Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tories toeing the populist line

Do the tories really believe that Grammar schools impede social mobility, or are they just saying that to avoid upsetting the tabloids? Brady - shadow Europe Minister has quit over it, and I suspect he isn't the only one who thinks Cameron's line is more to please the mainstream media than his party faithful.

Grammar Schools and the lowest common denominator

New Labour have been accused often of moving more and more into Tory territory as their 10 years in office have passed. What they have not taken on however is the understanding that many centre right believers have that not everyone is that same, and hence they can legitimately be treated differently. The underlying tendency of socialism to bring the achievers down whilst trying to drag the underachievers up have the overall effect of bringing the average downwards.

Grammar schools are not for everyone, and they do offer opportunities to a limited number, but this still improves the average level of education in the country. This misguided idea of fairness being everyone at the same level is not only unrealistic but dangerous. We should be using the schools which excel as examples of the ways success can be achieved, not criticising the way they got to where they are.

The unwillingness in all parties to deny the existence of a two tier system is strange, and it damages the chances of closing the gap between those who have and those who don’t. This is as true in healthcare provision as it is in Education. Both sectors could improve overall service provision by encouraging and subsidising an increase in private provision, but the lack of political will to embrace the issue for fear of losing the populist tabloid support hinders the advancement of education and healthcare.


CS Lewis Quote

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Police Stop and Search Powers

So, you get stopped by the Police for no justifiable cause, refuse to give your details and get arrested. They charge you and a judge fines you £5000, which you cannot pay. So you go to jail. What exactly is your crime, and how is criminalising those who believe in civil rights going to make us safer from those who don’t?

The Police will always ask for more powers, it will make their job easier. We should not make the step change from a country where the Police are answerable to the people to one where the people are answerable to the Police.


Abduction or Rendition?

A classic example of us and them terminology, in the school of murder Vs collateral damage, I bring you the Abduction of Western Finance advisers and their security guards from the Iraqi Finance ministry. Apparently when “our” team gets taken it is abduction, but when “we” do the taking it is rendition, a legitimate tactic of intelligence gathering and getting people suspected of terrorism off the streets.

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ID cards and Illegal immigrants

The government has estimated the cost of the ID card scheme at around £9Billion over 10 years. A group of independent experts estimated it to be more like £20Billion. Given one of the alleged benefits of the scheme is tighter control on illegal immigrants, and the employers who give them work, I wonder whether the costs include any assumptions for the processing, deportation or prosecution of the additional illegal expected to be caught?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Why would Zoos be cross breeding bears?

Random story from the BBC Apparently a hunter in Canada shot a cross between a Grizzly bear and a Polar bear. The story goes on..

There have long been stories of oddly coloured bears living in regions where the two territories overlap. But until now, grizzly-polar hybrids, dubbed "grolar bears" or "pizzlies", have been found only in zoos.

Why on earth would a zoo be cross breeding two different species of bear? Seems like a wwaste of time to me. Maybe they should concetrate on breeding species which are in rapid decline or at risk of extinction. Weird.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Prescott Keeps Perks but loses department

The BBC Reports that John Prescott will keep his Grace and Favour apartment in Admiralty house and his country residence despite losing much of his responsibility in the cabinet reshuffle.

This strikes me as another example of Labour's ability to create bureaucratic jobs in government without any measurable improvement in output. John Prescott and Ruth Kelly are now apparently sharing the job which Prescott was doing himself last week.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A step too far in Blair's cabinet Reshuffle?

A number of Blair's moves in Friday's cabinet reshuffle were expected, to the extent that they were well overdue. Charles Clarke's exit looked inevitable, and the removal of John Prescott's responsibilities understandable with his personal judgment being openly questioned in the Media.

I am puzzled though by the need to replace Jack Straw as Foreign secretary, a role in which he has been respected internationally, and a steady hand at a time when there are a number of diplomatic issues bubbling away. The timing just days before a major New York meeting which will discuss among other topics the growing tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions is questionable.

The high profile of Straw's strong relationship with Condi Rice comes to mind as I question why Straw would be moved on at this point. Perhaps this strong connection with the Bush administration at lower levels than Blair and Bush themselves is being discouraged.

Another possibility is that Blair no longer feels Straw will support him continuing as Leader beyond this year, preferring either Brown or to challenge for the leadership himself. One might suppose this would certainly be the case now.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ethical dilemmas

The BBC Website Magazine section has a mini quiz on Ethical dilemmas...

I like the link between the Fat Man scenario and Iraq...

Sacking Clarke will not end Home Office Chaos

Times online columnist Alice Miles if of the view that the media is letting the Government of the hook somewhat by lumping together the current crises affecting the government. No doubt Blair is happy for any distraction from the Deportation debacle.

SOMETIMES I WONDER whether the media might, perversely, be doing the
Government a favour. In their need to find a tidy order to events ie, "Woes
pile up on Blair" the media keep cobbling together the John Prescott affair
with Charles Clarke's escaped foreign criminals. So the details of the Home
Office's lamentable failure to consider the deportation of more than 1,000
foreign convicts on release from jail have been smothered beneath the more
salacious and frivolous secrets of the man we shall ever know as DPM

I'm inclined to agree that Clarke's departure is inevitable to satisfy the public and the media. I think the issue of the Somalian believed to have killed the Policewoman in Doncasterseparateperate one however, as he was considered for deportation. Howevedecisioncisiallowo allo whim to stay and to send back to Somalia a number of non-criimmigrantsgrants is questionable, tseparateperate issue from the release without consideration for deportation.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bush Defends Rumsfeld / Franks tactics

In the Washington post Bush defends his Iraq Tactics. I deliberately choose not to use the word Strategy as that implies a long term view.
President Bush today said mistakes were made in planning for the Iraq invasion, but he defended the troop level he ordered in the initial strike, saying he would have committed the same number if given a second chance.

Recalling his pre-war conversations with Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion and is now retired, Bush told a business group in Irvine, Calif.: "The level that he suggested was the troop level necessary to do the job, and I support it strongly.

Bush's comments come as some retired generals have called in recent days for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying he bungled the planning of the war and the execution of its aftermath.
I guess it depends what your aims were George. I doubt you wanted to create the near civil war now in place, but if you were trying to keep your buddies in the defence industry & at Halliburton happy I guess it's job done. But you can't run a country with weapons, only blow it up.

Bush Vs Berlusconi - Approach to Defeat

Finally Silvio Berlusconi has "resigned" as Italian Prime minister. Given that he lost the election a month ago, hardly a big move. He had no choice. It brought to mind another leader who lost an election and didn't want to give up. Although in the case of George W in 2000, Daddy's friends on the Supreme court came to the rescue, stopping the Florida recount which would have handed the State & Presidency to Gore.

Maybe there is something to be said for the Italian politcal system after all...

Prescott in Touble again

David Cameron has come out and said John Prescott looks like a fool. Just when i thought he was maintaing a dignified silence. It's looking to me like the press have made some assumptions that anyone who looks like John Prescott can't possibly have a string of past affairs to dig up... Until now, and it's all coming out of the woodwork. I wonder how long some if these stories have been on file with the like of Max Clifford.

Guido Fawkes has a good update on the story - now it seems our deputy PM has been ogling Air Hostesses. Lucky him, most of the ones I see back in Economy aren't worth a second glance..

To do list Blog

I like the concept of the To do List Blog. I hate these things, I write them in MS Outlook at work then stumble upon them months later and delete all the stuff I haven't done.

I don't remember writing anything about Cat Psychics though...

Bank complaints 'rise by half'

Now here's a surprise..

Complaints against high street banks have risen by almost half in the last year, according to the Banking Codes Standards Board, the banking watchdog.
The sharp rise in complaints comes weeks after five of the biggest banks announced combined annual profits of £32bn - more than Luxembourg's GDP
The major high street banks are moving further away from helping their customers manage their finances towards charging exorbitant fees everytime they go overdrawn.

Recently I was charged £120 for going £80 over my overdraft limit. Each time a payment went out of my account Natwest charged me £28.50 for a "referral fee". which presumably refers to the high cost of their computer referring to my account and checking whether a box is ticked to allow overlimit transactions, and how large they can be. Now, I have a little experience in allocating transaction costs, and if this isn't the most profitable activity the high street banks carry out I'd be very surprised.

The question is, how exactly does being charged £28.50 per overlimit transaction help me to manage my finances better? Punitive charges which go straight into the pockets of shareholders simply annoy your customers and encourage switching. With the rise of alternative online providers the high street banks will have to buck their ideas up or risk losing the consumer banking part of their business.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

David Blaine wants to Eclipse Houdini

So David Blaine continues his attempts to become more famous than Houdini...

Blaine wants to eclipse a similar Houdini stunt, where he would go three minutes without air while freeing himself from his shackles inside an oversize milk can.

"On the way to holding his breath under water for the longest period of time ever, he would surpass the great Houdini, who managed a then-astonishing three-minute breath-hold," read the media notice for Blaine's stunt.

He carries out some impressive stunts, but in this age of Blockbuster Movies, Playstations and Jackass who really cares anymore? Houdini was a legend in an age where entertainment was somewhat limited, and hence he was extremely popular. Blaine gets media converage for doing strange things, but I don't think people are really very impressed. A momentary distraction but not much more.

Advert Complaints on the rise

The BBC Reports that the number of complaints about print and TV adverts rose 16% in 2005.

"Just because people find something rather distasteful doesn't really mean the Advertising Standards Authority should ban it,"

So are the Brit's getting better at complaining about things, or are Adverts getting more tasteless? I'd go for a mix of the two. Personally I quite liked the second most complained about advert...
I also like the bit about how the reason complaints have increased is that they made the process easier. That would do it, but it also makes it impossible to compare one year to the next. The joy of statistics....