Must… not… like… pretend… buffoon

In the last couple of weeks, Boris Johnson has done three good things that I can remember:

* Allegedly had a row with David Cameron about Crossrail, taking London’s side
* Endorsed cycling home after a couple of beers
* Supported restarting tours of London’s disused Tube stations

Meanwhile, I can’t think of anything bad he’s suggested over the same time. And yes, I know the whole point about the probably-manufactured Crossrail row is to do a ‘moderate’ act, and I know the latter two points are irrelevant identity statements with no serious policy implications, and this kind of thing still isn’t going to make me vote for him.

And yet… and yet the latter two are identity statements that I approve of. The public admission that having a few drinks isn’t a problem, and doesn’t impair your functionality to the extent that you can’t ride a bleedin’ bike [*], is both entirely true and against the mood of these curmudgeonly times. And tours of disused Tube stations will make existing geeks happy and help recruit new ones – and were done without any problems until 2000, so clearly could be restarted without causing any major harm. Indeed, both are the kinds of things that humourless pseudo-experts rail against, whilst not causing any major harm. They’re the opposite of the showcasing, ‘let’s ban stuff that doesn’t do any major harm but that we don’t like to send a message’ side that makes the current government so loathsome [**].

And yes, I know that Boris’s tube-booze ban is the ultimate example of a spurious ban, second only to the Tory plans to turn back the licensing laws to the absurd WWI-dictated situation that prevailed previously [***].

So, can we have someone on the left who’s prepared to stick up for Fun Stuff over Spurious Bans? Hell, someone on any official side would do. Then again, since the target audience at this election apparently consists of middle-aged nurses who’re afraid of everything, probably not.

[*] Car comparisons are spurious. We allow kids to ride bikes, fercrissakes.

[**] I might, through extremely gritted teeth, vote for them this time round as discussed. But my God, they are.

[***] The licensing laws are an excellent example of lobbying from big business creating an unalloyed improvement that neither party dared to or wanted to bring about in their own right. Since the public mood at the moment still seems rather puritan, I’m thanking all deities for the fact that the booze industry has deep pockets and political influence.

Punishment from the gods

Apologies for lack of posting, I’ve been struck down by something resembling the flu. I was lucky as it wasn’t quite as full-on I WANT TO DIE as it’s been described by some (although there were a few hours like that), but deeply unpleasant and not recommended nonetheless.

Anway, I’ve not been blogging much during this time as:
1) it hurt to open my eyes
2) it hurt to focus on things
3) I wasn’t in a particularly temperate mood about things
4) in some kind of properly-ridiculous instilled-Protestant-values stylee, I felt guilty about doing something that involved writing words on a computer while too ill to be at work writing words on a computer.

(yes, I know the latter is silly: the words I write at work are much more boring, based on spreadsheets, and told to people who actually need to listen to them, whereas blogging is just about writing what I want to write and that I hope will be interesting. This is why I’m very jealous of columnists, both the ones who are better writers than me and the ones who are much worse.)

Before everything went properly wrong – although I was feeling distinctly foul which may explain its belligerent tone and/or incoherence – I wrote an article on comedy for Liberal Conspiracy. My comment #7 telling everyone who didn’t like the piece to fuck off was written with screwed-open eyes the day after the piece, which was the worst day of the fluidity; apologies.

I did manage to discover, on finally prising myself out of bed, the excellent-if-you’re-ill-and-your-brain-isn’t-working-properly Swiss Railway Journeys. This isn’t your average travel show, or even your average trainspotter show. Swiss trains are electric, modern and identical to each other. Swiss railway lines vary between slightly hilly and very hilly, as does Swiss countryside. The programme is narrated by the world’s most boring man, in the same tone as the football scores. Occasionally they take a five-minute digression to visit a cheese factory, which is modern, automated and spotlessly clean. The whole thing is set to non-stop elevator music. It’s somewhere between Buddhism, Last Of The Summer Wine and hell.

I also read Terry Pratchett’s Nation; I figured something actively marketed as a children’s book, by a man who normally writes children’s books marketed as adults’ books [*], would be at about the right level of taxing for my mental state. I was right… and it was moving and sweet and well-written and it’s definitely a book you should give to children. Particularly ones who happen to have right-wing parents.

However, I couldn’t quite get away from its resemblance to something else. According to an online review (although I haven’t seen the quote elsewhere), Pratchett has said:

To summarize Nation is quite impossible

This is lies, I can do it in four words: “shorter His Dark Materials”.

[*] this isn’t a criticism of Pratchett. It’s a criticism of people who think he’s in a different category of writer from Philip Pullman, Roald Dahl and other writers of clever children’s books.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-07-26

  • RT @paulcarr: The anatomy of a Twitter attack. Must-read post from Nik Cubrilovic @Techcrunch http://bit.ly/2DTClm (via @TACJ) #
  • “3 secondary moderns in every town”, demand UKIP: http://bit.ly/17VUD4 #
  • Feel exceptionally ropey. Better not be #swineflu #
  • #bexleypowerfail killed work IT all day, even tho I’m in EC1. Otherwise wld never have heard of it. If it’d been #islingtonpowerfail OTOH… #
  • Hungover. Pub -> lunch -> free wine we won in the quiz -> afternoon of nothing -> poker -> WIN #
  • It’s primarily the pineapple that makes this WRONG: http://www.eatliver.com/i.php?n=4520 #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-07-19

  • Any puritan/moralist types want to explain how this warrants criminal prosecution, rather than ‘best get a new career’? http://is.gd/1wdhl #
  • RT @AdamBienkov: #Tories will prolong your misery shock http://bit.ly/3uVQjg #
  • I’d forgotten that neocons described themselves as ‘liberals mugged by reality’. Struggling to think of a group less acquainted with reality #
  • Clue is a very silly film. #obvious #
  • Harry Hutton is on excellent form re: the poor sod who got blackmailed in Russia: http://bit.ly/Xxvl9 #
  • What could possibly be worse than NHS NPfIT? The Tory plans to replace it with MS and Google, of course: http://is.gd/1x9yF #aaaaaaaaaaargh #
  • For ‘if my aunt had a cock she could be my uncle’ values of ‘could’, perhaps: http://bit.ly/1azV9D #
  • RT @benparkatbjs Why Britain is better than America: http://tinyurl.com/4lhqkh (via @TACJ) #
  • A prize for the first spotting of an idiot Tory using this headline as an argument against gay parenting: http://bit.ly/wvwxn #
  • Thanks to Alan Coren’s genes for making possible the most entertaining 90 minutes of my evening #
  • Yes, i’m willing to prostitute myself for Florence & The Machine tickets #LDNcomp #
  • How’d it get to 2pm? Those were some of the fastest five work hours ever… #
  • Union forces to declare war on secessionist California: http://bit.ly/a2Gcf #
  • RT @davidsteven: At least if #swineflu evolves into something more deadly, creationists are going to be safe (via @bloggerheads) #
  • US justice in no sense gibberingly, insanely harsh: 4 years for minor theft from commercial premises http://is.gd/1yGR1 (via @mrpower) #
  • That’s theft worth £1000, or 2 weeks’ work at average wage -so 4 weeks jail might just about be fair. Any more obviously loony. #
  • 2 of my best friends ever have just successfully created another one of them. Yay! Fair to point out one did more work than t’other I guess #
  • I’d vote for the Legislative and Executive Movement of Our Nation Party. (from http://bit.ly/QXrFb via @dnotice) #
  • Why does ‘bring forth men-children only’ quote come to mind? http://bit.ly/sRuGl #
  • Fnarr. Also, sounds really quite fun: http://bit.ly/KXpOV #
  • Bored of timber #
  • RT @themanwhofell My first act as Lord Mayor of Twitter will be to ban hashtags. #banhashtags #
  • Powdered baby milk *saves* lives by preventing mother-to-baby AIDS transmission #competitivegeekbaiting (inspired by @griefoftwats) #
  • Bob Crow teaming up with black cab drivers: http://bit.ly/JvEpW #nazisovietpact #
  • The Romans are a bunch of pansies and the Huns will kill you all within a few generations #competitivegothbaiting #
  • RT @hungbunny In case the Ashes and Tour de France aren’t thrilling enough for you, there’s 11 hours of golf on BBC2 today http://tr.im/sAAz #
  • Catholic schools in ‘favouring Catholics’ shock: http://u.mavrev.com/o2sa – what religion is the Pope again…? (via @mattwardman) #
  • The end times are upon us – RT @bigdaddymerk From bad to worse: Jo Whiley to lose radio 1 slot to Fearne Cotton. Jesus. #
  • I’d forgotten how much of a cock Dan Hardie can be: http://is.gd/1BrD0 #
  • Murder FACT: the 18 million people of New York City and New Jersey last year committed 50% more murders than the 60 million people of the UK #
  • This is weirdly hypnotic: http://pingwire.com/ #
  • So I got drunk last night, woke up at 6AM feeling fine, and have been awake and alert for hours. Why does that never happen on work days? #
  • Amazon deletes 1984 from customers’ Kindles: http://is.gd/1D43h #
  • Comment #5 here is WIN: http://bit.ly/74o7t #
  • The slightly confused-seeming doctor who does the History of Surgery programme on BBC is the absolute Don. #
  • Juno is the sweetest film ever, and Mitchell & Webb are comedy genii. Also, alcohol impairs my critical faculties. #
  • Very much enjoying live-wrestling tweets from @ladymcscamp #
  • Damn right: RT @tygerland “Can marriage mend broken Britain?” Sorry, BBC, I don’t accept the premise of the question. Britain isn’t broken. #

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How to rebuild your credit rating

I wrote this as a response to someone on B3ta, but realised it might be useful for a wider audience:

First, get your debts cancelled, written off, paid, or otherwise disposed of. The Citizens Advice Bureau will explain this best. Don’t pay anyone anything for advice – it won’t be any better than the CAB’s free service.

With your debt cancelled, first get a Basic Bank Account (here) – these are offered by most major banks, even if your credit is unimaginably bad, and mean that you can get paid your salary into your own account and take out cash from machines. It doesn’t give you a debit card or an overdraft. If this goes OK, your bank should be able to upgrade to a debit card account, or at least an Electron/Solo card account, before too long.

In the meantime, if you’re confident you won’t be tempted to spend the money, then also apply for a ‘people with dodgy history’ credit card with someone like Vanquis Bank. This will charge you an eye-raping rate of interest, but the reason you’re getting it isn’t to borrow money: just buy a tenner’s worth of petrol on it once a month and make sure you always pay off the fiver minimum balance, which will demonstrate that you can be trusted with having a credit card and making regular payments (pay off the rest of the balance every three months or so, before it gets out of hand).

Make sure you’re on the electoral register, try and make sure your name’s on the electricity, water, phone bills, and try and get a contract mobile once you’ve had the bank account and the credit card for a few months (even if that means paying them a deposit). That should all help – but in the end it’s a waiting game.

By all means comment on anything I’ve missed or that’s ropey…

How dare you provide me with goods and services

B3ta’s Question of the Week is on banks and banking. Oddly enough, the consensus is ‘against’. However, someone called ‘Star Wars’ has a rather nice post going against said consensus, which distills most (not all) complaints that people make about retail banks and penalty charges:

I opened a bank account once in the full and reasonable expectation that the banking system existed entirely for my benefit. Because of this, I didn’t bother reading the paperwork I’d signed; nor did I take much notice about my credit cards, overdraft limit, or anything else like that. After all, when the banking system is designed around your personal needs, desires and proclivities, it’s up to the banks to keep up with you.

Or me, in this case.

So I am, of course, full of righteous indignation about the manner in which these huge corporations have utterly failed to give their undivided attention to me, and – worse – the way in which they have utterly failed to read my mind and sort out all my banking requirements on my behalf without my even having to ask them.

I’m also disgusted by the way that these businesses seem to think that they can behave as though it’s important to make a profit. What temerity! What kind of world is it when a bank thinks that it exists to sell goods and services and make money from those sales, just like any other business? After all, I think we’ve already established that the system is for MY benefit, and mine alone. I think it’s disgusting that they should be able to charge me fees just because I really can’t be bothered to look after my own finances. It’s not as if I get anything in return (except interest on my savings and access to loans when I need them – but they don’t count).

I’m steaming with rage about the way in which, that time when the ATM went mad and doled out free £20 notes, I had to repay what I’d been given by accident.

Personally, I blame the Illuminati, the Bildeberg Group (I don’t know what this is, but I’ve heard of it, and it sounds sinister) and the Jews.

Yes, I know that banks can sometimes mess up, lose thousands of pounds of your money, and leave you in the utter shit. This is entirely bad, even though such events are normally sorted out pretty quickly.

However, nearly all the stick they get isn’t from people like that: it’s from people who can’t be bothered to check whether they’re over their overdraft limit, and/or who’ve borrowed silly amounts of money so they can go to Ibiza and have a big TV…

Update note: this isn’t sticking up for investment banks, or mortgage banks who were busted by their innovative financing models. Nor is it criticising people who are angry as taxpayers about the money channelled into banking. That’s fair and right. Blaming the bank when you spend money you’ve not got isn’t.

Rewriting history, recession edition

Says Railway Eye, a cynical and Tory-leaning transport blog:

There is certain information that voters and taxpayers might reasonably expect a Government department to know.

Or at least have a reasonable stab at.

Such as just how risky NatEx’s very aggressive bid for the East Coast franchise was; bearing in mind that the previous operator had failed to deliver with a lesser bid.

This is a stupid, nonsensical myth. For one, GNER failed on the East Coast Main Line because its parent company Sea Containers went bust and hence the DfT didn’t have confidence in its ability to meet financial contingency plans – its revenues never fell short.

For two, four companies – the four companies who know the most about the UK railway market – bid similar amounts as National Express for the East Coast franchise.

Up until the end of 2008, I was working as a strategy consultant. I was quite good at it; one area in which I fell down (in management’s eyes) was my pessimism [*] about clients’ projections.

So, on a particular project I ran in Spring 2008, working with our economics unit – one of the most respected that there is, and one of the ones that’s now making doomsaying predictions about government debt (…’which we’ll gladly help you reduce, if you’ll take our advice on cuts’) – I got them to take the lowest possible scenarios for growth that anyone considered vaguely sane, and factor them in as a ‘worst case’ [**].

For the US, that was 0.9% growth for 2009. For the UK, I can’t find the figures, but it was in the region of 1% growth for 2009. UK economic growth is currently expected to be about -4% for 2009.

The point isn’t that my lot were inept. They weren’t; they were reflecting the negative end of what anyone capable of holding down a job at a bank, government, NGO or economics think-tank [***] considered plausible. Hence, for the Treasury, and for National Express, and for every other bugger, to base their expectations on growth in 2009 being a third of what it was throughout the early 2000s was reasonable, and sufficiently conservative that you actually had to fight (senior, older, previous-recession-experienced) people to get that much through.

And yes, it was wrong, and yes, the next few years are going to be painful as a result – but suggesting the decisions made when literally nobody who wasn’t mad thought we were going to have a proper recession were therefore stupid decisions, rather than good decisions that happened to be proved wrong based on information that wasn’t available at the time, is far stupider than the original decisions ever were.

[*] ‘lack of commercial something or other’.
[**] some of the partners had survived prior recessions, so we didn’t actually call it ‘worst case’. Which is probably just as well.
[***] this is not a high bar.

Yes nucular, no Tridentular

Supporters of nuclear weapons systems like Trident generally justify the cash by saying things like ‘dangerous world, Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad very bad men, we can’t just disarm’. Or, more cynically, ‘place on world table, we can’t just disarm’.

I’m not totally sold on this argument – after all, the US will continue to have nuclear weapons for as long as it has a military-industrial complex [*] – and anyone who we can’t defeat with our conventional forces is realistically also going to be a strategic threat to the Yanks, no matter how annoyed they might be with our lack of military spending. And ‘place on world table’ is awesome for a few hundred diplomats and politicians whilst making c.sod all difference to anyone else.

But let’s say it’s true: we need nuclear weapons to deal with global security threats and enhance our prestige. Fine – but I don’t think I’ve seen any coherent argument for why we need to spend £60-80bn on Trident, rather than achieving all the ‘potential for revenge’ and ‘woo, we’re a nucular state’ through a lower-tech programme like India’s – which would cost somewhere between 10% and 25% as much.

That would still give us ballistic and cruise missiles capable of obliterating anyone except for the US and Russia – who we wouldn’t be able to obliterate with Trident either, even if we wanted to (not least because most operational aspects of Trident are controlled by the US). Which ought to be enough, oughtn’t it?

Anything I’m missing…?

[*] which we don’t to quite the same extent.

Our aviation correspondent writes in

Following this research into GE-made Airbus engines cutting out in ice, he say:

So far as the GE-powered AF 447 is concerned, the potential woes go on mounting:

* Dodgy AF training for weather
* Failure to change course for weather
* Sensors buggered by extreme temperature and/or turbulence
* Avionics gave up – handed control to pilots
* Who were probably asleep when the woes started
* And probably were only two junior officers (captain on rest break)
* Engines vulnerable to flame-out
* Plane previously damaged
* etc., etc.,

I’m continuing to avoid AF.

I also note that the French authorities leading the search failed – despite having a nuclear submarine easily capable of deep-water searches – to find the black boxes that would have shown whether the crash was the fault of the French national airline, the French national aircraft manufacturer, or something mysterious and improbably neither-of-the-above. This is my ‘shocked’ face.

Update: Air France has great deals in international flights right now. See also: hotels in Xinjiang, greased-pig-racing weekends, Labour prospective candidatures, etc.