Conflicting thoughts

Back when I were a lad, in the dark days of the pre-millennium, I was a new driver. Being a young lad, in Norn Iron, and only having had a licence for fifteen minutes, insurance was an absolute bitch. And to complement that, I bitched about the unfairness of it all, and the blatant discrimination against men that was the difference in insurance premiums between male and female.

Yes, I was a simple soul back then. What of it?

After not too many years, though, I saw the wisdom of it. Myself and many of my male friends and acquaintances did serious damage to cars, while few females did. Our accidents were more frequent and more serious, so it became clear to me why insurance premiums might be so different. It’s all about playing the odds. There is less of a risk insuring women, and therefore it’s obvious that women should pay less.

It’s with this thought that I am pretty solidly against yesterday’s European Court ruling.

Insurers cannot charge different premiums to men and women because of their gender, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

The decision means that women can no longer be charged lower car insurance premiums than men, and the cost of buying a pensions annuity will change.

This is, on the face of it, lunacy. If the costs of insuring men are so much higher to the company, should they not be to the customer as well? Why should women subsidise men on this? Sheer, bureaucratic, EU nonsense.

There is more to it, of course. I’m sure that there are certain ethnic groups that are more risky to insure than others; should ethnicity be taken into account? Disabled passengers cost more on flights and ferries, should this cost be borne by the customer alone or factored into everyone’s ticket prices?

Clearly, it’s never going to be as simple as “there shall be no discrimination” or “all discrimination is to be allowed”. In insurance there’s clearly a need to discriminate in some ways, otherwise there’d only ever be a flat fee for someone to be insured and it wouldn’t do anything to reward good drivers while penalising poor drivers. But what is an acceptable discrimination; I say gender, occupation, relationship status and all that are fine, whereas ethnicity probably isn’t.

What say you? Where would others draw the line?

Obviously, it goes without saying that this is also a mass over-reaching of the state into private business and the like, but that ship has sailed…

The stuff of nightmares

I’m not a big believer in cosmetic surgery. Hell, I’m not a fan of massive make up either, and the jury is still out on dental braces. I’m quite happy looking the way I look and I’m fairly convinced that the world would be a better, simpler place if everyone else agreed with me.

But I recognise that many people don’t agree with me. And so many people forgo occasional, tasteful make-up and spend all day, every day wearing a mask. Many people spend thousands and thousands of pounds fixing imagined deficiencies in their bodies. And that’s always going to happen. What I don’t understand, though, is why some people decide to go with a procedure, and then instead of researching it and getting it done somewhere sensible, instead go and book into a hotel and get a random stranger to carry it out illegally. With occasional fatal consequences.

US police are investigating the death of a UK woman after an alleged hotel room “buttocks-enhancement” procedure.

Investigators say a 20-year-old woman who had travelled from London died in hospital in Pennsylvania on Tuesday after an injection of silicone.

Given that a flight to the States isn’t running that cheaply, why would you then skimp on a procedure? And what now happens to the people carrying out such procedures and who think that a frickin’ hotel room is the best place for it? (Hint: beatings with sticks and then some jail time would be my preferred solution.)

Life saving annoyingness

There is a tradition that every year, at New Years Eve, the phone networks get jammed because every sod in the world is texting everyone they know to wish them a Happy New Year. I know, I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Recently, people have starting pre-empting the interruption by sending out they HNY messages early. But would you ever have thought that this little annoyance could save lives?

A suicide bomber’s plan to detonate explosives in Central Moscow on New Year’s Eve was foiled when she received an unexpected text message that caused her deadly payload to blow up too early, according to news reports.

The message wishing her a happy new year came hours before the unnamed woman was to set off her suicide belt near Red Square, an act of terrorism that could have killed hundreds of people, The Leader-Post reported. She ended up dying at a safe house instead.

See? Those people sending out the messages are just worried that you’re a suicide bomber and are trying to get you out of the loop early. Very public-minded of them, don’t you think?

Obvious caveats apply; the main one being my disinclination to believe anything that the Russian state comes out with when it comes to terrorism. They’re even more prolific at misdirection than the US & UK governments…

Who could have predicted that?

There is a visceral hatred of the Conservative Party in this country, even among my generation and younger. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because people are rationally looking at their record and honestly disliking them. Maybe it’s because they’re not really conservative in many respects. Maybe the hatred is justified.

Just kidding; in most cases it seems to be because people of my age and younger have learned hatred from an earlier generation and are blindly following it. Thatcher was a milk snatcher, don’t you know, and other Tories burnt babies while laughing about it and getting rich off selling the smoke.

So why were people surprised when some of the students at yesterdays march decided that the best thing was for violence and destruction aimed at CCHQ? I mean, there are literally thousands of people who grew up knowing that gravity keeps them on the ground, corporations are evil (US ones doubly so) and that the Conservative Party will grind up the poor to feed the furnace of their industry.

So of course you were going to get mindless violence given the least possible excuse. It doesn’t matter what the coalition does, as long as it has Tory ministers there will be a layer of society that will react violently.

Footnote: I’m not a Tory. For one thing, they’re not right wing enough on economic issues to please me, and on another they’re too happy trying to be authoritarian. And I’m not sure about the raising of tuition fees to the level proposed; I haven’t really heard better options but I’d dearly love to.

Excellent news

Truths I hold to be self-evident: the US federal government will continue to grow at a scary and stupid rate. And the best way to slow this growth is to have legislative and executive branches that spend their time fighting each other rather than agreeing all the time.

So the news that the US Congress is now largely opposed to the President’s aims is excellent news for those of us who believe that smaller government is better than bigger government.

It could be (and probably shall be) that the new intake of congresscritters that has been sent by Tea Party folk will turn out to be as pork hungry as the last lot (and the lot before that, and before that…) but I hope that they’ll manage a few months of good work before screwing everything else up…

Should be interesting at any rate.

Signs of the end times

Number 172: Sammy Wilson presents himself as the voice of reason and sanity. And even worse, he carries it off.

Politicians who want the Spending Review changed to suit Northern Ireland are “living in cloud-cuckoo land”, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has said.

He was speaking at a special debate at Stormont to discuss how the review will affect Northern Ireland.

While all parties expressed concern about the Spending Review, there was a marked difference in attitudes towards dealing with forthcoming cuts.

Nationalist parties emphasised the need for resisting the cuts while unionists maintained the situation had to be dealt with.

In a previous employment (surprisingly enough, in the public sector) a couple of us were having a discussion about the job market, and I may have mentioned that the public sector was unsustainably large in Norn Iron. This pretty much caused someone to not talk(1) to me for weeks. Apparently large parts of the country can’t take the simple fact that the public sector cannot, in the long term, be bigger than the private sector.

It’s good to see that quite a few of the political parties there still haven’t cottoned on to that fact, and believe in a divine right of free money being sent by London every year. Even when said money runs out, they bitch and moan, and then probably hold their breath until they’re sick.

Whereas Sammy Wilson, a true nutbar with all the likeability of a kick to the side of the head, is the one talking sense and telling people to get on with it. How did the world come to this?

(1) – Yes, he stopped talking to me. Like we were small children and I’d stolen a crucially important piece of their Lego.

Oh, aren’t you clever

Ah, Norn Iron politicians. Aren’t they just adorable crazy stupid?

Example: Sinn Fein has put forward its proposal to close the £1.9 billion gap in local finances, and I must say that the ideas are pretty daft. Well, most of them are.

  • Pay cut for politicians of 15% – actually that makes a bit of sense. Well done.
  • The 4 Northern Ireland banks to loan £400m to something that the politicians like – this would be fine except for the way that one of the banks is owned by RBS and therefore by the state, another is currently for sale because its parent bank needs to raise ten billion euro in the next two months, and the other two are hardly champions of free money…
  • The Housing Executive to be allowed to borrow £150m – brilliant, when the whole point of the cuts on a national level is to stop growing the public sector debt, just open new lines of credit…
  • And my favourite, a £2,000 per month tax on mobile phone masts. I don’t have figures for NI, but UK wide there are apparently 52,000 base stations, so the national bill would be £1.25 billion. Considering that no business is going to bite a bill like that without passing it on to the public, and considering that there are about 70 million mobile devices, that comes to about £18 per device. I’m sure we’d all like to thank SF for thinking outside the box on this one and bringing in a new drain on our finances that they’d then blame on private companies for not just paying the tax bill themselves…

So, all in all, I’m not really a fan of their proposals. Could you tell?

Sleep doesn’t always come easily

For some reason, TLW & I sat up for quite a bit last evening watching the operations in Chile with interest.

It’s one of those things – there’s actually only about 5 minutes worth watching in every hour of coverage, and the poor BBC bod was repeating everything he could on an eight minute cycle, but it was very difficult to stop watching. So we dozed on and off, checking how things were progressing and then napping for a bit longer. Someone on Facebook then gave us the perfect analogy for things: Sky News’ counter (0 out of 33 saved) was in fact identical to the counter of Lemmings. And by the time the first guy emerged we were almost casting round the screen for the >> button…

Not as much as the poor miners and their families would have been. obviously. But still.

Overly controlling the message

I am, as regular readers may have noticed, a bit of a fan of the West Wing. The dialogue, the characters and a lot of the plot lines make for most excellent televisual viewing.

However, that doesn’t mean that I agree with the depiction of the White House. I’m sure that it wasn’t a million miles away from the real life workings of the actual West Wing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right.

Looking at it, the two big issues I have are:

  • Over centralisation – every little message is coordinated from the centre, with every department of government being micromanaged and their PR being dealt with entirely by spin.
  • Lack of any real idea of the limitation of power, or the separation of powers. The White House bullies pretty much everyone, trying with Congress, the Courts, the States and even individual counties within those States.

It would appear that, in some ways at least, the Obama White House has some of the same flaws as the Bush one and the Clinton one had before.

Well, there’s a hopeful change, isn’t it…

This counts as an UBER WANT

Here are a few things that appear on the list of things I really quite like:

  • Gadgets
  • Flying
  • Flying gadgets

Obviously, there are a great many more things that I like, but for the purposes of this article those are the important ones. Whyso? Because yesterday I learned of a most awesome gadget that’s in development that may tick all those boxes.

Yes, it’s a flying car. But one that, if it works, would be actually practical – vertical take off and landing, on road/off road ability, and a four man payload. I don’t know it the large weapons in the door would come as standard or not but it’s gotta be worth asking…

So – ME WANTS. Now please.

That hand-cart trip to hell just got more expensive

I am on record as being a fan of Ryanair. They may treat people like cattle, and their chief person may be a gigantic horses ass, but they are openly bastardish and they have done more than any other airline to bring prices down on the routes that I fly most.

Which is why I think that the people who are celebrating this decision are a) in the wrong and b) quite possibly buffoons.

Belfast City Airport has been there, doing its thing, for far longer people have been complaining about it. Back before relatively sensible passenger jets were using it in accordance with noise abatement procedures, freaking Canberras were doing it, and newly built planes of all shapes and sizes. And in recent years, Ryanair have been using it to bring much cheaper air travel to the city, in a more convenient place than Aldergrove.

Ryanair’s decision to fly into BHD saved me literally hundreds of pounds; they were consistently about a third cheaper than easyJet and the City was close enough that people were happier giving me regular lifts than they would have been if I’d been asking them to go twenty miles into the Antrim countryside. Also: Ryanair fly Boeings, which are just nicer aircraft than the Airbuses of easyJet.

I’ll admit that the noise was sometimes annoying, but Ryanair were far from the worst cuplrit (say hello to BMI’s A320s for that honour). My house in Belfast was on the flightpath, and on the outward leg I could often check that my car was appropriately parked outside the house. But be honest: no big city in the UK is without aircraft noise. It’s part of the cost of the world we live in, and it’s cheap at the price.

But the NIMBY brigade have won this round, and now we’re going to be left with easyJet (whose fares I expect to rise, because of the lack of competition), flyBe (who are by no definition a lowfares airline), BMI (who are at least honest about being expensive) and Aer Lingus (who fly to places I don’t want to go).

Brilliant. Giant steps backwards for the integration of NI into the wider world. Chalk up a big loss for us all…

When the s41t hits the train

While I sit writing this, this story seems funny; if in the meantime someone has died then the funny disappears. At the minute, though, the headlines write themselves.

Eighteen people have been hurt, four seriously injured, as a train derailed in a crash with a lorry on a level crossing in Suffolk.

The two-carriage diesel passenger train was in collision with the sewage tanker in Little Cornard, Sudbury, at about 1735 BST.

Yes, the train hit a truck full of shit.

Amuse yourselves with that.

Ways to resign: we have a winner

Yes, I’m a few hours behind the rest of the world on this, but this guy has just showed the entire world how best to inform your employer that you aren’t exactly happy on any given day.

He immediately got on the plane’s PA system, declared “To the passenger who called me a motherfucker, fuck you”, and swiftly “activated the plane’s inflatable emergency slide, grabbed two beers from the galley, then slid down the chute”.

Slater made good his escape from the airport, but was later cuffed at his Queens residence and charged with “reckless endangerment and criminal mischief”.

Things that are excellent about this:

  • The guy actually got to inform the person to blame in real time of their displeasure. A treat that most of us would be very unlikely to get a chance to do.
  • Like anyone who’s on a plane regularly, he’s probably wondered if those slides and emergency exits actually worked. So he got to test that.
  • Lifting a couple of beers – sheer genius.
  • He then showed the world (again) that security at airports is almost entirely theatre. Another bonus.

Well done, fella. Have fun in court, though…

Hell of a way to do it

How large scale exercises work in the UK: people are told in advance, policies are tested, and then everyone plays their part.

In Zimbabwe, however, they don’t seem to like doing things that way. In fact, they go entirely the other way.

There have been chaotic scenes at Zimbabwe’s Harare International Airport after a safety drill was mistaken for a real plane accident.

The BBC’s Brian Hungwe, at the airport, says he saw a large plume of smoke and helicopters over the runway.

Earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority head had confirmed to reporters that a plane had been involved in an accident.

But an aviation spokeswoman later told the BBC it was a drill, and that distressed “relatives” were “actors”.

David Chawota, Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority head, then began fielding phone calls about the incident.

He told Reuters: “I can confirm there has been an accident, but I cannot give details right now. I am not at the site, but there are just injuries, no deaths.”

But at a press conference at the airport later, he said this was part of the plan.

“Telling the media was part of the exercise. We wanted to see how the media would react,” AP news agency quoted him as saying.

I’ve seen one or two little emergencies at airports – single microlights overturning, that sort of thing. But it would be hugely interesting to see how something like this would actually happen here – would we be taken in, would we see through it, what would we do? Also: how badly would the government / airport authority be hauled over the coals for spending money like that on actors and scaring the shit out of people, and denying the papers the big story the very big story they wanted?

Or, of course, it could be that there was actually an accident and Zimbabwe just doesn’t want to admit it. Just a thought…

Too dumb to believe

I know that’s it’s not really fair to judge everyone by my standards; there are things about which I care for not a bit but which others are deeply worried by. And conversely there are things that the majority of people don’t give a shit about that I am really quite interested in.

An example of the latter is, obviously, helicopterage. I am really quite into knowing the ins and outs of helicopters, their capabilities and the rules surrounding them.

Which is why I read this story with a little bit of interest, a big bit of horror and a fair bit of admiration for the pilot.

A man has been sentenced to a year in prison for endangering the safety of an aircraft when he grabbed a helicopter as it took off in Bristol.

Bristol Crown Court was told Houshang Jafari, 58, became “extremely angry” after the helicopter landed near his flat, causing debris to hit his car.

The court heard how Jafari grabbed one of its skid bars as the pilot tried to take off with four passengers on board.

The pilot managed to take off safely despite Jafari’s actions last March.

I know that I know a little bit more about what would happen should this sort of thing go wrong, but seriously, is there anyone with half a brain that would think that any good could come of this? I can think of about three ways that any of this guy’s actions would have resulted in bits of metal being fired across the landscape at a high speed followed by a bit of a fireball. Plus, a quick glance at the picture suggests that the jackass attempted to drag the helicopter towards his prized Range Rover. Maybe a bit thick for a tycoon, d’ya think?

Proper order. And then order another.

This guy needs a pint. And then another pint.

A Kent MP has apologised for being drunk in the House of Commons and missing a vote on the Budget.

Mark Reckless said he did not feel it was appropriate to take part in the vote in the early hours of Wednesday because of the amount he had drunk.

Despite the sorts of ire that Guido can summon about the subsidised alcohol at the Houses of Parliament, I think that our MPs getting drunk during their shift can only be a good thing. It’s the really cold, sober MPs that you have to look out for; the well meaning fools who are convinced that they’re doing the absolute best for the children and who will work throughout the night entirely without chemical relaxation. They’ll screw us all with bad laws; the ones who are off getting drunk are far too busy to worry about paragraph 2, section 3, clause 17 and how it affects the three miners left in Aberystwyth.

So, young Mr Reckless is to be applauded, and I hope that he can convince other MPs to follow his sterling example.

I can’t think of a better place for it

Apparently, back home there’s a little bit of a kerfuffle about calls for a creationism display in the new causeway visitor centre.

A Christian group has said it wants the creationist theory reflected at the planned Giant’s Causeway Visitors Centre.

The Caleb Foundation said it wanted equal prominence for its religious viewpoint.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis said he was opposed to a creationist representation at the new facility.

“You are talking about a visitors’ centre which will attract people from all over the world,” he said.

“It will be dealing with the natural sciences in relation to the Giant’s Causeway.

“I do not think it would be appropriate in these circumstances to have a very narrow religious view expressed.”

I can see the point of Mr Maginnis; that sort of display may not be something that most people wouldn’t want to put front and centre in the most well known of our visitor attractions.

But please remember: the premise of the causeway being an attraction is the fairy tale that we tell to explain it. Only a couple of weeks ago, I was leading some English folk around the place telling the story of Fionn mac Cumhaill hiding in a crib to hide from a Scottish giant that he’d provoked by building a road across the North Channel, the ruse then resulting in the Scottish giant getting bloody scared off and running away tearing up the road behind him.

Where else do you think that we could better hide a story about creationism? Everybody expects fairy tales at the Causeway anyway, so a little religious nutjobbery wouldn’t be too out of place…

The problem with television

Ten years of watching the West Wing has given me a distorted view of how politics work. Any time I hear journalists talking about someone behind the scenes in a political scenario I can’t help but ask which character they best match up to.

Mandleson? Clearly fancies himself a bit of a Josh, but he’s not that clever. I tend to think of him more as a Mandy – PR person who really should have been written out after a season.

Brown? Governor Ritchie, no question. Clearly a .22 calibre mind in a .357 Magnum world.

Alistair Campbell? Dangerously close to a Toby, especially in how he’ll happily sprint down the wrong path utterly convinced that everybody else is wrong, and they’re right.

So, the poor and soon to be very sorry Sue mentioned in Brown’s little faux pas? Is she a Donna, a hapless aide fated to get blamed for everything even if only half of them are her fault? A Charlie, quietly getting on with things and not making mistakes? Or is she higher, a CJ who screwed up the message or a Toby who is just at the wrong place at the wrong time?

It’ll be interesting to see over the next few days as a little bit more comes out. Expect to see her with a Nokia shaped dent in her head soon, though…

A sacrifice is demanded. And I’m OK with that.

If that’s what it takes to stop the madness, then I think that it’s a fair price to pay.

Incidentally, what do people think of Willie Walsh these days? Saying to the government “well, I’ve got two dozen planes coming in from all points of the compass, they’ve got to land somewhere…” and getting them to roll back from the ban in an evening? That’ll be an interesting thing to put on the CV…

Hat tip to Charles, formerly of an interesting blog that he has since given up on…

How times change

Back in the Bad Old Days (TM) in Norn Iron, the general population found out about bombs in one of several ways.

  1. They got suspicious about a vehicle or object themselves, and started subtly moving away from it while hoping someone else would call the authorities.
  2. The management of Castle Court or where ever got a phone call and starting moving people out, sometimes using a particularly annoying bomb attack alarm.
  3. Large vehicles with loud sirens, men in very padded suits and with remote control toys turned up and moved people at speed away from their object of interest.
  4. Subtle phone calls were made from neighbour to neighbour, or some lucky child was send round the back doors of a street to pass on the word.
  5. A loud bang was heard.
  6. A large and distinctive column of smoke was seen.
  7. Several hours later, someone from BBC NI or UTV mentioned something in passing about a small but viable device.

And all of those different methods of getting the news about worked; people found out about most things in a timely fashion and from sources they could trust. Nowadays, though, it’s a bit different. Last night had a somewhat pathetic effort1 in Holywood, and people nearby will have found out by steps 1, 3 and 5. But others will have heard from Twitter (@JulianUTV Oh LOLz, did I hear bomb?) or Facebook (BobTheBuilder is wondering if that was a bomb he heard or if next door are just having another silly party!!!!!!).

It’s just not the same, is it? Lacking the sense of community or gravity. But if it works, who am I to question?

1 – seriously, if the fuel tank exploding is notable as a separate event from the actual bomb going off, then it can’t have been a very big bomb can it?