Monday, 28 February 2005

Pusscat's life and times

by Captain Oates

Click to see me balanceHaving made this week's Carnival of Cats I thought it was time for a repeat post. I have been practicing all week, and can now balance like this with very little effort! Some say I should join the Circus - but I don't like elephants!!

"Well?" you might ask, who is this cat, "Why should we read her Posts?" I am Jones - fairly unremarkable 11 year old pussy cat. My life began in a barn in the countryside in the Midlands, UK. My mum gave birth to us in a crack between bales in a haystack - not a bad place to begin for a cat. Growing up on the farm was fun - what a place for a litter of kittens!

Once we were old enough, people came and began talking my brothers and sisters away with them - I was the smallest, so left until last. Then at last it was my turn for a new home! Captain Oates came along, and took me to home with him, he lived on a farm too, home from home - I was happy there.

I lived there for 10 years, until Oates, family and myself moved again - this time to a smaller farm. There is still plenty of room for a little cat and am still happy here. The house we live in is in the countryside - I have a cat flap so can get outside to hunt whenever I want. Sometimes I catch mice and drop them at Oates' bedroom door - He never seems pleased with the presents I leave him.

I will write more later - time for a cat nap now!

Want to see more of the blog? Click Here


What's in a name?

by Dom Corrigan

MRSA, the "super-bug", so called because of its resistance to antibiotics, is a big problem in UK hospitals. Each year, thousands of inpatients die of this infection which might be prevented by better standards of hospital cleanliness - routine hand-washing, for instance.

These days, then, the British Medical Association's spokesman on hospital cleanliness is much in demand, and often interviewed by the Press. And his name? Dr. Paul Grime.

Random observations about UK digital TV

by Charles Pooter

Analogue TV will be phased out in the UK sooner than expected. At the moment there are 4 options for the consumer when it comes to digital TV:

  1. Freeview is the UK's only terrestrial digital TV service, mostly owned by the BBC who cunningly snatched the majority share after ITV Digital went bust. They abolished the subscription model that fueled the service, allowing their exclusive TV tax to continue into the digital age. After all, the licence fee appears even less defensible when there is a working terrestrial subscription model in operation. Much to the horror of the BBC, a new subscription service has been launched by SDN, a minor Freeview partner.

  2. Sky Digital, Sky's digital TV service is state of art and a model for providers around the world. They have recently reported increased profits and have had great stock market success. This is partly due to their Sky+ service which has allowed them to extract more money from each subscriber in exchange for a much improved service. Sky+ is an integrated "Personal Video Recorder" (PVR) service. When you subscribe you get a box which contains two sky decoders and a large hard drive. When you combine this box with the "Electronic Programme Guide" (EPG) and user interface provided by sky, the way you view TV is completely changed. A friend of mine has described it thus:
    "Every Sunday evening I sit down with the remote and look through the Electronic Program Guide and select the few decent programmes (in a sea of crap) that I want to watch in the next week. As the week progresses, these programmes get automatically recorded onto the Sky+ box. When ever I fancy watching some TV, I just pick a programme from what's been recorded so far."
    This is obviously completely different from the normal "sit down, flick through channels, watch whatever crap is on" model of TV viewing. Terrestrial and even digital terrestrial PVRs are also available, but Sky sells a simple to use, integrated package. As a broadcaster, all this puts them in very enviable position: they broadcast the programs and they control the box in your living room. This means they will have more DRM control than other broadcasters, which in turn means they will become more trusted by content providers (e.g. Hollywood). It also allows them the possibility of stopping you from skipping adverts in programmes, although as it happens Sky is not that dependent on advertising (but you wouldn't know it from the amount of adverts they show).

  3. Digital cable TV is available in many places in the UK and the two main companies are NTL and Telewest. It is priced competitively against Sky and is often bundled with phone and broadband internet packages. However from what I've seen of NTL's service, I'm not impressed. Their picture quality seems poor compared with Freeview, their EPG is always slow and at times unusable, they have no PVR option, they have very little interactive content and their customer service is appaling. Considering they potentially have complete control of their own high-capacity fibre optic network and can choose the hardware you have in your home, this seems very poor.

  4. IP TV is TV over an internet connection. One company that has been doing this for a while is Homechoice. You can read about them in this Register article. As the article makes clear, this could become very big indeed. More evidence for this is the recent tie up between Alcatel, who make the hardware and Microsoft.

So what do I want from digital TV? Well first and foremost I'm a cheapskate, so that rules out Sky+ or indeed anything with a monthly subscription. Obviously I evade the BBC's TV tax (on principle you understand), so for me that makes Freeview completely free. However what I really want is a Freeview PVR box with two tuners and a decent EPG. Ideally I also want a DVD burner built in, so programmes can be "backed-up" to DVD whenever I feel like it. So far, such a thing does not exist, but surely it's only a matter of time?

Sunday, 27 February 2005

The Royal Snub

by Captain Oates

It's like a fairy tale - true, there are no Dragons and shining armor is not something we see Charles in often, but one has to believe that behind closed doors he is every part the dashing Prince (and not the ogre-like Shrek most people mistake him for.)

To be so bold as to venture an opinion on Charles, I would say that he has done surprisingly well thus far all things considered. I mean firstly lets look at the genetics - his immediate relatives (father especially) are not known for tact. Prince Philip can't leave the palace without causing offence somewhere.

William at Home farm, GloucestershireSurely one of the main responsibilities of the Prince Royal is to provide the Royal family with a suitable heir to continue the bloodline. Charles has done this - by marring Diana Spencer. She was undoubtedly the most beautiful princess we have seen in this country. Together they produced Prince William (picured left), by all accounts the most sensible Royal of the modern age. Imagine the alternative, had he followed his heart and married Camilla, we might have ended up with an heir to the throne similar to Tom Parker-Bowles Parker-Bowles(pictured right). At least Charles discharged his reproductive responsibilities whilst married to Diana!

Now that Charles has said that he an Camilla are to marry, he hasn't received the public support he'd expected. He has been left feeling dejected. This led to today's outburst in the press saying that he felt "distanced" and "let down" by the British public .

The lack of support isn't from the British Public alone, there is also a frosty reception from inside the Palace. His mother, the Queen has distanced herself from the union, fearing that it will tarnish the Royal Family yet further. She feels that Charles has put "gratification before duty".

Her Majesty has stated that she does not wish to attend the ceremony - this has been seen as many by a Royal Snub, a rumor quickly rebutted by the Palace. An article in the Mail on Sunday hinted that the real answer was far more spiteful.

Give Charles a chance - he is a strong supporter of many solid causes in the UK, and a strong force for good. He is strongly in favor of organic farming, is an active follower of country pursuits and of course is Patron of the Prince's Trust.

Saturday, 26 February 2005

Strolling through the blogosphere...

by Captain Oates

On a quiet Saturday morning, the sun was not shining, the birds not singing, so I decided to take a stroll through the blogosphere - knapsack on my back.

I called in at few places along the way, but sadly they were not what I was looking for. Then after looking through many other people's blogrolls, I found it. The The Policeman's Blog - an expertly written blog by a Policeman in the UK, struggling against the system and modern Brits.

This time it’s a theft and the child needs arresting. Upon entering the slum, I immediately anticipate trouble ahead. Mother is fat and smoking, she clearly has “nerves”, upon seeing me she shouts (and I mean shouts), “KARL, F***KING COME DOWN HERE NOW!” the reply comes from upstairs: ”WHAAAAAAAT ?”Read on...
Go and take a peek It's the best blog I've found in a while. It has something to say, and it does it very well.

Getting 'The Edge' back

by Ted Hoffman

From the comments of a new post from Conservative
, it has come to my attention that The Edge of England's Sword is active again. Great news! It is a fine web journal and one of the few whose name is in the same league as our own. Intriguingly, even when it had been completely inactive for months, TEOES still received hundreds of daily visits. Probably for the same reason that I still click here, in the hope that Steve will start taking his medication again.

Thursday, 24 February 2005

New evidence comes to light

by Captain Oates

In the comments of a previous post, you may remember that it was suggested by some unsavory types that the Titanic was unseaworthy and, by some jump of the imagination, a possible contender for the 9/11 of the last century.

Well, since then new evidence has come to light in the case of 'White Star Line' vs the survivors. The witnesses were an unlikely duo who went by the names Derek & Clive.

This new evidence cuts to the very heart of the establishment, and surely heads will roll. The piece can be found here, and is most certainly worth a read.

The two witnesses are slightly rum characters and their language slightly course - if you are easily offended, it is suggested that you ask someone to read the transcript for you and translate.

Bird on stick

by Ted Hoffman

We all remember the excitement when early sketches of Tracy Emin's next project were shown to the media. A magnificent structure outside The Oratory in Liverpool, stretching to the sky, noble yet understated.

Expectations were understandably high, but not in or wildest dreams were we prepared for something of this exuberant brilliance.

I challenge anyone to think of a better use of £60,000 of the BBC license fee.

Hat tip to blogshake

Killer dogs on the Rampage

by Captain Oates

A slightly more provincial news story for your attention today. I was idly thumbing though the local paper today in a spare 5 minutes, when I noticed a story which shocked me to the very core SHEEP WORRYING – in this day and age!!

Killer dogs are believed to be on the rampage in the local area after motorists reported seeing the remains of sheep which had been torn apart. Be on your guard - ed.

The sheep were the property and business venture of a farmer, who’s sturdy electric fence had been torn to pieces in the attack. Several lambs were missing – presumed eaten and a pregnant ewe had been slaughtered also.

This is apparently nothing new for the area – Farmer James Brown (no relation) recently reported several sheep being so badly gored that they needed to be destroyed! "It was a terrible sight. The dead sheep had been ripped to pieces and partly eaten and there was wool everywhere.” according to a distraught Mr Brown.

"It was a very dangerous situation
on the roads on Monday night"

The local police are treating the matter seriously, PC Richard Nunn said “It was a very dangerous situation on the roads on Monday night. It had been snowing and the conditions were treacherous. This could have caused a major accident. We think rogue dogs had attacked the sheep and frightened them out of their field."

He was concerned that now this pack of almost-certainly domestic dogs now have the taste for blood, and that "Any farmer spotting dogs worrying sheep is entitled to shoot them."
"Any farmer spotting dogs worrying
sheep is entitled to shoot them."

Local dog warden, Pip Singleton stated "I am shocked to hear the news. We have received no complaints about dogs on the loose. As there have been no sightings, we do not know for sure that this is the work of domestic dogs.”

In my own personal view I think that the official investigation is ‘barking up the wrong tree’ (if you’ll pardon the pun) I think the real perpetrator, the real villain of the hour is none other than the fox. Safe in the knowledge that he can no longer be hunted with dogs, has set about reaping vengeance on the canine species and is attempting to frame our beloved Fido.

Any views or thoughts on the matter, please share them and I will ensure they are passed on to the relevant authorities – Worrying times indeed.

Buying a used car

by Charles Pooter

After various problems with its radiator and cooling system, my seriously aged car decided to blow a head gasket. This car has served me well, including a 3000 mile road trip around Europe, so I was eager to get it back on the road. Unfortunately my local mechanic informed me that this would "cost a fortune" and was a bigger job than he could undertake. With regret I decided it was time to get a new car.

Observations on buying a used car:

  1. Believe the stereotypes about used car salesmen
    When first looking for a car, I decided to ignore the negative impression of used car salesmen foisted upon me by the media. TV programmes such as Minder and more recently The Fast Show's Swiss Tony have firmly established a negative image of motor traders. However, I was determined to banish adjectives such as "slimy", "pushy" and "dishonest" from my mind. After all, these depictions were probably created by art school graduates who probably have nothing but contempt for small businessmen or indeed anyone involved in the "grubby" world of commerce. How wrong I was. Although none of the slimy, pushy and dishonest salesmen I encountered tried to compare selling a car to "making love to a beautiful woman", many of them made Arthur Daley look like a saint.

  2. Use the web
    After getting fed up with being told obvious shit-heaps were "smashin' little motors", I decided to try to find a private sale. In this regard the Exchange and Mart and AutoTrader websites were most useful.

  3. Find out the "book price"
    If you're interested in a car, find out its "book price" value. You can do this at the WhatCar? website.

  4. Get the car checked out
    Before you buy a car, get it checked out by a mechanic. The RAC's prices for this are quite steep, but my local mechanic conducted an examination for £15. This highlighted a few minor problems, which were useful when it came to haggling...

  5. Haggling can work
    A combination of knowing the "book price" and having an authoritative list of the vehicle's faults allowed my to knock £450 off what the seller was asking for.

I now do indeed have a "smashin' little motor".

Fixed quantity of labour fallacy

by Charles Pooter

According to the TUC, IT workers work more unpaid overtime than almost any other profession and has declared 25th February "Work your proper hours day". From personal experience this rings true. However, by highlighting this as a problem the TUC are committing what I will the call the "Fixed quantity of labour fallacy". They erroneously subscribe to the view that what is important is the amount of time worked, not the amount of work that is achieved.

In some cases the amount of time worked and the amount of work done are proportional. If you work on a production line in a factory, under the ever present gaze of a manager, then you will probably get a similar amount of work done each day. You'll also clock off as soon as you can. However, most IT work is an intellectual enterprise and different people work at different speeds. Some work very constantly and efficiently throughout the day. Some take time out to surf the web, drink coffee or write blog entries (!). Some programmers are very slow and cautious, recompiling and running after every few lines of code added. Others program like James Joyce writing a novel, throwing down a stream of consciousness into their editor.

The point is: in IT and many other professions, it's not the hours that count, but getting the job done.

Wednesday, 23 February 2005 a woman scorned

by Dom Corrigan

Today's Daily Telegraph carries an article about how a husband sent threats to the wife he was divorcing using mobile phone text messaging. For years now, we've had people using text messaging for divorce, getting rescued, and even voting, so this sounds like "dog bites man". Except, after 6 months of legal proceedings against the chap, it was discovered that the wife was actually sending the threats to herself from her husband's old SIM card in order to frame and discredit him.

This is very curious. She was apparently rumbled because she was using his SIM in her phone. I assume that the unique serial number of the handset, the IMEI, or some similar identification code is sent with each text. But what seems strange is that it took many months to produce this evidence. Is it that this information is difficult to analyse, or is it protected somehow by law, or guarded by the mobile phone companies?

It strikes me that mobile telecommunications must be fairly secure compared to Wi-Fi. The wife in this story might have done better to park outside her husband's house and do naughty things from his Wi-Fi hotspot. But I'm not sure. At least she didn't cut off his wing-wang. Either way, it's clearly important that our legal type guys understand all this stuff.

Google and capitalism run wild

by Ted Hoffman

The BBC has a piece about a new Google toolbar which provides automatic links to commercial websites like Amazon. Based on references made in the browsers current page, it will provide links to books, maps and local services.

Unbelievably, the angle the article takes is that this may be a dangerous example of abuse of power.

....some users are concerned that Google's dominant position in the search engine market place could mean it would be giving a competitive edge to firms like Amazon.
Heaven forbid! Dan Gillmor, founder of Grassroots Media has this to say:
(the tool was a)"bad idea, and an unfortunate move by a company that is looking to continue its hypergrowth".
Others thought it was unreasonable, and suggested a possible solution:
.... AutoLink would only be fair if websites had to sign up to allow the feature to work on their pages or if they received revenue for any "click through" to a commercial site.
Whatever next? Disney toys in Happy Meals? Quite how someone could be concerned about this completely innocuous alliance with Amazon is a mystery to me. Both companies are inexpensive, provide good service; and the market is full of alternatives. So what if they help each other continue to do well?

Amazon is widely used as a book reference site as well as a seller, lots of casual references to books made in blogs are accompanied with an Amazon link. This is much to their advantage, but they do it well and free of charge; if Google extends the concept to unlinked items, so much the better.

Living it up

by Dom Corrigan

Those of you pondering a trip to the Post Office this lunchtime, don't do it.

A trip to the Post Office is a slightly unpleasant experience at the best of times. It's a journey back in time or into Soviet Russia, with staff that are at best uncooperative, shabby, dimly lit interiors, and long queues.

Lunchtime is the worst time to go as the place is generally heaving with people. It must be the time when the drunks and long-term unemployed folk get up and go along to the PO for a little entertainment at our expense. It's amazing more people don't "go postal".

These days, though, some of the carnival atmosphere has evaporated because of a new fangled thing called "Direct Payment". Your benefits are credited directly to your bank account. Seeing as you can get your booze delivered to your house, and drug dealers have always made house-calls, your average serial dope fiend doesn't ever have to leave the house. Brilliant!

I'm not sure whether I like this idea or not. Direct Payment's obviously taken some pressure off the PO and is probably a more efficient way of handing out other people's cash. In treating those on benefits a bit more like adults, I suppose that the hope is that they will take more responsibility for the way that they live.

On the other hand, having to collect your dole from the Post Office must have one of the last remaining penalties of living off the state.


Do you want ice with that?

by Captain Oates

Marcel Duchamp's UrinalContemporary art is something which baffles me - I struggled with Duchamp's urinal, and as for Hirst's cow in formaldehyde - I fail to see the artistic merit.

Both of these projects are relatively easy to comprehend in comparison to one project in the news today. The plan of Mrs Rita Duffy - a visual artist is to celebrate Belfast's shipyard, building place of the Titanic by towing in an iceberg. 'Iceberg

The plan is to fetch an iceberg from Newfoundland, and tow it into the shipyard, either floating it into Belfast's lock, or grounding it close to the shore.

The slightly concerning thing is that this hairbrain scheme has even received backing from the city's mayor. Apparently the aim of the exercise is to put Belfast's redeveloped Titanic quarter on the tourist map.

"The iceberg and the wreck of the Titanic is the main story of Belfast - the sad, interrupted journey of disbelief and disappointment. The iceberg could become a symbol of hope as it melts." according to Rita Duffy.

Funding has already been secured through the international fund for Ireland and the Irish consulate in New York.

The thing which troubles me about this piece of work is not the visual spectacle - as I needn't visit if I don't want to, but my main objection is for the families of those 1,500 victims of the Titanic's unsuccessful maiden voyage.

Visit the Belfast Titanic society for information about Belfast & The Titanic

There is an enlightening article in the Telegraph on this subject.

There is a fantstic blog here sympathetic to my point of view - take a look!!

If in your blogtrawling or web surfing you find any other articles of relevance please e-mail them to me at cptoates (at) gmail dot com and I will include them here.


by Dom Corrigan

A gratutious picture of a famous bit of Cambridge in England.

Click to get it bigger.

Apologies for the lack of "quality" posts from me. All these hits have given me blogger's block.

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

Little man, you do make exceedingly good cakes

by Ted Hoffman

For those pondering the reason for our name. I can only tell you that the symbology and hidden meanings behind the blog title, pseudonyms, posts and what not - actually point to the precise location of the holy grail, and are nothing to do with Hans Fallada novels, or songs by The Smiths.

Nanny State dishes up Porridge to 31 stone man

by Captain Oates

Meet 23 year old Chris Leppard, 31 stone man mountain. Chris suffers with the rare Prader-Willi Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder, leaving Chris incapable of determining when his stomach is full, thus allowing him to possibly gorge himself to death! "I'm addicted to food - like people are to fags." admits Chris.

Chris has been on a strict regime of weight control since leaving his specialist boarding school, and has managed to keep his weight stable at around 30 stones for a while, but food - the temptation is always there. Things took a turn for the worse for Chris last week (W/c 14/02/05), as on Tuesday the Police arrived at home, which he shares with his mother. Chris was sectioned under the mental health act and taken against his will to a clinic in Eastborne. It was unclear how long he would be detained in the clinic, but current rules allow detention for up to a month. Patients at this clinic have the right to appeal.

Chris, obviously a bit miffed at being taken from his home with no warning appealed for his 'sentence' to be overturned, on the grounds that he was not mentally ill. He was returned to his home in Hastings on Monday 21/02/05, where he will continue living with his mother for the foreseeable future.

Mr Leppard now plans to take the social services department responsible to court to recover costs and compensation for damages. He claims that he has been hampered in the progress he was making losing weight.

Chris' Mother, Anne has written a letter of complaint to the relevant authorities and is in contact with her solicitor about the chances of winning any legal action.

The Pradar Willi syndrome association say that "In extreme cases patients with the condition do have to be taken into care for their own protection. But it is only advised as a last resort."

What has outraged many is not merely the unlawful dentention of Chris Leppard, but also the fact that it is another episode of the nanny state gone mad!

Tim Loughton, the Shadow Health Minister angrily stated that "It’s a taste of things to come if the Government’s draft Mental Health Act becomes law. It will subject people who are not strictly suffering from mental illness, to sectioning.”

Libertarian Alliance spokesman Dr Sean Gabb asked “What on earth justifies the intervention of the police and compels him to have medical treatment?”

This is evidence that the Nanny state has once again taken a step toward dementia and must tred carefully to avoid sectioning itself!

America's fattest man slim's down

Monday, 21 February 2005

The 'Ra

by Dom Corrigan

Let's never again forget, the IRA is not a paramilitary wing of Sinn Fein, Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA.

Free Mojtaba and Arash day

by Captain Oates

This entry is dedicated to the two Iranian bloggers Mojtaba Saminejad and Arash Sigarchi, who have been improsoned by the Iranian authorities for doing little more than this - posting views on a Blog.

This is nothing unusual in Iran - the authorities have been shutting down blogs and detaining bloggers for some time now.

The BBC have a page dedicated to the dangers of blogging in Iraq, which can be found here.

The Committee to protect bloggers organised the Free Mojtaba and Arash day.

'now kids, what do you all think about the trade deficit?'

by Ted Hoffman

Tucked away on the BBC's science and nature section is this nauseating article.

The future generation has an unenviable task: tomorrow they must tackle the environmental problems we are creating today. Ahead of the Kyoto treaty coming into force, we asked eight young people from around the world how they would do things differently.

There is no great value in asking young children complex political questions, you will inevitably get naive, uneducated responses. Unless that is, you are fairly sure they will agree with you. Children tend to be environmentalist, I suspect this is largely because of the way the debate is framed, nobody after all wants to live in a dilapidated environment. The anti-environmentalist position suffers from being comparatively non-obvious.

Here are some choice words of wisdom, they include the bonkers,
"I think it would be a lot better if children were made to walk"
the nonsensical,
"People don't realise that poverty and the environment are part of the same thing"
the flatly untrue,
"Free trade isn't helping - the bottom line is entirely monetary"
the bleeding obvious,
"One of the global problems that really worries me is poverty"
and the facile.
"My government should invest money in environmental education"

The BBC must be delighted with the result.

Sunday, 20 February 2005

America's fattest man slims down

by Captain Oates

'Big Pete' Loiselle decided that once he'd reached 54.5 stones in weight, it was time for a change. His surgeons were warning him about the damage he was causing to his body, and were keen for him to undergo gastric bypass surgery. However the strict diet that this operation imposes was not to Pete's liking. He decided to diet, and lose weight the conventional way.

A new diet was drawn up for him, reducing his daily 10,000 calorie intake down to 2,200 calories. Allowing him to continue eating his favorite foods, albeit in greatly reduced quantities.

His dietitian has obviously done an excellent job, as over the period of 2 years, Pete lost on average 17lb per month. This has given him a total weight loss of 36 stones.

In his new form Pete is able to do a whole host of things, all of which we take for granted:

-fit into airline seats
-climb stairs
-see his feet
-tie his own shoelaces
-climb into the bath
-fit into the seats at his favorite restaurant

I'm sure you'll all join me in congratulating Pete.

His story can be read in greater depth here.

Have a look at our main page!

Hunting ban has little impact

by Captain Oates

I was not particularly surprised to discover that the recent ban on hunting with dogs has had little negative impact on: -

i) people's desire to hunt
ii) the number of foxes killed

It seems that the hunt meets held this Saturday (19th) actually attracted massively inflated numbers of followers. The tally of foxes caught reached almost 100 - showing little change from the previous week's bag.

I was not surprised to find this article in the Telegraph. In it is a quote from actor Jeremy Irons, with whom I agree strongly. He makes the point that this anti-hunting legislation is merely the thin end of the wedge.

Matt, cartoonist for the Telegraph drew this


by Ted Hoffman

Few would deny that snooker is the finest game in the world, fewer still would deny the place of Higgins, O'Sullivan, Lee and others amongst the greatest entertainers of any sporting discipline. Even so, there are relatively few newspaper editorials written about the sport, so I was pleased to see this in the Observer today.

Margaret Cook is something of a fan.

It is powerfully addictive. It is symmetrical, geometrical, the shots varying from sweetly delicate to flamboyant. It can have you sitting on the edge of your seat in the pin-drop stillness, marvelling at the intensity of focus and exquisite accuracy.
She uses the article to hypothesize reasons why women have been unsuccessful at the game despite 'having barged into most male sporting domains'. Margaret fails to reach a conclusion of why this might be, she suggests size, but as there are many diminutive male snooker players this doesn’t wash. She also tries to blame the lack of success on the undignified practice of snookering opponents.
Women are too polite to engineer snookers; they think in terms of relying on their own skills and allowing an opponent to do the same.
Perhaps, though her final summing up that 'the male body and mind are adapted to play it' covers just about every possible reason for the gender difference.

My own suggestion would be that obsessive dedication to pointless tasks is more common in men than women. Snooker is by and large pointless, and I don't know of a game that requires more dedication to even reach a very basic beginners level. Men will almost always be better at physically demanding sports with honourable exceptions to the likes of Dame Ellen. Sports where physical ability is not a factor, but incredible technical precision is, will generally come down to the hours put in. Women will not become world beaters at snooker until they’re as willing as men to spend years of their childhood in a basement learning to nest the white ball against the baulk cushion.

The sheer volume of time required to get brilliant at snooker would also be my explanation for the curiously large number of professional snooker players who are either unusually boring or nuts., yeah, thanks guys

by Ted Hoffman

At last, the cruel sport of hunting where people charge through the countryside on horses with a pack of hounds, after a terrified fox, before it's torn apart, has gone. The replacement is the peaceful sport of charging through the countryside on horses with a pack of hounds, after a terrified fox, and then shooting it.

No wonder Mr. Fox is so grateful.

Spanish EU vote

by Ted Hoffman

For what should be an issue of massive controversy and debate, all except the smallest parts of the media support it, all bar the tiniest craziest political parties support it, and almost all the people support it. Spain, whilst brilliant in some ways , is rubbish when it comes to making important decisions.

Saturday, 19 February 2005

President Bush on the EU Constitution

by Dom Corrigan

Charles Moore, our favourite Christian libertarian, has read more of the new EU Constitution (the "European Holy Bible" or the road to serfdom) than is probably healthy, but at least in Mr. Moore, we have a writer who has done his research and knows what he is talking about.

If you read just the first few pages of the Constitution you needn't really bother going any further - you get representative flavour of the document and it leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. In the first few clauses of the very first article (p11 onwards) almost all of our Sovereign powers are allocated to bodies unknown and politicians (largely) unelected in Brussels and Strasbourg. Please read it for yourself, it's dynamite that the "No" camp will always have in its armory, however much tax-payers' money the "Yes" groups, including the UK Foreign Office, splash out on campaigns to persuade us otherwise.

Mr. Moore's important argument is that the EU Constitution won't only totally dilute the power of the Mother of Parliaments, but is also bad news for the United States because it will end up clipping NATO's wings. Of course the Guardian calls for it to be disbanded, but however anti-American you happen to be, you surely must acknowledge the success of NATO as a supra-national organisation compared to well-documented failings of the UN. On a technical level it promotes interoperability between national forces and diplomatically it's probably the only organisation that keeps the US directly involved in European affairs and away from isolationism.

What is surprising to Charles Moore is that George Bush is widely tipped to make a somewhat pro-European (by which I mean pro-EU) speech on when he visits the European Commission. Actually, I think that far from being a surprising move, George Bush cannot lose by taking a pro-EU line. Mr. Bush is a clever man, and those that forget this, or wish to portray Mr. Bush as an imbecile, do so at their peril. One can only just begin to imagine how the the American Left feels about having been badly beaten in two Presidential elections by a man they widely denigrate as an illiterate hick.

Mr. Bush is a man of action, and his actions are driven by the interests of his people - a lesson in democracy that European leaders should learn. In giving his implicit backing to the EU Constitution, I think that the President is aiming to scuttle it.

In the UK, at least, the fervour with which the Left supports the EU Constitution is matched only by its anti-Americanism. In a clever bit of reverse psychology, by mooting the Constitution as a good thing George Bush will plant the seeds of doubt in the barren minds of our pro-EU friends - if Bush is pro-EU Constitution, surely it cannot be "a good thing". These apparently pro-EU Constitution noises will please Tony Blair, while upsetting the Constitution's grass-roots supporters.

If we all lose and the EU Constitution is ratified by all EU nations, the President can also have it the other way. Either way, the US wins. Mr. Bush knows that the EU Constitution will shackle its signatories to the so-called "European economic model", which places almost every aspect of the lives and businesses of Europeans under the yolk of Big Government, which cannot but ensure low growth, low productivity and high unemployment. In a potential future world where China and the EU pose an economic threat to the US, it's in George Bush's interest to take one of the players out of the game. Who can blame him?

Saturday cat-blogging

by Captain Oates

This is Jones, country cat, mouser and scrounger of food.

Jones writes - In my defense I feel justified in pointing out that I am not a scrounger of food! Mouser and Country cat indeed, but 'scrounger of food' nope, not me.


View my latest post here

Want to see more of the blog? Click Here


Latest 'Orwellian nightmare' shocker

by Dom Corrigan

The Leader in today's Daily Telegraph details the latest "Orwellian nightmare" from which good old John Bull probably won't awake.

There is something creepy about asking schoolchildren to write anonymous reports on their teachers. One thinks of the Spies, the youth organisation in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, whose members were encouraged to denounce their elders; or of the revolting Pavlik Morozov, who became a hero of the Soviet Union in 1930 when he shopped his parents for hoarding grain.

Two things.

Firstly, is this really such a nightmare? I don't think so. The results of these questionnaires aren't going to be used for anything. The responses of students are going to be so varied as to cancel each other out - no teacher is uniformly hated; there are always enough lazy students for good ones who don't think enough homework is given. In practice, no teacher, however poor, will be rated less than average. Even if by some amazing statistical fluke one of the thousands of awful teachers was weaseled out and exposed by their students, it wouldn't make any difference. We've always been able to identify the dead wood in the teaching game by looking at the results of the major public examinations - the Victorians had the right idea, paying teachers on the basis of these results. But even with this comparatively "hard evidence" it seems to be impossible to sack a bad teacher. Teachers, having several relatively powerful unions are more or less protected from dismissal for being bad at their jobs. I hardly think redundancy is any more likely given an unfavourable set of questionnaire responses. The Leader says that

teachers will understandably feel that they are under arbitrary attack from their charges. They may be tempted to suck up to the pupils whom they regard as their likeliest critics.

Teachers are simply not going to care because the results of the questionnaires will have no effect. The Leader gets it half right - this scheme is about creating

more bureaucracy and central control

but Brian Mickelthwait gets full marks for his prescient analysis. All that this scheme means is more costs to us, and another opportunity for teachers to spend more of our children's valuable time administrating and even less time actually doing their jobs, for no benefit to anyone.

Secondly, I wonder what editors of quality dailys are doing using words like "shopped". Now for my favourite column (of the non-blog variant, obviously) of the entire week - the Charles Moore - he'd never use such Newspeak.

Friday, 18 February 2005

Hunting gone - what next?

by Captain Oates

As a fairly casual observer of the hunting ban, the thing which worries me most of all is where is the country heading? In a so-called democratic country it seems wholly farcical that a law can be passed purely to satisfy a minority with a large amount of political sway - i.e. funds. This entirely undemocratic law bypassed the scrutiny of the upper chamber, as the chances are it would have been voted against – I do find myself questioning the democracy therein!

The thing which I find worrying is what happens now? There is now a minority (i.e. the anti-hunt lobby) who know that they have a back door into number 10, and are experienced at railroading the Government into creating laws to suit their point of view. What happens if this group decide that they dislike fishing, horse racing, ferreting or most possibly shooting? (an article about just this can be found here) There is almost certainly a fairly watertight welfare case to be made against each of those pastimes. On a slightly more flippant note how long is it until cats are legislated against for playing with rodents before dispatching their quarry?? My point is that nature is cruel – laws cannot change that fact.

The question arises what future has the fox now in the rural landscape? I see protection the only salvation for the fox now. In the past – a certain level of rural foxes have been ‘tolerated’, as they were saved for the hunt. Hunting is a relatively ineffective method of reducing fox population – only about 20% of trails result in a kill. The silenced rifle however is a much more efficient method of pest control. I feel that the rural fox – seen as a pest, will be hunted to near extinction, and protection may his only rescue. We need only look at what a problem badgers have become in the rural landscape to see that protection is not the answer…

I happen to feel that this new ban on hunting is almost entirely unenforceable, and I feel certain that overstretched rural police forces have their priorities elsewhere. Are we to see a massive investment in horse trailers with hoof cuffs? As the police will need to securely transport not only the arrested hunter to the cells, but also his trusty steed as well – it would be cruel to leave a horse to find his own way home!!

The local hunts are all meeting tomorrow (Saturday 19th) and I happen to know a considerable number of people who are planning to go along to the meet and follow the hunt; several of these are people who have not been hunting in years, but feel incensed by the way in which the Government has behaved in this matter.

Monday, 14 February 2005

Hazards of cosmetic surgery

by Captain Oates

I think we can all sympathise with this poor couple. All they wanted was a little something to spice up their marriage and she's been transformed into a cross between an Jordan and Leslie Ash!!

Sunday, 13 February 2005 least they're full of poor people

by Ted Hoffman

If there is a vital public service provided by blogs it's the lengthy critisism of Guardian op ed columns. Here is an interesting article, my comments are inserted.

Sorry, you can't afford a degree

Universities' obsession with research is threatening to make them a no-go zone for the less well-off

I used to teach an "international MA" in journalism at a British university. The only international thing about it was the students. One Korean was, they told me, very clever. I could never check because we had no common language - his English was rudimentary. Two things I do know about him: if there was any benefit to be derived from my teaching, he missed out on it; and he must have been wealthy, for the fees were very high.
I thought of him when I read that Oxford University may take a higher proportion of its students from overseas. Its chancellor, Chris Patten, thinks that universities should be able to charge whatever fees they like to undergraduates, as they do for postgraduates, otherwise the decline of top universities will be "ineluctable" (a wonderful Oxford word). Richard Lambert argued on these pages that "a world-class university" should have a higher proportion of overseas students.
Turning university education into a market will produce more students like my Korean. Hungry universities will ask not "can this student benefit?" but "has he got the dosh?" That's how markets work. Does Tesco check if you know how to cook a product before it sells it to you?

The (rather obvious) flaw in this analogy is that Tesco might not check, but you do. If you couldn't cook the food you wouldn't buy it. Most sane Koreans wouldn’t spend thousands of pounds, and 3 years of their life to read a University course they were not even basically equipped to do. Regardless, most institutions in this country insist you pass an English proficiency exam if you are not a native speaker, and it's not easy.
But surely our top universities need more money to compete on the world stage. And since no political party with a hope of power is going to provide it from public funds, aren't undergraduates the only possible source? These statements, repeated so often that they acquire the status of established fact, need closer examination than they normally get.
"Top universities" is an elastic phrase. Depending on the audience, it sometimes means Oxford and Cambridge, sometimes half a dozen ancient universities, and sometimes all 19 members of the Russell group. "World-class university" is even more imprecise, and what it usually really means is "as rich as Harvard or Princeton". The common thread is research. You can't be "top" or "world class" unless you do a lot of well-regarded research. The Russell group universities distinguish themselves by claiming to be "research-intensive" - that is, to have a bigger proportion of research, and a smaller one of teaching, than the rest.
So we are being asked to increase student fees, and the proportion of overseas students, in order that undergraduates should subsidise universities' research.

Whilst scientific research is frequently rubbish, at it’s best it is astounding and one of the most worthwhile of human endeavors. If passing on knowledge helps fund gaining it, what exactly is wrong with that? Regardless Cambridge lost 17m GBP last year, mostly on undergraduate study. In reality, the graduate students often prop up departments.
And the same people who want to charge unlimited undergraduate fees also want an end to rigid staff pay structures, so they can offer telephone-number salaries to "world-class" academics to improve their research reputation. John Kay, the first director of Oxford's Said Business School, walked out because he was not allowed to do this.
I am not sure I want my children to amass even bigger shedloads of debt so that universities can hire American management gurus to teach MBAs.

Me neither, but it is not in any obvious way the implication of the proceeding paragraph. I would certainly want the option for my children to have the very best education. If more money is required to persuade “world class” academics to teach here then it seems reasonable for some institutions to wish for this, and to try to get the funding.
Oxford academics mutter that if they are not allowed to charge unlimited fees to undergraduates, they will go private; and then, like those private American meccas, they can wallow in oceans of cash. They won't because they can't - and they have tried. The US has traditions of corporate generosity and alumni giving that are absent here. As long ago as 1989, Oxford's then chancellor, Roy Jenkins, identified the problem. Britain was "uneasily poised ... between the US and continental Europe, without the private generosity of the former or the more adequate public funding of the latter".
If we lift the cap on tuition fees so that universities can charge what they like, and increase the proportion of overseas students in "top" universities, we will not get better undergraduates, but worse ones. We are promised scholarships for those who are both very poor and very brainy. For the rest, it will start with admissions tutors wondering if a student can afford the fees, and end with the one question that matters: have you got the money?

Nonsense, what will actually happen is that places will be offered regardless of government quotas, and ability to pay. Then the candidate will be invited to show how they will afford the course. If they can't, the university may offer to help, depending on how much they want the candidate, or the candidate will be able to take up an offer elsewhere - or save up for a few years. This already happens now - people going for the fast track graduate entry medical degrees are made offers, and then have to show how they will fund themselves. There is no state funding for these people, yet the universities seem to be able to administer places in a fair way.
Even Sir Martin Harris, the emollient head of the Office for Fair Access, admits that with uncapped fees, he would not have the power to ensure that university admissions were not skewed towards the rich.
There is another way. The basis for abolishing tuition fees was laid in the 1944 Education Act. Six years later, in 1950, fewer than 2% of the age cohort went to university. It's now nearer half. In 1950, in many professions that now normally require a degree - journalism, nursing, the law, pharmacy, engineering, banking and others - employers provided and paid for on-the-job training. The number of all-graduate professions increases every year. The process has transferred much of the financial burden of training from industry to the state. And a fairly small levy on pre-tax profits would pay for it.
It would not, of course, give our posher universities the luxuries, the almost unlimited research funds and the lavish top academic salaries they pine for. Mr Patten would still be talking about an "ineluctable" decline. But our great universities would be able to teach our young people, the not-so-rich as well as the rich, and that matters rather more.

No it doesn’t, if our top universities can’t afford the facilities, the best research and world class teachers, that would be a tragedy, having a percentage more poor students would be no compensation or justification of any sort.

Friday, 11 February 2005

Dalrymple & The Onion

by Dom Corrigan

"America's finest news source" takes a side-swipe at Dr. Anthony Daniels, one of the UK's sharpest social and political commentators who often writes under the nom de plume of Theodore Dalrymple.

Will the agitating-clothes washing tub ruin our women's character with idleness?An editorial opinion by the Reverend Doctor X. Lucius Dalrymple

It is fairly easy for the liberal left to knock Dr. Daniels. Much of what he writes would not be considered politically correct. A regular theme involves the devasting effect on individuals, and especially the poor, living in a society where they are divorced from the consequences of their actions. A cycle traps the poor in poverty and illegitimacy, destroys family life, and contributes to the waste of so much potential and life because they are told that nothing that they do is their responsibility, or their fault but, rather, it is society's problem and responsibility.

This ground has been trodden before, but rarely as eloquently and with as much power as by Dr. Daniels.

"I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song because I love the man
I know that some of you don't understand
Milk-blood to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
" - Neil Young

Innocent men

by Dom Corrigan

I read here that when you enter prison for the first time,

Certainly do not proclaim your innocence or claim that you were set up, 60% of inmates are innocent and no-one likes to hear someone else continually complaining about being hard done to.

Is this saying that 60% of inmates are in denial about their conviction, or that our justice system is shot and innocent men regularly go to gaol? Would I be naive in expecting that the former rather than the latter is the case?

Bill Thompson

by Ted Hoffman

As something of a technophile I often check out the BBC technology news section. One of the regular features is columnist Bill Thomson's opinion pieces on whatever has caught his interest that week. I don't often agree with him 100%, but he is reliably interesting and well informed.

What spoilt his pieces for me was this picture of Bill that appeared half way down every single article, pulling what is obviously a smug facial expression. This was exasperated by quotes taken from his writing appearing just under the picture. Very often this would be the most opinionated thing said in the entire piece, giving an overall poor impression of the man.

So I was glad to see half way down today’s article that a new picture of Bill has appeared, dressed in a suit jacket with a more serious demeanor.

The quote used as a caption is also more matter of fact, informing us that in Tokyo you can get 50mbps broadband for £20 a month, crikey!

Thursday, 10 February 2005

Courchevel - Playground of the wealthy is being taken over by the super-rich

by Captain Oates

Having recently holidayed in Courchevel, I noticed to my alarm that there is some disquiet amongst the English visitors about the influx of super-rich Russian visitors. This disquiet is also echoed by the local ski shop, restaurant and bar owners. This new breed of Russian holiday maker flashes huge amounts of cash, has caviar flown in specially and forces the English tourists from their beloved Courchevel. They are however easy to spot outside their 5 star hotels as they are either skiing very badly, displaying very poor manners to locals, or shopping with a passion for expensive designer goods. An interesting article from the travel section of the Telegraph can be seen here.

Wednesday, 9 February 2005

Paranoid fantasists?

by Ted Hoffman

It's not really good form to highlight the most ridiculous arguments of political opponents, whilst avoiding those that are well reasoned. It is easy though, and this article in today’s Guardian is hilarious. Reading Al Kennedy (perhaps I should of heard of him?) reminds me of a David Icke book I skimmed through a few years back, and it includes this insightful description of GWB,

surrounded by a psychopathic cult of paranoid fantasists and torture enthusiasts; his loathing of the environment and his passion for apocalypses.

an insinuation of KKK membership, main problem is, of course, the fact that the all-conquering Republican Bush clan (or Klan)..

a highly unlikely conspiracy theory,

invade, occupy and devastate a country because its leader was falsely implicated in a non-existent plot to "kill his Daddy".

and much more.

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

Climate change bandwagon rolls on

by Dom Corrigan

I'd stumbled across this blog before, and most of it seemed quite reasonable. On the recent blatherings of the media on global warming, a fairly long article examining the issues in a scientific manner concluded,

Uncertainty in climate sensitivity is not going to disappear any time soon, and should therefore be built into assessments of future climate. However, it is not a completely free variable, and the extremely high end values that have been discussed in media reports over the last couple of weeks are not scientifically credible.

which is a fair point.

I mention all this because is very much talked up in the 23/30 December 2004 issue of Nature. In the editorial, the advantages that blogs have over the main stream media are acknowledged,

But the political potential of this new media format only became truly clear during this year's US presidential race. Bloggers led some of the freshest debates, helped raised money for political parties and, most imporantly from a research point of view, corrected mistakes made by other media outlets.

Allusions here to the LGF Rathergate story and the DailyKos Deangate shocker.

But, reading a little further, alarm bells start ringing. Why set up a blog to provide "rapid rebuttals" to "egregious statements" about climate change? Apparently because,

Press coverage of climate change is known to overly emphasize the views of the small community of scientists who dispute the notion of man-made climate change.

Hmm. This is certainly at odds with my experience. It is surely because we don't hear from those in the "small community of scientists who dispute the notion" that we're all headed for a man-made armageddon, that we have headlines promising 11 degree temperature rises. That lack of balance allows this scaremongering to happen. Thankfully, the rogue scientists, once they escape from their BBC holding pen, start making thoroughly sensible arguments about how such predictions are simply junk science.

As is explained here in a wonderful Steve den Beste-style exposition, a lot of climate science is nonsense, and climate modelling leaves so much to be desired that it's essentially unscientific. In particular, NASA's climate modelling is shown to have some serious credibility problems.

In a another article later in this issue of Nature, the RealClimate blog is discussed again. One Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller from, er NASA, is asked to comment.

He says it is needed to counter pressure groups funded by the US energy industry that deny that global warming is happening and is being caused by greenhouse-gas emissions. Such groups are "truly abusing scientific results", according to Schmidt.

Note the change in the argument here. In the editorial the line is that it's unscientific to suppose that climate change is not happening. This is a fairer point than that being made in the second article - that it's unscientific to suppose that man, by his polluting and general rape of the planet, is causing global warming.

It's pointed out in the same article that projects like RealClimate might not be the best response to the nasty US monsters,

That would give the impression that there is a party line.

And so it all becomes clear. It turns out that the domain "" is registered to an organisation called "Environmental Media Services". With board members like this chap with clear links to the Socialist Workers' Party, this is, pure and simple, a spin machine for the environmental movement - a machine that takes fear mongering from the lunatic fringe, launders it, gives it an air of credibility and sells it the media, so we can read their rantings in our copy of the Independent.

As we've said before, the SWP is an anti-semitic, authoritarian and profoundly undemocratic group. We join Oliver Kamm in his campaign to "reject and condemn anyone who would knowingly ally” with the SWP and its front organisations “let alone speak from those organisations' platforms”.

Monday, 7 February 2005

The Tories stand up for their principles

by Dom Corrigan

The story goes that the Conservatives were going to drop their support for the introduction of ID cards after the general election, when (and presumably, if) public support for the policy had ebbed away.

Yesterday's Daily Mail carried this short piece. Perhaps the views of some more right thinking members of the Parliamentary Party are filtering down to the leadership.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said that the Government had failed to answer a series of Tory concerns about the scheme, warning: "Well I think if it's not going to work... it's not worth supporting."

Fair point David - but couldn't you be a bit more clear on why it's not going to work? Well, no, because the reasons that the scheme won't work now are the same and as clear as they were before the Bill ever reached the House.

So, does that mean we'll see the Tories taking the stand that fits the Party's historical belief in sticking up for the common man? Not a chance...

Earlier, a Tory spokesman acknowledged that there was a "question mark" over how Tory MPs will vote when the ID cards Bill receives its third reading in the Commons on Thursday.

Mr. Howard had told aides that the party will abstain.

It's this sort of squirming, trying to please everyone, that's costing the Tories the chance to form a government, just as it acts to keep the ridiculous Lib Dems away from real political power. Should be grateful for small mercies, I suppose.

Sunday, 6 February 2005

A Tory talks (some) sense

by Dom Corrigan

I might've voted Howard in the Tory leadership election - but in the end, of course, it was a stitch up, and it was all decided behind closed-doors in Westminster. The Tory rump must have feared the prospect of bringing some divisive issues into the media spotlight.

But the illusion of unity within the parliamentary party has been bought at the expense of the opening of a sizeable chasm between the MPs and the members. Almost every important group of members has been sold down the river - the aristocratic/hunting/fishing wing, the armed forces group, the pro-war Tories, Eurosceptics, low tax Tories, libertarians and recently the anti-ID card/ancient civil liberties wing. Who's left?

Howard was not thought of as a stupid man. One can only assume that he's forced into the confusing, contradictory, and apparently opportunist positions to keep the party together, or tricked into them by the focus groups. He's too easily blinded by the BBC that various bits of lefty stupidity are held sacrosanct by the British, when they usually are not. As it says here,

These days, the opposition front bench could not see a decent idea if it danced naked on Ian Duncan Smith's bald patch.

It's strange, then, that the most encouraging signs are from good old IDS himself who, by taking a principled stand during the reading of the Mental Health Bill, reasserted the seemingly forgotten idea that the individual should be stronger than the state. Even some Labour back-benchers agreed. It reminds us that the Tories can still articulate some clever and thought-provoking ideas. IDS was always pretty popular with the grass-roots. He took the usual ad hominem attacks from the Left - mostly about his image - but was a brave and decent fellow.

And then there's Boris Johnson, who in a recent post on ID cards let us know that all is not perhaps lost. Boris sounds more and more like a protege of The Daily Telegraph's brilliant Charles Moore.

There may be hope - but how much longer will we wait?