A man of genius makes no mistakes

June 16, 2012 Leave a comment

“[Great Blasket] island was inhabited until 1953, when the Irish government decided that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the remaining population. It was the home of three noted Irish writers: Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin” - some slightly ropy web slideshow.

It’s a fair call. There is absolutely no effing way I would consider myself safe if sharing a small island with three noted Irish writers. One, you could overpower. Two, you could feed them whiskey and song until the one killed the other. But three? Jaysus.

Relatedly, happy Bloomsday.

The sun is, most likely, still gonna shine in November

June 7, 2012 Leave a comment

After a massively high-spending recall campaign, a controversial Republican state governor has held onto power with a slightly increased majority (while losing control of the state senate). Naturally, the oh-so-left-wing US media are spinning this as Terrible Democrat Defeat, Disaster Due for November, etc.

To highlight the fact that this spin is absolute dingoes’ kidneys, it’s been pointed out that the Walker campaign spent $7 for every $1 his opponent could muster, which is not really a feasible plan for the November election (no, not even for someone with Mitt Romney’s wallet).

This figure is slightly unfair: the difference wasn’t as stark between interest groups which didn’t donate directly to the campaign. Not much less stark, though. Some quick-and-dirty analysis on CNN’s handy “who gave what” piece shows that we have:

Walker $30.5m
Named R lobby groups $16.9m
Estimated R lobby groups* $0.8m
Total R $48.2m (71% of total)

Barrett $3.9m
Named D lobby groups $14.9m
Estimated D lobby groups* $0.7m
Total D $19.4 (29% of total)

So the Republicans only need to manage to outspend the Democrats by 2.5:1 in November. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

They’ll also need a charismatic candidate who’s become popular among independents (17% of Walker voters currently say they’ll go for Obama in November) through being fiscally conservative but avoiding the social culture war. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

* The “estimate” is where I’ve split the outside donations that aren’t named to specific groups between the parties according to the split of named groups. If you ignore it instead, you get 72%/28%.

100% true, 100% of the time

June 2, 2012 1 comment

From Ian B at Tim’s place:

The problem with a society in the grip of a moral panic- an example is the Gay Panic that started in Victorian England- is that it does not recognise it. The hysterical and extreme behaviours exhibited by panickers are considered not only normal, not even just desirable, but effectively obligatory. It’s quite interesting to note that the paedophile as folk devil has almost perfectly replaced the homosexual as folk devil, with only the degree of hysteria being even greater. The fact that many of the victims of this witch hunt are not, as noted above, even recognisably suffering from the aberration described as paedophilia does not matter, because unfortunately when it’s witch huntin’ season all that matters is that one joins in with the hunt (or raise suspicions that one is worthy of becoming the quarry).

…and this is why we throw people in jail for possession of Simpsons slashfic and manga. Even though only a certifiable lunatic could consider such an outcome just, The Great And The Good don’t want to march in the streets in defence of Someone Who Might Be A Nonce.

Categories: Bit of politics Tags: ,

Sacking people is easy to do

May 24, 2012 12 comments

Just a quick one on the incompetent Mr Beecroft‘s attempt to take labour relations back to the 1830s… noting that in private sector workplaces in England & Wales without union recognition agreements, all of the following are the case:

There are straightforward processes available to sack lazy/incompetent workers which, if you follow them correctly, take less than six months from when you first notice the problem with their work [*] and don’t lead to complicated legal action. I’ve personally dismissed people in this way. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

There are straightforward process available to sack people for gross misconduct which, if you follow them correctly, can be actioned on the same day, totally resolved within a week, and don’t lead to complicated legal action. I’ve personally dismissed someone in this way. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

If someone you have sacked having followed the correct procedures then takes you to tribunal, you can call a pre-hearing review where the judge determines there is little or no case to answer. Should they wish to pursue the case, they’ll have to pay a hefty deposit and will ultimately be liable to pay your costs when you lose. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

Where cases make it as far as losing at a tribunal, it is inevitably for one of two reasons:
1) the person was fired without reasonable cause (whether for race/whistleblowing/management petulance/whatever)
2) the person was fired with reasonable cause, but the company failed to follow the simple procedures that you need to follow in order to fire somebody with reasonable cause.

Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

In unionised and/or public sector workplaces, the procedures may be more complicated; I’ve got no idea how they work, having never worked as a manager there. Ditto Scotland, although I think most employment law is reserved to Westminster. But none of that matters for Beecroft’s purposes, because the procedures followed in these situations are not the ones laid down in statute law, and hence wouldn’t be changed by anything that Beecroft dictates.

[*] it’s been questioned whether ‘six months’ is ‘simple’. I’d say yes: if someone on probation turns out to be crap, you can fire them immediately and easily – so the ‘six months’ bit only occurs for someone who was decent and suddenly becomes crap, or who’s been left to get on with being crap for years with nobody doing anything about it. In the first case, it’s human decency to give them the chance to turn around (hence why performance improvement plans etc exist); in the second, the company can hardly blame the law for doing what it failed to do in the first place.

Shot by how many sides again?

March 7, 2012 1 comment

Everything is retro is coming round again, and so on. In that vein, I’ve dragged some offensive old blog or other from the depths of my spare hard drive. My foreword to the reprint may provide context. Dive in, if that’s your thing.

You’d probably do better just to watch this, though:

Fans of Sharpeners will like this

March 6, 2012 1 comment

All the content from the long-defunct Sharpener group blog (formerly at thesharpener.net, before pirates stole the domain name) is now available at sharpener.johnband.org. The formatting’s basic, and categories have been lost; this may improve in future.

That was the easy-ish task, building a new WordPress 3.3.1 site based on a fairly arbitrary selection of obsolete MySQL databases (while junking all actual blog skins etc because they were compromised by virus-injecting malware types over the years). The next task, which will be super-exciting for fans of masochism, will be to set up a WordPress 3.3.1 blog and then import a whole bunch of tables from a non-standard, custom-built Access database into it.

Fans of controversy and excellence, and/or readers of my last post, may be able to guess which particular Holy Grail of magazine-titled Internet history will be revived as if by Dr Frankenstein at the end of this process.

That worked remarkably well, all things considered

March 4, 2012 1 comment

If you’re seeing this, then my server migration was absolutely gangbusters-awesome, God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world. The Sharpener and SBBS projects may be slightly more challenging, but they are on the way. If you don’t know what the last sentence means, then I salute your wisdom in spending the mid-to-late 2000s on worthwhile pursuits.

A quiz it is

February 24, 2012 14 comments

Trivia only a day later than promised; that’s practically on time. Vaguely colonial-themed. Question 1 is for non-Sydneysiders only. Leave your answers in comments; winner gets some kind of actual or virtual prize.

1a) Which sport is played most frequently at the Sydney Football Stadium?
1b) Which sport is played most frequently at the Sydney Cricket Ground?
2) Which year was the first US air raid on Tokyo?
3) Who is the Head Chief of Fiji?
4) Which US state has the Union Jack on its flag?
5) What’s the southernmost point in the EU?
6) Which country’s independence was secured under General Halloween the Opening?
7) Why did a hundred Canadians move a very long way south in 1837?
8) Which country’s federal parliament sits furthest away from its cabinet?
9) Which single letter distinguishes the Raven King from Richard IV?
10) Which country’s former national flag included a harp, a fleur-de-lys and four lions?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

Why minimum alcohol pricing is a terrible idea

December 30, 2011 9 comments

Governments in both England and Scotland are planning minimum-pricing regimes for alcohol. These are a terrible idea, not only if you’re a liberal, but even on their own terms. There are three main issues associated with minimum pricing, all of which are conflated by minimum price proponents (this article is a good example of their muddled thinking, and indeed their sanctimony; this piece is expanded from a comment I left there).

1) is it reasonable to expect the government to take measures to reduce the harm that alcohol does to people who aren’t consenting adults?

Yes of course. Hence, tougher powers for councils to revoke the licenses of pubs and clubs associated with violent behaviour, tougher enforcement of bans on sales to minors, better treatment for domestically abusive alcoholics and support for their families, and so on are a good idea.

Nobody has come up with any evidence *at all* that minimum pricing would have any impact on this. Booze consumed in pubs and clubs is always going to be above any minimum price level that encompasses off-trade sales, because *that markup is what pays for the pub to exist*, so the town centre violence argument is nonsense; and bottle-a-day alkies are merely going to have less money to spend on other, less important things like food.

2) is it reasonable to expect the government to impose restrictive measures on consenting adults, based on the probability of health risks in later life *to the person being considered*?

Not in my opinion. If people choose to lower their life expectancy from 80 to 60 but have a better time on the way, that’s entirely their lookout.

This is where the puritan wing (‘teetotalitarians’) and the liberal wing of the left diverge: the puritans want to compel everyone else to live in the way that they view as most appropriate. Which, y’know, is pretty much exactly the same as religious fundamentalists compelling everyone else to live in the way that they view as most appropriate.

3) Even if you accept the puritan argument, is a minimum price a good way of achieving it?

Absolutely not, it’s a fucking terrible idea, because THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF THE POLICY GO TO THE BREWERS AND THE SUPERMARKETS. Suddenly, there’s a floor to price competition in the market, which means that everyone involved makes far more profit. This is what a cartel *is*.

If Cameron wasn’t in the industry’s pocket, he’d be suggesting that alcohol tax were raised to ensure that, based on the current lowest-cost production, all forms of booze cost at least 50p a unit (formal policy, actual rates reviewed every year based on what was available in the market). This would have the same impact on consumption of cheap booze as the proposed policy on drinking, whatever you think that impact may be, but the money raised would go to schools’n’hospitals rather than to Mr Tesco and Mr Heineken. At the same time, it would encourage people above the ‘cheap booze’ cutoff point to moderate their consumption, which is a desirable goal if you support the puritan argument (d’you think Christopher Hitchens drank cheap cider or Special Brew? Not exactly…)

The only reason to support a minimum price over higher tax is if you think the poor should have their lifestyle choices forcibly controlled by the state, but that the middle classes shouldn’t. In which case, you’re a bit of a scumbag, nah?

(disclosure as always: I’ve done consulting work for the drinks industry in the past and will probably do so in the future.)

This little thing? Oh, it doesn’t matter; here you go

December 30, 2011 8 comments

Via Tim, I find a very cool article on the Aussies who worked in Melbourne under Bletchley Park’s command, breaking the Pacific Axis’s codes during WWII [*]. Very cool, and – unlike the (shamefully underfunded, GIVE THEM MONEY) museum at Bletchley, not even remembered at all. Should be.

This obviously gets me onto the history of the computer: so the calculator invented by a Victorian lady and her partner; was ignored. Almost a hundred years later, a very hardcore calculator invented by Polish geniuses to try and not be invaded by the Germans AGAIN was the genesis of the proper modern computer.

So we set up Bletchley for Polish, UK and general Commonwealth geniuses and a supporting cast to work together on similar grounds. And it was aces, and we cracked a bunch of codes, and a vast quantity of moral dilemmas were created for governments (‘do we save the people of Coventry when doing so would risk blowing the D-Day landings, as it would let the Germans know that we know their codes?’ – while there are some aspects of the conduct of Mr Churchill and Mr Harris that I question, anyone who could answer that question with the correct answer, rather than turning into a blubbing wreck at the horribleness of the thing they’d just chosen, is a better man than me), and we started turning the direction of the war, and it was the first time ELECTRONICS WAS FUCKING ACES.

At roughly this point, a gay English genius invented the first electronic computer. Which was even better at doing sums than the electro-mechanical ones that had been going down before. At roughly the same point, the war was won. This was not a coincidence: it’s how WWII went down: we lost at actual battles, then we broke the Nazi and Japanese codes, then we stopped losing, because we knew where they were going to be, and they didn’t always know that we knew this. Both sides had highly skilled coders. Well, the Commonwealth, Germany and Japan had highly skilled coders [**]. But the Commonwealth chaps did better, largely thanks to Poles, geeks and queers. Meanwhile, the USSR won its battles for for, erm, nastier reasons.

Then the war ended, following the USA’s scientific contribution and the USSR’s entry into the War in the East. The USA’s manpower and materiel contribution to the war was unequivocal and without it, the outcome would have been terrible. Its scientific contribution meant that the USSR was scared off occupying Japan, which probably worked out best for even the people of Japan. Hurrah! Brief John & Yoko moment.

So. To recap, the Commonwealth diverted her finest scientific brains and vast resources to Bletchley and its satellites. This secured an extra advantage in close-matched battles, that made the Normandy landings feasible and won the Pacific naval war. After that, everything was bloody, grinding and attrition-y, but history, and WE INVENTED THE FUCKING ELECTRONIC COMPUTER.

You might assume, at this point, as an impartial sane reader from Mars, that you’d be reading this on a computer that ran on Turing-OS, or perhaps on something cutely named for Oxfordshire.

As if. Guess what the British government did at the end of WWII? Set up an endowment of millions of pounds to develop computers for civilian ends? Said to the brilliant scientists who won the war ‘sorry, we’re broke, but why don’t you develop these for civilian ends and you’ll share the money’? Probably the latter, right? The British government was fucking broke at the end of WWII, and it might be a struggle to show the benefits of new technology, so pass on the rights to the folks who sorted it out and let them make money…?

As if. THEY GAVE THE ENTIRE FUCKING TECHNOLOGY, LOCK STOCK AND BARREL, TO THE USA, AND THEN MADE IT ILLEGAL FOR ANYONE IN THE COMMONWEALTH TO EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.

So the USA took this in the intended spirit, right? (fuck knows what the UK’s intended spirit here was, other than the spirit of ‘technological & industrial suicide’) Well, guess which company which was THE KEY TECHNOLOGICAL ENABLER OF THE FUCKING HOLOCAUST they passed the details onto, almost straight away, so they could market their Business Machines Internationally [CHALLENGING ANAGRAMS]. Whilst, just as a reminder, anyone in the UK would have been jailed or hanged for using any of the Bletchley computer secrets in any kind of industrial work.

I don’t blame the US government for this. If I were PM of anywhere, and someone gave me blueprints to THE MOST AMAZING TECHNOLOGY THERE WAS, then I’d immediately give it to every industrial company in my territory. But fuck, it changes one’s take on Attlee somewhat, doesn’t it? Yes, land fit for heroes, NHS, pensions, great, it is well fair. But you didn’t really need to TAKE THE MOST IMPORTANT INVENTION OF THE FOLLOWING 100 YEARS AND FUCKING GIVE IT TO THE AMERICANS AND THEN FUCKING MAKE IT ILLEGAL FOR YOUR OWN CITIZENS TO DO ANYTHING WITH IT AT ALL, did you? I mean, really, that wasn’t necessary.

So yeah. End of UK as anything important is exactly equal to the point when the idiots in charge decided that the computer was so irrelevant we might as well give it to the colonial cousins, they understand that sort of thing don’t you know. And the miserable, horrific hounding to death of the one man who did the most to save civilisation in WWII, Mr Turing, was hardly a surprise after that – once the computer had gone to America, what use is someone who invents something that nobody in your own land believes to be worth the square root of fuck all?

[*] That quite good war, before we returned to the pre-1939 model of only fighting wars that were pointless and stupid (apart from the one in 1982, which is only opposed by scumbags who hate democratic self-determination. And yes, I otherwise hate Madame T).

[**] The only USA code that remained unbroken during the war was the Navajo code. This is unsurprising, given the tale of the US Senator who toured the Melbourne coding facilities and then “went back home and told American newspapers how American ingenuity had cracked the Japanese codes”. Whichever member of the Australian government let a FOREIGN BLOODY POLITICIAN tour the facilities really should have been horsewhipped.