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June 05, 2009

James Purnell

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8083585.stm

So Purnell has resigned and written a letter asking for Brown to step down for the sake of the party.  He cares so much for the party that he:

1) colluded with the media to get this letter out just after local elections;

2) claimed for things like fridge magnets (£247), accountants (nearly £400) and thousands of pounds in rent on the public purse; and

3) did not resign immediately - as he should have done - when news about his expenses broke.

Perhaps he should reconsider whether he has enough honesty and personal integrity to continue doing anything remotely linked to politics.


January 31, 2008

Fun With Law I

English law is not as dry as it appears. Every so often you'll run into a case like this:

Parrott v Park [2007] EWHC 210

 A contributed £73,000 (55%) of the purchase price of the yacht "UP YAWS", which was then registered in B's sole name. There was no evidence of an intended gift.  
 Can you imagine having to sue someone to claim your share of a yacht called "UP YAWS"?

January 10, 2008

Daily Mail still hates the law

Writing about web page http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=507355&in_page_id=1770

The Daily Mail doesn't usually mince its words. The mincing comes with its understanding of the law. Usually it's issues of self-defence where the misunderstanding of what exactly constitutes 'Reasonable Force' (ie subjective Necessity and objective Proportionate Force) leads to the defence of some people who have been put away either by a jury or by their own guilty plea because the "Nanny State" does all it can to 'protect the criminals'.

Its right-wing vitriol isn't limited to attacking the legislators and courts for juries putting away murderers,  but also towards any council or town that observes health & safety regulations. Naturally the Mail doesn't quite realise that many of these regulations are in place to help protect councils from potentially heavy claims in tort. 

Here's the thought-provoking Daily-Mail headline:

Health and safety killjoys order award-winning village to take down its hanging baskets  

Wonderful, isn't it?

The Daily Mail goes on to criticise the council for its "politically correct" decision to ban placing these heavy (20kg) flower baskets on what the paper itself calls "crumpling" and "old"  lampposts which are due to be replaced in 2010 .

Here is what is really the key issue, brought up by a sensible member of the council:

Simon Mutten, the council's environmental services manager, said: "A risk has been brought to our attention by professionals and we cannot ignore it because if we did and something, however unlikely, happened then we would be taken to the cleaners."

If you have foreseen a risk (and it doesn't necessarily have to be huge: Denning, cricket and all that jazz) with something that is your responsibility and you neglect to do something that is reasonably within your capacity and you have a well-established duty of care (as councils generally do) and someone does die or is harmed by your omission, you leave yourself up to all sorts of claims.

You may see this as a problem with the law/claims culture (see Atiyah)  but that is something not easily changed, precisely because the development of the law has been trying to be as just as possible to all parties. The legislature is not (at least I hope) going to turn around tomorrow and rubbish the last 100 years of development in tort law because a bunch of farmers want to hang heavy baskets on "crumbling" lampposts. Nor should they. 

This being the case, the council has taken reasonable measures to ensure the safety of its residents.  The locals have substituted the flower baskets with roadside viking ship displays. They might not win a decadent flower show. Let's hope they don't turn to forming wierd vigilante cults.


January 02, 2008

Tryl the shill.

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/education/article2951490.ece

You're all probably aware of the recent controversy over the Oxford Union inviting Nick Griffin (renowned racist) and David Irving (convicted Holocaust-denier) to come speak at the venerable institution. You are probably also aware of the attention-seeking President of that society, Luke Tryl, who has been waffling on and on about free speech and loathing what they say but it being necessary to hear it and all that tripe.

Tripe? Yes, when it's coming from his hypocritical mouth or hands. 

Why hypocritical? The man is defending the invitation of two of the most disgusting men in the country, and giving them a platform to publicise their hate. In the ensuing (expected) media furore and protests, they've garnered even more publicity. Luke is revelling in it. Does he give a damn about free speech?

Let's see what Luke Tryl had to say when he was disinviting Norman Finkelstein (author of The Holocaust Industry), the Jewish son of concentration camp survivors.

From: Luke.Tryl[at]magd.ox.ac.uk
To: normangf[at]hotmail.com
Subject: Re: Debate
Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2007 20:38:31 +0100

Dear Dr Finkelstein,

I hope that you are well, I'm so sorry for the confusion about the debate. There was an organisational difficulty at my end and my secretary hadn't seen your emails.

I would appreciate it if you could keep this bit between you and I. Many people expressed concern that the debate as it stood was imbalanced and people felt that as someone who had apparently expressed anti-zionist sentiments that you might not be appropriate for this debate. I tried to convince them otherwise but was accused of putting forward an imbalanced debate and various groups put pressure on me. I received numerous emails attacking the debate and Alan Dershowitz threatened to write an Oped attacking the Union. What is more he apparently attacked me personally in a televised lecture to Yale.

I hope that you understand my position, this is not ideal and I would be happy to welcome you as an individual speaker to the Union in a forthcoming term. I know that the President-Elect Emily Partington would be keen to host you in Hilary. I just did not want to see the debate compromised and given the Irving Griffin Controversy I couldn't fight a battle on all fronts.

Best wishes

Luke.

Wonderful. 


September 01, 2007

Amazon deal of the year?

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Microsoft-Xbox-360-Elite-Console/dp/B000PD0HQE/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/026-8530824-2421227?ie=UTF8&s=videogames&qid=1188666089&sr=1-1

Amazon prides itself on its prices and all its regular losers love perusing the RRP vs Amazon Price tags. Anyone interested in the X-box Elite may want to check out this fantastic bargain:

Amazon X-Box Elite


March 28, 2007

Ruth Badger – Still Thick

Ruth Badger ShirtI used to be an avid follower of the US Apprentice back in its first and second seasons. It used to be reasonably high-brow for its market (ie reality TV show) and it was often genuinely interesting... it has since descended into an epic crapfest. While the show still pays homage to the idea of a business competition, the producers and apparently Trump himself, seem to believe that, in order to boost the ratings, the show should cynically be a weekly, extended advert, with ten minutes spent on the task, ten minutes on backbiting, and then the next half an hour on the "exciting" boardroom.

Yes, I do still watch it. I don't really know why and after each episode this season I feel like punching myself for sitting through it. But what has annoyed me and still annoys me most about the American Apprentice? The ridiculously overused catchprases.

I haven't conducted any scientific surveys but I hear this, without fail, every single episode:

1) I (will/have/am) step(ping/ped) up to the plate.

2) I (will/have/am) give(/ing/gave) 110%

There are others... but I'm sure any of you who've watched  the US Apprentice will agree that these two are the most annoying.

So it annoys me when I flick on the UK Apprentice which, either through virtue or inability, has somehow managed to keep away from being a complete advert for Trump/Whoever's paid the most this week, and I see them saying exactly the same things...

ARGH ARGH ARGH ARGH ARGH ARGH

Anyhow, what does this have to do with Ruth Badger (last season's runner-up)? Well in tonight's after-show discussion, Ruth decided to make an appearance and bring her winning (wait... she lost?) advice to the "loser" of tonight's show...

Anyone remember the best bit of last season? Mani vs Ruth in the boardroom?

Mani: ( Ruth's Authoritarian )

Ruth:  "What's that supposed to mean?"

Mani: “Look it up in a dictionary! I don’t have time to explain it to you!”

Beautiful. For those of you who had given Ruth the benefit of the doubt last season, she responded to the first cliche ("I stepped up to the plate")... with "You may have stepped up to the plate, but you didn't eat your dinner"...

What the hell? Now either she thought she was being clever, but in reality being retarded, or she is actually genuinely clever and she is playing around with etymology for too sophisticated for the audience to properly understand.

I'm going with what the t-shirt says. 


March 26, 2007

Special Superdrug Slim–plan

You know it's gotta be the staff having a laugh (Superdrug, Oxford St.):

Superdrug noobs


January 10, 2007

BBThievery

Just downloaded a BBC documentary called Building the Great Pyramid and settled down to watch it. Started off like any other documentary. Just  as the introduction got underway we are suddenly treated to the main theme of The Pirates of the Caribbean with some minor alterations in key.

 I wasn't sure whether this was the BBC just being lazy and blatently stealing music from films or they'd paid the fee to use the theme (I understand that the BBC has a library of music it's paid for either on the basis of individual pieces or with deals with various corporations to use their library). Anyone know for sure whether the Beeb's being dirty-handed or legitimately using a resource?


December 31, 2006

Happy New Year !

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Well folks, it’s already been new year in China for seven and a half hours. Celebrated it with a little party in my residence followed by a walk in the freezing cold. My roommate decided to come back about 11.30pm, having drunk God-knows how much of his Korean alcohol, taken off his trousers and flopped into his bed. So the countdown came, New Year arrived to the sound of a few dozen people of several nationalities all cheering ”三 二 一。。。新年快乐!” (San, Er, Yi… Xin Nian Kuai Le! – 3 – 2 – 1 Happy New Year!) Good fun.

The temperature at night these days has been around -6-11 degrees, sometimes colder depending on the wind strength. So I walked out in my thick, heavy jacket and started making the phone calls and writing text messages and also just appreciating the beauty of the campus. It’s as scenic as Warwick but is now decked out in snow. And watching groups of people pass, rambling in Chinese, wishing one another a Happy New Year – it was all very surreal. Gorgeous.

So while I was walking, I got to thinking about when I was younger and spending a couple of New Year Eves up in Scotland with the family. I’ve never been terribly attached to my Scottish half for one reason or another but I always used to love the Scottish New Year celebrations. It didn’t have that sort of commercial, artificial feeling to New Year I’ve always found in London. The celebrations always seemed so much more genuine.

And so we get onto Auld Lang Syne, written (or gathered!) by the Pride of Scotland™ Rabbie Burns and adopted as a New Year Hymn by most English speakers and various others (I think South Korea even had it as its National Anthem at one point, with Korean words of course). It is, of course, a beautiful tune, full of a hopeful and happy nostalgia (yes I am aware of the etymology all you classicists!). And here’s the key part for me:

And ther’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
We’ll tak’ a right good willie-waught,,
For auld lang syne.

So Happy New Year everyone! Here’s hoping that this year turns out better for you all than last, انشاءالله


December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein Executed

Follow-up to Saddam Hussein to be executed tomorrow? from The Story of Hamid-o

Wonderful. As predicted, it’s quite the media circus. We’ve got images on Fox, CNN etc. Frontpages plastered with images of Saddam with a noose around his head. There are step-by-step pictures and videos available of the placing of the noose, the body hanging limply and the corpse on the floor. Fantastic.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing of videos apparently showing various Shi’a executioners dancing around the room.

If he needed to be executed, then fine. But execution on Eid? How wonderful! It’s Like executing a Christian on Christmas day. You don’t bloody execute people on Eid, no matter how vile they may be. And it’s December 30th. How beautifully convenient! Well done Bush! Another mission accomplished!

It’s great to see the “Sovereign” Iraqi courts marching to America’s drumbeat. Naturally the Americans haven’t considered (or have they?) the impact of his show trial and execution on the Sunnis of Iraq. Let’s see how long it takes before Sovereign Iraq divides into three different nations.


December 29, 2006

Saddam Hussein to be executed tomorrow?

Writing about web page http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/12/29/hussein/index.html

So it looks like the Iraqi kangaroo court has heard the appeal and decided that the execution should proceed and it’s looking increasingly likely that it will happen either later today or tomorrow. Tomorrow is, coincidentally 30/12/2006 , just one day short of the New Year.

So it looks like Bush will have some propaganda victory as his party staggers into 2007 under the weight of the Iraq war, Foley(gate), the losses incurred in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Now he can claim that justice has been served, another mission accomplished and an evil dictator has been “wiped off the map” (wahay!). He can gloat that justice has been served whilst at the same time shy away from completely condoning it.

“We salute the Iraqi people and their quest for freedom and democracy against al-qayder and terrism, and we hope that today will mark the end of an era. An era of rape rooms and soldiers seizing babies from incubators. But you know, being the civilised civilisation that we white…. I mean Americans are, we don’t condone the death penalty. Except in Texas (and other states). Where we execute the mentally-handicapped. And heck, you know them there on death row have several chances to appeal. It can take a long time to execute someone. But when it comes to a former head of state who’s become a political nuisance… well ‘Justice’ is always best served quickly and efficiently!

At least he got the vague semblence of justice instead of a “9mm Labotomy” – or a “window in the back of his head” or whatever charming phrase jingoistic, gun-toting Americans are using today – in his cell. So let’s see how this pans out.

As an aside, the media circus is increasingly stomach-turning. I was just watching CNN and my skin crawled as the announcement came. It reminded me of that satirical scene in Starship Troopers concerning the criminal due to be excecuted “Execution live at 9.00, all channels”. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s live coverage of the execution.

So, whatever you might think of Saddam, there are two things I remember him for, back from my youth:

1) An interview with Trevor Macdonald (I think it was just before the Gulf War whilst America was gathering UN support for “ejecting Iraq from Kuwait”) in which Saddam Hussein was speaking Arabic through a translator. The translator mistranslated something – Saddam paused, looked at his translator and told him to translate it properly. Was quite surprising and an insight into the dictator. As shitty a commander as he was, he had some cunning.

2) Another quotation. I can’t remember when it was said (or to whom it was said) but I remember my father quoting it to me sometime after the Gulf War. I’m paraphrasing but it was essentially:

Reporter: Mr. President, what do you think about the threats coming from Qatar and Bahrain these days?
...
Saddam Hussein : Qatar? Bahrain? Ha! I’ll tell you what I think of Qatar and Bahrain. I took Kuwait in a week. I’ll take Qatar in a day. And I’ll take Bahrain by fax.

For some reason, that still cracks me up. Sadist with a sense of humour perhaps?


December 07, 2006

Rape might not be rape if you're drunk…

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2490449,00.html

This is from The Times so there was plenty of sensationalism to wade through. The proper “news” is contained in the first paragraph.

Juries are reluctant to convict men of rape in cases where the alleged victim has been drinking, research published today suggests.

Then we have:

The findings suggest that juries, as much as the Crown Prosecution Service or police, are responsible for the low rate of rape convictions. Fewer than 6 per cent of rape allegations result in successful convictions.

The research [...] also indicated that juries hold a drunken victim partially responsible for what happens.
/> This is either because she accepted drinks from the defendant, failed to stand her ground against pressure to drink more or did not take adequate care to ensure that her drinks were not spiked.

Another finding was that jurors were less inclined to see “taking advantage” of a drunken woman as rape in situations where the woman’s normal behaviour was to drink heavily in the company of men.
...
By contrast, where the drug Rohypnol had been used, jurors were more inclined to hold the defendant responsible for rape, even if the effect of the drug was the same as if a woman were very drunk.
...
Dr Vanessa Munro[...] “These findings reflect the hold that gender stereotypes still have. They suggest that ‘rape myths’ can have a profound influence upon jurors.”
...
This month Jonathan Hagan was cleared of raping an undergraduate after a freshers’ party at the University of Nottingham, where he was student union president. The girl said that she was so drunk that she could remember nothing more than Hagan removing her underwear before she passed out.

First a comment on these statements before we get on to the statistics given at the end of the article. In the final quoted paragraph, the student remembered that the man had removed her pants before she remembers nothing else (ie claims to have passed out). If she remembers him removing her pants then it would also seem to be a consensual sexual act. The article doesn’t go into great detail, but I would guess that getting into a position where he is removing underwear, intercourse would be the logical conclusion. So it would seem to me that the jury made the right decision in the case. It would also seem to me that it is about as much a rape as an attractive man getting really drunk, having sex with an ugly woman, waking up without remembering anything more than having had his pants removed but seeing that he’s woken up next to a woman with whom he’d normally not have had intercourse and coming to the conclusion that he’d been raped. It would be laughed out of court.

It also seems that juries are leaning in the right directions when it comes to convictions based upon drug-use vs “taking advantage” of drunk women who’ve had a history of getting drunk around men. The usage of such a drug as rohypnol, without the woman’s consent, leading to intercourse seems to me to be clear-cut rape. Having sexual intercourse with a woman who is so drunk as to barely remember the details does not seem to be a clear-cut case of rape. I don’t see the controversy. Nor do I see it as a perpetuation of rape myths. Not all jurors are men. Many jurors are women who will know what it is like to have been drunk. The key is to avoid getting very drunk without making sure you have at least one friend to watch your back in advance.

As for the statistics afterwards, they seem to be very misleading and sensationalist. 5.7% of rape allegations lead to convictions.

OK. But 66% drop out at the police stage, presumably either through embarrassment (I am not saying that it is merited, just one of the psychological reactions to rape), fear or some other such motivation on the part of the woman (or man). So of those we have 34% which continue through the police stage. Of that 34%, 25% are deemed to not be crimes by the police. which means that a further 8.5% of the original claims are deemed to not be crimes. Which means that we have a figure of about 25% of the original allegations being investigated as crimes. 50% of those deemed worthy of criminal investigation (I presume since the artile doesn’t quite define its terms) lead to no further action by the police. One can only imagine that it is due to a significant lack of evidence because once criminal proceedings are begun by the police, the alleged victim cannot simply withdraw her claim without making herself a target of prosecution. Which means that 12.5% of the original figure are claims evidenced enough to warrant the case going to court. As 5.7% of the cases lead to convictions, then about 46% of claims with evidence of sexual activity and/or lack of consent lead to a conviction and presumably a rape conviction. Which means that of the 56% that don’t lead to a conviction, it is entirely possible that quite a substantial number lead to convictions for sexual assault or assault of some kind (ie plea bargains).

Now I don’t think that plea bargains should be part of the system. And I do believe that the punishment system needs an overhaul (but that is a legislative issue and not the fault of the courts). And of course this does not mean that there aren’t inadequacies in the policing or justice systems in this country. But I dislike this statistic-based rhetoric that because there are x allegations then there must be x percentage convictions.

I think that a conviction rate (of rape) of about 50% all evidenced cases of alleged rapes is a figure that shows that the police are working properly on the whole.


November 30, 2006

Misogynists of the world rejoice! Men more intelligent than women!

Writing about web page http://education.independent.co.uk/higher/article2024763.ece

Or women less intelligent than men.

According to a recent analysis of data at Manchester University conducted by Dr Paul Irwing:

All the research I’ve done points to a gender difference in general cognitive ability. There is a mean difference of about five IQ points. The further you go up the distribution the more and more skewed it becomes. There are twice as many men with an IQ of 120-plus as there are women, there are 30 times the number of men with an IQ of 170-plus as there are women.

The results of both studies were a shock to me. I find prejudice abhorrent. I’ve always taught sex differences from a left-wing point of view, that women are every bit as good as men. My findings don’t fit my view of the world at all. Girls often do better than boys at school. There has to be some female compensating factor, most importantly the ability to process speech sounds, which means women read faster and more accurately and have an advantage in basic writing tasks. And women work harder than men and are more conscientious so they do things technic-ally correctly. Men are often quite original but deficient in what is technically demanded.

People should have equal opportunities but if you want a society where everyone feels satisfied you’re not going to find men and women doing the same things in the same proportions. It would help if we recognised that.

Jokey titles aside, some of the observations made by Dr. Irwing on the results of his research seem to appeal very much to common sense. Males and females have intellectual differences. He points towards compensating factors in females which could account to why women do better in parts of the education system but the gist of it is that in terms of IQ, there are more intelligent men than intelligent women.

It’ll be interesting to see any follow-up research or debunkings of this.


Borat Review

CONTAINS SPOILERS

I don’t really know anyone of our generation in Britain who hasn’t appreciated at least one of Cohen’s various sketch characters, be it Ali G or Borat. I’ve always enjoyed Borat as a character and when I heard the character would be developed within the framework of an entire movie, I was excited and, at the same time, weary because all too often what works for a few minutes might not be able to stretch for 76 minutes.

And that’s both the problem and the genius of Borat; it’s basically an extended series of the same TV sketch format crammed into a terrible framing mechanism.

At first it souds promising. Borat goes to the US to make a documentary to take back home to his native Kazakhstan. But the whole Pamela subplot turns into a convenient and central plot device. I really disliked the entire thread of that part of the plot and it leads to a fair few crappy jokes (when he finds out that Pamela isn’t a virgin he gets all teary-eyed… despite his sister being “number four Prostitute in all Kazakhstan!”) but also leads to one of the best pieces of slapstick in the movie:

Borat 1
Yes that is a hairy, obese, hobbit of a man masturbating

So if we forgive Cohen for the framing and sit down and enjoy the sketches, it becomes a good film, if at times a little hit and miss. You’ve got the homosexual humour (“You mean man putting rubber fist up my anus was homosexual?”), the Anti-Semitic Humour (“These rats are very clever”), the black humour, the redneck humour – pretty much every form of prejudice is lampooned, and quite successfully, by Cohen.

It has to be said there are some moments in the film which feel completely staged and therefore lose their impact somewhat. Because what we want to see is genuine reaction from folks to the difference of Borat. One typical example is the aside in a house owned by a Yarmulke-wearing Jewish man and his good-natured wife. It gives us a couple of laughs but just feels false. But then, just a minute after that we see Cohen in a gun shop.

What is the best gun to defend from a Jew?

I would recommend either a 9mm or a 45.

Now that’s fantastic. And he delivers this kind of genuine reaction again and again. My favourite moment in the film was with the feminists.

“Listen pussycat, smile a bit.” Wonderful. Add to that the early scenes in New York (“Yeah you kiss me and I’ll pop you in the fuckin’ balls.”) Who doesn’t love New Yorkers?! A hilarious driving lesson followed by a great scene with a car salesmen and then with a weatherman make for some hilarious viewing.

The movie dips towards the end as it focuses on the Pamela-chasing plot and we see more examples of the staged scenes. During the fight with his producer, the two of them end up naked in a crowded conference room and appear to get arrested. Well how about those visas? Not sure how he would have gotten away with that if it was a case of ad libbing gone mental. The same goes for the scene with Pamela Anderson where he chases her around a bookstore before getting apprehended by police. It just niggles at the mind and that’s not the kind of mental reaction I wanted from the movie, which managed to fill parts of its potential.

So it’s definitely worth a night out and paying money for. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the plot and don’t expect the humour to be of a uniform quality. But do expect to enjoy it. Especially as a smug Brit marvelling at his (or her) transatlantic cousins.


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