Pointlessly awesome

I have a lot of time for people who do things that aren’t safe but just get on with it.The fact that what they’re doing for fun has a risk attached isn’t going to stop them; in a way, I do something similar with helicoptering. But the attitude is pretty well displayed in this guy:

A climber who survived a 1,000ft (305m) fall from a mountain peak says he is planning to return to the hills soon.

Adam Potter, 36, from Glasgow, plummeted down the near-vertical eastern slope of Sgurr Choinnich Mor near Ben Nevis after losing his footing.

Asked if would go back to the mountains soon, he replied: “Yes, hopefully very soon. I was hoping to go again next weekend but I think that will be cancelled. But maybe in a few weeks – I’ll see how the injuries go.

“It was just a little slip which led to a lot more slips… but I could slip on the doorstep at home,” he added.

Well said; yes, he could fall and injure himself again, but he could do so at work too. And lets be honest, who would have the best story to tell in the broken-leg ward of the local hospital?

Trust you to make a decision? Not likely…

Fresh on from yesterdays education of the UK by the stupider side of the Irish state, today we have another example.

A Dublin restaurant has had to pull rare and medium-rare burgers from its menu after it was threatened with legal action.

Jo’burger in Rathmines has been warned by the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) to serve only well-done burgers or prove they can serve undercooked meat without the risk of contamination like E.coli.

That’s a shame, isn’t it? Not being allowed to provide what the customer wants without proving that it’s free of risk of contamination. Which, I’m guessing, requires the filling out of dozens of forms, one or two inspections of each step of the journey from being born to being grilled, and no discernible reduction in risk but makes the bureaucracy happy…

Or your could let people make up their own mind, and accept the risk of illness that goes with undercooking meat. It’s called ‘informed consent’, and it’s a wonderful way to live. And even better, doesn’t require the filling out of any forms at all!

The policies of coalitions

It’s very strange, this coalition government. Under the last lot, I’d often hear a headline and get mildly irked by it; but by the time I’d finished reading their actual proposal I’d be livid. With the current lot, I read the headline and get pissed off, but by the time I’ve finished reading the proposal I’m not as annoyed. Welfare reform? Something needs doing and most of what has been said seems to fall into the category of ‘least-worst’. Student financing? If the status quo isn’t sustainable, then the ConLib proposals are better than most I’ve heard. NHS reform? Who the feck knows; when the government actually firm up their proposals we’ll get to decide if they’re good or not.

The same almost happened today again, with this story.

Minimum alcohol price levels planned by coalition
Plans for a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales are to be announced by ministers.

Shops and bars will be prevented from selling drinks for less than the tax they pay on them.

The minimum pricing would work out at 38p for a can of weak lager and £10.71 for a litre bottle of vodka.

I am very strongly against the idea of minimum pricing for alcohol; I think that it’s ridiculous, puritanical and petty for the state to suggest that the vast majority should be chivvied into a form of behaviour because a very small section of society act contrary to society’s norms. But reading the detail, wherein the suggestion is only that drink can’t be sold for a price lower than the tax due on it, seems almost sensible. And if you can judge the quality of a man by the quality of his enemies, perhaps you can do the same for government policy. Look who’s against it and what they say:

  • The nannying arm of the BMA: “It’s not minimum pricing, it’s not really going to make that much difference,” said a spokeswoman. “What we’re calling for is tough action.”
  • Alcohol Concern1: “Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law2. The government needs to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol. That is the only evidence-based approach that will end cheap discounts once and for all.”
  • Drinkaware: “As supply and price are not the only factors driving alcohol misuse, it is imperative that we challenge people’s relationship with alcohol as well,”

If all those lot are against this, then I’d naturally align with those supporting the proposal.

As it is, I’d prefer to leave well alone. But if something has to be done – and clearly it does not – then the above is the least worst option I’ve seen.

1 – Alcohol Concern being a perfect fake charity.

2 – he is, of course, having a laugh. Duty is not low, and it hasn’t been low in my lifetime.

The things we do for family

I’m on record as being an avowed non-fan of the girly giggle. The same holds for the girly squeal and the girly “ohmigod” chorus.

Which is why I was less than enthralled to be attending Legally Blond: The Musical. I had no say in the matter; the choice was my sisters and since she was the one graduating we couldn’t really argue.

Dear Lord: it was crap. No only did it largely feature girly squeals and giggles, they had an actual ohmigod chorus. And a song called ohmigod. And more pink than I ever wanted to see.

No wonder most of the men in the place were busy pouring beer down their throats at almost scary rates. It’s the only way to keep sane when surrounded by people deliberately singing so much crap so shrilly…

Message still not getting through

One of the (many) nails in the coffin of the last government was their continued obsession with the state keeping a close eye on everything that people did. The ID database wasn’t popular because of it, laws that encouraged councils to spy on applicants for school places weren’t popular, CCTV creeping into everything was getting unpopular, and one of the things that annoyed people about speed cameras was that they were being recorded all the time.

True, the bigger thing that annoyed people about speed cameras was that people kept getting fines for speeding when the road was perfectly safe, but the constant surveillance didn’t help.

So, how to get beyond that, and move to a place where they’re electable again? Simples: more of the same.

The new shadow transport minister has suggested that the country’s network of average speed cameras could be used to monitor and reward careful drivers with prizes, cheaper car tax, or by deducting penalty points from their licence.

Conscious that her party was perceived as anti-motorist when in government, Angela Eagle suggested such uses for the cameras “might make people understand there is a point to [them]” she told The Daily Telegraph.

“The speed cameras are capturing the data, the speed and number plates of the cars that go through,” she said.

“I have seen lately this idea actually if you were to use the information you get from them to have a lottery, have a draw of those who drive under the speed limit.

“There is an incentive for good behaviour which is perhaps better psychologically than a disincentive for bad behaviour.”

It’s nice that she emphasises just what is being recorded1 and then makes the mental leap that surely everyone must love the watchful stare of Nanny as she hovers over your shoulder checking that you’re not being naughty…

1 – although she seems to have neglected to mention the times and locations, both of which are very useful in drawing up a nice database of the movements of everyone in the land…

Times, they’ve changed

Back when I were a young lad, there was a simple distinction between the two main UK parties. The Tories were all for economic freedom but were big on very strong police powers. Labour couldn’t understand economic freedom but used to be against giving too much power to the police.

How times have changed; the Tories are raising VAT and Labour disappeared into a fog of Big Brotherism. To me it looks like both parties have pilfered the worst aspects of the opposition while keeping hold of their original bad habits, so we end up with two parties both wanting more control over the economy and both wanting people locked up for any reason possible.

And it’s not just locking up that they like, they also like making it easier to lock people up. Like, fer instance, taking DNA from everyone in an entire city to rule out involvement in one murder.

MURDER squad detectives were last night under pressure to order a mass DNA screening to flush out Joanna Yeates’s killer.

An MP led the call for all men living in the same city as the landscape architect to give saliva samples to the police as their investigation makes slow progress. Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, said the need to catch Joanna’s killer overrides the questions of intrusion and invasion of privacy in a mass screening.

Three things:

  1. No, it doesn’t – casting such a wide net is entirely unjustified.
  2. British police have shown repeatedly that they cannot be trusted with DNA that they should have destroyed, so volunteering to give them any isn’t exactly smart.
  3. There has been no news from police that they are hunting for a male suspect, has there? Yet this MP is only encouraging the DNA testing of men. Either she knows something we don’t (which she shouldn’t about an ongoing investigation) or she’s just assuming that only men could be doing such a thing.

I’d like to hear from Ms McCarthy about her reasons for this. Does she know more than the rest of us; is she revealing too much about an ongoing investigation than she should; or is she just a rampant sexist? The public need to know…

Excellent comparisons

Since September 11th, we’ve all been ‘protected’ by enhanced security at airports. And several ludicrous plots later, that security has only gotten worse.

And since I’ve always flown quite a bit between London and NI, I’ve often had to enjoy the pleasures of this security. This has included lots of the usual queuing, regular pat-downs, and even half hearted comments about getting arrested.

Of course, it’s not even the UK that insists on the worst flights. Back in 2003, I got to go through the usual UK security, and then the extra security mandated by the US before boarding a flight to Washington. That was pretty invasive.

Recent experience in Germany has been pretty sensible, given the stupid rules they work within. Special ire is reserved for the French, who seem to quite like picking on very elderly and infirm people in wheelchairs while ignoring more likely people.

But go to somewhere like Morocco, and the security is pretty sensible. And if you go all the way to Malaysia, the security is excellent. More like what they had at Aldergrove back before the ceasefires than the monstrosity that is called security there these days1. Liquids? No problem. An occasional bit of metal? It’ll do…

But, as always, the US gets the final word in security. And boy, do they enjoy that privilege. Numpties.

1 – yes, at the hight of the Troubles over here, security was much lighter than it is now. And I’d wager that it was probably more effective too.

Strange choice of targets

It often confuses me that a lot of protests, riots and occupations happen in the daftest of places. For example, the good old ‘civil disobedience’ in Norn Ireland around Drumcree II & III saw vast mobs of people setting fire to their own areas; current student occupations are pretty much solely there to cause disruption to their own universities.

And a bit of anger over council cuts is now being directed at a council that has been Labour controlled for all but seven of the last 46 years.

Four people have been arrested after riot police were called to control a protest which led to demonstrators storming a south London town hall.

Police said trouble broke out at Lewisham town hall on Monday evening after a crowd gathered to protest over council cuts and tuition fees.

Tell you what, a protest like that at Lewisham Town Hall is certain to change the course of the coalition government, isn’t it…


Dime Bars

If anybody has a stockpile of common sense that they could afford to share, please could they distribute some to both sides of this twitter dispute.

A Tory councillor has been arrested and questioned following a comment on Twitter “calling” for the stoning of newspaper columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Gareth Compton, 38, a conservative councillor from Erdington, Birmingham, was questioned by police for “sending an offensive or indecent message” contrary to the Communications Act of 2003, The Independent reports. He was released on police bail on Wednesday night.

Compton defended his remarks as an arguably misguided attempt at humour. “I did not ‘call’ for the stoning of anybody,” he said via his @garethfcompton Twitter account.

“I made an ill-conceived attempt at humour in response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown saying on Radio 5 Live this morning, that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran..”

In the cold light of day, it’s a stupid comment. It’s just very very silly. But in context, it’s a condensed take on a valid criticism of the original speaker: how would she like it if she was to be stoned to death and nobody spoke out in her defence?

This is one of my main problems with twitter, it’s far too easily taken out of context. A blog post, or a newspaper article, or even a comment on a message board is surrounded by the context. Most really quotable bits are sandwiched in between the explanation paragraphs. But twitter doesn’t show things like that, especially in the publicly viewable bit, and the culture of it tends to be referencing real-world events much quicker than other media does.

So comments like this stick out like a sore thumb, and appear on the dashboards of other people without any context. And then people get angry.

So the common sense is needed: partly because the people writing comments need to think about how they’ll appear to people without the context, and partly because the people who get really upset should think about finding the context before firing off complaints to people.

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.

Feckin’ idiots

With horrible predictability, just days after I complained about security theatre, there was another act and even a little local spin on it.

Which was just marvellous. Given that this weekend was one I spent in Norn Iron(1), it meant that TLW & I got caught up in the inevitable theatrical response to a threat. To whit: extra intensive screening. Not of the sort that results in shoes being taken off, but of the sort that required every third bag to be rechecked through the X-ray machine and then hand searched and then X-rayed again.

Guess whose bag counted?

So, TLW got through and I did not. I got to wait while the security staff did their thing (walked slowly, searched slowly, kicked bags about) until it was my turn. After the second X-ray the very friendly, highly polite(2) security lady strolled over to me and said, in no uncertain terms, that there was an aerosol in my bag.

No there isn’t. There’s an empty glass container that was a wedding present, but there’s no aerosol.

Of course, she couldn’t accept this (which I understand, obviously) and so the actual search began. Going back to the time when I did door a lot, I started opening the bag and went to remove things but she insisted on doing things herself(3), including lifting out a small package wrapped in a napkin.

That’s a bun, says I.

Don’t say that, you say that you could get arrested, says she.

What? It’s a bun, a cake.

Oh, OK then.

At this point, I’m seeing the funny side (because if I didn’t I’d be saying sarcastic things or actually trying to get her to arrest me and see what happens) but TLW was unamused…

The rest of the search went a bit quicker after that, and as it happens the only things we’ve learned are:

  1. Security theatre is alive and well;
  2. Aldergrove security is more of a joke than most;
  3. A bun is apparently threatening enough to warrant arrest; and
  4. The carrying of wedding presents is a very suspicious activity.

Again: this nonsense is getting to piss me off. So much so that we’re seriously looking at the possibility of driving/ferrying for the next trip to the auld sod.

(1) – speaking of which, hello to Mr ‘Wulf, who I bumped into in an airport.

(2) – Hint: may contain traces of lie, but any serious attempt to charactarise the lady in question would risk invoking Godwin’s Law.

(3) – Hah, fool. You done picked up my dirty boxer shorts.

+1 to the sentiment, but more so

It’s taken nearly ten years of increasingly stupid and counter-productive security theatre to get big voices to notice, but I’m glad that someone has spoken out against some of the more stupid aspects of airport security.

The chairman of British Airways has said some “completely redundant” airport security checks should be scrapped and the UK should stop “kowtowing” to US security demands.

Practices such as forcing passengers to take off their shoes should be abandoned, Martin Broughton said.

And he questioned why laptop computers needed to be screened separately.

He also criticised the US for imposing increased checks on US-bound flights but not on its own domestic services.

“America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do,” he said. “We shouldn’t stand for that.”

It’s that last bit that really gets me; considering that the 9/11 attacks were all carried out on domestic flights why isn’t domestic security stricter than international security? Because US voters wouldn’t put up with some of the measures, and because some of the measures are entirely impractical unless you can get border security threats to get people to comply. But if the authorities are happy enough to let domestic passengers away with it, clearly international passengers shouldn’t have to put up with it either. And international passengers not even flying to the States should certainly not have to put up with it.

In this regard, I point to the UK and say: you’re doing it wrong. There is absolutely no need for the UK to be seemingly(1) as strict as it is on every one of its domestic and international flights. It’s just theatre, and it’s getting to the point where even people like me, who love nearly everything about flying, have started looking at alternatives where you’re not marched like cattle through degrading and pointless checks.

(1) – ‘seemingly’ because there are constantly cases of people and items slipping through security and people getting walked through security because the systems are there for show not because they’re effective.

What an excellent idea

If you were a government that liked to write laws quickly (also: badly), and you didn’t want to make the effort to write proper laws in the future, what would you do if people kept making money by using the fookin’ mahoosive loopholes in your laws?

Simple: you’d try and make people sign binding pledges to obey the spirit of the law, rather than the actual law.

Hence Gordon Brown & co came up with the governments code of taxing conduct for banks, which banks were supposed to sign up to to prevent tax avoidance. You know, tax avoidance. The entirely legal way to arrange your financial matters to minimise your losses to the tax man. It may be legal, but G Brown didn’t like it being legal, and didn’t have the brains to make it illegal, so he went down this route.

However, it seems that banks without a government representative on their boards want nothing to do with it. And I make them right on that.

However, the new government disagrees, and seems to way to coerce said non-compliant banks into agreeing to it. Lets hope that he doesn’t succeed.

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?

Sums, a la BBC

What with the Age of Austerity that’s upon us, the BBC has its wonderful way of dealing with numbers out in force.

My personal favourite is the do it yourself cul-ulator. Which lets you choose what to cut in percentage terms and then tells you what your cut means. I doubt some of its honesty though, for one or two reasons.

Reason 1: Defence

According to the BBC, if you cut defence by 30%, you’d be getting rid of 261,690 service personnel. Which is interesting, because apparently there are only 175,690 service personnel in the armed forces. To me, that arithmetic sounds weird: cutting 30% of funding shouldn’t really cut 150% of the armed forces, should it?

Reason 2: Public Order & Safety

Again, the 30% cut has a massive effect on manpower: in this instance, you would have 235,650 fewer police officers. Out of a total of 165,876. So taking away 30% of the money takes away 142% of the police. Which seems somewhat unlikely.

Reason 3: Welfare

Apparently taking 30% from the welfare budget would save £58.8 billion, which would be roughly £30 per week off the pension. But do the maths: 58,800,000,000 / (30 * 52) = a very unlikely 37.7 million pensioners. Which would put us right at the top of the ageing population chart, don’t you think.

Those are the three that immediately stuck out at me. Does anybody want to have a crack at seeing if the other categories add up any better? Because I’d guess they don’t. And I’d also guess that the BBC don’t care, as long as they show that any and all cuts are bad and will cause untold damage etc etc etc.

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…

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?

We’ll let things stay the same and call it victory

Some months ago I commented on an ongoing dispute between Facebook and CEOP. And, back then in April, it appeared that CEOP were losing out in their rather daft demand that everyone in the UK have their online presence invaded by CEOP’s marketing.

And yet, today, CEOP are crowing about their great victory in being offered the opportunity to place ads for their entirely voluntary version of the CEOP button. You know, the one that shows people how to call for help. It is, as far as I could make out from Jim Gamble’s little publicity blitz on t’radio, as useful as a neighbourhood watch sticker. I.e., it’s just there and serves little to no purpose.

Oh, except to give the impression that we’re all suspects and that kids should always be thinking about how best to turn people in. Because, as Mr Gamble says, the paedophile is clever, and we must always assume that everyone on the entire net is actually a paedophile in disguise…

In case you didn’t notice, I’m not entirely a big fan.

’bout time

You know, people joke about Norn Iron being a bit backwards, but sometimes they react extremely quickly.

For example, all it takes is a ruling that a course of action is illegal and *BAM*, the police decide to stop using it. Oh wait, they waited seven months before deciding that the law was something they should really be paying attention to.

I wonder if I could get away with just ignoring laws for a few months and seeing where it got me…