All posts by John B

A thing of beauty

Charlie Brooker sums up Britishness with t3h excellence:

I was born in the 70s and grew up in a tiny rural village. There was, I think, only one black kid in my primary school. One day, someone pushed him over and called him “blackjack”. The headmaster called an impromptu assembly. It involved the entire school, and took place outdoors. No doubt: this was unusual.

We stood in military rows in the playground. I must have been about six, so I can’t remember the words he used, but the substance stuck. He spoke with eerie, measured anger. He’d fought in the second world war, he told us. Our village had a memorial commemorating friends of his who had died. Many were relatives of ours. These villagers gave their lives fighting a regime that looked down on anyone “different”, that tried to blame others for any problem they could find; a bullying, racist regime called “the Nazis”. Millions of people had died thanks to their bigotry and prejudice. And he told us that anyone who picked on anyone else because they were “different’ wasn’t merely insulting the object of their derision, but insulting the headmaster himself, and his dead friends, and our dead relatives, the ones on the war memorial. And if he heard of anyone – anyone – using racist language again, they’d immediately get the slipper.

Corporal punishment was still alive and well, see. The slipper was his nuclear bomb.

It was the first time I was explicitly told that racism was unpleasant and it was a lesson served with a side order of patriot fries. Or rather, chips. Our headmaster had fought for his country, and for tolerance, all at once. That’s what I understood it meant to be truly “British”: to be polite, and civil and fair of mind. (And to occasionally wallop schoolkids with slippers, admittedly, but we’ll overlook that, OK? We’ve moved on.)

Hating furriners, wanting to kick out furriners, being jealous of furriners – all of that nonsense is as foreign, un-British and generally despicable as it gets.

Evidence-based policymaking

The shouty left are far more likeable than the New Labour ‘left’ or the Tory right in general, and their opinions on the things that really matter – murdering foreign civilians, locking people up without charge, banning freedom of speech, and such like – are generally spot on.

However, one way in which they drive me mad is their refusal to accept actual evidence as a factor in decisionmaking and policymaking, in areas where the goal isn’t contentious but the ways to achieve it are.

This is best exemplified by anyone who calls for water utilities to be taken back into public ownership, as the public sector authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland provide a poorer service than the private sector English water companies at about the same cost.

But another good example, spotted by Rick at FCFT, relates to the different policies adopted toward the NHS by the English, Welsh and Scottish governments (FT article, registration may be required).

The introduction of targets for NHS waits in England, followed by more choice, competition and greater use of the private sector, has been highly controversial. While the impact of choice and competition in England is not yet clear, “the terror of targets” worked, according to Carol Propper, a professor of health economics at Imperial College London.

After rises in NHS funding, “waits are down in all three countries”, she said. “But they have come down much faster in England.”

The English NHS is hitting a maximum 18-week wait for treatment that Scotland will not achieve until 2011.

Waits are worse in Wales, and a few years ago a Welsh Audit Office report noted that the poorer overall health of the Welsh population did not explain the performance. Northern parts of England, it noted, had similar health status “but have consistently delivered more healthcare at lower cost”.

In other words, the much-reviled NHS internal market and targets, as one might expect given that markets and targets do have an impact in pretty much every other area of life, has worked better at delivering improved outcomes in England than the traditional centralised NHS model has at delivering improved outcomes in Wales and Scotland.

Like the water example, this is unlikely to change the Shouty Left’s minds. Shame there isn’t some kind of Evidence-Based Party to support – just right-wing ideologues who happen to be right in the cases listed above, and left-wing ideologues who happen to be right on other things.

What sort of people do we want in the UK?

Doctors? Engineers? Refugees from torture? No, the consensus is apparently that the people we most want are third-world mercenaries.

Not quite sure why ‘being a mercenary who signed up in the full knowledge they’d get a giant sack of money and no British passport’ ought to put one to the top of the ‘British passport’ queue… but who am I to judge the Great British Public?

In view of our navy’s struggle to maintain greatness, perhaps we could draft the Somalian pirates next…

Top words

In an example of ‘embarrassing lack of imagination’, I’m going to post the top words that my phone believes I want to type when presented with a given letter. Maybe this could be a new meme, if people are really that bored.

NB I use my phone to blog, Twitter and send work emails, as well as txt msgs and personal emails. I’m assuming ‘vote’ is from blogging, ‘editorial’ from work, and ‘drunk’ from home life, although nothing is certain in this world. Oh, also my phone has a QWERTY keyboard, hence 2ABC not agglomerated together…

A: also / agree / airport / also happy [‘airport’ is the start of a theme]
B: based / been / because / be able to
C: can you / can you send / could / cheers [needy, me? think these are mostly work though]
D: driver / days / due to / drunk
E: email / entered / editorial / editor
F: flight / fine / from / flat
G: great / going / good / goes
H: however / have / have been / him to
I: it’s / it’s not / India / in the [It’s not India? Well, why all the elephants and beggars then?]
J: job title / just / John / Jess [I’m there from signing off work emails]
K: know / know it’s / Kentish / Kentish Town [you know it’s Kentish, Kentish Town, despite its geographical location]
L: less / last / line / least
M: most / make / mean / me know
N: need / need to / number / needs
O: on this / on the / on my / only
P: post / please / please can / please can you [again, think this is work]
Q: quid / queries / quite / quickly
R: rIGHT / road / rather / resolved [yes, I’m surprised by capitalisation here. Silly phone]
S: some / see you / should / should be
T: this / to be / that / the current
U: under / using / until / until we
V: vote / volume / voicemail / vine
W: will / with / which / wine [vine and wine. yay!]
X: Xavier [I’ve never typed ‘Xavier’ and don’t know anyone called Xavier. Christ knows why HTC decided to put this as the only & default option for X. Maybe I’ll get an x-ray just so I can tell people about it…]
Y: your / you get / you send / years
Z: Zealand / zones / zenith

Only 3 numbers have predictions attached:
1: 1925 / 1983 / 12ish [flight time, absolutely no idea but presumably the year, and time of day, respectively. There was a brief time when ‘1’ came up with ’17 year old’, for reasons that baffled me – yes, I checked my sent messages, and nothing untoward was apparent]
3: 3 seats [to myself, on the Flight from the Airport to India at 1925]
7: 7ish [probably later formalised to 1925]

So, readers, what does my phone say about me? What’s the most amusing SMS you can create from the words above? What’re your favourite predictive messaging predictions?

Whatever it is, it ain’t murder

In light of recent events, and some people’s comments on them, it’s worth clarifying English law on murder.

The current direction on when an act can be classed as murder was handed down by the House of Lords in R. v. Woolin:

Where the charge is murder and in the rare cases where the simple direction is not enough, the jury should be directed that they are not entitled to infer the necessary intention, unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty (barring some unforeseen intervention) as a result of the defendant’s actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case, the decision being for the jury to decide on a consideration of all the evidence.

Now, this isn’t nice behaviour, to put it absurdly mildly. But it’s very clearly not something that would make death or serious bodily harm a virtual certainty. So murder it isn’t.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, is proved on the basis of ‘an unlawful act that is likely to do harm’… and I’m fairly sure I know what I’d say were I on the jury.

In Australia, it means ‘food poisoning’

People appear to actually be slightly surprised, shocked, and even upset that Gordon Ramsay’s gastropubs use pre-made food.

People are silly.

Absolutely everyone in foodservice, outside of the very top end (which gastropubs charging £15 for a main course are, obviously, not) uses pre-made, bought-in dishes. Indeed, Ramsay is a step higher than most: at least the dishes he serves are made to his specifications in his own factory…

If you fancy a fun (note: may not contain actual fun) game over the weekend, then print out Brakes Foodservice’s premium catalogue, and cross-match it to dishes on sale in your local gastropub or mid-priced restaurant…

Did you forget to take your medication?

I recognise that reading the comments on CiF is a surefire route to apoplexy and insanity. However, this is an excellent bullet-pointed list of Mad Things That Angry Right Wing People Believe, and hence worth reproducing:

In response to your puzzling question, what specific ‘freedoms’ have we lost? And please be specific. Although it was not directed at me personally I trust you will not object to an input from one who has served the crown in the defence of the freedoms our forefathers fought for. How are these for specifics?
• We are no longer able to share a joke with our ethnic or gay friends in case we are in the earshot of interfering snoopers who will report us for racist or homophobic remarks.

No, incitement to racial or homophobic hatred is illegal, making racist and homophobic remarks is entirely legal (whether you’re doing so as a joke with your ‘darkie’ and ‘bender’ mates who secretly despise you, or out of actual bigotry). Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We cannot object to the relevant planning authorities regarding the siting of Gypsy encampments as this is invariably translated by officialdom as a racist offence.

This is just mental. Obviously you can object to the relevant planning authorities about anything. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• Photographing policemen in uniform is now an offence under the terrorism act. God knows why, because if a uniformed policeman is not undercover, his occupation is plain for all to see if one wanted to put a bullet in his head.

No, it isn’t. The CPS has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the intention behind taking the photos was to help terrorism. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We are not allowed to take photographs of railway stations, airports etc under the terrorism act.

Yes, you are. There isn’t even any legislation at all that could be misinterpreted as banning this. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We are not allowed to take photographs of our own children, never mind anyone elses, in various school group activities as we are all suspected paedophiles.

This has the grain of a point, although it’s got fuck all to do with the government and everything to do with other bloody parents complaining.

• We are not allowed to smack our children but teachers and parents, alike, are subjected to verbal and physical abuse by delinquent children. Only the other day it was suggested we should be banned from shouting at the little treasures.

Smacking children is entirely legal. Nobody sane or important has suggested banning shouting at children. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We are not allowed to shout abuse at politicians, particularly at party conferences, for fear of being detained under the terrorism act.

…whereas in the past you’d have been detained for breach of the peace, and also let go once you stopped being a tosser.

• We are not allowed to carry out a peaceful demonstration in the vicinity of Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament or now even coal fired power stations.

This one has a point, although it remains to be seen exactly what the power station demo busts were about.

• We are not allowed to eat or drink whilst driving for fear of persecution or should I say prosecution. Actually it amounts to the same thing.

Evil ZaNuLiebour, making me *look what I’m fucking doing* whilst in control of a two-tonne missile.

• We cannot travel on the tube, with or without a haversack on ones back, in the certain knowledge one wont be shot seven times in the head under the shoot to kill policy.

On the plus side, if you look Irish rather than suntanned, you’re probably less likely to be shot seven times in the head under a shoot-to-kill policy than under prior governments.

• We cannot smoke in public places unless of course one is a member of parliament and enjoy the comforts of the Commons bar.

Smoking is allowed in outdoor public places, and banned in the Commons bar. Otherwise, spot on.

• We cannot buy wine in a supermarket if accompanied by a minor.

So the government is responsible for one supermarket cashier being an idiot now? It’s legal to buy wine in a supermarket when accompanies by a minor. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or a liar.

• We cannot go into hospital without fear of contracting MSRA or other bugs.

MRSA emerged in the 1960s, is lower in the UK than most other countries, and rates are falling. Otherwise, spot on.

• We have lost the rights to justice when any criminal act is carried out against us by a thief or violent thug.

What does this even mean? You can kill someone entirely legally in self-defence, and almost all violent acts against ‘civilians’ (ie not drunken fights between twats) are punished by imprisonment.

• We cannot walk the streets without being under surveillance but yet the criminals including some elements of the police always seem to escape detection by this means.

CCTV is massively important in bringing criminals to trial, and indeed in exposing misconduct by coppers. Yes, they sometimes make the tapes disappear when it suits them (Menezes comes to mind), they should be punished for this.

• We have lost all rights to question the spending of our public servants in local and national government.

What the blazing, flaming fuck? Every right-wing git spends every second of their waking day questioning the spending of public servants in local and national government…

• We were denied the right of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as promised in the Governments manifesto.

Yes, technically true. We have a parliamentary system rather than a plebescite system because most people are idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to operate machinery, never mind determine complex constitutional arrangements – nonetheless, once the government had made that idiotic promise, they should have kept it.

• Our DNA will be stolen from us and kept on file if arrested for any minor offence even if not subsequently charged.

…whereas if it were only ‘if charged’, that’d be OK? Yay extra-judicial punishment. We should either keep *everyone*’s DNA on file or nobody’s; anything in between is daft. (I’m probably in favour of a… in general, I don’t really give a fuck about ‘privacy’ freedoms, it’s ‘not being coshed round the head and locked up’ freedoms that matter).

In short, a couple of real things, mostly nonsense. That’s a pretty good summary of the current government’s critics, wouldn’tyasay?

Relatedly, I’m now going to vote Labour in the next election, since my new house is in the same constituency with the same, excellent MP I had two houses ago. And not the revolting bastard who ‘represented’ me in my last house, in between flirting with faded TV starlets and cosying up to evil religious loonies.

Da do ron ron ron da do ron ron

On reading of Phil Spector’s murder conviction last night, and the suggestion that it might devalue his (indisputably great) achievements, my first thought was ‘anyone who thinks that is a tit’.

That starting point got me thinking about historical figures who, despite providing unequivocal net good to society, were despicable bastards in their private lives.

In that frame of mind, I read this:

Once upon a time I was a communist, before that I was a catholic. Rather like Terry Eagleton I was able to make the transition between the two quite comfortably because I could do so without having to encounter liberalism along the way.

…and was reminded how grateful I am to random chance for the fact that Henry VIII happened to evolve where and when he did.

The rest of the piece is here, although sadly it doesn’t quite live up to that awesome line.

Top 5 Things That Have Made Me Happy Today

Still mblogging, so can’t face messing about with links. If anything intrigues and confuses you, google is your friend.

1) Stephen Frears’s High Fidelity. Best geeky boy film ever, one of best love stories ever, terrifyingly accurate insight into my past relationships ever, etc. I know Nick Hornby also relevant but I’ve boycotted praising him after the embarrassing nonsense that was How To Be Good.

2) Man skills. The power went off. I made it come back on. Woo!

3) My excellent flatmate. For being impressed by both 1 and 2, for making me move to the official Best Part Of World Ever, for general aceness, etc.

4) Getting messages from my 80something grandparents written in txtspeak. U R BTH DOIN IT RITE. I hope in 55 years time I’m equally able to use Direct Mindreading 4D Lasers as well as the average 15-year-old.

5) Being right about #amazonfail being nonsense. Come on people, corporations aren’t just evil for fun, and society has thankfully reached the point where hating t3h gayz is pretty much as mainstream-unacceptable as hating the Jews. If a big, mainstream, plc-not-fanatic-owned company appears to be banning all gay books of course it’s because they’ve been hacked/trolled/troll-hacked rather than because they’ve decided Do Be Evil is their new maxim.

(in a rare example of positivity, I’m not compiling a detailed ‘things that have made me unhappy’ list. This was made easier by the fact that #amazonfail, emailgate and the worst of my Holiday Weekend Hangover all happened yesterday.

Although grumpy new neighbour whose idea of a greeting was to say “all of this (apparently shared) terrace is mine, only the door and doorway is yours, go away” and slam terrace door is today’s main fail. What the hell need is there to be such a tool? Even if the estate agent lied and the neighbour is actually right, anyone who isn’t a ‘needs electric drill in head’ tosswit would surely go for something more like “Nice to meet you too. I’m sorry, this area is part of our flat and that’s in the deeds, but welcome to the building and would you like a cup of tea?”. Fuckmonkey.

They call me Black Stacey

As you may have noticed, I haven’t updated for a while, as I’ve been in the poorest country outside of Africa (*) with only a mobile phone for connectivity. And while my mobile phone is more of a mini-laptop, it’s not really conducive to full-on blogging.

And while I haven’t checked rates, I’m fairly sure GPRS roaming charges in the few bits of the country where GPRS works are a billion dollars per kB…

So my online presence has been confined to Twittering (I hate ‘tweet’ as a verb to describe anything other than bird noises). You can see the latest updates on the left of the scren, or you can follow me by clicking the link there.

When I get back I’m planning to blog on:
* amusing historic leaders of Hispaniola
* French versus English colonialism
* How nearly all the mistakes made in decolonisation were visible 150 years before in Haiti
* the Citadel and King Henry Christopher
* NGOcracy and the new colonialism – not a bad thing
* the death of solitude

That’s mostly so I remember and feel obliged to actually write at least some of them, although do feel free to critique and throw peanuts based on the titles…

* my phone suggested ‘outside of France’ as an autocomplete here, which is inaccurate but bizarrely appropriate.