All entries for Friday 15 September 2006

September 15, 2006

UK shafted by Nintendo, Sony

Not for the first time, UK gamers are going to be ripped off by the new third-generation consoles coming from Nintendo and Sony.

While the Nintendo Wii will cost under $250 in the United States, here in Blighty it’ll cost the equivalent of $336 (or £179).

Similarly, the Sony PS3 is expected to retail for over £400 (that’s $800) even though in the States you’ll be able to get one for $600.

Why are we getting so badly shafted? Is it because we’re not in the Euro? Well, yes it is partly, because the rest of Europe is getting a slightly better deal. But it’s also because while we get our VAT slapped onto the price, in the US it’s added afterwards (and starts at 8% in Texas).

So we are being ripped off – for no particularly good reason – but it’s not quite as bad as it looks on the surface. Still, it’s going to be worth buying games from the U.S. and having them shipped over.

If Tesco was a politician…

Michael HowardIf Tesco was a politician, who would it be? I think it’s Michael Howard. There’s something about their new commitment to locally-sourced food which reminds me of the Rory Bremner sketch that summed up Howard’s 2005 election campaign. “Don’t be afraid… I’m not going to hurt you!”

According to The Guardian Tesco is to open its regional buying offices to local producers and help them bring products to the market.

For many farmers and producers it’s a bit like sharing a bed with the Devil (or with a politician). Tesco has been the undoing of hundreds – if not thousands – of local butchers, bakers and greengrocers, such as in my home town of Tetbury where we’re left with one butcher, one baker and no greengrocer. Previously we had a total of six.

So should we be congratulating Tesco for its new ‘community’ initiative, or suspect that it’ll just be a niche initative which won’t undo the harm their supermarkets have done to locally owned retailers in the past decade?

From an environmental point of view, anything which reduces ‘food miles’ has to be a good thing. It makes no sense to drag carrots from Belgium when there’s perfectly good ones 500 yards from a Tesco supermarket. But Tesco’s plan is for “regional buying centres”. In theory, this means local produce made in Gloucestershire will have to be sent to Birmingham or Bristol, only to be sent straight back again. It’s not exactly progress. The way forward is for individual store managers to have local buying power, but that’s not the way supermarkets work.

Friends of the Earth have said they fear this may be just a ‘token gesture’, and I’m inclined to agree. While the environmental benefits may be welcome, this will do little to make our High Streets diverse and locally-owned. And it’s not exactly a great victory for David over Goliath.

As Michael would say: “Are you eating what we’re eating?”

Repetitive Strain Injury is cobblers

I’m not convinced about Repetitive Strain Injury. We’re told it’ll leave our wrists crippled. Newsround (yes I’m cool bored) had a scary piece on it yesterday which will probably put some kids off touching a computer keyboard. But I still can’t help thinking it’s a fuss about nothing.

You don’t hear kids being told to stop playing their music instrument in case they get RSI. You don’t hear about drummers getting RSI despite thrashing a drum kit for hours on end. So why is the computer keyboard (which requires far less movement) such a lethal device?!

I know some people do get Repetitive Strain Injury, and I’m not trying to say it doesn’t exist. But isn’t it possible that this is more to do with people having weak joints or muscles rather than some widespread problem that affects the whole population?

To add to the confusion, some data on RSI suggests that instances of RSI have fallen in recent years, with no obvious explanation for it.

Considering how long I spend slumped over a laptop keyboard, if RSI was a problem that affected people equally I’d have had it by now. As I haven’t I can only think that we should be treating it differently – advisory prevention rather than scaring kids into thinking their wrists are about to fall off when they clearly aren’t.

P.S. I find it hilarious that a search for repetitive strain injury brings up Injury Lawyers 4U as the first result… ha ha ha.

Alan Johnson's Big Dilemma

Alan Johnson faces a tough decision: run for the Labour leadership and probably lose to Gordon Brown, or run for the Deputy leadership and face a tough battle with big names like Jack Straw. But the real dilemma is: if not Johnson versus Brown, then who else?

According to The Guardian today, Alan Johnson is under pressure from Blairites in the Labour Party (those that remain!) to run for the leadership. But a ‘close friend’ says he’d rather be Deputy to someone else, like Gordon Brown.

You can see why when you examine the figures from the Electoral Reform Society, which puts John McDonnell ahead of Brown and Johnson in the minds of over 200 trade unionists at the TUC Conference. Johnson has a mountain to climb with the unions, a group both key to the election of the next leader – and deputy – but also wary of Johnson who in many ways should be a natural ally.

With Jack Straw expected to declare his intention to run for the Deputy Leadership at the weekend, Alan Johnson’s position is precarious. He would be in real danger of losing both elections (like Margaret Beckett) and facing a disappointing future career in the Cabinet (or even outside).

But the real question for Alan Johnson is: if he isn’t the quasi-Blairite to run for the leadership, who will be? Perhaps Charles Clarke. Maybe John Reid. But his head is probably telling him that neither would stand much of a chance against Brown.

With the pace of the leadership election quickening by the day (I’d be surprised if someone doesn’t declare something at the weekend), Johnson is going to have to make decisions quickly or he’ll be left behind with too much ground to make up.

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