twice that of the space shuttle.

Obviously, you’d expect some delays, price and performance fluctuations and the like. But SpaceX doesn’t seem to have anything like as many of these little derailments as, say, NASA does. What with them having to work for their money and provide deliverables or face angry shareholders. So it’ll be interesting to see how they get on.

Then, once they’ve opened up space to civilians, they can get work on my damn flying car. And/or Jetpack. I want my Jetsons future, dammit, and I was promised it’d have happened by now…

They know a lot, but not what to do with it

The crux of this BBC article on understanding the census is to be found at the tail end of the piece:

Sure, the Census is an evil conspiracy to pry, so that they, whoever they are, can know all about us. Until you see raw data. A good antidote to the evil-empire view is to come face to face with real-life counting. You soon realise that governments know half as much as they like to pretend, largely because gathering information is a bigger, messier, pig-sty of labour and guesswork, than often assumed.

Which is why they do it. Because they know a lot less than you probably think and always will. Every source of data is riddled with problems.

On the face of it, governments know a huge amount of things about the population. They’ll know how many claimants claim disability benefits and how many claim jobseekers allowance. They know how many people pay tax. They know how many people got a passport in the last year and how many people registered births, marriages and deaths.

However, they’ll never be able to know how many people fall into each category; maybe three claimants for jobseekers are the same person, and he also pays tax. Maybe someone has two spellings of their name and managed to get married twice. And I love that some people do this; I love that the system is never perfect; it isn’t here, it wasn’t in the USSR and I’m sure that there are even people off the grid in China.

Governments come and go, but the common thread is that people outwit them no matter what is tried. Which is nice.

There’s a surprise

I don’t like politicians, I don’t like taxation, I don’t like spending more money than I need to.

Hence, I don’t like Budgets. Because they almost always leave most people worse off than they were before it. And worse than that, they pretend otherwise.

Such was the case yesterday, wherein TLW & I discovered that we’re going to be worse off by a couple of hundred quid. Which is vexing.

That said, there are two things that give me a little cheer from yesterday’s budget: scrapping the fuel escalator (which has always struck me as unbelievably blatant theft) and starting the ball rolling on joining NI and income tax – it’s long past time when NI was anything other than another income tax going straight to the pool of general taxation. Not giving thieving bastard lying politicians1 the opportunity to raise the NI rate while claiming not to be increasing tax is clearly an improvement.

1 – Some redundancy in the previous four words, obviously. And if you can think of a better example of a thieving bastard lying politician in this regard than Gordon Brown, you’re a smarter person than I.

Lessons learned?

In 2002, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1441, which was later a cause of much discussion, debate, and all that as some felt it gave legal justification for the Iraq War and some disagreed.

It would appear that since then the UN has learned to be a bit more specific in its pronouncements.

Draft resolution

* Imposes “ban on all flights in Libyan airspace” except for aid planes
* Authorises member states to “take all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”
* Excludes occupation force
* Toughens arms embargo by calling on all member states to “inspect in their territory vessels and aircraft bound to or from Libya”
* Widens asset freeze to include Libyan Investment Authority, Central Bank of Libya and Libyan National Oil Company among others

Of course, there’s still scope for considerable action in there – it starts with no-fly zones but there doesn’t seem to be any specific prohibition against ground forces going in for strike missions as long as they don’t occupy after. I expect that certain gentlemen in the Hereford vicinity are getting ready for a little trip… Here’s hoping that it isn’t quite the fuckup that the last one was.

Recycling DEATH RISK

Recycling: it’s apparently a public good, it’s an international target and a lot of our money is spent on it.

Oh, and some people think that it can kill you to death.

Leading food manufacturers are changing their packaging because of health concerns about boxes made from recycled cardboard, the BBC has learned.

Researchers found toxic chemicals from recycled newspapers have contaminated food sold in many cardboard cartons.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really give a shit about such things. Most packaging will contain something that’s not good for you, which is why we’ve evolved to eat the damn food and not the box it came it. But I think that it’s useful to know that this headlong rush into the unquestioned moral good that is recycling may be a tad premature…

Potentially awesome technology

Tractor beams, from Star Trek to Star Wars to Babylon 5, have always been quite direct things. A beam fires out from one spaceship directly towards another, and ship two moves towards ship one. Simples.

Turns out, it’s not like that. Apparently it needs to hit at a very specific angle to work. Yes, someone has come up with something that may work as a tractor beam. Most awesome.

A laser can act as a “tractor beam”, drawing small objects back toward the laser’s source, scientists have said.

The trick is not to use a standard laser beam, but rather one known as a Bessel beam, that has a precise pattern of peaks and troughs in its intensity.

If such a Bessel beam were to encounter an object not head-on but at a glancing angle, the backward force can be stimulated.

As the atoms or molecules of the target absorb and re-radiate the incoming light, the fraction re-radiated forward along the beam direction can interfere and give the object a “push” back toward the source.

Sure, it’s not going to shift a multimegaton space freighter anywhere anytime soon, but it’s a promising start. I look forward to the day when you can see AA trucks moving about the place because of their strangely pointing laser beams…