Monday, August 25, 2008

No bloging again - more hols

I'm going away again today until Friday. This one's a bit diferent and we get a day in Hamburg on Wednesday where I can get a decent Bratwurst mit zenf (mustard) at a schnellimibiss (but not this one), washed down with a decent beer brewed under Germany's beer purity laws which used to be known as Rheinheitsgebot.

On this day - music

A good day for music historians, well for me at least, with 3 notable events:

First up, in 1970 one of my favourits bands, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, made their world debut at Plymouth Guild Hall in Plymouth, England. This video claims, rather tautologically, to be their "first debut performance ever" and is a typical race through a number of pieces familiar to ELP fans!
Next up, in 1975 Bruce Springsteen's album "Born to Run" was released. This evokes some great memories of my first tour of Cyprus in 1976 when I first heard the LP.

And then in 1986 Paul Simon's "Graceland" was released. It was a busy year as I finished a very gruelling 18 month course before being posted to Cyprus for my second tour, this time in the Troodos mountains and I never got round to buying the tape or LP.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Amusing comment of the day

A comment in this post from A Very British DudeL

How to start each day with a positive outlook.

1. Open a new file in your computer.
2. Name it 'Gordon Brown'.
3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.
4. Empty the Recycle Bin.
5. Your PC will ask you: 'Do you really want to get rid of 'Gordon Brown?'
6. Firmly Click 'Yes'.
7. Feel better ....?

Global warming increases suicide rates in Italy

Yes that's right, a new paper by some very clever people who have analysed the data has shown that there is a possibility that global warming caused an increase in suicides in Italy between 1974 and 2003 and there are some graphs to prove it:

What, you can't see it and don't believe it? Neither can I and that is why the catastrophists insist that we are not qualified to comment anything to do with global warming. Fortunately there are people who do understand the statistical sophistry that goes in to nonsense like this and they are quite capable of explaining what is happening:

How did they do it, you ask? How, when the data look absolutely unrelated, were they able to show a concatenation? Simple: by cheating. I’m going to tell you how they did it later, but how—and why—they got away with it is another matter. It is the fact that they didn’t get caught which fills me with despair and gives rise to my suicidal thoughts.

Why were they allowed to publish? People—and journal editors are in that class—are evidently so hungry for a fright, so eager to learn that their worst fears of global warming are being realized, that they will accept nearly any evidence which corroborates this desire, even if this evidence is transparently ridiculous, as it is here. Every generation has its fads and fallacies, and the evil supposed to be caused by global warming is our fixation.

When you read his explanation, and it is well worth the time, you might join him in those suicidal thoughts, or better still consider setting about the original researchers and peer reviewers with a bicycle chain*.

But before you do read it ponder the headline I have used and whether or not any catastrophist would have read on to fully understand it before using it to justify their position. How many politicians would be lured in to believing this statement and using it to their political advantage? How long would it take something like this to enter the common lexicon as fact?

And the catastrophists wonder why there are so many skeptics.

*I'm watching the Olympic mountain biking as I write this
, hence the choice of weapons

On this day

in 1914, Tsingtao, China, was bombarded as Japan declared war on Germany in World War I.

Known as Qingdao or Quing Dao it has an intersting history. Many have drunk its famous beer* but don't know that the area was ceded to Germany in the same way the Hong Kong was ceded to Britain, hence the beer. However they left after the Japanese invasion.

This year it has hosted the Olympic sailing where GB won 6 medals.

*This is weird, you have to enter your date of birth to enter to prove your are over 21 so you can read about beer! How authoritarian and pointless is that?

Friday, August 22, 2008

We're crap at languages - so what?

The Guardian has got its self in to a lather over the GCSE language results:

Another year, another record low number of teenagers taking GCSEs in foreign languages. Britain's army of linguists is declining dangerously but nobody seems to care; not even Her Majesty's Intelligence Services, avid recruiters of polyglot patriots. Britain is moving closer to the monolingual abyss and doesn't even know it.

Since Tony Blair's decision in 2004 to make foreign languages optional for 14- to 16-year-olds (while claiming foreign languages to be a priority), almost 100,000 teenagers have dropped French; now the lucky few to study the language of the enlightenment number only 201,940. I could also talk of Thomas Mann's vernacular, now studied by only 76,695 British teenagers. And as for the words of Cervantes, these may be luring more pupils each year, but they are still a relative handful, at 66,978.

Don't get me wrong, I have travelled the world and worked on every continent except Australasia and know there is no better feeling than being able to at least say a few words in another language, which generally gets even the most reluctant native to switch to English. There is also nothing more embarrassing then seeing someone shouting every louder to try to get someone to understand them.

It would be nice if we could all speak a second language but there are no incentives. The non- English speaking world has English as its natural second language and puts a lot of effort in to teaching it. Not, as you may think, to talk to us and Americans, but so they can talk to each other. The Chinese speak English to Indians, Filipinos and even the Japanese. Even in Switzerland where they are all supposed to be able to get by in German, French and Italian I found they tend to switch to English amongst themselves.

We also teach languages too late and in the wrong way. Rather than teaching language as a bit of fun at an early age - teaching a few nursery rhymes, watching a few kids TV programmes and generally trying to give children a bit of confidence and a grounding, we throw them straight in to a formal learning environment, which get their backs up. My own experience from school and seeing my sons progress is that our language teachers are pretty poor teachers.

These problems are exacerbated by not having a natural second language which we aren't exposed to through foreign television products. This means that kids don't get exposed on a regular basis or try out words amongst themselves because they are learning different languages at school.

Yes, we do need language experts for industry, diplomacy, and even the spy services, but we did have 200,000 voluntarily studying a language FFS, if they can't find a few speakers from that lot there is something wrong.

So what to do about it? Firstly we have to get over our fear (arrogance?) of foreign languages. I would introduce children to a language at a very early stage, say 6 or 7, (yes I know they already have a lot on) but at a fun level for no more than 15 minutes a week. Teach them nursery rhymes, to count and a few basic words. Let them watch a few kids programmes in that language. As they get to 9 or 10 take it to a few useful sentences, again no more then 20 minutes, but make it fun, show children that there is nothing inherently difficult in a second language.

Once they get to around 14 I would have 2 streams of language teaching, a formal one for those with aptitude and desire and an informal one. The formal would would do as they do now and go on to be the linguists that we need, without the distraction of those who don't want to learn. The informal would be more of a social club, maybe in the lunch hour or after school. They wouldn't be challenged by have to learn to read and write the language or even do formal grammar, they would just learn to hold basic conversations, ask for things in restaurants etc, still making it fun.

So which language should schools teach, even at this fun level? It doesn't matter as long as they do something. Most schools will have a teacher who has a bit of a language and they can be paid a bit extra to work with the children on this informal basis. So what about when the teacher leaves of they move schools? Again it doesn't matter if they switch languages, its about teaching the children not to be scared of the language, that way when they do start to travel they will have the confidence to pick up a guide book and learn a few words and use them. They will also find that Johnny Foreigner switches to English more readily, for they want to practice their English in my experience.

There is one language I wouldn't teach though, French. The reason I say this is because the French are intolerant of foreigners speaking their language and this puts people off. It was a German that told me he enjoyed learning English because we encouraged him and didn't care if he mispronounced a word, we took his meaning and carried on. The French he said, correctly in my opinion, would shrug and pretend not to understand.

Having said all that, I do agree with the thrust of the article that having a second or even third language is a joy, but we aren't succeeding so we have to try something else.

On this day

in 1986 Deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester police John Stalker was cleared of misconduct. It had been alleged that he was associating with criminals.

Well of course he was, he was in the police, some of the worst criminals in the land at the time:

POLICE corruption in Britain is now so widespread it may have reached levels which normally only occur in unstable Third World countries, according to a confidential document obtained by The Telegraph.

The growth of the international drugs trade and the massive amounts of money available to criminals to offer as bribes are identified as the key cause.

State directed holidays

Great, not content with taking over 40% of everything we earn they now want to tell us how to spend our public holidays

All that needs to be said on this subject can be found at Devil's Kitchen where Filthy Smoker is on fine form:

Look, dick-head, we work some of the longest hours in Europe. We get told what to eat, how much to drink and where we can smoke. We get filmed from the moment we step out the fucking door. Our working lives are ruled by petty bureacrats, money-grabbing politicians, faceless corporations and thick-headed bosses. Life is a veil of fucking tears culminating in infirmity, loneliness and cancer. Do you think that, just for one day, you could leave us alone?
Obnoxio The Clown has some fine comments as well:
You know, I'm sure my eyes must be deceiving me. I could swear that that intent of the above paragraph was to tell me that I was being given permission to celebrate everything I like about the country. How can that be? Do I really need the permission of some halfwitted nonentity called Liam Byrne to celebrate what I like about this country? Tell you what, Liam, the thing I really like about this country is the way there are Immigration ministers swinging from the bloody lamp-posts in Westminster. So I have your permission to celebrate that, do I?
Do read them both, they are well worth the time and effort.

Aren't prisoner's details already in the public domain?

Whilst I agree that it is unnacceptable that a memory stick containing prisoners details has been lost, isn't this information already in the public domain?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On this day

in 1988, more flexible licensing laws allowed public houses to stay open 12 hours in the day, except on Sunday.

Politicians and the health fascists still don't get it when they compare our drinking to continentals. They claim they want us to have the same relaxed attitude to alcohol and then we won't have so much binge drinking, but don't give us the real solution. Extending drinking hours only extended the time people could stay in the ghetto it didn't change our attitudes.

When I met The Great Wise One in Germany we would often go in to the local town, Celle, for a walk and then stop at the local ice cream shop. I'm not a great ice cream fan but do like a beer, no problem, the ice cream parlour sold beer. When we visited a few years ago with the sprog we went to MacDonald's and I had a beer with my burger.

I could go on and I'm sure everyone who has travelled could relate similar tales, but the point is that continentals are relaxed about who sells beer and when and don't restrict it to ghettos, which is why their children are more relaxed around it.

It is also worth noting that there are many pubs in Germany where children aren't welcome, they are for drinking and escaping kids.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Income inequality chart contest

Sub title - the poor are getting richer

Cafe Hayek is running an intersting competition. Inspired by this graph:

The rules of the competition are:

Write ONE sentence explaining ONE thing that is wrong with concluding that these numbers are evidence that the US economy has become more tilted toward the rich at the expense of the poor.
My first thought - percentages tell us nothing about how big the pie is - has already gone.

This made me think about how we portray relative poverty, I couldn't find a similar chart but it didn't take long to find these charts on The Poverty Site:

Nowhere do they mention the how much richer the poor got in real terms so I did a bit of digging and used this site to calculate that the UK Economy grew by $871bn between 1997 and 2005, their last year. This means that the bottom 10%, note this isn't necessarily the same people over the period, recived 2% of this or an extra $17.5Bn.

Assuming that the population was relatively stable at 60m,. I know thats a bit weak, then 6m people were effectively $3,000 better off over 8 years. Not as depressing when you look at it that way.

On this day

in 1956, Calder Hall, Britain's first nuclear power station, began operating.

On 31 March 2003, the plant ceased its job of generating electricity. Calder Hall was closed down after almost 50 years, by which point it was the world's oldest nuclear reactor.

It had been cutting-edge technology in the 1950s, but by 21st century standards its 196 megawatt capacity was considered small.

This important part of Britain's Industrial History is currently being decommissioned, however the "Nuclear Archeologist", Clifford Jones, is now working to preserve this landmark engineering project for future generations.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

He wants an answer to this question?

From LabourHome:

This morning on the radio they were discussing the fact that it is the 40th anniversary of Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia. The famous "Prague Spring" used the tagline of "Socialism with freedom". One of those who was there at the time asserted that what they learned is that you cannot have socialism and freedom in the same society. To exist socialism must be authoritarion in nature and deny many freedoms.

Were the Czech activists right? Are socialism and true freedom incompatible?
Yes, yes. Next.

Yes Prime Minister! at its most prescient

Wandering around the blogosphere last night I came across an American site this Yes PM clip.

Watch the full clip as the ending is absoloutely brilliant. Sir Humphry has a great monologue extolling the virtues of central planning and how we couldn't exist with out it and Hacker has a brilliant retort. This clip really does sum up the current mess in the education system in particular but also why central planning doesn't work.

Update: Apologies, I meant to leave a link to the blog I got it from, its well worth a look as there are some good comments.

How stupid are M&S management ?

Extremely, if this story in The Times is correct:

Marks & Spencer plans to slash the redundancy benefits for its 60,000 staff by up to 25 per cent in a move that has infuriated employees and triggered fears of a middle management cull.

In an internal memo seen by The Times, the high street retailer is proposing to reduce the maximum payout that employees can receive in relation to their length of service from 70 weeks to 52 weeks.

Anyone aged over 41 would receive only three weeks’ pay for each year they had worked at M&S if made redundant, compared with 3.75 weeks’ pay at present. M&S wants to introduce the new conditions by September 1.

Leaving aside that this is still a very generous deal, much better than you would get elsewhere from my experience, the message it sends and the timing stinks. At a time of economic uncertainty employees are quite nervous and all this does is confirm their worst fears and is hardly likely to lead to happy staff and satisfied customers*.

Employee representatives have warned the M&S board that the proposed changes had caused “an unprecedented level of feedback, concern and anger”.

In a letter sent to management last week they added: “There is zero confidence that we will not be entering another round of redundancies, and a strong suspicion that this is one of the reasons behind the proposal.”

So it looks like there is going to be large sacle redundencies, but how much will it really save? How many people fall in to this bracket:
However, a typical employee aged 49 with 30 years of service would see their potential payoff fall by £9,000 to £26,000. Employees aged between 22 and 40 would receive two weeks for every year, down from 2.5 weeks.
The total saving can't reall be a huge amount given the scale of M&S Operations so why alienate all their staff? They could have gone through a voluntary programme with little fuss, now the spotlight is well and truly on them. If I was a shareholder I would be seriously questioning the ability of the management team to see the business through the upcoming hard times.

Much has been said about the imexpeience of the curent crop of senior managers in industry as they have only ever managed in good times, when anyone can manage a business. Now they are being tested and this team has been found wanting.

Yes, I know it's easy to say this with hindsight, but a good management team should have looked at this scheme when times were good and they were paying out record bonuses to staff. But as someone points out in the comments:
When Sir Phillip Green bought Arcadia he quietly tore up the employment terms and reduced redundancy to one week per year!

*I am one of those customers, call me man at M&S

On this day

in 1960, Penguin Books received a summons in response to their plans to publish Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why isn't this being shouted from the roof tops?

Plastic carrier bags are a pain in the arse. They get everywhere, littering streets and parks and even killing animals and mammals. Up to now Greenies have been able to claim that they aren't biodegradable and should be banned. I had some sympathy but wasn't sure if banning was the solution to the problem; it rarely is a solution to any problem.

Being a believer in technology and, more importantly, man's ingenuity, I thought there must be a solution to this problem rather than straight forward bansturbation, and guess what, someone has solved the problem.

You may want to ponder why it isn't being shouted from the rooftops by all the various green organisations?

Via Greenie Watch we find this remarkable story of a schoolboy who dared to go where nobody else had been, using nothing more than his own ingenuity and a few household products. I make no apologies for copying the whole article and is deserves as wider publication as possible:

Getting ordinary plastic bags to rot away like banana peels would be an environmental dream come true.

After all, we produce 500 billion a year worldwide and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the oceans and kill the animals that eat them.

Now a Waterloo teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster -- in three months, he figures.

Daniel Burd's project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.

Daniel, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, got the idea for his project from everyday life.

"Almost every week I have to do chores and when I open the closet door, I have this avalanche of plastic bags falling on top of me," he said. "One day, I got tired of it and I wanted to know what other people are doing with these plastic bags."

The answer: not much. So he decided to do something himself.

He knew plastic does eventually degrade, and figured microorganisms must be behind it. His goal was to isolate the microorganisms that can break down plastic -- not an easy task because they don't exist in high numbers in nature.

First, he ground plastic bags into a powder. Next, he used ordinary household chemicals, yeast and tap water to create a solution that would encourage microbe growth. To that, he added the plastic powder and dirt. Then the solution sat in a shaker at 30 degrees.

After three months of upping the concentration of plastic-eating microbes, Burd filtered out the remaining plastic powder and put his bacterial culture into three flasks with strips of plastic cut from grocery bags. As a control, he also added plastic to flasks containing boiled and therefore dead bacterial culture.

Six weeks later, he weighed the strips of plastic. The control strips were the same. But the ones that had been in the live bacterial culture weighed an average of 17 per cent less.

That wasn't good enough for Burd. To identify the bacteria in his culture, he let them grow on agar plates and found he had four types of microbes. He tested those on more plastic strips and found only the second was capable of significant plastic degradation.

Next, Burd tried mixing his most effective strain with the others. He found strains one and two together produced a 32 per cent weight loss in his plastic strips. His theory is strain one helps strain two reproduce.

Tests to identify the strains found strain two was Sphingomonas bacteria and the helper was Pseudomonas.

A researcher in Ireland has found Pseudomonas is capable of degrading polystyrene, but as far as Burd and his teacher Mark Menhennet know -- and they've looked -- Burd's research on polyethelene plastic bags is a first.

Next, Burd tested his strains' effectiveness at different temperatures, concentrations and with the addition of sodium acetate as a ready source of carbon to help bacteria grow.

At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, with a bit of sodium acetate thrown in, Burd achieved 43 per cent degradation within six weeks.

The plastic he fished out then was visibly clearer and more brittle, and Burd guesses after six more weeks, it would be gone. He hasn't tried that yet.

To see if his process would work on a larger scale, he tried it with five or six whole bags in a bucket with the bacterial culture. That worked too.

Industrial application should be easy, said Burd. "All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags."

The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide -- each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide, said Burd.

"This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We're using nature to solve a man-made problem."

Burd would like to take his project further and see it be used. He plans to study science at university, but in the meantime he's busy with things such as student council, sports and music.

"Dan is definitely a talented student all around and is poised to be a leading scientist in our community," said Menhennet, who led the school's science fair team but says he only helped Burd with paperwork.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

on this day

in 1896, Mrs. Bridget Driscoll of Croydon, Surrey, became the first pedestrian in Britain to die after being hit by a car. It is said she froze in panic at the sight of the oncoming car, which was travelling at just four miles per hour.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Dark Knight should attack Keith Vaz for his stupidity

I've only just picked up on this but it deserves comment as it shows the sheer stupidity of Keith Vaz and other docile parents.

Parents who have lodged a record number complaints about violence in The Dark Knight, the latest Batman film, have been supported by several MPs.

The complaints have centred on the film's 12A certificate, which means children younger than 12 can see the film if accompanied by an adult.
I haven't seen it but I have seen a couple of trailers and it does look pretty scary, which is why I probably won't go. But I don't know why they are complaining to their MP's, given that its a 12A. And lets face it, there's been so much publicity nobody should be surprised that Heath Ledger plays a very scary joker. I would have certainly thought twice about taking my son when he was under 12.
Their concerns have chimed with MPs from both main parties. Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative party, criticised the film after seeing it with his 15-year-old daughter.

Describing it as "relentlessly violent" in a letter to a newspaper, he wrote: "I was astonished that the board could have seen fit to allow anyone under the age of 15 to watch the film.

OK, that's his opinion and he is entitled to it, but if he wants to be the official film censor he should apply for the job. Surely he had some idea about the file before he went?

But this one takes the biscuit
Meanwhile Keith Vaz, a Labour MP and Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said he was so shocked by the film's content that he now plans to haul the BBFC before his committee's hearings on knife crime later this year.

"The BBFC should realise there are scenes of gratuitous violence in The Dark Knight to which I would certainly not take my 11-year-old daughter. It should be a 15 classification," said Mr Vaz.

It's rated 12A for a reason, you twats. That fucking big 12A at the start of the film and on the posters is saying - this is a scary film and you need to take your responsibility as parents seriously and consider whether this film is suiable for YOUR child. It's saying - some children under 12 will be OK with it and we don't want to censor reponsible parents who think their children will enjoy it.

Furthermore, that doesn't mean every over 12 will be OK with it, as a parent your 14 year old is your responsibility and if you don't thinks its suitable, don't let them go. They may not like it but thats what you signed up for when you became a parent, twats.

But did you spot the sleight of mouth from Vaz? The facile way he uses the current story of knife crime to justify his own authoritarianism?
he now plans to haul the BBFC before his committee's hearings on knife crime later this year.
I was astonished that the board could have seen fit to allow anyone under the age of 15 to watch the film.
Is he saying that over 15's don't commit knife crime or is he just spoutng off his gob without thinking? No, don't bother to answer that!

I know its wishing my life away but the sooner the GE comes and the likes of Vaz get a good kicking the better.

on this day

in 1987, caning was officially banned in British schools (excluding independent schools).

Having been caned 3 times - once for playing on the grass and twice for smoking - I don't support calls for its return as I'm not convinced it works. All it did for me was piss me off and make me even more determined to be a rebel.

The worst one was for playing on the grass. It was junior school and our playground football game wandered on to the grass. There was no warning, we were straight in front of the headmaster (Harold Wilson*) and given 3 across the palm of the hand and fingers, boy that hurt**. What was worse was that they rang home and told my parents - what a bollocking when I got home.

*This was 1966 when there was another Harold Wilson was as PM

**The other 2 occaisons were across the backside and didn't hurt as much

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Has NATO reached the end of its shelf life?

I have been concerned for a while that NATO is starting to be diluted to the point where it becomes impotent and Russia’s attack on Georgia has confirmed those fears. Yes, I know it isn’t a member, it has “Partner status” but bear with me.

Notwithstanding the famous quote from NATO’s First Secretary General Lord Ismay on its goals:

“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down"

NATO’s founding principle that an attack on one was an attack on all was never tested, but it will have made the Russians think about any expansion, in the same way that it could never be sure whether the USA would have used Nukes to protect Europe. I say Russia because contrary to popular misunderstanding the Warsaw Pact was formed in response to the formation of NATO.

With the end of the cold war we have seen a number of former communist countries applying to join NATO Poland, Czech Republic and Estonia have already joined. These are probably natural allies and it’s unlikely that Russia would ever be belligerent enough to attack them so the principle is unlikely to be tested and this hasn’t concerned me too much.

I started to worry a bit when countries that aren’t natural allies to the old western democracies started to apply for membership – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia are “partner” countries and there is talk of Ukraine applying. These may be worthy countries but do we really want the risk of being tied in to a pact that means we have to go to their defence if they are attacked?

Russia’s attack on Georgia may be wrong and the Georgian people, like all civilians, are catching the blunt end of the Russian war machine, but should we, could we, really defend them and evict Russia? You don’t need a military qualification to see that it would be an impossible task to evict the Russians, take a look at any map and look at the problems we are facing in Afghanistan. To defend Georgia would mean stationing armies there, armies we don’t have as we are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, anyway, Russia would see this as a provocative move and it would quite likely trigger an attack.

So, by allowing these countries to join we are going to end up demonstrating to Russia that NATO won’t apply the principle on an attack on one being an attack on all, because it will test us at some point if we keep expanding round its borders. Once that happens the Alliance is dead and it will become just another impotent talking shop for past over politicians. It’s not far off being that now.

I recommend reading this post from Capitalists@Work and the comments, which led me to finally share my fears.

Update: A Very British Dude has an excellent post on why we cant get involved

The problem isn't the number of A level passes its we can't differentiate the pass levels

Firstly, well done to all those who passed their A Levels and commiserations to those who failed; they can only deal with what is put in front of them. Those who took their A Levels should ignore most of the carping, it is people pulling up the drawbridge, and get on with their lives.

I say most, because there is one problem that the large number of passes is creating and it is a problem that I am sure that those who want to make education an agent for social mobility won't have thought about. By having so many passes across such a small number of grades we have bunching and in this case 25.9% getting A grades, for example. This gives employers and universities a real headache - how do they know which are the brightest?

The may appear at first glance seem be the outcome that is desired, but is it? Lets say that all the top grades want to do the same degree (or apply for the same job) and places are rationed. Universities (and employers) won't be able to select the best* so they will have to go through the a selection procedure to get a short list that will probably include interviews. At this stage those who come from middle class backgrounds are more likely to have the confidence to sail through an interview whilst those from a poorer background are more likely to be daunted by the thought and may not even take the exams.

I have no proof and I hope I am wrong, but I have been around long enough to know that when it comes selection procedures involving interviews we all start to be swayed by our own prejudices and take a liking to those from our own background or who are confident. If the pool is smaller and someone lacks confidence but has shown they have ability in exams they are more likely to be accepted.

*Employers don't always want to pay for the brightest and might be willing to accept second best. Again, their life is made more difficult.

on this day

in 1852, the first public lavatory was opened, on London's Fleet Street.

Presumably it was built here because the reporters couldn't make it back to their offices without needing a pit stopp after the tradional boozy lunch?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Are there any easy Olympic medal?

I have been enjoying the Olympics this week, its so nice to see some of the "lesser" sports like archery and canoeing before they get crowded out by the drug cheats and prima donnas of the athletics track.

Following Michael Phepl's fantastic successes in the pool, 5 Golds at the time of writing, BBC Radio 5 decided to have a phone in discussion about whether it is easier to win gold in some sports than others. Though they denied it the implication was that the prima donnas of athletics were somehow cheated of their right to be seen as the true Olympians.

I think they are all to be equally admired for their hard work and dedication in getting themselves to the very peak of their sports on that one day.

What they couldn't get their heads round was that if there is an easy medal it will soon attract more people to the sport in search of glory, thus making winning more difficult. Conversely, if a sport is really difficult to win fewer people will enter, making the winners task that much easier. Assuming this levelling takes place and leaving aside barriers to entry, being able to afford horses, for example, they all have to work equally hard and deserve all the glory they get.

On this basis Michael Phelps has to be one of the greatest Olympians, irrespective of the sport.

on this day

in 1964, the last hangings in Britain took place when two men were executed for murder at Liverpool and Manchester. Peter Allen, in Liverpool, and John Walby, in Manchester.

Allen and Evans were both tried together at Manchester Crown Court in June 1964, for the capital murder of John West (murder in the course or furtherance of theft). During the trial, the judge posed the question to the jury of whether it was Allen or Evans who committed the murder. The jury found both men guilty of murder, and they were both sentenced to death by hanging.

Gwynne Owen Evans was hanged at Manchester's Strangeways Prison on 13 August 1964. At the same time, Peter Allen was hanged at Liverpool's Walton Prison. So no one person can claim to have been the last person executed in the UK.

I changed my mind about the death penalty about 20 years ago, mainly on the basis that you cannot put it right if the conviction is found to be unsafe. However, seeing some of the things that are going on I have my conviction tested to breaking point at times.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

on this day

in 1969, the Royal Ulster Constabulary used tear gas for the first time in its history after nine hours of rioting in the Bogside area of Londonderry.

Being quite young I didn't really understand what was going on and IIRC I tended to go with the orthodoxy of the time - Catholics bad, protestants good. It took a few years before I fully understood the civil rights issues and how Catholics were discriminated against in housing and jobs - not that that justifies terrorism.

This graph shows that following the Good Friday agreement there is still a significant difference in employments rates.

Costs of policing football matches

I've been stuck in the car for most of the day which meant I could listen to the Olympics coverage, but the downside was having to listen to phone-ins on Radio 5 Lite. Today they were discussing this story:

Football clubs should pay all the costs of policing games, says the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Clubs currently have to pay back only the costs incurred inside their ground or on their property, with the rest coming from police budgets.
Freedom of Information requests from BBC Radio Five Live to the police showed it cost £7.5m to police 13 Premier League clubs, with the teams paying £4.3m and £3.2m coming from police budgets.

The usual suspects were wheeled out with their claims about football fans already paying taxes and we had the predictable calls from those calling in whining "its not fair".

As expected nobody was brought on to explain that general taxation pays for general policing in the area and what we are talking about is incremental policing. The reason we need extra policing in the area, not just in the ground, is because football fans cannot be trusted to behave themselves and therefore there is an external cost to their activity. As with all other activities those participating should pay for those externalities, usually through Pigou taxes.

One comparison used as an excuse for football not paying these costs was that the drinks industry doesn't pay for extra policing in city centres caused people getting drunk. What they didn't realise that this was a good example of a Pigovian tax on those who do go out drinking. As these people drink more they generate more taxes. Whether this covers the incremental cost of policing, cleaning and other exernalities is open for debate, but the principle is that those who costs most to police pay more.

Wouldn't it be nice if just once these vox pop's provided an opportunity for educating people as well as allowing the pig ignorant to espouse their prejudices?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why Labour won't recover in the polls

Another interesting conversation during golf yesterday. I was playing against another club and was drawn against a real chatterbox who soon got on to politics. This wasn't your average retired Major of middle class bore, the club we played was an "Artisans" section and the guy I played against was a double glazing fitter.

After he got a bit of a response from me about politicians he didn't shut up about them being corrupt (John Lewis list etc) and authoritarian nannies. He was beside himself over taxes and exorbitant state spending. It was difficult to have a discussion because he wasn't really political, just pissed off.

I have come across a few people like this recently, not really interested in politics but deeply offended by the way that they have been treated and politicians behaviour. Once they get to this point know matter what happens they won't be voting for labour. Tthe best Labour could hope for his abstention.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a taxi driver in 1995. he was so matter of fact when he said there was no point Major bothering to try to win votes that I knew then that the Tories would be in for a massacre.

Here's hoping my antennae are correct and we get a Labour massacre.

The triumph of hope over experience

No, not second or subsequent marriages but the attitude of a golfer I met on holiday last week.

As we played it turned out he was a mortgage broker/arranger in the West Midlands. Commenting that he can't be very busy he claimed to be snowed under with work - remortgages? I asked but got nowhere.

Then I commented that times will be tough for some time. I was amazed when he claimed that this will be a minor slump and over by the end of the year.

With idiots like this around there is no wonder some people take out inappropriate mortgages.

on this day

in 1971, The Prime Minister, Edward Heath, steered the British yachting team to victory in the Admiral's Cup.

Much as I disliked Heath's leadership and policies I have to admire him for having another life.

He was also known for his rudeness when an MP as well as for his long sulk when he lost to Maggie.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Off on hols, again

Having just got back in to doing some blogging following lots of distractions eg holidays, decorating , golf and other summer activities, I'm off again in the early hours tomorrow.

This is one of my favourite breaks. I'm staying with a friend in Nefyn, on the Lynn Peninsula. In the mornings we will be playing golf at Nefyn Golf Club, in the afternoons we will be dinghy sailing at Nefyn Sailing Club which is based on the beach. In the evenings it will be lots of the product bought from here.

I anyone is in the area and fancies a beer drop me a line or look at for me in my Laser, sail number 68843 (yes its very old). Unfortunately my golf is all booked up as we are entered in to a number of competitions, except for one day when we are playing Porthmagog Golf Club so I would be happy for anyone to join us for a bit of discourse as we play.

While I'm off doing all this the The Great Wisone goes off looking for suitable painting areas and produces some quite good stuff, although the subject is a bit too bit grey and dull for my liking. You can see some of here picture by following the links in teh sidebar.

I may post a few more today if I get time, but if not happy times to everyone and see you in a week or so.

on this day

in 1971, Tony Kaye quit Yes to form Badger. He was replaced by Rick Wakeman.

I was never a great Yes fan, they did some good stuff, but I am a Rickwakeman fan and enjoy his programme on Planet Rock on Saturday's when I get chance to listen.

Here's some excerpts from his solo career: